You’d be hard-pressed to find a musician as gregarious, talkative and quick with a chuckle as former Role Models frontman Rich Ragany, a man exuding vibes so upbeat he makes Dave Grohl look like Montgomery Burns.
Born in Calgary, Canada and based in the UK with his young family, he makes music that instils a similar sense of positivity, with influences ranging from Tom Petty, Elvis Costello and XTC, to The Faces, The Pretenders, Fleetwood Mac and REM, wrapped around lyrics that tell tales of struggle and inner turmoil.
“My wife once gave me the best review of my music,” he says. “She said ‘Oh, it’s another album full of your darkest thoughts dressed up to sound like a party.’ There’s a lot of dark things and a lot of struggle in the lyrics, but the whole idea is sometimes you hear the voices and all those harmonies, and it’s supposed to give you fucking strength. There’s a joy in the change of dark to light.”
The youngest of six children born to Hungarian immigrant parents, he spent his childhood sitting in the family basement studying his much older siblings’ record collections, falling in love with Kiss, Cheap Trick and Aerosmith. At the age of 14, he lied about his age in the local McDonalds to get a job so he could buy his first guitar. He’s been living and breathing music ever since.
Based in New York in the early 00s, his band Madison Strays almost broke through when they caught the attention of DJ Zane Lowe, but an opportunity to move to the UK and build on this was rejected by his bandmates.
Undeterred, he packed up and headed over, proposing to his British girlfriend behind the helter-skelter on Brighton beach along the way.
This latest line-up is a solo project that evolved into something bigger. Drummer Simon Maxwell, keyboardist Andy Brook and backing vocalist Kit Swing have all worked with him since the Role Models days. He met guitarist Gaff after a boozy gig by his band The Dedwardians, and bassist Ricky McGuire (of UK Subs and The Men They Couldn’t Hang) through friends. Beers flowed and a deep friendship grew.
The Digressions’ new album, Beyond Nostalgia & Heartache, was created under COVID restrictions, during which two of Ragany’s brothers died – one, George, while the frontman was on a flight home to say goodbye. “I had to go into two weeks’ quarantine, alone, and sit there and think about it in this little hotel.”
Friends brought him a guitar, and he recorded a song to raise funds for the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada (opens in new tab). On his return, he and the Digressions continued to use the time at home creatively, swapping music through the lockdowns. The result is a record that’s straight from the heart and a starting point for the next chapter.
“I think sticking together is the sound of the album,” he says, leaving that trademark positivity ringing in the air.