After years of hopping freight trains and studying philosophy and art, Ryne Ziemba wants people to understand what’s going on in their heads when they look at their phones.
The world won’t see his debut full-length LP Cataclysmos until the spring, but he’s ready to share the video for its first single “Message,” now. In the video, Ziemba looks pensive in warm sunset-esque lighting and sings to the camera. It seems simple until you start to notice the elusive words briefly flashing over the screen. They’re too fast to read, but still say a lot.
“With this video, I was attempting to comment on how sad I think the solipsism and narcissism of social media culture seem to make people,” Ziemba tells BTRtoday.
Ziemba said the video was inspired by David Bowie’s video “Heroes.” The key difference is that the “Message” video definitely gets a lot trippier.
Ziemba assures fans that the upcoming album is stacked with thought-provoking songs like “Message.” Many of the songs were inspired by characters and situations he encountered living from train to train. “With riding trains, you’ll risk your life or getting arrested and sit in the cold woods for hours, but then you get to go 90 mph through a mountain range—you can’t buy the happiness I experienced doing that.”
Read the entire interview with Ryne Ziemba below and click play on his new music video for “Message” below.
Ryne Ziemba, “Message”
BTRtoday (BTR): You hopped freight trains for a few years—what was it like? I did that a few times in Europe, but I feel like it’s completely different there. Here I feel like there are a lot more elements of danger. Did it influence your music?
Ryne Ziemba (RZ): Riding freight trains was amazing and by far one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen or done in my life. Riding them in America does involve a tremendous amount of risk and danger. However, as with most things in life, you only get at the really good stuff by risking a lot and putting yourself into dangerous or vulnerable situations. With riding trains, you’ll risk your life or getting arrested and sit in the cold woods for hours, but then you get to go 90 mph through a mountain range—you can’t buy the happiness I experienced doing that.
I met a lot of really strange people while riding trains that changed the way I think about people and telling a story. Also, just seeing that I could do a thing like riding a freight train—it seems impossible, but becomes possible through persistence—that was a huge experience for me. I might not be doing music at all if I didn’t learn perseverance. Riding trains, just like making music, seemed impossible until I went out and did it myself. Also, I probably learned to appreciate patience and dynamics riding trains that helped me write changes in music.
I like the puzzle of getting into and out of difficult situations and both riding trains and making music provide a lot to think about in that department. Also, I didn’t really fit into the culture of crusty punk traveler kids that usually ride trains, so it reinforced my feeling comfortable just doing my own thing and being too weird to dress and act like everyone else.
BTR: Tell me about this music video for “Message”—what was the inspiration for it?
RZ: I was attempting to comment on how sad I think the solipsism and narcissism of social media culture seem to make people. I’m always thinking about the Adam Curtis documentary, Century of the Self, and that thought process about social media as an extension of the advertising culture that preys upon our self-doubt and being trapped in our heads. Yet, it’s something that I participate in and value for how it helps me connect with people, especially around sharing my music and finding new stuff that I like from other bands and individuals.
Also, visually, I think I was going for a mixture between Mark Gormley’s videos and David Bowie’s video for “Heroes.” Movement that is so intentional that you can’t tell if it’s high art or silly ass mime shit is something I find really entertaining. And old psych rock photos/art where they were just putting random stuff in because it looks weird and the viewer is confused if there’s some secret meaning behind it. It’s kind of what I wrote the song about, being confused and looking for meaning, so it seemed like a funny way to represent that visually.
Oh, and Caravaggio was a big influence on the dramatic lighting. I’m very obsessed with him right now. I’m all about the chiaroscuro.
BTR: What inspired this song?
RZ: Musically, I was really going in deep on the 70’s glam rock stuff when I wrote “Message.” I will always be a fan of that glam-era, but this was when I was really closely dissecting what made that time period of music so unique.
Lyrically, it was inspired a lot by getting into philosophy. The sort of blending of Buddhist/Taoist philosophy and Greeks like Heraclitus that’s always the lens I seem to view the world through, now. Or just like any person that sits and marvels at how quickly everything disappears and wondering if you even have time to simultaneously experience life and make sense of it all.
I smoked some weed and thought, “it would be cool if I could write statements on water for people to read in puddles as they walked to work. Oh wait, it would disappear right away… Ain’t that just life for you?”
BTR: You’re coming out with your debut full-length this spring, how would you compare it to your debut EP Dirty Sunset #1?
RZ: I think my LP Cataclysmos, is much more vulnerable sounding and trying to be more of a rollercoaster ride. While writing these songs and recording them, I would ride around on the ferry on the East River and listen to Tame Impala and Brian Eno on repeat and ask myself, “How do I challenge myself to be as good as these guys?”
I wrote most of the songs on Cataclysmos while I was really sick for a couple of months. I felt like utter garbage and then said, “oh if I can make some songs that make me feel better right now, while I’m at my physical worst, maybe these songs can help other people feel better with whatever struggles they might be dealing with.”
Even the title, Cataclysmos, is the Greek word for “flood.” As I saw so many friends of mine seeming to be inundated with life and things in the cultural climate that was causing them a lot of stress, I thought, maybe I can help them feel better or see that the seemingly worst moments in life can often be the most valuable. Like the floods of a river bring nutrients to the plants around it, these metaphorical floods and the momentum they carry can help a person to slingshot themselves to greater things than they ever thought possible. I tried to make it sound a bit prettier or ethereal to try and capture that.
BTR: Other than the album, what does the future hold for Ryne Ziemba?
RZ: I have another album that I wrote but haven’t recorded yet, so hopefully, that’ll sound good. But it might be a while before I record that one. I also have tons of rap beats I make, but haven’t really ever done anything with—that’s how I got started in music. I also write country songs in my sleep and should probably do something with those some day.