Interview: Mariko Ruhle of Temple Canyon chats with NWMS

Photo by Atticus Wiman

Temple Canyon celebrates its new album, Fortress, with a record-release party at the Sunset on Saturday, August 24th with Lonely Mountain Lovers and Afterlife Giftshop.  Singer Mariko Ruhle was kind enough to take a few questions.


NWMS:  What are your best, worst, and oddest stories from playing Seattle?

Mariko Ruhle:  Opening up for Kris Novoselic’s band Giants In The Trees at Crocodile was one of my favorite shows because of the full circle-feeling I got: playing a historic spot like that with someone that actually helped make it famous.

We often call Temple Canyon “Nostalgic Seattle Rock.” This was a perfect show for that. I even wore a Courtney Love inspired outfit that night, I couldn’t help myself! Also the sound guy was amazing and that makes all the difference!

One time I sang harmonies & played tambourine for like four hours at Blue Moon Tavern with this little side project Temple Canyon drummer Al Reiter and I started with our “Road Dog” Zac Catozzi called Mad Dad & the Family Meeting (a cover band that does songs ranging from The Band to The Spice Girls). That night I sang “Harvest Moon” spontaneously with Chris King (Chris King & The Gutterballs), and between sets Chris also smashed our Jack-O-Lantern in the street, and we sang “Pride” by The Moondoggies, a cappella.

Temple Canyon did a residency at High Dive for a month years back. We played each week with a different lead guitar player because our current guitarist was out of town/moving on. It was very challenging to do those shows, usually after playing only once with the person prior to the gig and sometimes just me and the lead player rehearsing without drums and bass. Every week was a new show! It was exciting and also a bit of a train wreck!

As for other shows: One time I got a gig through a chain of phone calls at this little place in Roslyn, WA. It was a solo gig paying enough that I could get a motel and still make a little money. So I decided to go get some “Northern Exposure.” I had to set up and figure out its P. A. system which was an adventure. 

I played around three and a half hours of music for maybe an average of four people all night. Four people including: my husband, the bartender, and this one old drunk that kept saying something like “that’s how it’s done!” after almost every song. Maybe every song. Somehow it was still a fun night–a lot of free whiskeys for me and my old man, a sweet harmonica solo on “Oh Sister” by Bob Dylan played by the dude who booked the gig. The night ended on the bartender singing along with me to “Boxcar” by Shovels & Rope. I remember thinking at the time, if I can play this gig, I can play any gig.

For no good reason I went back the following winter to play again, this time with (two former TC members), Steve Miller (Low Lands) and Kira Shea (Spinster). It was a weekend of multiple shows. I completely lost my voice towards the end of the night and my bandmates finished the set singing lead vocals on some of the songs. We drove home right after, down the snowy mountain. It was a beautiful drive.

NWMS:  What are your favorite and least-favorite things about living in Seattle?  Favorite eats, drinks, coffee, etc.?

Mariko Ruhle:  Favorite things: Lake Washington, Madison Beach, Little Uncle Thai and Thai food in general, Vietnamese food. The vast music scenes that are here. Cinerama. The mountain view between buildings and epic views all over. The rain: I love the listening to the rain.

Least favorite things: No California coast line or Pacific Ocean.  I miss that all the time. I miss the certain flavor and style of California; Mexican food abundance that a Californian inevitably feels living anywhere else. Lack of starry nights.

NWMS:  You’ve drawn comparisons to both Heart‘s Ann Wilson, and the Laurel Canyon scene from the ’70s. What are your favorite albums from these acts, and how did they work on you and your music?

Mariko Ruhle:  Heart’s Little Queen. It was the first vinyl record I really played, and played a lot. It had a great cover picture and I was super into the look. The faces were really saying something. It said, “Women Rock.” I often started it on the second side, because that title track is such a funky jam. I had never heard anyone that sounded like Ann Wilson. 

When I finally saw Heart at the Puyallup State Fair (which was the absolutely perfect venue to see them at). I pretty much cried non-stop, it was pure joy and inspiration. I often say I want to be a combination of Ann and Nancy Wilson. The pipes and the guitar licks!

I got into Laurel Canyon’s scene long after listening to the music associated with it. My mom played Tapestry by Carol King all the time, and all of Joni Mitchell’s records. Blue of course became the most iconic to me because of its sheer cultural presence. By high school I was getting into it more retrospectively and singing every word of “Last Time I Saw Richard” from memory. 

I really got into Neil Young and Crosby, Stills, and Nash after starting a group. I always liked their music but after rocking out with a band myself, the nostalgia of epic live versions of “Cowgirl in The Sand” became really exciting to me. The version on 4 Way Street by CSNY is one of my favorites, along with the entire album. I love the simplicity of Neil Young’s songs, they’re very comforting. Neil Young inspires me in my own songs:  Just say/sing it how I feel and not worry about melody or the chords so much at the start.

NWMS:  Which of your inspirations would surprise a Temple Canyon fan the most?  Why and how?

Mariko Ruhle:  Very hard to pick this. It’s so hard to know what all comes through for people. I feel like my love for [the band] AFI is maybe not totally obvious to fans, so many people don’t even know about AFI pre-“Miss Murder.” I have been pretty obsessed with the live experience they give for the last two decades. I strive to give people that kind of feeling of connection at shows that I felt so many times as a a teen. 

I feel like Jade Puget put it well, “I think a good AFI song is a balancing of the aggressiveness, the melodicness, the dark, the light, the anthemic.” I think this is pretty close to how I would describe a good Temple Canyon song. 

The truth is I was completely enthralled with the whole macabre thing since I was kid. Halloween was my favorite holiday, I loved Tim Burton, “The Munsters,” The Misfits, Arthur Rimbaud, Nick 13 [of Tiger Army], fishnets, eyeliner, the whole trip. 

I think our average fan is probably not into AFI as much as I am, so I can’t imagine our music evoking their music for anyone easily. I also play/sing at the same time, which is so very different in terms of my ability to constantly engage with the audience. I wanted to just be a singer (like Davey Havok, Ann Wilson, Glen Danzig, Robert Plant) for a long time. I learned guitar to help me write songs basically. 

NWMS:  Do you take any inspiration from books, films, or TV shows?  If so, what, and how?

Mariko Ruhle:  Yes! All of the above. To name a few specifics off of the new record: I wrote a few songs as a response to anxiety I was having after watching “Stranger Things” and “Twin Peaks,” back to back. The line, “What you can’t see, what you can’t hide from, fear is all that’s left” from “Pressure,” is definitely inspired by “Stranger Things.” Also a lot of the lyrics from “Pressure” are inspired by the story in the 90’s flick Practical Magic.

Recently the CMT show “Nashville” has become a cathartic and inspiring show, which I was not expecting. I find a lot of relatable stories amidst the crazy soap-opera. “I Tangled With The Serpent” and “Traveler” are songs from the new record that were somehow responses to an episode of Nashville and my own catharsis while watching. Responses kind of like Joni Mitchell writing “Circle Game” as a response to Neil Young’s “Sugar Mountain.”

Lyrics for “Desire” were inspired by the cover of a Philip K. Dick book. That’s what got the song going. Going into his world, and wanting to write lyrics with the conversational nature of his books. “New Moon” is a response to the biopic on Brian Wilson, Love & Mercy, and specifically the scene of him writing “God Only Knows” and sharing it with his messed-up dad.

NWMS:  Who are the other band members and how did you find each one? What does each one add to the mix?

Mariko Ruhle:  Al Reiter on drums: he is a great singer-songwriter as well as drummer, and this has always influenced our sound. Al can follow the songs very intuitively and learns lyrics by ear very well. He brings a lot of confidence to our band. We met playing at Hopvine Pub’s open mic around six years ago, right around the time I formed my first band. Our nostalgia for films like That Thing You Do, Almost Famous and Empire Records, has always brought a lot of laughs and comfort to this crazy musician life we are living.

Jason Shao on bass brings a ton of energy to the band. He can absorb a ton of information at once, that has always allowed us to move at a wildfire like pace through new material. He thinks a lot about what everyone is individually doing which can be extremely helpful at times. His contribution to the last record, engineering and mixing-wise was invaluable to the band. His and my punk roots and love for mosh pits, and the DIY approach along with a wide ranging musical palette helped us find common ground early on. With a little luck, he can often interpret some imaginative idea I’m having into a sonic reality. We met through Al, while they were playing together in another band called Supply & the Man.

NWMS:  Where did you record the album and who worked on it with you? Favorite stories from the sessions?

Mariko Ruhle:  We recorded all of Fortress in a practice space at Crybaby Studios and in my apartment. Temple Canyon’s bassist, Jason Shao, engineered the album with the borrowed equipment and assistance of Marian Macapinlac. When we were reaching final stages of mixing we turned to Don Farwell at Earwig Studio for some help finalizing the mixes. Levi Seitz mastered it and made our vinyl lacquer at Black Belt Mastering. 

All the parts are played by Jason Shao, Al Reiter and myself, excluding lead guitar on “Traveler,” “I Tangled With The Serpent” and “Fortress” by Kris Gray (former member of Temple Canyon). It also has a little backing men’s chorus on “Like A Champion,” performed by my husband’s RPG group The Rolling Twenties. Their vocals were spontaneously recorded at my apartment during their weekly game night.

When we recorded the title track for Fortress we all got really stoned on a break. It was the last of three songs that we tracked that day and it was getting a little late. It had gotten quiet enough in the whole Crybaby basement to get a very intimate intro captured; the intro relies heavily on silence. 

We ended up using the first of I think, two live takes of the band, as well as a scratch vocal overdub done the same night. It’s not perfect but, it’s very alive and retaining its spontaneity and magic. Every time I listen to the belted “enough” leading up to the solo, I get this visceral physical experience. I can remember the feeling of singing and knowing “that has to be the take.” I couldn’t do it again exactly the same.

NWMS: What are your plans for the future, beyond this tour?

Mariko Ruhle:  Playing some festivals in the fall, Kaleidoscope Ballard & NadaFest. Hopefully more recording and more opportunities to travel and play new places. I have a lot of new songs that are heavily developed with the band at this point. I would like to play more solo bare bones shows, more opportunities to collaborate with the music community. I’d love to sing more with women.


 

Andrew Hamlin

Andrew Hamlin likes to photograph shoes and write about dog shit. He was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, where he resides today. He attended the Evergreen State College, where he wrote and edited arts coverage for the Cooper Point Journal. He is the film critic for the Northwest Asian Weekly, and he’s published arts coverage and criticism in the San Diego Reader, Village Voice, Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, Goldmine, and other publications. He misses Helen Wiggin. Hamlin’s website is https://andrewhamlin.org.