Peppermint Sun boasts Memphis power pop with a dash of dirty country on ‘Oblivianation’
Memphis rock and rollers Peppermint Sun’s lone long player, serendipitously titled Oblivianation , manifests honesty with Ron Snyder laying down vocals and rhythm guitar while faithful compadre Monty Raulerson supplied some fantastic lead guitar.
The group fits comfortably alongside the Replacements, the Faces, Elvis Costello, the Rolling Stones, and Wilco. When asked to describe their sound, Snyder has a tongue-in-cheek reply: “Truthful, sarcastic Memphis power pop with a dash of dirty country.”
No Auto-Tune or unnecessary gimmicks mar the Oblivianation songs, which were all written by Snyder and Raulerson. And in case you were wondering, the title was coined by Snyder and refers to a group of people seeking pleasure who are unaware or unconcerned with the consequence.
Enhanced by bassist Mike Schiffer and drummer Ron Hale, Peppermint Sun repeatedly honed their craft onstage in and around Memphis until Raulerson’s shocking demise at age 58 of a heart attack on February 17, 2015. Besides a digital single for the stand-alone “Dumb Phone,” no other material has surfaced from Peppermint Sun’s as yet untitled second album sessions.
In a wide-ranging and refreshingly candid interview, Snyder details why he became a musician, the long and often complicated history of Peppermint Sun’s formation, the fascinating connection with the beloved godfathers of power pop — Memphis’s own Big Star — and doesn’t shy away from setting the record straight on the travails of navigating the record industry as an indie artist. Vintage Raulerson comments also uncover the essential songs and guitar gear featured on Oblivianation.
The Ron Snyder / Peppermint Sun Interview
When did you know that you wanted to be a musician?
I think Top 40 radio drove me to be a musician. When I say “drove me” I mean drove me crazy! I can remember being in third grade and listening to such poor songwriting that I knew what the next cliché line would be before I heard it. I wanted to scream inside, ‘Why didn’t they say this or that?’
Unfortunately, Top 40 hasn’t gotten any better, so I’m still screaming inside. I’m not saying all Top 40 has always been terrible. The great songs that made it up the charts when I was a kid were truly exceptional and influenced me in a positive way.
It’s really the story-telling aspect that makes me want to be a musician. I just love a well-written song. I love how music and words put together with inflection create a story or a feeling that become part of a person’s life.
Who are your musical influences, and have they changed over the years?
I’ve been through a lot of fazes musically. In my early years growing up it was whatever my mom listened to. She had pretty good taste in music like Kris Kristofferson, Carole King, James Taylor, Willie Nelson, and a lot of old school country. I guess that’s where my need for well-written songs came from.
Later when left to my own devices, I went for classic rock like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath. Sometimes I would buy a record just because the cover art was cool.
Then one day I found Elvis Costello by accident, and my world was turned upside down. The album was My Aim Is True . I couldn’t believe my ears! I loved that record to death. His sarcastic way of saying something so sad yet making it sound so happy with his melody made me rethink everything. I also fell in love with David Bowie. Ziggy Stardust — I wore a hole in that record.
But all my friends were into typical hard rock so if I wanted to be in a band — and I did — I had to learn what was popular. I ended up being a closet new wave/glam lover while I covered whatever was popular in my early bands. And yes, I wore spandex, eyeliner, and the long beautiful hair sprayed mane to go with it. In fact one of my nicknames was Ron-Bon Jovi!
I was very conflicted and had no idea how to find my own voice. I almost got a record deal with one band that I had very little control over the style we played. When we got close to getting that big deal in the sky, I quit and went into hiding for quite awhile to try and figure out who I had become and what I really wanted from my music. I knew I had to stop being a David Lee Roth-style front man surrounded by fret board acrobats and figure out how to be myself.
Are you a self-taught guitarist? What were some of the first songs you learned to play? And do you consider yourself to be a rhythm or lead player?
I am definitely self-taught. I was never what I considered to be a great guitar player, but I could always sing and write. So for years I was content to be a front man and playing guitar on stage was an afterthought.
I would pick it up now and then to fill in or look cool while great musicians in my bands could play anything effortlessly. At home I would struggle with my acoustic to learn songs I really loved from song books with chord diagrams.
Eventually, before I’d finish I’d be rewriting it into my own song. The first hard song I actually learned completely was “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. That was a heck of an accomplishment for me. I also learned from Neil Young, Eagles, and compilation songbooks.
I wasn’t that good at picking things up by ear until later. The songs Peppermint Sun plays give me freedom to be whatever and whoever I truly am without trying to fit a mold. I just love that.
Addressing the rhythm or lead question I would say mostly rhythm with a few rave-up style leads like on “Right by Your Side.” Monty plays more fluid solos and most of the solos on the record.
How would you sum up Peppermint Sun’s sound to a new listener?
Truthful, sarcastic Memphis power pop with a dash of dirty country.
What is the real story behind Peppermint Sun’s origin?
Beginning in the late ’90s, I was in a mostly cover band that did the college circuit. I had actually just given up with my original project with Monty because we couldn’t keep a steady drummer.
One day we — the cover band — were eating at a Vietnamese restaurant in mid-town Memphis that gave peppermints out. One of us remarked, “Hey, that peppermint looks like a sun. It could be a cool name for a band.” The llama came from surfing the Internet for a logo. We liked how it looked and what it stood for. Unfortunately, our cover band died.
Fortunately, Monty and I hooked back up and started writing again. I’ve never found a better friend and writing partner than Monty Raulerson. He showed up at my house every Wednesday, rain or shine, and dragged me out of myself and off the couch.
We put a band together with our old bassist Bobby Shettles and Ardent engineer Richard Rosebrough on drums. Richard and Bobby jammed with us almost every Wednesday for over two years.
We wrote tons of songs together but never fully gelled as a working ban, although we had a great time studying ’60s and ’70s music. They both are amazing songwriters and really helped us creatively from chord choices to vintage clean tones.
After a few months apart, Monty and I reconnected with the idea of getting these songs recorded. We reached out to producer and drummer Greg Roberson [Reigning Sound, Trashed Romeos, and Tiger High] to help us get the songs recorded.
Greg brought us into High/Low Recording with multi-instrumentalist and engineer Toby Vest. Bobby played on the first two sessions, providing bass on nine tracks while Greg played drums. But old tensions revealed themselves again and Bobby left the project.
The other bass parts were played by Toby Vest, Jake Vest and Adam Hill. They also contributed keyboards and acoustic guitars. Adam actually came up with the backing vocals on most of the songs, but outdid himself on “Dirt Road.” He and the Vest brothers sang them.
After Chris Gaven [White Noise Theory, Dust for Life, Burning Blue] at Earthshine Studios mastered the album, we realized we had a hell of a record and needed a live band. And a name. I always loved the phrase “Peppermint Sun,” so I contacted my old buddies and they gave me their blessing.
We were fortunate enough to complete our line-up with Memphis music scene veterans Mike Schiffer [ex-Metro Waste and Greg Hisky Rhythm Method with Monty] on bass and Ron Hale [ex-Psychic Plowboys] on drums.
Richard Rosebrough had a long-running affiliation with Big Star, co-writing “Mod Lang” with Alex Chilton [on 1974’s Radio City] and drumming on “What’s Goin’ Ahn,” “She’s a Mover,” and “Mod Lang” on their 1974 masterpiece Radio City. Can you detail his contributions to Peppermint Sun in more vivid detail?
Raulerson: Richard and I went way back. He engineered a record I did with Neon Wheels back when I was a youngster in 1983 — Jim Dickinson produced it. So we stayed in touch through the years.
Ron and I had a band called Field Trip, and sometime around 2006 we needed a drummer. Mikey Schiffer, our current bass player, had been playing drums but his job as a suit at the casinos didn’t leave him enough time.
I called Richard, who was just getting over an arm injury, and he said he’d give it a try. Unfortunately, he left Peppermint Sun right before we recorded Oblivianation and joined the Van Duren Group, another Memphis should-have-been band.
Richard was a great friend and was very involved in shaping a bunch of the songs on the record, especially “Wicked Ways” and “Right by Your Side.” Although he isn’t playing on the record, his influence is there [Battling various health issues, Rosebrough passed away on October 18, 2015, at age 66 in his East Memphis home according to The Commercial Appeal].
What are you most proud of on Oblivianation?
There are no gimmicks. It is what it is, like the older records were. Mistakes are good; they keep your ears happy. That’s why we still listen to the classic, real stuff. Some of those vocals are the original ones I sang while we were laying down the drums. I don’t think we have more than three takes on anything.
What is the story behind the song, “Oblivianation?” And why did you decide to title the accompanying album after it?
I created that word so I guess I should create the definition, too. “Oblivianation” refers to a group of people seeking pleasure who are unaware or unconcerned with the consequence.
I wish the song had some smart political meaning because I do believe this nation is oblivious to many things going on behind the scenes concerning our freedom, liberty, and overall quality of life and we are suffering the consequences. It’s just a fun song about being caught in the moment of seeking satisfaction.
We decided to open and title the record with the song because it was original. “Oblivianation” simply took off in the studio with one take featuring live vocals and tons of energy. Jake Vest just happened to come into the studio after we got done and added the keyboards. That’s Monty playing the little extra guitar note during the verses. It was the first time he ever tried it.
I was thrilled with the recording and actually expected legendary Memphis deejay George Klein and a bunch of girls to be clamoring for a 45 rpm of it when I walked out of the studio but no one was outside except a wino that had stolen a shovel out of Monty’s truck to hit another wino [laughs].
“Best Mistake” is a mid-tempo composition containing a tasty guitar solo. What do you recall about its creation?
Raulerson: “Best Mistake” definitely has a long history. The music started off as a song I co-wrote with Eddie Muñoz of The Plimsouls after my old band Neon Wheels did a show with them. Eddie wrote the words, which we initially tried, but Ron re-wrote them after a few demos.
I had to fight with Greg to keep that solo on the album. He wanted more of a Gene Clark, Byrdsy-type vibe, and I grew up on Southern Rock with a strong Velvet Underground / Stooges / Dolls vibe. Glad I did.
After I left my southern rock thing and moved to Memphis, I got to meet and work with guys like Alex Chilton, his protégé, drummer-singer Ross Johnson, and influential producer/musician Jim Dickinson — you can’t go thru that without coming out with a new way of hearing music.
“It’s So Hard” contains an unmistakable Big Star influence. What is the story behind it?
Raulerson: “It’s So Hard” came out of a Field Trip practice when Bobby Shettles and Richard Rosebrough were jamming on an old Beatles bass riff. Ron dug the groove, so we changed it around. Of course, we only steal from the best [laughs].
I came up with the chord structure and the interlude parts — folks with a discerning ear will notice an inverted and reshuffling of the “September Gurls” intro. I changed it enough to make it different. I don’t think Alex Chilton would mind. Ron wrote the melody and words.
Snyder: For some reason Bobby and Richard weren’t that interested in playing out much — we only performed a few times together in public — and it frustrated me tremendously.
The “It’s So Hard” lyric actually came from that frustration. I was complaining the situation unbeknownst to them. It turned out to be one of my favorites off the record and took about 30 minutes to write. One of those happy accidents.
“Right by Your Side” is maybe the ultimate garage rock / power pop cut on the album. Who had the idea for the song, and how did it come together in the studio?
Raulerson: The track is another re-working of one of my tunes. I came up with the chords on a cheap keyboard that added bass and drum parts. I recorded it with another old band of mine, The Resistors, back in the ’90s. I was listening to The Kinks a lot in that period. It was never released, so Ron re-wrote the words and Bobby Shettles added the chords under the solo.
Snyder: The lyrics came from my girlfriend reading a book and not paying attention to me. I could never figure out how to rhyme the word “book” properly, but I compensated with a rip-roaring guitar solo [laughs].
I hated “Right by Your Side” when we were recording it but Greg kept telling me to shut up and simply sing. I’m glad he did, because it goes over great live. I also use it for my ringtone.
How did the team at High/Low Recording enhance the recording process?
Greg Roberson had a very clear vision on what we should sound like, and he was correct 98 percent of the time. He did an awesome job of producing us, adding percussions and keeping us on track. Toby Vest [bass, keyboards, harmonica, acoustic guitar, backing vocals] was an absolute pleasure to work with, and Adam Hill was crazy fun.
They really took care of us, and I would highly suggest recording with them to anyone lucky enough to be accepted into their music factory. High/Low Studios has a very cool vibe and they know what they’re doing.
What guitars did you use on the record?
Raulerson: I played a Les Paul Studio ’50s Tribute with P-90 pickups and a Bigsby on most stuff. I also played a 92 American Vintage 57 Fender Stratocaster on some of the more jangly and country stuff. And I used some of Toby Vest’s acoustics — six and twelve string. Regardless, most of my solos were courtesy of the Les Paul.
My preferred amps were a Marshall JCM 900 and an old Marshall 100-watt Club and Country 4x10 combo that I’m still kicking myself for selling to Ron. My main effects — among many — were a Fulltone Fulldrive and a Dunlop Rotovibe. I kept the Rotovibe on most of the time, varying the intensity from song to song. Even if you can’t hear it out front, it fattens and adds depth to the tone.
Ron’s primary Telecaster is one I found for him with a fat neck and Jason Lollar pickups. He mainly used the Marshall combo.
Snyder: Before our first live show, Mike Robinson from MyRareGuitars.com sent me a cherry-red Eastwood Airline Map Guitar [aka National Map], based on a rare 1962 model first sold by Montgomery Ward. I nicknamed it “the Oblivonator,” and I love it to death.
Eastwood Guitars makes a lot of super cool guitars that aren’t in production anymore; then they modify them a little to make them very professional. Mike also sent me single coil pickups that fit into it with ease that have given me an awesome vintage sound.
I get plenty of compliments on my sound, and in Memphis that’s really saying something because every third person is a guitar player [laughs].
How has it been navigating the record business?
The more I learn, the less I know about the current industry. It seems like the Wild West, and the musicians are the Indians getting killed by the culture put on a reservation called YouTube, Google, Facebook, and iTunes.
We’re told how lucky we are if someone likes us enough to push the “like” button and maybe even download or stream our song for free. I’ve also learned no one has an attention span, and I should have somehow fitted all the best songs into the first track.
Believe it or not, there’s a lot of fear and uncertainties involved in putting yourself out there for the world to judge. When someone likes your work, it is an indescribably great feeling. When someone actually buys it with their hard earned money, that’s even better because you can reinvest and grow your craft.
Music doesn’t grow on trees. The word “Oblivianation” could describe the music lover that owns or streams thousands of songs and tells everyone how great they are but hasn’t really invested any money to help these bands.
The music business is in serious trouble and it’s up to the consumer to help save it. If someone brings you a drink and a burger you don’t have to but you should give them a tip. Usually they’re looking at you with that hopeful smile on their face but on the Internet you can’t see that face. But trust me it’s there.
With that said, we appreciate our fans’ support very much. We look forward to making many more fans and friends. Oblivianation can be purchased or listened to at our Bandcamp page. To interact with Peppermint Sun, head on over to our official Facebook page.
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