When I ask Injury Reserve what their latest album, ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ would feel like as a texture, Parker quickly says “Maybe... humidity?” but not just the humidity of a hot, sticky day... Parker reinforces that it is the humidity of a monsoon. It is gritty with the coarse remnants of dust and sand, the air sticky and stormy. And like any monsoon, totally unpredictable.
“More than ever, it feels like we are making art.”
Injury Reserve is the Arizona group made up of Ritchie with a T & Parker Corey, and formerly Stepa J. Groggs. While touring through Europe in 2019, Injury Reserve had a show in Stockholm that had been booked in the back of a fancy Italian restaurant rather than a typical venue. There was confusion and things felt tense. Going from touring with heavy strobe lights and fog machines, to a small area by the bar with nowhere near enough circuits to power everything. Matching this lack of production, the group decided to reroute the show, and take a shot at an improvised DJ set... Injury Reserve style. This resulted in the group to perform a song none of them had heard before. This, was the base recording that became the backbone of a new album. Over the next few months, stuck in the early days of the dreadfully unorthodox year that was 2020, the group exchanged ideas and recordings online. “Most of the record was made with us transferring shit back and forth.” Ritchie says... “It allowed us to try super weird shit” all while being surrounded by global turmoil. Soon, the track-list would come together. However, shortly following this was the tragic loss of Injury Reserve member Stepa J. Groggs, putting everything on hold. The group regathered after time, and felt comfortable finishing the album. Now at long last, it is here.
‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ is a sonic collage – easily dodging any grip on the conceivable, in the best way possible. It is a true representation of a group that shows no fear, that does what they do for the absolute love of it, and the ultimate desire to explore the unknown. "As a group we have always had this mindset - and maybe now more than ever, if we aren't doing something that isn't new, then there is no point in doing it.” Ritchie tells me, passionately discussing what could easily be seen as the group’s mantra. The album is a whirlwind, with the group diving into it with everything off the table. "We are going to put out what we want, we just did whatever the fuck we wanted to do.” Ritchie happily confirms, which according to the both of them, has pushed them to the point where they are “rewarded now for being just us”.
Tell me about that Stockholm show back in 2019
Parker: When we got there, it was a bit confusing and maybe even a bit tense because it was this restaurant, and we were in the back area where the bar was... if anything it was a fancy restaurant. We had been touring with foggers and strobe lights, and most venues had to make sure that there were enough circuits to power everything... and this place was just nowhere near that. So, it was definitely tense for a bit, we were probably complaining, not sure how anything would work? I remember someone saying “oh this worked for Billie Eilish...” or something... do you remember that?
Ritchie: No, no but I do remember they were trippin’...
Parker: It was a total mess. The show was already free, so we didn’t feel too bad about making this decision, but we decided that we weren't going to do the proper set with our music, but instead we are going to plug our stuff in and play what we had. This was a whole bunch of mixes we had made, some remixes, plus we had a vocal rig. Basically, we were just playing memes off our phones and throwing effects on them. It was a really fun experimental, and natural set – it was really just for fun, playing with toys and seeing what came out. On top of that, we had this song that hadn't really been fully approached as a group. I made the beat, and Nate had written a verse to it, but we hadn't really done anything with it. We played it, and that became ‘Superman That’.
That’s crazy, how was it received?
Parker: The whole set was received nicely, when we did it that time, I played the Black Country, New Road song through iTunes and had the beat playing in Ableton... I was pausing it and playing it, doing this really choppy thing with the spacebar. So, that then turned into ‘Superman That'.
What were the conversations between you all like after that show?
Ritchie: I think we wanted to immediately put the mix onto YouTube, but it kept getting taken down for copyright restrictions. So had there not been copyright issues, it would have gone up on YouTube. It’s good though, because after some time after we finally got home and listened to it, everyone thought it sounded so crazy! And that was because we were able to be removed from it and listen to it properly. So, at that point, we realised we should try and go forward and do something with this properly.
If By The Time I Get to Phoenix was a texture, what would it feel like?
Parker: Maybe... humidity? You don’t get monsoons in New Zealand, do you? There is a certain monsoon weather texture that is gritty from dust, but also humid and stormy, it is very thick and a very different feeling.
Does it ever feel strange to be releasing this project? Or does it feel right?
Ritchie: It feels too late, that’s what it is. It always feels like “oh of course, we are releasing it when I’m sick of it...” you know? But I think this is the least sick of it we have been with a project, because it is so different. We would have been a bit more thrilled if we released it a year ago, we were even more on the edge of things. It is definitely still exciting. It is one of those projects where you have no idea how it’ll be perceived, that part of it is more thrilling when you have no idea, rather than knowing how it will be received.
When did you know the album was ready?
Parker: We thought it was ready after the first or second mastering pass, but there was another where we could tell it needed some more time.
Ritchie: The thing is, we made the record super apart because we were chilling at home. It allowed us to try super weird shit. Most of the record was made with us transferring shit back and forth. I know that at a certain point we knew we needed to get together and put this album together. We are a group where it is never really done... we are working on the live shows right now and I keep going, “Damn... we could have put this on the album!”
“We are going to put out what we want to put out, we are at the point now where we are rewarded now for being just us.”
You really don’t make the same song twice, how do you ensure each song has its own sound and feel?
Parker: I would say for this album, it was a specific thing that I wanted to try and have a little more consistent sound throughout. So, kind of purposefully for our standards rather than thinking of making it sound the same, we approached songs in similar ways.
Ritchie: I also know that we never complete a song if we weren't vibing with it, I definitely know that Parker would never finish a beat that was starting to turn into something he had already made before. It is kind of at the stage where you get so familiar with something you don’t event continue... we’ve always been like that, where we don’t finish songs unless we were so sure of it. For the earlier shit, there weren't even songs that didn’t make the album – they were either completed, and on the album – or they were left unfinished. Even for this album, there were a few songs that didn’t make the album that were super good, but certain vibes had already been touched. So, it is funny that you say that we never make the same song twice, because honestly this was the most in a while where we tried to get some continuous vibe through the whole project. I do think also, even if beat A and beat B are very different, and vocals A and vocals B are not similar, having Parker part of the post-production part is gluing a lot of it together. He’s using similar techniques, so even though they are completely different songs, you can hear certain mixing techniques that blend it all together so they aren't so contrasting.
How are you hoping people will receive this album?
Ritchie: I just want people to receive it as it is and know that everything we did was on purpose. At the same time, we did things to make the songs good. I don't know how to explain it... sometimes I wish people would just listen to it and just enjoy it for what it is, not try to think of it as a math problem. That's really the issue, when people try to understand it while they listen to it - it’s not about understanding anything, it’s not about understanding the production or the narrative, it’s really just seeing if you like the song or not. I think people too early in the process of taking in music are trying to understand things. People don't even need to know everything about it.
Parker: I'm not against people unpacking music, there is just a difference between discussing something and trying to figure something out. You don't need to figure this out, especially not too early.
How has your relationship with music changed between your first project, and By The Time I Get to Phoenix?
Parker: My honest answer would be that I am in such a better place, I think with the last album it came from a place of trying to prove some type of talent or capacity - this one I think that mentality has mostly been killed off, and all the competitiveness is more so for the sake of the music. Just being caught up in this mess of really beautiful music instead of trying to be some auteur of music.
Ritchie: I think it has really been beliefs and values. When you are first making music, it's such a hobby - you have this passion behind it and you take it and yourself seriously, it is so raw and energetic. It is so easy - it comes out of you like conversation, you know? There is that thrill of coming home from school or whatever and jumping into your mix. By the time you get here, there's got to be a reason to do something, we have made so much music and we have done so much... we used to be able to make shit for the sake of making shit. We still do that, and it is such a pleasure to be doing what we do, but as a group we have always had this mindset - and maybe now more than ever, if we aren't doing something that isn't new, then there is no point in doing it. We have always been like that. I feel like the relationship changes when music becomes a profession. On the last record we thought "oh let’s bring back that youth feeling, let's all coop up and be with our friends and recapture that spark that we first had...” but really, it's not about that, it's more about genuinely doing what you want to do. We are going to put out what we want to put out, we are at the point now where we are rewarded now for being just us. For this project, everything was off the table... we just did whatever the fuck we wanted to do. The first time Parker could have sent a beat that we weren't used to, we could have pushed back and not used it - but everyone took everything with open arms, and I think that really pushed the environment to the point where we got further and further into the deep end and it ended up actually working creatively. More than ever, it feels like we are making art.
Listen to Injury Reserve's latest album, 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix' on Spotify below:
Words by Oli Spencer
Photography by Oli Spencer