UPON ITS RELEASE on May 17, 1971, Paul McCartney's Ram was universally panned. Longtime fans still reeling from the Beatles' divorce the previous year ignored it, critics scoffed (Rolling Stone thought it was "monumentally irrelevant"), and even John Lennon despised the thing. Yet over time, Ram took on a second life, establishing itself as the unheralded gem of the hit-or-miss McCartney solo canon. It was the recording that ushered in the cautious period of discovery for the former Beatle, where he established his solo voice and made the songwriting transition from Lennon/McCartney to McCartney/McCartney.
Chances are Dave Depper will receive a far warmer embrace for The Ram Project, his loyal re-recording of Ram (even Sean Lennon would likely approve). When he first stared down the 12-song album, Depper was under considerably less pressure than McCartney; just a local artist unhindered by expectations, with a handful of McCartney-penned songs, and a month at his disposal. Best known for being a primary—but never lead—member in countless Portland bands (for an exhaustive map of all his projects, see below), The Ram Project was equal parts a challenge to Depper's abilities as a musician as it was to his self-esteem. For the first time in his life, Depper couldn't hide on a recording.
"There's a wall between the art and the artist," explains Depper. "I had never been confident at all, first of all in my own voice, and second of all in my ability to write words that meant anything to anyone. So a good first step was getting over the voice thing. I guess it worked out okay."
Depper documented the recording endeavor on his blog, as he dove headlong into the project, eventually deciding to complete the entire recording in a month's time (it took 31 days from start to finish). With wife Joan Hiller filling in as Linda, The Ram Project was a charming bedroom endeavor with a strict adherence to McCartney's original vision, a project whose visibility was never intended to reach much further than the four walls in Depper's room and his Blogspot account.
Of course, that didn't last too long.
"I did two songs really quickly at the end of February last year, then I left on tour with Blue Giant and the Fruit Bats. I had started the blog and was putting them up when Isaac Slusarenko from Jackpot Records heard those songs. I got this phone call while I was somewhere on the highway in Utah and he was just like, 'I have to put this out. What do you need from me?'" Shortly after, UK label City Slang (Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene) became equally as enamored with Depper's homage to McCartney, agreeing to release the album across the pond. Much like its source recording, The Ram Project soon took on a second life, one far more surprising than its modest inception.
No one is as bewildered by the unexpected turn of events as Depper himself, who weathered a recent split with Hiller despite the pair's plans to usher in a limited run of The Ram Project live performances. "The reason we split up is kind of vague and personal, but totally friendly," he explains. "At the time we recorded it things were great between us and it was a lot of fun and really a joyful time. A few months later we decided to call it quits, but the first thing I said was, 'Are you still gonna be part of playing this record live?'"
Depper's unbridled devotion isn't limited to his own project; it stems from how dearly he holds McCartney's work. "I didn't really get into McCartney solo until a couple of years ago. I was always a diehard Lennon fan and I thought Paul was a total cheeseball, which he is. If you base your listening on Paul McCartney's hit singles, it's pretty tough to swallow sometimes. I went to Crossroads Music one day and I went to the McCartney section, and they pretty much had every record for three bucks. I bought all of them in one fell swoop for like $30 or $40. I put on Ram and immediately it was one of my favorite things I had ever heard. It totally resonated with me."