John Ralston

John Ralston
Location:Florida, FL (USA)
Genres:Emo / Acoustic
Record Label:Vagrant Records
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The Billboard

Accidents do happen. Just ask Florida-based singer-songwriter John Ralston. Or better yet, listen to Needle Bed, his debut album for Vagrant Records, and a stark collection of 11 honest, deeply personal songs, that—to hear Ralston tell it—came about almost entirely by accident. The unlikely story begins with a chance meeting between the artist and Needle Bed collaborator Michael Seaman in Ralston’s hometown of Lake Worth, Florida. “I met him completely randomly,” remembers Ralston. “I don’t think I have ever met such a good friend just out of the blue.” Over the next few weeks, the two would record some rough demos together.

The coming months would find Ralston increasingly stifled musically and emotionally, so when Seaman, who had since moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, suggested another impromptu recording session, Ralston jumped at the offer, enlisting the help of drummer and friend, Jeff Snow. As the sessions began, Ralston could sense that something was different. “As soon as Jeff and I drove up there and started recording, we knew we weren’t just doing demos. We knew that we were making an album.” Over the next five days, the trio would do exactly that, forgoing sleep in favor of all-night recording sessions, running back and forth between two Knoxville studios, frantically tracking pianos, drums, horns and anything else that seemed appropriate. “We probably slept for two hours a day,” recalls Ralston. “We never got stuck. Things happened really naturally.”

When asked how he arrived at the title, Ralston says, “I was listening to the album on the drive back home from the studio and thought that the music sounded so inviting and easy, like the comfort of your own bed, but a lot of the lyrical content is sharp and at times painful. That combination, for me sums up Needle Bed.” The album opens with “No Catcher in the Rye,” which Ralston purposely wrote as an intro. “It really just sets the tone for the rest of the album. It’s the setting before the dialogue begins in a play.” And that dialogue begins in earnest on “It’s Not Your Fault” with Ralston singing "Dear whoever finds this note first/it's not like it's a blessing or a curse/It's just life and it's spinning around/ it's just life and spins you around/but it's not your fault.” The steady acoustic strum of “When We Are Cats” again brings Ralston’s lyrics to the forefront. "Well that's our love: stronger than blood" he sings on the bridge, words which to him beg the ultimate question, “What happens to those we love when they die? Is there anything after the grave?” The proven crowd favorite on Needle Bed is “Gone Gone Gone.” “This song is so strange to me,” says Ralston. “At the last couple of shows there were just hundreds of people singing along. It's a great opportunity to say fuck you to an ex I guess. Maybe like John Lennon and primal scream therapy combined?” Ralston has a couple favorites of his own on the record, including the more uptempo “I Believe in Ghosts,” on which he played everything but the drums, and the orchestrated moodiness of “Avalanche.” Just as with the album’s intro, Needle Bed closes with a song specifically written for that purpose. “’Our Favorite Records Skips’ begins with a glockenspiel recorded and then tweaked by Michael. This is the song I wrote to close the record - it's a lullaby for the needle bed.”

The foundation for Needle Bed was laid many years ago, with a teenaged Ralston poring over records by the Beatles, the Beach Boys, The Band, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, and in turn, penning songs of his own. “My mom was a folksinger, and she taught me to play guitar,” says Ralston about his early years. Even then, he was prolific. “From the first time I learned 3 chords I wrote a song. I’m sure it was a really horrible song, but I always kept writing and writing.” Ralston pays homage to one of his earliest influences on the song “No One Said It Was Easy.” I wrote this song after hearing an old Townes van Zandt interview where he says ‘I never got along with life.’ It was one of the most moving interviews with one of the songwriters who influenced me the most.”

In the months following the recording of Needle Bed, Ralston put together a band and after only one rehearsal, ventured northward to open a string of shows for another longtime musical cohort, Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional. “I think the first night we sold close to 300 CDs,” remembers Ralston about the initial reaction to the early, limited pressing of Needle Bed. This prompted Ralston to look into giving Needle Bed a proper release, and again, Ralston needed look no further than his friends, in this case Vagrant Records, with whom Ralston had fostered something of an informal relationship. “That’s the way I’d always like to do business,” says Ralston of his old fashioned approach to the music business. ”First you work with somebody and develop a relationship and then you enter into the agreement. You feel each other out and if you know it’s going work, then you work together.”

John Ralston is as surprised as anybody by his accidental success story. But he by no means plans to rest on his laurels. Even while rehearsing with his live band to take Needle Bed on the road, Ralston is nevertheless hard at work on his next round of songs. “I write all the time,” says Ralston admitting to having written “probably over 200 songs” in the time since the Needle Bed sessions. ”I thought it was commonplace to just write all the time, but I’m realizing that a lot of artists don’t. But that’s the only thing that I can do. I’m not suited for anything else.”
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Last Updated: 06/10/06

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