Interview with guitarist Ricky Singh | By Hutch
Backtrack guitarist Ricky Singh is outside Richmond, Virginia’s Canal Club, anticipating a late-booked show “to break up the drive.” When most would be exhausted, Backtrack find the motivation to continue. They finished the Life & Death Tour in Tampa the prior night, Oct. 1, after starting the tour on Sept. 8 with Vein from Boston, Twitching Tongues from Los Angeles, No Warning from Toronto, and the U.K.’s Higher Power – whose debut LP, Soul Structure, was put out by Singh’s Flatspot Records in May.
Singh is riding the thrill of hitting up a friend in Richmond, getting tattooed at Black Rabbit Tattoo – an all-female studio – and opening for RVA’s sinister Bracewar alongside Higher Power, Queensway, Cold World, and Day By Day. After the show, Singh and the boys are driving back to New York City to find “some padded sleeping device.” A month is a long time to be on the road, especially since Singh says all the band’s members “have more responsibilities at home” since their last LP, 2014’s Lost in Life. Vocalist James Vitalo now resides in L.A., while the other members – bassist Danny Smith, guitarist Chris Smith, and drummer Steve DiGenio – live in Brooklyn and the Jersey Shore.
Singh drips with pride and excitement regarding Backtrack’s intense new full-length, Bad to My World. Hardcore fans have recently been sated with a single, the title track, with the album arriving on Nov. 17 via Bridge Nine Records.
That single – the music and its presentation – was the product of Singh challenging himself to be unique. Last go ‘round, Bridge Nine founder Chris Wrenn had the band put out a 7” with a track from Lost in Life and a B-side. This time, Singh put two tracks on a flexi to stoke fans—and where do flexis come from? Magazines. So, Singh made one.
“It’s a 36-page magazine with a flexi inside. Full-sized, full-color magazine that you would buy in the store,” he says, noting that its contributors include “tons of different of friends that are somewhat connected to Backtrack. Between graffiti artists, illustrators, tattoo artists, photographers – you name it – everybody came together and made it happen. It’s one of my favorite things creatively that I have done. It is out of the box and visually pleasing. It shows a little bit more into the world of the members of Backtrack, the visual aspect of what we are into and the vibe of the band. And it shows some lightheartedness. A lot of the time, hardcore bands take themselves seriously. As people, we’re not macho dudes trying to flaunt how tough we are. It important to be realistic about who we are as people. I think that shines through in there.”
Bad to My World’s energy and drive epitomizes Backtrack’s surging drive to create. Tracks like “Crooks Die Slow,” “One With You,” and especially the invigorating “Cold-Blooded” ensure Backtrack’s prominence. Blistering riffs and fast drum rhythms complemented by audacious breakdowns are the formula. The writing process began immediately after Lost in Life. Singh notes, “I was constantly writing for the last four years. I came up with over 30 demos. We were able to take the best of what we write and we would want to put our name on.”
Terror drummer and Piece By Piece vocalist Nick Jett produced Backtrack’s two prior LPs, as well as records for bands such as Down To Nothing, Internal Affairs, Strife, Rotting Out, and Minority Unit. Jett also filled in on drums for Backtrack during their European tour with Madball. Singh reports “turning a little room in the back [of the bus] into a studio” and writing with Jett for Bad to My World. “[He] produced all of our albums and this one,” Singh says, “[but] he took a backseat on the engineering this time.”
Enter Dean Baltulonis, who took on the duties for engineering and mixing. His resume is staggering, and his production on No Warning’s 2002 Bridge Nine release, Ill Blood, brings things full circle. Singh explains, “The vibe of the record—the way I wrote most of the songs—was being a 14 [or] 15-year-old kid getting into hardcore music and what drew me to it, what made me intrigued by it.” Singh refers to the awe one feels when first exposed to a subculture so honest, angry, and visceral, “the kind of sound that has a rawness to it, a certain type of energy that I wanted to hone.” For example, he refers back to “very early 2000s Carry On, Mental, Righteous Jams, and No Warning,” but clarifies, “I didn’t want to emulate that, just the feeling I had when I first listened to those records. It is a Bridge Nine release and feels as though it could have been released alongside those records and held its own. I hope this record becomes that gateway for a 15-year-old today.”
As Singh reflects, he approaches what Backtrack have meant to hardcore and the band’s members. After 10 years, Backtrack have left their own formidable imprint. “A whole decade. All of our 20s were spent in Backtrack,” he marvels. “And a lot of that was spent on the road, touring. We just wanted to play shows and write music that was cool.”
Regardless of their undefined goals, their motivation led them to tour Japan, Australia, and Europe and to drop three records. “All those things fell into place organically,” Singh adds. “We are grateful for the opportunities the band has given us, creatively and culturally. We have been able to experience all of these incredible things all around the world that I don’t think most people will be able to experience unfortunately – or care to experience, because they don’t care enough about the world. We’re very thankful for hardcore music.”