In an attempt to shine light on local music, The Lantern’s “Columbus’ Own” is a weekly series that will profile a new Columbus band every week.
Even if it might take a lot more work to be a one-man band, Michael Ramey, the Columbus-based guitarist who performs and writes music as Golden Death Music, prefers it that way.
“I do all the solos. Sometimes the shows I play are by myself,” Ramey said. “I write all the music, the lyrics and all the recordings are done by me. I pretty much do all this music for myself.”
Kyle Roper, a friend of Ramey’s and a fan of Golden Death Music, backed his claims.
“He does everything himself, from writing and playing to recording, mixing and mastering, even shooting his own music videos,” Roper said. “You can’t make music like that unless you are putting in a ton of work.”
Stemming from his high school days, Ramey said he was drawn to the electronic sounds of ‘90s dance music, as well as some rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s, using the combination of both influences to create his own sound.
“Psychedelic is definitely a word I use sometimes,” Ramey said, as he tried to classify his music. “I discovered progressive rock music and that was when I first started realizing what you could do with music — that it doesn’t have to be formulaic. I started to understand how limitless the possibilities are.”
While Ramey said he considers himself a bit of musical experimentalist, he said his creativity doesn’t quite stop there. Rather than writing lyrics about the prototypical highlights of today — relationships, cars, technology — he said he likes to dig a little deeper and connect to his audience on a much more personal level.
“Lyrics are definitely real important — important for me to get them right,” Ramey said. “I try to have them stick to a certain vibe — existentialism. I try to stay away from the, ‘I broke up with my girlfriend’ or whatever.”
Ramey describes his lyrics as darker in nature, but in a somewhat ironic way. He said he uses tough times in his life to highlight the “double-sided coin” that is life-and-death, also clarifying the title with which he chooses to represent his music: Golden Death.
“Having struggled with depression when I was younger, being obsessed with death, having a fear of death, getting over it, having hindsight and looking back on it, that’s where the lyrics coming from,” Ramey said. “A lot of it is about trying to erase people’s negative conceptions about death and making them realize that death and life are two sides of the same coin.”
Schultz said it’s that specific paradox that sets Ramey’s music apart from the rest.
“The juxtaposition with the words and vocals, to me, is my favorite part and its why I want to share his music with the world,” Schultz said. “The lyrics reach into your fears — the darker side of what can bring you down. The music, on the flip side, is very hopeful and gives a nice complementary feel to the vocals.”
It might be the deep, dark-yet-light paradox of the songs that helped fans to connect the music, but in any case, Ramey said people caught on to Golden Death Music very quickly.
“On a whim, seven or eight years ago I uploaded the music to MySpace and it was popular and got an overwhelming response,” Ramey said. “I’m always really pleasantly surprised whenever anyone finds something in the music that I’m making that they connect to.”
Ramey’s quick connection with audiences might have been the reason for his ability to sign a record deal with Helmetroom Recordings in 2009, giving him the chance to perform his music outside the U.S. and experience the universal language of music.
“I signed a record deal and was able to collaborate with some of my favorite artists,” Ramey said, mentioning artists Stereo Lab and Acid Mother’s Temple. “From there, I started flying around the world and playing shows in South America, Canada and Mexico. It was a great experience.”
Ramey said Golden Death Music is a single-entity operation and a result of his unrivaled love of music paired with his relentless desire for musical control and perfection.
“He works so many long hours at his job, has a wife and a son and still finds time to dedicate to his music,” Chris Ramey, Michael Ramey’s brother, said. “I’ve known him to work on stuff for months, tweaking the smallest details until things are just the way he wants them.”
Sean Schultz, the owner of Strange Loop Records and a long-time friend of Michael Ramey’s, explained that the musician’s uncanny work ethic is due to his unrivaled passion for music.
“Music to Michael is like air or water,” Schultz said. “He can’t go a day without picking up or playing music. If I don’t see or hear from him for a couple weeks, I’m happy because I know he’s in his own little world working on music.”
Michael Ramey said he is pretty happy in “his own little world” as well.
“I like recording alone because I have complete control,” Michael Ramey said. “I don’t like the live shows because I don’t have that — you’re at the mercy of the sound guys and the other players.”
That need for control and musical perfection, Schultz said, is simply the work of a musical genius looking to streamline the recording process.
“The average musician isn’t going to know how to use things efficiently,” Schultz said. “Having that control, it allows Michael to be more efficient in his work. He knows that sound that he’s trying to go for and doesn’t want a barrier between how it comes into his head and how he writes it out.”
Michael Ramey said he goes about writing and producing music with countless hours of work in the studio.
“I have a little home recording studio, so I’ll sit down with an instrument,” Michael Ramey said. “Basically I’ll just sit down with a metronome and improvise while recording. From there, I’ll listen afterwords, cut and paste and patch the song together from there.”
After almost three years on the road Michael Ramey has found himself back home in the heart of Ohio with his sights set on his musical future, which includes a new album recorded on vinyl.
“I’m really excited to be back in Columbus and looking forward to getting back in the scene,” Michael Ramey said. “I’m working on an upcoming album on vinyl, which is almost done. I’m excited for that as well.”
There are no dates set for the release of the vinyl album, but Golden Death Music is set to play a live show on March 26 at Kobo Live, located at 2590 N. High St in Columbus.