INTERVIEW: Ryan Davis talks about 10 years of Sophomore Lounge

Ryan Davis seems like the kind of dude that isn’t happy unless he’s spinning plates. I’ve known the guy just shy of a decade, and since being introduced to him he’s remained busy playing in multiple bands (State Champion & Tropical Trash) while managing his record label Sophomore Lounge. He also is the man behind Cropped Out, an off-center music festival that caters to the weirder side of rock and roll and experimental noise.

It’s hard to believe, but Sophomore Lounge is already nearing the completion of it’s 10th year of existence, which is evidence that time fucking flies, am I right? It feels like just yesterday I was picking up my CD copy of Slithering Beast’s Werewolf Ballads at ear X-tacy.

To commemorate the longevity of Sophomore Lounge, a day-long 10 year anniversary party is set to happen this Saturday (5/27) at Kaiju (1004 E. Oak St). The celebration will last from 12 Noon to 12 Midnight and will feature 22 bands, some from Louisville and some not, all of which belonging to the SL roster. Scheduled to perform is Anwar Sadat, Sapat, Animal City, Tropical Trash, and a whole lot more. For more information on the event, go here.

To get you hyped on Sophomore Lounge, their “10 Yeas of Bulls#!%” and the day-long shebang happening this weekend, I reached out to Ryan Davis for an interview. Thankfully, he obliged. Read on as we discuss his label, his bands, and what he has planned for the future…

Never Nervous: What made you decide to start a record label initially, and what has been the driving force behind keeping it alive after all of these years?

Ryan Davis: I started a record label because I had written some songs that I believed were decent enough to warrant having other people hear them. In retrospect, I’m not sure if I was correct about said songs, but regardless, I knew no other way than to release them myself. A handful of friends were in a similar position at that time (early 2007ish). We were like-minded and like-resourced, so I took it upon myself to light a unifying fire under the lot of us by calling our little creative circle a “record label.” We didn’t have any distribution or a website or much of a clue in general, but we had a name, which seemed to self-validate us all enough to keep things moving forward.

NN: Aside from yourself, who all is involved with Sophomore Lounge, and who does what?

RD: Well, a lot of people are involved to varying extents. Anyone who has ever put out an album with us or helped record something or repeatedly booked our bands over the years could be considered an extension of the SL family. But less abstractly, the day-to-day operations are handled by myself. My number one right-hand man is and always has been Mikie Poland. He lives elsewhere, but helps via satellite with much of the web maintenance, cassette production, poster and layout design, anything that is beyond my limited knowledge of Photoshop and/or ink-and-paper and/or the internet. The other two people in State Champion (other than Mikie and myself) have Sophomore Lounge tattoos, so I suppose that shows their level of commitment as well. But I run the label, and Mikie helps make my life easier.

” Anyone who has ever put out an album with us or helped record something or repeatedly booked our bands over the years could be considered an extension of the SL family.”

NN: Was there ever a time in particular when you considered saying “fuck it” and quitting Sophomore Lounge altogether? It can’t always be rainbows and lollipops, especially with this particular labor of love.

RD: You know what, it’s actually been a long time since I’ve considered pulling the plug on Sophomore Lounge. Of all my labors of love and creative pursuits and things that I threaten to end at any given moment, it’s the one that gets aimed at the waste basket least often. It’s not always easy and it comes with no shortage of frustrations, but there’s a more limited spectrum of what can and probably will go wrong than, say, throwing an ambitiously impractical music festival.

“Of all my labors of love and creative pursuits and things that I threaten to end at any given moment, it’s the one that gets aimed at the waste basket least often.”

NN: Give us a run down of SL’s plans for the near future.

RD: My most immediate plan (other than this thing at the end of May) is to release a new record by one of my very favorite bands in the world. The band is called Spider Bags. The record was written and arranged for their friend Reese McHenry, and all of these people are based out of Triangle-area North Carolina. She sings the songs, they perform the music. It’s called “Bad Girl.” Everyone should own it. Everyone should own all of their records. They truly are the best at what they do.

NN: Should we expect 10 more years of Sophomore Lounge?

RD: If my parents allow me to store all of my assorted bullshit in their basement for another decade, I suppose anything is possible.

NN: So where the hell does the name “Sophomore Lounge” come from, anyway? I’ve wondered this for years.

RD: Where I went to high school, here in Louisville, there were lounge areas that were designated for either upper class students (juniors/seniors) or the general student body (everyone allowed, but primarily populated by freshmen and sophomores). My friends and I were “WEIRD” and didn’t always identify with the assembly options provided to us. So, in 10th grade, we found a large closet in one of the common areas that was primarily used to house athletic bags during the school day.

So like, if you brought your soccer ball and cleats or field hockey stick or whatever to school, you would put those things in this room until class let out, at which point you would go get your shit and go to practice. At some point, one of us jokingly named it the “sophomore lounge.” This was over 15 years ago now, so my memories of that time are a little blurry, but for what I think was over the course of a couple months (maybe more? probably less?), all of us would convene in said space before school, during breaks, at lunch, etc.

We put posters on the wall and had a secret door-knock and hid things in the ceiling tiles and made it our own. We would sit on athletic bags and play songs to each other on acoustic guitars. Our band at the time was called Jeremiah’s Last Push-Up (that’s a story for a different day). It didn’t last long before authorities kicked us out and deemed it an unsuitable gathering area, but it was one of the first memories I have, aside from making skate videos with a camcorder or whatever, of being involved with a small “movement” of people that was both creative and socially engaging. In a way that was really fun for me. I guess that was something that I wanted to reference when starting the label years later, and the name just stuck.

NN: Tropical Trash just released a killer new 7inch record; are there any plans moving forward with the band? Touring? More records?

RD: Jim told me if I ever quit the band he’d ride his motorcycle through my bedroom window at night and kill us both by unzipping a jacket full of Great Horned owls that he’s been maliciously collecting and training over the past couple years. So yeah, unfortunately. All of those things. A new sort-of full-length called “A Dent In The Forever Can” is scheduled for cassette release later this summer. That’s coming out on a great tape label out of upstate New York. We’re doing an east coast tour in support of it in August and are just now starting to stir the new-material pot for another twelve inch’er.

“A new sort-of full-length (from Tropical Trash) called “A Dent In The Forever Can” is scheduled for cassette release later this summer.”

NN: What’s going on with State Champion? The last I heard from you guys was when you released Fantasy Error a couple years ago.

SL: State Champion has been pretty insanely active over the last, I dunno, 10 years? So I’m semi-intentionally pumping the brakes on it a little at the moment to let some new songs simmer and give everyone a brake (myself included — we all do other things). We’ve sold out of all three of our albums and at this point, it doesn’t really make sense for us to go do a 3 week tour in support of a new t-shirt design. We should probably just get the records re-pressed, but never have for whatever reason.

We’re still very much a band though. We did for first EU tour about 6 months ago, which was an insane blur and feels like maybe it was just a weird dream? But that was cool. I just finished a quick solo tour of playing SC songs around the Midwest, which was with my friend Eric from the great New England folk outfit Footings. That was a challenge in some ways, but rewarding in others. Did a Daytrotter thing. Ate a lot of food. Ultimately a real nice time. We’re also playing our friend’s wedding in Atlanta later this year, so that and the SL thing will likely be the highlights of our 2017.

NN: Finally, are there any special plans for the big 10 year anniversary party at Kaiju? Anything hidden up your sleeve?

RD: I’m not wearing a shirt, so no. Full transparency.