Pin It
SR8539 cropped
Photography Yulissa Benitez

Strange Ranger, the New York band making lusty experimental pop

We catch up with the New York band ahead of the release of their first album in four years, Pure Music

Strange Ranger’s first album in four years was recorded in a setting almost as cinematic as their music. Sentencing themselves to a winter exile, the group absconded to the Catskills in upstate New York to finish the record as a blizzard raged outside. The result was Pure Music, a nostalgia-packed trip scattered with 80s-sounding synths, rousing harmonies and contemplative lyrics. The quartet comprising Isaac Eiger (guitars, vocals), Fred Nixon (bass, piano, vocals), Nathan Tucker (drums), and Fiona Woodman (vocals), are now split between Philadelphia and New York City, presently making a mark on NYC’s dynamic music scene by playing shows with emerging artists like Chanel Beads and Nourished by Time, and doing remixes with city staples Frost Children and Blaketheman1000. Their new album, which is out now via Fire Talk Records, reflects their ever-evolving influences and tastes over the past decade.

Although formally under the name Sioux Falls, their debut album Rot Forever (2016) had plucked inspiration from members Isaac Eiger and Fred Nixon’s time growing up in Bozeman, Montana. The album plays in the style of more traditional alt-rock, with tacit nods to Modest Mouse and Built to Spill, whose music famously depicts the landscape where the pair met. Hints of playfulness from their first record have carried through seven years later onto Pure Music, which finds itself somewhere between dream-pop and lo-fi indie rock. 

Their sound has evolved into something more hallucinatory and lustful, which avoids getting lost in a sea of traditional dejected shoegaze or slacker rock, but rather sounds like a contemporary take on a Pale Saints record. Their 2019 album Remembering the Rockets took on a similar wistful tone, albeit with a more traditional indie-rock sound throughout. Despite trying to pin down these themes, the real value of their latest album is that it is ultimately genre-defiant and packed full of surprises, taking us from intimate emotional moments to energetic instrumental bursts and nearly everything in between. 

“I think that your biggest influences are always changing and evolving,” vocalist and guitarist Isaac Eiger explains. “I feel like this record is evidence of that, because it chaotically mashes a lot of genres. Our music is probably just like a big mix of everything that we have ever liked and wanted to do.” The transcendence of any singular form leaves the album split up into what feels like vignettes, planting moody and nostalgic imagery in the listener’s imagination, while the lyrics mill over the frustrations and mundane responsibilities that make up daily life.

The music video for “She’s on Fire” has been likened to the visual style of a Gregg Araki film, and seemingly draws influence from their present urban environment. The video follows the group on a car ride through the city at night, cutting between them singing in New York’s Holland Tunnel, and shots of the surrounding cityscape. 

Below, we talk about their inspirations for the new album, the writing process, and who would be the most likely to end up in prison.

I read that this album was recorded while trapped in a cabin in upstate New York. Can you describe what that process was like?

Nathan Tucker: We sort of trapped ourselves at first, to be fair. But then there was a crazy snowstorm so we couldn’t really leave. 

Fiona Woodman: It was kind of perfect. The cabin was really beautiful and had huge windows all around so you could just watch ice pellets blowing everywhere. It was very cinematic.

Could you guys describe your writing process?

Nathan: Usually what happens is Isaac or Fred, depending on whose song it is, will bring a sort of basic version, like chords and melody and lyrics that work as a blueprint for what the production will sound like. Then we tend to tear it apart and put it back together. And sometimes it is pretty similar to what they brought and sometimes it’s not. This new record is definitely the most collaborative one we’ve done so far. 

Before you were Strange Ranger you put an album out as Sioux Falls back in 2016. Your music since then has evolved a lot. Can you tell me about the transition in your sound? 

Isaac: I think it’s reflective of what we're listening to now. The first Sioux Falls record was written when I was a kid and we were listening to way different music than we listen to now. I still love a lot of that stuff. I think when you make something, it just reflects some weird mess of all the stuff that you like, and the weird perversions that are inside of you. I think our music is probably just like a big mash of everything that we have ever liked and wanted to do. 

What was the inspiration for the “She’s on Fire” music video?

Isaac: Ben wanted to shoot it on 16-millimetre film, and wanted to make it feel like a lot of the movies that we have always watched and loved. 

Isaac: I love movies shot from the late 1960s to mid-1990s of what lights look like at night. It does feel like a fetish or something. Now I’m totally fucking sick of it because we did it so many times. I have this kind of hangover from looking at all of these images over and over again.

Who are you guys listening to right now?

Nathan: I’ve been obsessed with this Miley Cyrus song. It’s so fucking good, it’s called “Angels Like You”. The other thing I‘ve been into is Will Survives, who’s this dude that lives in the middle of nowhere, illegally squatting on some semi-publicly owned land. I think he just loves DJ Lucas. He makes these cool raps and makes videos of himself building things.

Fiona: I still can't stop listening to Erotic Probiotic 2 by Nourished By Time. I have listened to it every day since I first heard it. 

What is the most recent note in your notes app?

Isaac: I just have a list of all the shit I have to do. I know I’m supposed to design our website. We’re supposed to send my friend Chris a demo. I’m supposed to make a list of photographers. I’m supposed to touch base with this girl I’m producing. 

Fred: A shopping list that says ‘pressure treated 2 x 8 x 12, pressure treated 2 x 6 x 10, and type three exterior wood glue.’

Fiona: I have a list of songs that I wanted to throw into a DJ set. This one says ‘‘All My Life’ mixed over some Jungle Beat’. Do you know that song? By Casey and Jojo, it’s so good.

Nathan: Mine is a shopping list, and the only two things on it are anchovy paste and frozen berries. Unrelated objects.

Who would be the most likely in the group to end up in prison?

Fred: Probably me. 

Isaac: Yeah. I think it’s Fred.

Nathan: Yeah. I would say Fred.

Fred: Yeah, I think I’m the most likely to be part of a high-level bank heist or something like that. Don’t you guys think I could be a bank heister in a life after music? 

Fiona: I can see that for sure. You in general have a ‘one last job’ attitude. 

Who are your biggest musical influences?

Isaac: We grew up listening to Neil Young, Modest Mouse, that kind of thing. I think that your biggest influences are always changing and evolving. I feel like this record is evidence of that because it chaotically mashes a lot of genres.

Fiona: This is one from my childhood, and I feel like I can’t even listen to it anymore because it doesn’t even sound like music to me at this point, but it's Radiohead. Have you seen Meeting People is Easy? It’s this documentary about the press tour for Ok Computer from like 1999. It’s just Thom Yorke refusing to talk to journalists for like an hour. It’s awesome. For the record, I don't feel that way about Radiohead anymore. 

Nathan: No offense, Radiohead. We’ll still open for you on tour. 

Pure Music is out now