Gross National Product
“The music industry is a beautiful place,” lead singer/guitarist Ralphie Solanas declares as a stream of juice comes pouring out of his mouth. As he finished his statement, the over-sized chunk of steak he had tried to consume while speaking somehow found itself disagreeing with the idea of being swallowed, and Ralphie’s eyes widened and darted around in a fit of panic. Me, not knowing exactly how to handle the situation, quickly handed over my half-filled bottle of Yoo-Hoo as he began to pound incessantly on his chest while his face began to grow a couple shades redder by the second. He violently poured the remaining half of the beverage down his throat, stopped the self-beating, took a deep breath, and laid back in his chair.
“Whoa, that was a close one,” Ralphie says. “Sorry about that. It happens all the time.”
Three years ago on a bright Sunday morning, Ralphie Solanas, as the story goes, took a long look in the mirror and realized he was ugly. “It had always been in the back of my mind, but until that day, it hadn’t become blatantly apparent to me just how disgusting I was,” he explains. And not to take away from his claim, the man sitting before me choking on a large forkful of steak is not a pleasant thing to look at. His long, jet-black hair lies flat and greasy against his head, his full beard undoubtedly has a multitude of undiscovered organisms taking residence in it, and his stomach far exceeds his pants. His unfitting shirt allows the world to see way more of his hairy midriff than it would prefer, his pasty complexion is almost fear-inducing, and the smell that follows him around is bizarrely reminiscent of tree-shaped car air-fresheners.
“You know that saying ‘A face only a mother could love’? I’m pretty sure… well, I mean… I haven’t asked her or anything… but I’m pretty sure my mother was disgusted with my face.”
I sat down with Ralphie Solanas to discuss Gross National Product, a band he had formed after his realization in an attempt to make the world realize that there were, as he puts it, “ugly people out there making music too.” Ignited by the seemingly endless parade of attractive musical performers, he picked up a used Fender guitar from a pawn shop and began teaching himself how to play. A month later, he recruited childhood friend Marty Crothers to play the bass, and after another month of songwriting, drummer Paul Rhoades joined the group to complete the phenomenon that’s been described as “the ugliest three men ever to be on one stage at the same time.” Or, as they’re known to the world, Gross National Product.
What brought you to form Gross National Product?
Well, after I realized I was so unsightly, it dawned upon me that everyone I love in the music world is beautiful. You can’t turn on MTV and see an ugly person, you can’t open Rolling Stone and see an ugly person… the ugly people just aren’t in music. The music industry is a beautiful place… aesthetically speaking. I wanted to change that. I wanted to tell all the homely people out there that ‘Hey, it’s okay to be ugly. You can still be in a band.’ And that’s what Gross National Product are all about.
So you’d venture to say that all the members of the band are ugly?
Ugly? Hell, we’re hideous. I mean, look at me. Do I look beautiful to you? Don’t be nice, now. Are you attracted to me?
See? There you go. I wouldn’t let a beautiful person into this band. It would defeat the entire purpose. When I let Marty and Paul into the band, it wasn’t just because I was friends with them or they could play instruments. It was something more than that. It was because they’re as revolting as me. I mean, have you seen Paul Rhoades? He’s probably the worst of all of us. I’ve seen him go three months without showering.
Do you think your message is getting across?
I think it is. Not in the way I hoped, I guess, but we are gaining attention and we are still ugly. And if one little kid out there sees us and it brings up their self-esteem a bit and they pick up a guitar, then my work is done. I mean, we can’t just sit back and let the world of the beautiful take us over. Did you hear what happened to the Screaming Trees? Some record company told them that they could have a contract if they lost one of the Conner brothers because they weren’t good-looking enough. Fuck that!
I have seen some press on you. Not all of it’s positive, though. For instance, I read somewhere that your show is “The most revolting thing since the Rolling Stones’ reunion.” What do you think about that?
I read that review, actually. What you see is who you get, and… I mean, three overweight guys running around on-stage might not be the highlight of everyone’s evening, especially since we’re sweating and probably already smell bad to begin with, but I think that comment was a little harsh.
How would you describe your music?
Not very good, honestly. We’re out there to prove a point, and unfortunately we didn’t really have time to learn our instruments too well. I know how to do a power-chord, so we pretty much base all our songs off of that. We’re not really punk rock, but I guess… hmm… if you took punk rock, slowed it down a bit, took out the distortion, and made every song about food, then I guess you’d have us.
Are your songs conveying your message as well?
We thought about that when we started writing songs, and decided that we didn’t want to be too preachy. We want kids to hear us and enjoy the music… not sit there, listen to what we’re saying, and say ‘Yea, I’m ugly, and I’m proud!’ because you just know that’s not going to happen. We’re realistic about this. Like I said, we ended up writing all our songs… I think we have somewhere in the range of twenty of them… all about food.
All of them?
All of them. Well, that’s not true. There’s one song about hunting, but at the end of the song we all eat the deer anyway. So I guess that’s still about food, huh?
Do you get a good turnout for shows?
I think it’s picking up. The last few shows we played, we had a good thirty kids there. Most of them were laughing, and a few always leave before the set ends, but word is getting around.
Is there an album in the works for Gross National Product?
Yeah, there is, actually. We haven’t quite gone into the studio yet, but we’ve definitely been thinking about it. The album is tentatively called If Monica Can Get the President, So Can We , but we’re not sure if that’s too tacky. I can tell you this much, though. We’re going to change the face of the music industry. And it’s not going to be such a pleasant face after we’re done with it.
Do you consider yourself something of a pioneer?
A pioneer? I consider myself a crusader. This land of the beautiful needs a good beating with the ugly stick, and I think I’m just the man to do that. Remember, ugly is beautiful. Words to live by.