If life imitates art, then for Ray Troll, so does music. More specifically, his music imitates his art. The debut CD from Ray Troll and the Ratfish Wranglers titled Where The Fins Meet The Frets contains 16 original songs that one could say leap directly from Ray’s artwork, which is playful, humorous, and dripping with double entendre.
Ray Troll and his Ratfish Wranglers hail from Ketchikan, Alaska, a population of roughly 14,000 hard-working folks, mostly in the fishing industry. To say that Ray’s songs are influenced by this town and its people would be an understatement. Almost every track is fully drenched with Alaska wilderness and its residents.
From the first song, “Bombastodon,” you know you are in for an experience. The opening notes greet you about as gently as an alarm clock at 5 a.m. after a late night out on the town. Guttural throat singer Stephen Fandrich chants as guitars, drums, and organ slowly build to a rhythmic, primal beat. “I wanted to fire a warning shot across their [the listeners’] bow to let everyone know what they were in for,” Ray told me when I called to interview him about the CD. “If they could survive Bombastodon, then the rest of the CD will be a breeze,” he added laughing.
Certainly, this is the case. Many times during the CD, song subject matter comes directly from Troll’s artwork such as “Spawn ‘Til You Die,” an upbeat rock song about the desires of a young salmon fry to eventually die spawning, to the folk song “Ain’t No Nookie Like Chinookie,” whose title sufficiently describes the song subject.
“We spent a solid ten days in the studio recording,” Ray says, “most of which was done live with the band recording all at the same time.” The fun, light subject matter of the CD obviously translated well to this type of recording process as the record is filled with lively vocals, laughs and good-hearted performances from the Ketchikan-based band.
“Everyone in the band is from Ketchikan…they are all amazing” he told me. Listening to the CD, it’s easy to hear why. Popping bass lines, dancing fiddle, slow guitar and crying organ saturate the CD. Ray himself plays acoustic guitar and sings lead on many of the songs. When he is not singing, he has many friends help out with lead and backup vocals, including engineer and producer Stephen Jackson. At times, Ray’s son Patrick helps out by adding drums. “I had to grow my own drummer for my music,” Ray jokes.
Where The Fins Meet The Frets finds itself landing somewhere in the musical area of country, new wave rock, and down home folk. Every song gives you a different flavor of this musical mix and even adds an educational side, as on “Lumpsuckers of Love” with its spoken scientific teachings.
At times the songs make you cringe, such as in the jazzy duet sung by Ray and Shauna Lee, “What Can the Canidir´u Do?” They sing, “A little fish in the Amazon River / What awful, searing pain it can deliver / They wait so long for their chance to pounce / And it will get you right where it counts.”
Other times the listener finds himself carefully listening to the story being told. In “The Ballad of William Beebe,” spoken words sit over sweeping vocals, light bass guitar, and strumming electric guitar, and tell the story of scientific pioneer William Beebe and his partner Otis Barton who lowered themselves in a four-foot steel ball into the ocean.
Even with its humorous lyrics and hillbilly-barbershop quartet intro, the most touching song has to be “Cannery Girl” about Ray’s wife. “I married a cannery girl!” he laughs. Her picture adorns the page with the song’s lyrics.
Where The Fins Meet The F rets is a fun-packed CD, full of cleverly written lyrics and wonderful musicians. The production is fantastic. It’s hard to believe that this was the first real studio CD from Ray as he’s done a wonderful job. The CD also contains a glossy, full-color sixteen-page booklet with lyrics, credits, and Ray’s original artwork.
“It was a long process, but I feel really energized by it,” Ray tells me. “It has created a whole new world of music and visuals for me. I will definitely do it again.” He has new songs in the making, and is incorporating his artwork into his live shows.
Check out the video for “Ratfish Rule” on YouTube that was produced by Marc Osborne on a $200 budget.