It's hard "making it" in the music biz, especially if you're a great band out of Morgantown, West Virginia.
After seven self-releases and minor media coverage, False Pterodactyl's John "Jake" Jacob and Josh Ratliff have come to the realization that they may never break into mainstream music, but at least they're making the eclectic music that they want to make.
We sat down with the alt rock duo to talk about their new release Lo, what it means to be a "DIY band" and the West Virginia music that should be on your radar.
False Pterodactyl released Lo this past December through their Bandcamp. You can follow the band on Twitter and Facebook. To hear more of their music, tune in to 'A Change of Tune,' airing Saturdays at 10pm EST on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. And if like these #WVmusic features, support them by becoming a member of West Virginia Public Broadcasting!
On the beginning of False Pterodactyl:
Jake: I was living in Braxton County and was having these weekend jams in my dad’s garage. And my little sister was like, “My friend Josh plays drums.” So I told her, “Well, have him to come up and play.” And we jammed, and it was really fun, and it sounded pretty cool. And he lived up here at the time, so I was like, “Well, I’m going to move to Morgantown and start a band.” Because we’ve known each other since we were little kids. We were on the same little league team back in the 90s [laughs].
Josh: Yeah, I was a horrible baseball player. Music was a little… I’m not saying I’m not terrible [at playing music], but it’s not as bad as baseball.
On calling themselves a Morgantown band:
Josh: Well, I came to school here [in Morgantown], so I graduated in 2011 from WVU. I’ve just been kicking it around up here ever since. We’re both originally from the Flatwoods area: we grew up there, it’s where the band started jamming… So we’re kind of back and forth [between Morgantown and Flatwoods]. We’re very proud of our West Virginia heritage.
Jake: Yeah, we’re a Morgantown band. We can’t say we’re from Flatwoods because no one knows where Flatwoods is.
On the Braxton County music scene:
Josh: There’s bluegrass that goes down. As far as rock or anything like that, there’s not much of that going on.
Jake: Some friends of mine, they have a [Braxton County] band called Electric Green Machine. It’s like a sludge metal band. They’re actually guys I used to jam with, too. Their drummer was the drummer of my first band in high school.
On False Pterodactyl’s name:
Josh: Obviously we like Jurassic Park [laughs].
Jake: It was weird. After we started the band, we started writing songs. It took a month or two to pick out a name, and it got to the point that it just became frustrating. So we were having a really random conversation in my dad’s driveway one evening with friends, and got stuck on this idea of a guy wearing a pterodactyl costume.
Josh: I think we were originally going to be John Brown Pterodactyl..
Jake: But the guy who we were going to name it after was wild and was worried he might…
Josh: Yeah, it wasn’t the historical John Brown [laughs].
Jake: But we settled on False Pterodactyl because it’s really easy to Google, which you have to have that nowadays if you want someone to find you. It was just weird, and what’s nice about it is that it doesn’t really imply a certain kind of music, so we can keep changing and doing different kinds of music and not worry too much if it fits the image of the band or whatever. I don’t really think we have an image, and if we did, it keeps changing.
Josh: If anything, we work a little bit at not intentionally projecting a certain image of the band. It seems contrived, and we worry about that. We don’t want to seem contrived.
On their evolving sound:
Josh: When we first started, we had that two-piece bluesy rock thing going, so I got real into these two-piece bands like Flat Duo Jets and The White Stripes. But I’ve never really been hardcore into any particular kind of music. [For example,] I like Nicki Minaj! She just does some cool things vocally; it’s interesting, and I cannot get bored listening to it
Jake: For a lot of our songs, I think the lyrics are definitely hip hop-influenced, which I think is cool as far as trying to stay away from being contrived, staying away from being just a punk band or a two-piece blues rock band.
Josh: Which really works against you because… I wouldn’t say people want to pigeonhole you, but they definitely want a sound bite that can describe you.
Jake: I feel if someone takes the time to listen to us, they can do it on a song-by-song basis. Because we don’t just have one song where everyone’s like, “Aw, we love that one song.” Everyone has a different song that they like. And I like that because it just means that…
Josh: We don’t have to play that one song over and over [laughs].
On their newest release Lo:
Jake: I tried to make this one a little more psychedelic, just because that’s what I’ve been into lately. I got really into Six Organs of Admittance and that really lo-fi sound… I just wanted to make it different, not super accessible.
Josh: I was in a car accident on November 1 [in 2015] and broke my legs, so that kind of put this album on hold. It kind of forced us to do some non-traditional things with the percussion too. I don’t think there’s any traditional drum set kick snare, cymbals, that sort of thing on the songs. We just tried to mix it up. We used chimes, we used hand claps, we hit weights with a stick…
Jake: All the stuff we had laying around in our practice spot. Just trying to not do things we’d done before.
Josh: As we were working on it, we had this feeling that this is going to be something that people are either really into or they’re really not into. It’s going to elicit some response from people, whether positive or negative.
On international response to their music:
Jake: We have a fan in Vancouver. We’ve sent some CD’s to Australia.
Josh: We’re on all these random Russian torrent sites, so we have people that’ll download our stuff from Russia or Eastern Europe [laughing]. It’s wild. It’s not a ton of them, but they’re out there.
On being a DIY band:
Josh: It’s nice having complete creative control over everything and book where we want to tour. [But] that is difficult to do on your own because you got to get used to being told no. It’s tough… because you feel like it’s a part of you that’s being put out there.
On “making it” as a WV band:
Jake: I feel like if we were a country band and doing good, it would fall together. Because that’s what people listen to around here.
On being a dynamic duo:
Josh: [Jake’s] the James Taylor, and I’m the John Bonham. Except I don’t want to say that, that’s very…
Jake: No, you’re better than John Bonham.
Josh: [Laughing] Yeah, he sucked.