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Chase Your Dreams: RYAN

Not only a singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, but also a quite impressive and honest narrator (as we’ve found in this interview), RYAN has painted his corporate blues to music’s yellow and how! With his much-awaited song Summer Nights set to be released in August, this appealing talent has made his mark in the music industry. 

Growing up in the Seattle area, what initially sparked your passion for music?

There certainly was a verve in the air toward music in Seattle when I was a kid. The city always took pride in the giants that had come from there (Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, Heart, and the entire Grunge Scene). On some level, the knowledge of that from a young age was definitely inspiring to some degree. I think, though, the initial spark for me came from listening to music with my dad when I was around 3 or 4. He was always playing The Beatles, The Cars, The Moody Blues, and tons of bands from the ‘60s-80s that even as a toddler I identified heavily with. But yes, Seattle’s history of universe-class musical talent certainly supercharged the atmosphere and pushed me to look in that direction.

What was the turning point that made you realize you couldn’t continue in corporate America and had to pursue music full-time?

I had known for some time that I wouldn’t stick it out longer than 5 years in that situation once I had become immersed in it. I felt like a square peg in a round hole. But the event that expedited the entire process of exiting the corporate world was missing Christmas of ’22 with my family. I was living in Indiana for that job, and in mid-December, a giant snowstorm closed all of the airports for a few days. I tried to drive frantically, to any airport within 3 states around me to catch a flight to Seattle but with no luck. The morning I realized I wasn’t going to make it home, I was trapped in Indianapolis in -10 degrees Fahrenheit weather in a snowstorm. Alas, I decided I was going to drive home to Fort Wayne, where I lived.

I remember driving in horrible conditions on the freeway, freezing, disappointed that I was going to miss the holidays because my work wouldn’t let me just a few days earlier, that I was going to leave my job by the next Christmas. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but that my current lifestyle was unsustainable for me.

Your songwriting has been compared to John Mayer and other contemporaries. Who are your biggest musical influences, and how have they shaped your sound?

I’d be lying if John Mayer didn’t have a major influence on my production process! I’ve always thought that the production and instrumentation of Room for Squares was timeless. I try to chase that level of quality on almost everything I do from a sonic standpoint. Though his music is more than 20 years old, it could have come out yesterday and you wouldn’t know the difference.

John wasn’t the first though. My largest influence from a songwriting standpoint has always been Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues (someone most of my generation has no idea of). Justin’s timbre in his voice is incredibly haunting and emotional. I’ve always strived to be that real in whatever I sing, and oftentimes have tried to follow his example when singing at all. Plus from a songwriting standpoint, he has always somehow found ways to beautifully state the little things in life. I’ve been inspired by that music for most of my life.

From a guitar-playing standpoint, Eric Johnson has always taken the cake for me. The way his hands on the instrument are able to be a conduit for the emotional side of his brain is beyond profound. Every lick is a statement and a look into his psyche, and I have no doubt that the guitar is a means for him to express his vulnerabilities. It’s truly beautiful, and it’s all in the 1988 Austin City Limits clip of Cliffs of Dover. I’m incredibly fortunate to have him playing piano on my latest single Sweet Music. Eric has become a wonderful friend.

Can you describe your songwriting process and how you draw inspiration for your music?

I wish I could be as prolific as others in just being able to sit down and write something. Sometimes it happens that way, but often times I just happen to be in the right place at the right time, holding the right instrument, with very little veil in between myself and an emotion I’m trying to express.

Usually, it’s like thunder and lightning. I get an idea and have to quickly grab my guitar and start piecing things together immediately. I also then begin to sort of word-vomit the lyrics down (hardly which are the final product). After I feel like I’ve gotten everything down that I can, I play and sing through it a handful of times. I’ll make adjustments here and there but generally not try and force anything. Sometimes I won’t touch it for weeks, but I’ll come back to it eventually and see if what I’ve written has stood the test of time and adjust from there.

At that point, I’ll usually feel ready to send the lyrics and a recording of it to my producer/drummer/songwriting compadre Tommy Taylor and ask him “Is this anything?” He drummed on the original Christopher Cross album, drummed on all of Eric Johnson’s biggest hits, is a brilliant songwriter/producer in his own right, and is someone I’m proud to call a friend.

How do you approach production in your music, and what elements are most important to you in creating your sound?

Production ideas come to me usually at the onset of the songwriting, which actually can be rather daunting. You have to be able to admit a song is bad without getting attached to the production aspects you have in your head for it. 

For actually recording, I record the acoustic guitar/vocal on my own in my home studio so that I can really go crazy with it on my own and not feel pressured by other people watching or waiting for me to make decisions. Once I’ve come to peace with the acoustic version (usually after a couple of days) I send it to Tommy for his approval, and then we schedule studio time. Once we’re in the studio, he and I record drums and piano live together (something no one does anymore) to the acoustic version I’ve recorded. Bass comes next, and then we see what other instruments we’d like to put on there if any.

The important part of my sound is not to put barriers on any of the musicians I work with, and allow them creative control to express themselves musically through a bass part, drum part, etc. It creates a true dance between the different musicians in the song!

How do you think your music fits in the landscape of genres in the music industry?

I think Soft-Rock, Acoustic-Rock, Singer-Songwriter, and maybe Folk, could all be musical buzz-word genres that fit the description, but truly I think my music is incredibly universal. It doesn’t have to be pigeonholed into any of the genres necessarily because none of the instrumentation is designed to make it fit into anything specifically, which is something I can’t necessarily take credit for. It’s why I’m simply thankful to have the musicians I work with that I do.

Tell us about your latest release, Sweet Music

In 2021 I was living in Scottsdale, Arizona with 3 of my best friends and college roommates (one of which had a girlfriend who was around quite often). We had a house together not blocks away from the famed Scottsdale club scene. As you can imagine, one could hardly ever get a moment alone living in that house. There was always commotion, always something going on in the living room, always people over, always activity. 

It must’ve been springtime in 2021, just months before I graduated from Arizona State University. In my room, I had a view of the sunset every single night over Camelback Mountain, complete with palm trees in the distance. One Friday evening, I closed my laptop for the week having just finished some homework. Miraculously, no one was home and I had the house to myself. I picked up my guitar, feeling incredibly calm and connected to the sunset, to music, to the world around me. And in the course of that sunset, the song wrote itself in practically one breath of peace. It was a miracle, truly.

It took a few years to get the production of the song going. I recorded it a handful of times. Once the real acoustic take was finished, Tommy put drums on it and got Roscoe Beck to play bass on it. I put electric guitar on it, and one evening in 2022 I got a phone call from Tommy. “I got Eric Johnson to put piano on it.” And like that, the song was a beautiful miracle from start to finish. Especially after Tommy put his incredible background harmonies on it!

If there is a song that I truly believe defines me as a human, as a musician, it’s Sweet Music. That song, its energy, and its sentiment are who I am. I stand by it now and forever and think it’s just truly magnificent in its intent and in its sparseness.

Can you share any details about your upcoming projects or new music you’re working on?

I’ll be releasing a pretty heavy song later in the summer in August, titled Summer Nights. I wrote it with one of my best friends (who was one of the guys living with me in the house I wrote Sweet Music in, in Scottsdale). The song became the cornerstone of our friendship and he proved himself to be a BRILLIANT lyricist for someone with no musical experience. Sadly, he passed away in September of 2023, just a month after he saw the song come to life in the studio with me in Austin, TX. He even got to play the triangle on it. The song lives on in his memory and for his legacy for his family.

Looking back, what advice would you give to someone facing discouragement in pursuing their passion?

Life is over before it even starts. Truly, nothing matters, so it would be smart to just do what you feel lights your soul on fire. 99% of the world won’t, so don’t worry, you’ll find that if you put a little bit of effort in, the competition isn’t as stiff as you believe. Chase your dreams, it will never be easier for you to do so than it is in this moment, right now.

How do you stay motivated and inspired in your musical journey, especially during challenging times?

I try hard to listen to my gut when it tells me it needs a break or needs to slow down. Sometimes just getting up and doing the bare minimum to keep the train moving is a success in its own right given the fact that no day is the same as yesterday, and circumstances are always changing mentally for us. So for me, learning to not beat myself up over the fact that I’ve lost a bit of the edge I had last week for example, is the biggest lesson I’ve had to learn. Trusting that it will get easier again is a lesson that can take a lifetime, but it’s one we need to learn.

What message or emotion do you hope listeners take away from your music?

I suppose that depends on the song. For Sweet Music, I’d say the big takeaway is just how lucky we are to HAVE music. Could you imagine how cardboard the world would be without it? How would we go on?

Generally speaking, I hope that on some level my music has a purifying effect on any given person. I hope that they can sort of cling to it and find some solace in it. I know that I certainly do, but I’m also biased. I hope that my music can “refresh” a person if that makes sense.

Stream RYAN’s music on Spotify and follow him on Instagram for more updates!


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