At just 23 years old, guitarist and songwriter Ranford Almond already has over a decade of experience playing on stage with a number of different acts. If you have been around the Greensboro live music scene during that time, there is a good chance you have caught him either crooning on his own or with the help of his live band. You may have even seen him playing guitar for Americana rockers Viva la Muerte over the years.
Now two years removed from the release of his debut EP Back Burner, Ranford has been hard at work writing new tunes for his sophomore effort. I had a chance to sit down with the talented lyricist and ask him about that process, his musical influences, and what we can expect from the new album when it is finally released.
Ryan: When did you start playing guitar?
Ranford: I was probably 8 or 9 years old. I started on the fiddle when I was 4.
Ryan: Oh really? Do you still play the fiddle at all?
Ranford: Not as much as I should but I’ve been trying to jam on it lately.
Ryan: Still can, though, at least?
Ranford: Uh, yeah. Not even as much as I used to be able to, but I’ve been trying to pick it back up. But I started on the fiddle which is a really good instrument to start on because it’s fretless and I learned the Suzuki method, [so] I didn’t learn to read [music] or anything but just play by feel. But I picked up a guitar when I was 8 or 9.
Ryan: Acoustic first, I’m guessing?
Ranford: Yep. I didn’t really pick up the electric until later on in high school, around 15 or 16 years old.
Ryan: So, you pretty much learned to write on the acoustic as well?
Ranford: Yeah. Pretty much.
Ryan: When did you start writing originals for the first time?
Ranford: I started off writing them with my dad at a younger age when I was probably 12 or 13. I kind of co-wrote some songs with my dad. We’d both write lyrics together, then I would write some music to go along with it.
Ryan: That’s really cool.
Ranford: I felt like I hadn’t really lived enough to write meaningful lyrics. I was still learning and everything. My dad’s a great writer too so it was cool to kind of help write on some of his early tunes.
Ryan: Was it the same kind of folksy stuff from the first album, [Back Burner]?
Ranford: Yeah, I still play a couple of those tunes, too. “It’s All Up to You” is one that was probably the first tune we wrote together and that’s on that last EP and I still play that one quite a bit, as well. But I started writing on my own probably senior year of high school [and] freshman year of college.
Ryan: Where were you at that time?
Ranford: Here in Greensboro but I spent some time in Boone [at Appalachian State University] and really started writing heavily up there in Boone.
Ryan: You said you were writing songs with your dad. Did you get most of your early exposure to music through your dad?
Ranford: Both my parents, really. My mom followed the [Grateful] Dead throughout the early to mid-80s, and late-80s, really. Whenever they came through the northeast. She saw a ton of Dead shows, so always had the Dead and Jerry [Garcia] playing around the house. My dad was more into kind of bluegrass, folky music. [He] put me on Robert Earl Keen growing up, [who] was one of my favorites. The Avett Brothers were a big influence for me. Also, those Texas songwriters like Townes Van Zandt [and] Guy Clark. [I] love John Prine [and] all those guys. And Bob Dylan.
Ryan: Those are some good influences to have!
Ranford: Yeah, I had good parents who like really good music.
Ryan: What can we expect from the new album compared to Back Burner? Is it more of a full-band thing?
Ranford: Yeah, definitely more full band arrangements [that] I’ve been working on for these tunes. We had a lot of different players come in on the record. So, it was really cool to get to work with a lot of different people.
Ryan: Anybody you want to let us know?
Ranford: Jeff Sipe played drums on a lot of the songs. It was really good to work with him. He’s amazing, obviously. A lot of other people but it’s been cool to, kind of, adapt the songs that way.
Ryan: When you have somebody collaborating with you like that, how much do you let them, kind of, into the creative process? Or is it more, “I’ve got this song and they are coming to play it for me”?
Ranford: Naturally, when you play with new players the song is going to evolve in some way which is cool because we’ve worked up the songs in however many ways prior to recording them. Then brought in some new perspectives on them and they collide.
Ryan: And then the original ideas and what actually ends up on the recording are different?
Ranford: Exactly, yeah. And now [even] with my live band it’s kind of colliding into one sound, which has been really cool. But Back Burner was more introspective songs, I’d say. Kind of looking inward at myself. But with these new tunes, I’ve been working on writing about people around me or people I grew up with or people in my life.
Ryan: So, it’s kind of written from a different perspective?
Ranford: Yeah. There’s still some introspective stuff in there, but I’ve been working on writing on things I observe rather than solely on things I feel. A few of these tunes are a little more uplifting, I’d say, than Back Burner.
Ryan: Would you say it’s more “rock’n’roll” than the last one?
Ranford: Um, some of it, definitely. The EP was pretty laid back in vibe and there are a few tunes on there that kind of carry the same feeling but definitely a few more jammers on there.
Ryan: And this will be a full-length album this time?
Ranford: Yep, it will be the first full-length one.
Ryan: Awesome. Do you have a name for it yet?
Ranford: We’re going to call it Old Soul, named after the song “Old Soul”. We recorded it with Bill Stevens at Ovation Sound up in Winston. He was so much fun to work with.
Ryan: I know the Dead has been a constant influence for you, but have your influences changed much over the last 5 to 10 years?
Ranford: Not somebody I would say that has become one of my main influences, but I’ve been trying to broaden who I listen to as a whole, really, over the years.
Ryan: [In your live shows] there is a lot of improvisation involved. Would you say that your songwriting influences are different from your improv influences?
Ryan: Who would be more of a songwriting influence and who would be more of an improv influence?
Ranford: I’d say songwriting would be more Prine, Townes, Dylan, [and] Guy Clark. Those guys I grew up on I try to pull that from. As far as the improvisation, I’d say that comes more from Jerry [Garcia] and Dicky Betts. I’ve been learning a lot from Billy Strings lately. That’s one of my favorite bands, and I’ve been learning a lot from him lately. [He has] a great mix of multiple worlds of music in one. So, just learning, really, from anyone I can.
Ryan: What’s the difference for you between being the front man in a band like Ranford Almond Band and being just “in” a band like Viva la Muerte? Where does your role change and what is different about it?
Ranford: Viva was really the first band that took me in when I started playing. They were the first band I ever really played with.
Ryan: How young were you when you first played with them?
Ranford: 17 or 18, I guess. I learned everything I really know about jamming with other people through playing with Viva, so I have so much love for everyone in the band. Just to be able to contribute something differently than I would in my solo project.
Ryan: Is there one thing you enjoy more [between] being the front man and just the guitarist?
Ranford: Not necessarily that I enjoy more. I think there [are] awesome parts to both of them. In Viva, or when I’m just playing guitar in a band, I feel like I can just kind of sit back and not focus on anything except for the music. Whereas, if you’re the front man of a band, you also have to talk to the crowd and sing all the tunes, which I love. I love both of those things. But just playing guitar in Viva is always just a different kind of fun for me, for sure. It’s just nice to kind of lock-in and almost forget where you are for two [or] three hours and just jam, you know? But it’s definitely a different approach.
Ryan: Can you talk about your music writing process? Do you have a specific way you like to do it?
Ranford: It’s not the same every time. Sometimes I’ll come up with something lyrically and then I’ll put music to it. Or sometimes I’ll come up with a cool chord progression and write lyrics to it. Sometimes I’ll sit on a song for a year or two years before anything really happens with it.
Ryan: Do you set time aside specifically to write?
Ranford: Yeah, definitely. Having your own space to just be by yourself is key for me. When someone’s not always listening to you or just getting out in nature or something. Go out on a trail or by the lake or something. That’s been really helpful for me. But as far as songwriting, just archiving every single idea you have. I’ve been putting it in one folder on my phone and it’s [been] really cool to come back to something like a year or year and a half later and revisit it with a totally different mindset and different approach. Change the direction you were taking it originally and bring it to something totally new. I’ve been really liking doing that. Bringing back some old stuff that I came up with and adding some new details to it. I just try to keep all my stuff set up to where I can just flip it on and play whenever I really want. I’ve been working on really writing my tunes more for a band composition. In the earlier years, I wrote for a solo performance. I’ve been working on writing around a jam and kind of arranging songs, which is something I’m working on still.
Ryan: When writing for Ranford Almond Band, do you like to bring them the music and then have them [give] input on it?
Ranford: Yeah, I bring in the tunes and then kind of get everyone’s perspective on it. Then add new details as I jam [and] play with people. We’ve definitely been working on writing together and just recording us playing for an hour or two without any thought or expectations and then going back and picking out a minute or two snippet and thinking “oh that was cool, let’s try to write something around that.” Off an idea that [we] come up with naturally. Sometimes [I] get a hunch for a song and I’ve sat down and [written] them in 15 or 20 minutes. Sometimes I work on them for a year. And there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it but however the product is made is worth it in the long run.
Ryan: Well, that’s all I have today. I appreciate you doing this for me, Ranford
Ranford: I appreciate you sitting down with me.
Be on the lookout for the release date of Old Soul when it is announced. In the meantime, check out Back Burner on all major streaming platforms.