Ryan "Elvis" Wong (Rousseau) has been active in our favorite bands for years, yet somehow never seems to overtly grab the spotlight, choosing instead to lurk in the background and pound us with great music before you realize what has happened. As a member of both seminal Memphis scuzz-rockers The Reatards and Rip Off Records youngsters The Wongs simultaneously even), Ryan first hit us with a pummelling garage assault. But then something changed. In the first rush of the new synth-punk explosion, Ryan debuted the brutal Destruction Unit on a self-released 7" right around the same time the Lost Sounds hit the scene. He has since released an LP of Suicide-like drone as a member of Digital Leather, a full length of Destruction Unit nightmares, and a critically-acclaimed single as Tokyo Electron on the obscure Solid Sex Lovie Doll label. Often working alone, or with Jay & Alicja in Destruction Unit, Ryan makes good sounds that quickly go bad. In a good way. You know what I mean. Currently residing in Arizona again, I recently had a chance to quiz him on his musical oeuvre months after our first meeting at this year's Blackout when he told me some of the most over-the-top Reatards stories ever.
TB: How did you get into music growing up, and garage/punk more specifically? Any musical training?
Ryan: I got into music (especially punk) skateboarding when I was younger, and when I turned 16 I got my first drum set and started playing with Dan Wong, Mundo Wong and his brother Luis. I never had any musical training, I just learned from playing air drums and watching other people play. Same with the guitar and keyboard.
TB: Were the Wongs your first band, or was there stuff before that?
Ryan: My first band was The Fuckaires. It was Dan, Mundo and me. It was fast three-chord crap. We did cover weird songs, like The Outlets, Circle Jerks, and the song at the end of the movie "Meatballs". Two years later we started to get really into the garage thing and Killed by Death comps, so we added Matt Wong on Bass.
TB:Who came up with idea to call yoursleves the Wongs?
Ryan: I showed Dan, Matt and Mundo the movie "The Wanderers" and Dan and Matt were like, "We need to call the band The Wongs!" Mundo and I both didn't really like it, but we didn't really give a shit either.
TB: Whose idea was the legendary "Jerkin' It to the Trashwomen"? Did you guys ever hear from them?
Ryan: I came up with the "Jerkin It" song. I didnt have any porn at the time so I jerked off to their record cover and the interview in MRR. We never heard back from them until the rest of the Wongs (I was in Memphis) sent them a couple of the records which they shot loads all over and and bled on.
TB: Are the Wongs still together/playing shows?
Ryan: The Wongs still play about once or twice a year. Dan lives in San Antonio now.
TB How'd the Wongs get on Rip Off? Got any good Greg Lowery stories?
Ryan: The Wongs got on Rip Off from me sending him a tape of stuff I recorded myself and the seven inch. It took us two years to finally get the record out. We drove up to Frisco and recorded the LP at the same time the Zodiac Killers recorded their first LP. I know a lot of people dont really like Greg, but him and I get along fine.
TB: How did you end up in Memphis and meeting Jay Reatard?
Ryan: I moved to Memphis from Yuma in August of 1997. I lived there before when I was younger. I moved there with my parents because I just got drunk all the time in Arizona and I didn't have a job. The funny thing is, the Wongs played with the Oblivains in Phoenix earlier that year and I met Jack and I told him I might move to Memphis. He gave me Jay's number in case I wanted to get a band going. I never called him. When I got to Memphis I went to Shangri La records and posted a flyer saying "looking to start a band, into Pagans,Killed by Death, and all that shit." I got two calls back, one from some geeky college kid who never heard of the stuff, and one from Jay. I picked up Jay and his 4 track and we just started recording shit. At first we would record half his songs and half mine (they should be released some time soon). We then decided that I sucked at guitar and he sucked at drums so we just did the Reatards, which he had already been doing two years before I got there.
TB: Explain how you pulled off being in the Wongs in Arizona and Reatards in Memphis at the same time...
Ryan: I was able to play in both bands because of my job with FedEx. I was able to fly for free, so I would fly back to Phoenix and play shows. I moved back to Arizona permanently in July of 1998.
TB: How was the experience of being in a band as volatile as the Reatards? What was the West Coast Wongs/Reatards tour like?
Ryan: It was a great experience playing in the Reatards. I think we both learned a lot from each other. Moiving to Memphis was one of the best things I've ever done. It was truly a wild and crazy time. There are so many great Reatards stories. Way to many to tell and I hate typing. The whole West Coast tour was fucked in a good way. Lets just say there was a lot of booze, blood, broken shit, ass wine, beer enemas, coked out freaks, nazi bitches, burning flesh from 151 fireball blowing, piss backfire in the van windows, 3 tire blowouts and 8 smelly motherfuckers in 1 van.
TB: What led to the Reatards demise?
Ryan: I think that we all were ready to do something different. We all started to get better at our instruments, and we started to listen to more music than just punk and garage bands.
TB: How did you get into synth-punk?
Ryan: I got into synth punk when I got the Screamers demos seven inch in 1995. I was at a Motards show in Phoenix at Eastside Records (the best record store in Arizona) and I went to grab the last copy when Heath from The Fells went to grab it also. We then flipped a coin for it and I won.
TB: How long have you been doing Destruction Unit for?
Ryan: I started Destruction Unit in January of 2000. Jay told me he started a new band called Lost Sounds and it had keyboards in it, and I said "That sounds like the shit I wanna do!" So I grabbed my friend Arrow's keyboard and recorded the first Destruction Unit seven inch. It was some cheap piece of shit Casio or Yamaha.
TB: Why so long between the Destruction Unit single and LP?
Ryan: I wrote the songs on the Destruction Unit LP two years before I finally went to Memphis to record with Jay and Alijca. I recorded all the songs in 2001, but the sound quality wasn't so good. I also hate recording in studios and having to pay some asshole to make you sound like shit. Jay and Alijca are amazing at recording, and I trust them in mixing and all that shit.
TB: The Destruction Unit stuff is pretty visceral and tortured it seems. Brutal listening. Is it a way for you to exorcise inner demons/vent?
Ryan: Destruction Unit is definitely the best way for me to vent all my anger and hate towards all the stupid fucks of this world. DU stuff is mostly about the music and the beat. I dont spend to much time on lyrics, I hate writing lyrics.
TB: Lost Sounds have reworked a couple of your songs, and Jay & Alicja played on the Destruction Unit LP with you. You guys seem to be treading on some of the same ground musically. Is it coincidence that this happened, or is there a special connection/kinship between you musically?
Ryan: The Lost Sounds/Destruction Unit connection is as simple as that we are best friends and we pretty much like the same shit. I tried covering a Lost Sounds song once but I dont think it came out very good.
TB: The Tokyo Electron single got a lot of great reviews. Explain this project...
Ryan: The Tokyo Electron record is just me. I recorded it on 4-track in December 2002. We did have a band for a while and we played a few shows but it didn't last long. I kind of got bored of it. I did start another band with Mundo Wong, Steve Sleaze, and Kyle in which we played half Tokyo Electron and half of Steve's songs. That didn't last too long either. There are about 9 or 10 more Tokyo Electron songs left that I recorded by myself.
TB: You seem to operate solo on a lot of occassions. Is it because of necessity or do you just like doing it yourself? Do you prefer recording solo or with a band?
Ryan: I like to record solo for two reasons: It comes out the way I want it and I can do it really fast. I hate recording. I usually do it very half assed and I'll leave fuck ups in the songs a lot. I just dont have the patience for it. Thats why it takes me so long to follow up projects. The good thing about recording in a band is that I can hurry up and finish my parts and get drunk while everyone does their parts. Recording live is best if you can do it without sounding like complete dog shit.
How do you decide which songs go with which project? Do you specifically write Tokyo Electron songs or Destruction Unit songs, or do the songs come first?
Ryan: I write songs for what ever project I feel like doing at that certain time. Whether I feel like writing a fucked up noisey song or just a simple rocker, it all depends what I am into at the time.
TB: What synths do you use?
Ryan: I have an old Oberhiem, an old Yamha organ/synth and a Crumar. They're nothing fancy, but they sound cool. As for the Destruction Unit LP we just used Jay and Alijca's Sequential Circuits and an old Korg i think.
TB: Are Digital Leather, Tokyo Electron, and Destruction Unit all still active projects?
Ryan: Destruction Unit just started playing again, we go on a West Coast tour in late September. Digital Leather still plays, I just play the drums now though. Tokyo Electron isn't active as of right now, but I am sure I'll get bored and start it up again someday.
TB: How is the scene/bands in Arizona these days?
Ryan: The scene in Arizona is OK. I mostly just hang at one bar and don't really follow most of the bands. There are some good ones like The Kranks, Big Vinny, Hell on Heels, Knockout Pills, Swing Ding Amigos and Shlitzkrieg.
TB: What new bands do you currently enjoy? What are some all time favorite bands/records?
Ryan: As far as new bands go I really like The Ponys, anything Jay and Alijca do, Baseball Furies, and most the bands on In the Red. Some all time faves are Love, Consumers, Sweet, Electric Eels, Shelby Bryant, and Rev. Charlie Jackson. Thats just shit off the top of my head.
TB: What recordings/releases do you have upcoming in the future?
Ryan: A new Destruction Unit record should be out soon on In The Red and there will probably be a Wongs live record out sometime soon hopefully. I don't really want to put it out myself, but I will if I have to. I think it captures the band's sound perfectly.
Interview by Rich Kroneiss
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