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I don’t think too much about commercial viability: Ryan Wayne

As a founding member of the award-winning band The Warped 45s, Ryan Wayne made his mark early on in the music industry. From suffering two strokes in early 2022 to making music with Grammy-winning producer Malcolm Burn on his critically acclaimed album Crow Amongst the Sparrows, this independent artist has come a long way. We had the wonderful opportunity to interact with him.  

How did you get into the music-making realm? 

I grew up surrounded by music - singer-songwriter-driven music, mostly around campfires and kitchen party jams. My father played and wrote songs and many of my aunts, uncles and extended family would play or sing songs by artists like John Prine, Gordon Lightfoot, and Bob Dylan. As a kid at some of these outdoor music parties, I remember pitching my tent as close to the music as possible so I could continue listening after bedtime hours. I started writing my own songs around middle school and slowly started taking an interest in production as well. I made my first album in Australia after meeting some really lovely folks who had just started a record label (I was studying there at the time) and then I returned to Toronto and started a band with my cousin. That led to lots of touring, festival performances, and a couple of records.

You’re a multi-talented musician. But what do you enjoy the most: Producing or Songwriting? 

Ultimately, songwriting is the most enjoyable aspect, but they both bring me pleasure, and more and more they work in concert. I used to write songs first, usually on acoustic guitar, and then once they were complete, bring them into my computer to start building out the production. Now, sometimes I start the production with only a loose idea of where the song is headed and piece it together as I go.

You are also an instrumentalist. What is your favorite musical instrument and why? 

At the end of the day, the acoustic guitar is still my favorite instrument to play. I think it hastens back to growing up around campfire jams and the versatility it has as a songwriting tool.

What themes and premises do you think, seem to be recurring in your music so far, and why?  

As someone with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), I find myself constantly distracted by the things around me, sometimes to a fault, but often it leads to finding inspiration - the stories on the streets, in the bars, in the late-night diners, on the subway cars, in the news, in the woods, in my daydreams; inspiration is everywhere. From this, I tend to land on themes of escapism, loss, mental health, addiction, hope, indifference, love, lost love, impermanence, psychedelia, free speech, war, travel, literature...I suppose this answer is about as scattered as my brain!

Growing up in a musical family in Oshawa, how did those early experiences influence your songwriting and musical style? 

Growing up in a musical family definitely inspired me to write my own music from a young age. Songwriting, and more specifically, lyric writing, was always something that held value in our family and extended family, and was often a point of conversation. My parents almost had records playing and those too sunk into my blood. We spent a lot of time a few hours North of Oshawa where my dad grew up and where much of my family still resides, in and around the South Eastern part of Algonquin Park. It is there where most of my fondest musical memories stem from.

What role did music play in your healing process, and how did it feel to return to the studio after your strokes? 

Outside of the love from my family and rest, music played the biggest role in my recovery. Early on, I was battling belts of depression and heavy cognitive fatigue. Still, I found that I could work for short periods on my laptop and find both comfort and a creative outlet by working on music - mostly stuff I’d already started, but, as the weeks went on I started doing some recording in my home studio, again in very small chunks. Still, sure enough, they added up to what started sounding like a record. It had been several years since I had released any music (the last album I put out was as a member of a band called The Warped 45s), but it seemed like the natural next step.

How did your collaboration with Malcolm Burn come about, and what was it like working with him on Crow Amongst the Sparrows

There are a few producers out there who seem consistently attached to records that resonate with me. Malcolm is one of those people, whether it was records he made on his own or as part of Danial Lanois’ team. I think of Oh Mercy by Bob Dylan, Red Dirt Girl, and Wrecking Ball by Emmylou Harris, Lanois’ own record, Acadie, Yellow Moon by the Neville Brothers, and Living With the Law by Chris Whitley to name a few. I was delighted that Malcolm was open to mixing my record. In the end, he contributed to some of the production and learned a few synth and piano parts for the project as well.

Can you give us a sneak peek into your upcoming music projects? 

I’m about 3/4 of the way through a follow-up record and hoping for a winter release. My next single will be out in early August and features some pretty special guests including Malcolm, my friend Annelise Noronha who is mixing the next record, and Felicity Williams who is in the band Bahamas. The song is called Grand Illusions and stemmed from a typewritten letter I found tucked inside a Rilke poetry book I bought in a used bookstore in upstate New York. The letter, typed in the 50s, is from a father to a friend about fears and concerns he has about his wife moving to New York City to donate her time and recent inheritance to the communist party.

How do you navigate the balance between maintaining your unique sound and experimenting with new styles or influences? 

I don’t overthink it. Perhaps because I have a comfortable day job and a family life that both fulfill me, or perhaps because I’m not impressed by much of the algorithmic-influenced music of modern days, I don’t think too much about commercial viability or whether a song will be right for playlists or radio. I really just lean into each project on a song-by-song basis and take a bit of a painter and sculptor’s approach to production. From the painter’s perspective, I often start by deciding on an instrumental palette that might best serve the song. Often this includes a mix of both live and electronic drums, acoustic, electric, and sometimes steel guitars, bass, a mix of different synthesizers and keyboards, and lots of harmonies and counter melodies. For instruments I can’t play myself (such as strings, and horns), I will reach out to people in my friend group. I love the Wall of Sound approach, but I often add way too much at first which is where the sculptor’s perspective comes in. I start to chip away at what doesn’t add to the song, and try to insert some space and breathing room. Once that is done, working with a mixing engineer I trust is important, because with so many elements, there are often many directions the final mix can take.

What message or feeling do you hope listeners take away from your music, particularly in your most recent work? 

I am grateful to anyone who takes the time to listen. I don’t aim to persuade anyone with my music, per se, but if there is an overarching takeaway, I suppose it’s that none of us are immune to life’s ills - whether it be sickness, aging, or death. For those of us lucky enough to live in a safe environment, embracing impermanence can help center us in the moment. The songs are just that - moments, snapshots - a sampling of life as interpreted through my lens. If anyone else finds comfort, an emotional connection, or a curiosity in the music, then that is just one of the many cool things that art can do when we set it free.

Stream his music on Spotify now and follow his Instagram for the latest updates!


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