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Interview: Richie Ramone from ‘Ramones’


Illustration by Elly Pugh

According to Joey, Richie Ramone was “the greatest thing to happen to the Ramones”. Safe to say not many people can hold that title. We had an awesome time chatting to the rocker about his start in music, how things compare now to the days of the infamous CBGB, being a part of rock history, and what it truly means to be a punk. A chat made all the better by his gravelly New Yorkian accent. Hey ho, let’s go!

Well, I’ll start off by saying you are a very accomplished musician. Most obviously being a drummer for the Ramones, as well as having your own band that you play in now and you’ve dabbled in composition. So I was just wondering, where did this desire to play music come from?

Well, I come from a family of five children. Back then there were no video games and my parents…they made us learn an instrument. Whether we stayed with it or not, we had to pick an instrument. So I guess that’s where it all started. When I was in kindergarten I really loved percussion, so I fixated on that, and got a teacher, and that was it really.

Did you ever have a moment where you realised that music was ‘it’ for you?

I guess probably as a teenager. My father had a nice landscaping business and I didn’t want it (laughs). I wanted to go on the road and play music, so I guess that was it.

So the drums first attracted you as a kid in kindergarten, and then everything else followed?

Yes, so you know in kindergarten they have the class where there’s music and you all dance around the room? And they have that dirty box in the corner full of plastic toys. Kids would pull out trumpets and all this stuff to blow into and I would always pick up the blocks or the things that made a percussion sound. I liked hitting stuff!

Now of course this would eventually lead you to the Ramones, how exactly did you become a Ramone?

It’s a funny story! Mostly it was just being in the right place at the right time. I was hanging out with the bands that played the CBGB a lot, and they had a big house with a recording studio. I was at the club house, people would go and hang out there all hours of the day, and Little Matt, one of their roadies, said he had a lead, and I said where are you going? And he said the Ramones were auditioning drummers and I said, well put my name in the hat. The next week I got a call from the manager and well, the rest is history. Yeah, so it was all right place at the right time. It worked out. You know, I had never met them before, it was a blind audition.

Were you confident walking into the audition?

Well, you always have some little nerves. I went and learnt a couple of songs and went in there and, yeah, I guess they liked me!

Yeah! Well, of course the Ramones are considered as one of the legendary rock bands and the godfathers of punk music. Being in the band, did you ever expect the Ramones to be so influential even now 40 years on?

No! No I had no idea. When you’re in a band you’re in there in the moment. I wish I had collected more and preserved more pieces, albums, and gear y’know! I don’t own any of the originals, I’ve seen them but I don’t actually own them myself. But it’s great, to have been a part of y’know, one of the greatest bands of all time. At least I think so.

You’ve obviously been apart of the punk scene for a while now. How do you think the punk scene, and of course the rock scene, compares today from how it was when you started?

(Laughs) That’s kind of you to say ‘a while’, I thought you were gonna say like ’40 years’ or something. But the whole thing has changed over the last 10 years. I mean, rock ‘n’ roll has taken a back seat to pop and hip-hop and everything. It’s just not the same. Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t the best music out there anymore. There’s still plenty of kids who love it, but you gotta find them. It’s different now. Records don’t sell like they used to, it’s definitely tougher. I think, back then (in) the 80s and before we had cellphones and all that, it was more like the Wild West. It was more natural. A way of life. It’s different now, but I guess you just accept the times and keep moving forward.

How do you think today’s rock musicians compare in terms of attitude? All the legendary bands, like the Ramones, had a very distinct toughness and attitude about them…

Well, back then you could have attitude because the next day it wouldn’t be on Facebook or anything like that. There was more privacy. Now people know what I had for breakfast today. So you have to be much more careful about what you say and what you do. You could get away with a lot more then. As far as drugs go, I think there was more drugs with people back then, but that’s kind of a good thing that there aren’t as much anymore. It’s more of a business now than it used to be. It used to be, “let’s play and then get all messed up”. Things have changed. Especially with the media, and the internet, and all that crazy stuff, it changed the whole world.

Well I did see vinyl sales have had a huge turn around recently, and last year more people bought vinyl than streamed music!

Well, I think that started really happening about three years ago. You see record stores with vinyl in them now, that’s definitely been on the move. The Ramones fans for example, the people who come to the live shows, they’re collectors. They’re not the type to download one song, they like to hold it in their hands and grab onto it.

A lot of them would be pretty short downloads considering so many songs are less than two minutes! But, you also have your own band that you’re touring Australia with, and you’re the singer and songwriter for them. How does that compare to when you were writing songs with the Ramones?

I think that what’s in my heart and what I wrote for them is still Richie Ramone. I’m not the Ramones, I’m Richie Ramone, but it’s still really the same sort of thing that I like to do. I mean, I write songs because I have something to say. I don’t write songs for no reason. I know guys who say that they wrote 10 songs this week, this week alone. And I’m like, how can you write 10 songs? How can you think up lyrically what to say? 10 new subjects in one week? It doesn’t make sense to me. So you know, I’d rather write about stuff I want to talk about and what’s in my heart. But, you know, I was still writing my own songs even with the Ramones, so nothing really changed.

So as time goes one does it get harder or easier to come up with new material?

Well, I just finished my second record. We’re just finishing the mixes now, and there was a point where it was tough because I’m very fussy about my lyrics and songwriting. I read an article by Joan Jett, and she said she thought she had a block, for about seven years or something she couldn’t write anything. And it’s not that you have a block. You see, songwriting is not like you’re walking down the street and the whole song comes to you. Songwriting takes time, you have to work at it. Even if you sit down and work at it and nothing’s coming, wait another day and another day. Sometimes a few weeks past by and then boom, you’ve got it. It’s like any other job, you have to work at it. I’ve finally pulled this record together and I’m really excited about it.

Stylistically, looking at your past releases, how does this one fit into that progression?

This one doesn’t have as much of a metal flare. We had Tommy Bolan (Warlock) play guitar and he’s a real shredder. This one doesn’t have as much of that. This one is way more singer friendly. Great melodies and stuff like that. I think that this is a step up from the last record. At least I think so. You don’t want to put out a record that wasn’t as good as the one before, you always want to raise the bar up and I think I did it on this record.

Right, right. The Ramones are considered one of the first and greatest punk bands, but your solo work is also rock ‘n’ roll. So, do you consider yourself a punk musician?

I don’t even know what that means, you know. I think it’s all rock. It’s all rock n roll, all of this. Punk is just a term that came out. To me, punk means being true to yourself. It’s not about the Mohawk, or the haircut, or the clothes you wear. It’s just about being truthful to yourself and the people around you, and being honest and not being a phoney, and not being pretentious. Just go around life being that guy, and in my book that’s what I think punk really means. The rest is nonsense. It’s all rock n roll, it’s all chords, through a Marshall amp, with distortion.

I’m guessing that’s the attitude you have to life in general?

Yeah, punk is the attitude. It’s not about what you look at. Don’t be a phoney. Don’t go up on stage and do things that you wouldn’t do when you’re walking down the street.

You’re coming to Australia at the end of April, what are you most looking forward to about playing here?

There’s a lot of things. It’s really beautiful there. It’s like first class all the way when I come there and I don’t get to come there often because it’s so far away and tough to get to. So if I can come every three years or so that’s a good thing. I’m looking forward to eating the food. Eating all the different food is probably one of my favourite things about touring. You guys have got great coffee there too. And the fans of course. That’s why I do this. I just hope they can loosen up a little bit and not stand there with their arms folded.

That is a pet peeve of mine! When people don’t move around, has it always been like that or is it just a modern day thing?

It’s just different cultures. You find in England they do that. Some people are just reserved, which makes your job a little tougher to get them going because you don’t know if they like it or not until you speak to them later and they say “wow that was the greatest thing I’ve seen in years”. You know, you can go to South America, or Italy, or Spain, and the kids are just crazy. They’re all pumped up. As long as you understand that, and you’re not doing something bad, then I’ll accept it.

You’re playing Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, and also Byron Bay! It’s not usual for international bands to play in Byron, unless they’re appearing at a festival. Is there any particular reason you decided to play there?

I wanted to see it! I hear it’s really beautiful. And I like going to places that other people might skip out on, I call it like the fleamarkets, because they’re always very appreciative that you came to their town and they’re kind of overjoyed. I do that a lot in the states, sometimes I play the markets, some of the smaller cities and towns and it’s nice!

Byron is such a lovely place, you’ll have a wonderful time. I’m also curious to know, how many pairs of Converse do you think you would have owned in your lifetime?

Oh, a lot. Right now, I probably have about 10 pairs in all different colours. But about eight years ago I got into the leather ones, I don’t wear the canvas anymore. I don’t think they had the leather ones back in the day, but I love them. They don’t last long! They don’t really last long the Converse, the arches wear out quick, in like six months you gotta get new ones, they’re hard to walk on. They’re not made like basketball sneakers. But I guess, I really like my red converses. I’ll probably be wearing those ones when I come to Australia.

Richie Ramone Live Dates

Great Northern Hotel, Byron Bay
Wooly Mammoth, Brisbane
Newtown Social Club, Sydney
Cherry Rock Festival, Melbourne
Cherry Bar, Melbourne

Get Tickets HERE