Photo by Jamy Ophelia
Interview with Ray Carlisle | By Nick Harrah
Teenage Bottlerocket vocalist and guitarist Ray Carlisle finished recording his acoustic debut record, Do You Wanna Go To Tijuana?, on Oct. 27, 2015. Nov. 3, his twin brother and Teenage Bottlerocket drummer and co-founder, Brandon Carlisle, was found unresponsive in his Fort Collins, Colo., home by his roommate. He fell into a coma during his hospitalization and passed away on Nov. 7.
Since then, Carlisle has been reinventing Teenage Bottlerocket’s songs with help from co-frontman Kody Templeman and new drummer, Darren Chewka, as well as adjusting to playing live by himself as Ray Rocket, but more importantly, how he is doing, personally? “Life is good. I’m hangin’ in there,” he assures. “It’s been rough, but, definitely, having my album coming out is something to look forward to musically. It’s helping to keep my mind off everything. It’s helping me get through, um—the saddest thing that’s ever happened in my life.”
Do You Wanna Go To Tijuana? was released April 1 through Teenage Bottlerocket’s label, Rise Records. Carlisle joined his mainstay band for a few local shows in March before their big summer tour, had a Ray Rocket release show in his hometown of Laramie, Wyoming on April 1, and then, take his solo act on the road with The Copyrights and The Lippies in May.
He’ll essentially be doing what he’s been doing since he and Brandon formed Teenage Bottlerocket back in 2001: rocking the fuck out. Only now, without his brother, it won’t be quite the same. Even the words of the songs he penned before Brandon’s death have taken on new meaning. “The emotion behind the Ray Rocket record is there, and um, you know, with my brother passing away, it adds to that emotion,” Carlisle admits. “It was never intentional, because of course, when I was recording this record, I didn’t know my brother was going to die a couple of weeks later. But now that it happened, it just sort of amplifies the emotional level of the album, if that makes sense.”
Making Do You Wanna Go To Tijuana?—which consists of 10 Teenage Bottlerocket songs and two originals—even more special is that Brandon plays drums on the final track, a rocked out version of “First Time,” the acoustic closer to 2015’s Tales from Wyoming.
Carlisle says the response to the heartwarming video for the record’s debut single and title track—which finds him sharing a day in his life with his 9 year old son, Milo—was uplifting. “It’s sensational,” he says of the feedback from parents and fans alike. “I loved the reaction from all the fans and everyone who watched the video. I just wanted to capture a day in the life of me and Milo, and we did that.”
Carlisle first demoed the album at his home in Laramie, before taking them into The Blasting Room in Fort Collins, where Teenage Bottlerocket have recorded all but one of their albums. Presenting the upbeat punk songs acoustically was a fun challenge, and one that his brother was, at first, skeptical about. “Brandon was definitely a little more skeptical, because he was afraid that if the record turned out like shit, then it would reflect poorly on Teenage Bottlerocket,” Carlisle says with a laugh. “So, that definitely motivated me to record a record that Brandon would be proud of. I got the chance to show him the album after it was done, and he was really excited.”
Now, the challenge of moving Teenage Bottlerocket forward, and moving on with two creative outlets, awaits Carlisle. With the spirit of and love for his brother forever with him, and the connection to the fans they made together strengthening him, Carlisle says he’s ready to move on. “Brandon always had this thing he’d say, which was, ‘Be sweet,’ and it’s not always easy to be sweet. Especially on the road, if you’re up partying all night, you’re not eating great, or maybe you’re coming away from a hard show, and you run into someone at the venue, and they’ve been looking forward to talking to you for a long time, and you sort of say something that rubs them the wrong way, and they’re sensitive to that… I just don’t want to do that to people, and I have before. I’m not saying that I’m perfect.”
“So, just playing shows in the future, I want to be as cool with everybody as possible,” he continues. “Life is short. It’s shorter for some than it is for others, and I want to leave a positive feeling with people who I come in contact with, because things in my life have certainly changed in the past few months, and I just wanna try to be the best person that I can be. Whether it’s with Teenage Bottlerocket or it’s just me by myself, I’m just really thankful and grateful that I get to do this with my life. I feel real lucky.”