I had the great pleasure of talking to Ryan Star this morning and after we chatted about our mutual friend and fellow musician Todd Carey, as well as our shared love of Billy Joel, we dove into a fantastic conversation about music, technology, his amazing record A N G E L S + A N I M A L S, and this amazing life that we lead. He said he was expecting good questions from me so you know, no pressure!
When I joined Ryan’s PledgeMusic campaign and decided to go for this perk, the “Almost Famous Interview”, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect and spent a lot of time thinking about what to ask, how to ask it and wondering if I should actually watch the movie, Almost Famous, before talking to him. Yes, I know…as a music fan it’s a movie I should have already seen but you’ll get over the fact that I still have not. In the end I just started thinking about what I’d like to know about one of my favorite artists and decided I didn’t want to just ask about the album because he’d done a lot of interviews about it already. I think you’ll enjoy what Ryan had to say and hopefully you’ll learn just a little bit more about this amazing, amazing human.
I have always appreciated how Ryan connects with his fans and how much he genuinely cares. He was so thankful that I was a part of his campaign, and I know he’s thankful for everyone that participated. I find it so exciting and special to be involved with music at this level. He mentioned that technology makes this whole thing very interesting because these are things, referring back to Billy Joel, “…there was nothing like this for him. This is another level. This is like a real back and forth conversation like we’ve never seen, so I’m embracing the awesomeness of technology, of where we’re at with music.”
We talked about how different things are now with social media and how that’s such a big part of things, especially for independent artists, artists like Ryan trying to promote in such a different way. I find it to be a very cool thing. He said he loves it but also needs time to be an artist as well, and I think the bottom line is, there has to be a balance and that looks different for everyone. Ryan agreed. “I always joke that if this was back in the day, Jim Morrison would have possibly not written The End; he would have been too busy tweeting, ‘I’m on drugs!’…everyone has to find the balance.”
Before we got into my original scripted questions I asked Ryan about playing the Off The Record festival next March – something that was just announced a few weeks ago - and told him how excited I was that he was going to be a part of it. When he asked what it was like I told him about my experience at this year’s festival, and how amazing it was. Artists played casual sets and cover sets and everyone just jammed together throughout the weekend. He’s definitely psyched to be a part of it. “I like those kind of events. It’s fun for me to do that; especially when there are other like-minded artists and we can all kind of break that wall down together.” I hope you all got your tickets because you’re not going to want to miss it.
I got to see Ryan play in a couple of intimate shows last August (2013) when he was starting to play the songs from the new record and he mentioned that the show he did at Rockwood that week was his favorite. I was lucky enough to be there and it was pretty incredible. He’s been doing more of these intimate sorts of shows in NYC lately and I wondered about his plans for taking the tour across the country.
CM: So, are you going to do a tour across the country in that kind of way? Are you going to make it more intimate or what are you planning with this album?
RS: “Right now…it was a time in my life where I wanted to definitely get this music out and see where it took me, but instead of just spinning my wheels and doing a typical ‘Now it’s time to tour’, I just wanted to get a handle on all of the creative things in my life and keep making stuff. I kind of call 2014 the year of creation. So I wasn’t in a rush…as much as I love touring and connecting, as you know, I just didn’t want to commit to anything. I wanted to stay around, and I was starting to score a movie and then there was another project and there’s just a lot of stuff in the pipeline creatively because for so long I was touring 11:59 [his last album] and making a name for myself and all of that but I needed to stay home for a second. And then the New York shows have turned into a little bit of the beginning of me saying okay, I wanna have some fun, I wanna do some shows and get this record out; so we’ll see where it goes after August. It excites me to do that. I feel like I do need to tour this album. I also feel like I need to make another album, so we’ll see.”
CM: I always love new music but I love to see you too.
RS: “Well thank you. I’m thinking about that every time I put a New York show up…man, I really should get out there.”
CM: Meanwhile, I look at my calendar every time and think, “Can I fly out there?” I know you love Rockwood and you’ve talked a lot about how critical it was in you getting your music out there all those years ago. So what is it about that venue that makes it so special?
RS: “I think there’s an evolution of a confident person. You’re not born being confident. So when I grew up, in junior high and high school, the dream for me was I gotta go play…I wanna be just like the people that inspired me…like when I pretended to be Trent Reznor in front of the mirror as a kid and you wanted to do everything they did so a lot of the bands I grew up loving in New York were all playing at CBGBs. That was the place and then, I was 15 years old, a vicious, driven kid, and my band Stage and I, we got our gig at CBGBs and we promoted and we went and I was like, this is what I’m supposed to do; this is what a musician does; and when I played it I realized it didn’t feel like it was as great as everyone talked about. It had its time in the 70s and 80s and it was like, they treated us like shit, you were lucky to play there…it was never that moment; it was never like, wow, I’m a part of this. Then, I found this place, and no one knew about it. This guy Ken Rockwood was sweeping the floors of this newly opened venue that was beautiful and had a piano in it and I just walked in was a like, ‘Hey, can I play a few shows here?’ I was starting to branch out solo, starting to explore the piano thing, and he had no one really playing there and was like, ‘Sure, no problem.’ And I started playing there, built a residency, so I felt like a very much a part of this evolution, this growth. And then I went to LA for a few years, made some records, did some music stuff, and came back and realized this venue has turned into a really big deal in New York and I felt very much a part of its genesis and the beginning of the next generation’s home of music in New York, circa this time, instead of trying to be a part of someone else’s time. That’s why Rockwood is really important to me. I feel like years to come hopefully there are kids that wanna start there. It feels like a musical community, that we all know each other. I’ll be hanging out and other musicians walk in and that wasn’t happening for me at CBGBs. It was like a shell of what it once was. It was like an amusement park. This is ours and I can go and hang with my band; I know everybody. It’s a really cool place. From the musician side, it’s like Cheers for musicians. On the venue side, some of the most magical moments of my life have been there. Win win. Room One is amazing. Room Two is…there’s some magic there.”
CM: Is there any venue that you’d love to play that you haven’t had the chance yet? Either in New York or anywhere else?
RS: “As a New Yorker, there’s only one, The Garden. I think New York is the world’s city and The Garden is world’s venue.”
CM: When I was hanging out with [our mutual friend] Todd we were talking about Red Rocks. Have you ever been there?
RS: “I’ve never been there. I own many live albums from there but have never been.”
CM: If you were going to go to any show there, who would be your ideal band to see at Red Rocks?
RS: “Dave Matthews. He has a live record from there and I’ve seen him live and he’s just…not many people know this about me, and how I feel about Dave Matthews and the band…I blew my friend’s mind the other day because a lot of people…they get thrown off because it’s not like my music sounds like his. I often describe, and this may sound silly, but the idea of a miracle for me lives in that band. The idea that they found each other, the way they made it, how they do it, and when you hear each instrument broken down…I believe in miracles, literally because of that. Because everything just had to work and it’s quite incredible and that’s the inspiration there. He has a way when you see him live, he has a way to do what I strive to do which is connect to literally the last row. If you’re in the room, you’re there.”
CM: I know you’ve done tons of these interviews already and lots of other interviews about the album…
RS: “Not too much but again, I’ve never talked about the miracle of Dave Matthews with anybody.”
I think it probably goes without saying that I felt very touched that Ryan shared his love of Dave Matthews with me. Since I’ve never seen Dave live and Ryan has never been to Red Rocks we agreed that one of these days we’ll meet there when Dave and his band are performing. So Dave, if you’re out there reading this, hook us up, okay?
CM: So I don’t wanna ask you tons of questions about the album, because I feel like you’ve answered so many in prior interviews, but I feel I should ask you a couple. What five words would you use to describe the record?
RS: “I want to use a word that’s like evolution or growing up. I love that movie Garden State. I felt like A N G E L S + A N I M A L S was my Garden State. So, however you would describe that movie is how I would describe A N G E L S + A N I M A L S. I would say it’s a journey. I would say it’s honesty, like real honesty. I would say it’s evolution. I would say it’s a struggle. I would say it’s a victory and I would say it’s romance. I think that’s six.”
Yes, it was six, but it’s not like I was going to cut one of them out. They’re all good and I think they perfectly describe the album.
CM: So would you say you’re more like the angel Gabriel or the angel Michael? Gabriel was like the trumpeter, the one that sounds the glory and Michael’s like the fighter angel.
RS: “It’s the fighter…no doubt. I’m realizing my role in all of this outside of the actual album is very survival…there’s a ‘don’t give up’ mentality. I feel like I’m hopefully an inspiration in that way to people.”
CM: And what sort of animal do you think is in there?
RS: “I had an interesting conversation with a psychoanalyst the other day and he was reminding me that animals are very evolved and kind. It’s the savages that a lot of people consider animals and that being said, it’s funny because people see the lions on the cover and they’re like, ‘Oh, these animals are killing each other.’ And I don’t see it that way. I beg to differ that one of them is an angel and one of them is an animal. There are two sides to everybody. I think the animal is the part of the record…is the one that’s not struggling…the regalness. Like the lions…you have one that’s regal and all-knowing. It’s that thing. I think the struggle [is] that we have this purpose and this thing we have we’re supposed to follow and then the human side that comes in, which kind of throws us off, you know, it gets in our brain…the haves and have nots. That’s the overall idea of the record…struggling with what you think you need and your natural pulse, and that to me is animal too. Animals…I don’t believe they struggle the way we struggle. They don’t kill out of hate; they kill out of necessity and no one’s getting beat up for no reason. They’re very worldly…wind-blowing…all of that. But the idea was that we’re all a little of both.”
CM: Of all the lyrics you’ve ever written, what would you say is your favorite?
RS: “I think each chapter has a different moment. I could never write the way I wrote as a 15 year old. It’s an interesting process. It’s like a photo book, the way you look as you grow up. You know, you have photo books from when you were a kid and there are all these different moments you know…that hairstyle was awesome! You’re not playing the same game every day. In that regard, I’d break it down a little bit and I’d go back to my intro to music and my band Stage had a song called The Scientist’s Canvas and I thought that might be my best song ever. It’s a really cool one that I wrote in real time. It’s a ten-minute song and I wrote it in ten minutes and I connected. That was the birth of my artist self. I was doing it before then and I was learning and copying and I think that song was like, whoa, here I am. Now start exploring from there and it takes me all the way to the new record where Bullet is a really powerful song. I feel that same feeling with Bullet. I feel that same feeling in Sailing On. A lot of the new album captures that thing I had when I first was awakened to music. So that’s attracts me to keep going because I feel like I’ve tapped into part of my truth. It’s been really exciting for me to sit down and keep going.”
CM: So you talked about Dave Matthews before and some other artists…is there any lyric that somebody else wrote that you wish you had written?
RS: “God Only Knows. That’s it. God Only Knows is the greatest song ever created. I mean there’s a bunch of them. I think often what keeps me humble and thinking I’m terrible half the time is when I hear some song and it’s just so good. It’s just perfect. And there are a lot of songs in my day-to-day life. I’ll even hear a pop song on the radio and say, ‘That’s just so great.’”
I asked Ryan what he was most afraid of and almost rendered him speechless. He turned the question back on me and asked what I was most afraid of and I realized that it really was sort of a loaded and heavy question. Still, he did answer…
RS: “I can’t imagine that…I guess not fulfilling the dream, not reaching the potential, not being heard, not making positive change. You know, my mom brought me up to leave this world a better place than we found it, so lately you’ll notice my signoffs when I write I say I’m a plus in a plus minus world. So that’s, I think, a big one right there. I know it’s bigger than maybe you thought of…like roller coasters…but I try not to have fear so it doesn’t - the hot word these days is - it doesn’t serve you. So I think that’s the thing on a bigger level you just wanna do what you’re put here for, make it better, inspire people.”
CM: What would you say was your best day to this point?
RS: “These are very structured questions…very timely…in recent days I was in an island off of Puerto Rico and I was lying on a kayak looking at the sun and the eclipse and I thought, ‘This ain’t going to leave me, this is where I’d stay…this feeling.’ That was pretty wonderful. I think it would be so fun if Apple created an app that gauged things like, ‘That was your biggest smile you’ve ever smiled in your whole life.’ Like you could see your greatest hits reel. ‘That was the funniest joke you ever heard or that was the smelliest fart you ever smelled.’”
He laughed at himself. Such a boy! But I laughed too and now I kind of want that app, so can someone go ahead and create it?
“On a musical note, like really connecting and finding the stories in A N G E L S + A N I M A L S is one of my best moments. Playing…like when I did the Jay Leno Tonight Show, that was a big moment because you realize your grandparents understand that, it makes them proud in a way that they wouldn’t understand just like touring around wearing ripped jeans. You know, I wear ripped jeans and I live in Brooklyn, they thought I was homeless. So that was one of the best moments.”
CM: What would surprise people the most to learn about you?
RS: “I don’t know. To be honest I have a difficult time sensing peoples’ perception of me in many ways. I feel like I’ve been marketed and perceived completely wrong. I think if I’ve done anything to a failure level it’s been the way I’ve gotten my music out. I think songs that have gone to radio have never represented the depth of what I do and it’s always very interesting between people that get me and people that have heard of me. They’re opposites and that’s not my job. I don’t understand it but I think that people know me. If they listen to my albums, they really know me. There’s no doubt and then they come see me play and they understand the lightness of the day too. They really know me.
“When I’m talking to those people, people like you, I would say…I think people know my obsession with pizza. I think people know that I’m a kind of a germophobe but you know what? People don’t understand that I’m not really a germophobe, I’m just mindful about washing my hands and not touching my nose or mouth when they’re dirty. So I’m not really a germophobe, but people think that’s germophobic, but no, that’s just clean.
“I also think that the band and I…we go hard. We rock star it up on the road. We leave a trail of dust behind us, a trail of positivity and a trail of chaos at the same time. I find that most bands that many think are the real rock and roll bands…we destroy them. We run circles around them. We go hard. I don’t think people realize that about us. And we have a Dallin, that’s the thing. No one has a Dallin.”
CM: What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
RS: “Watching home shows – Love It or List It. That, and coming-of-age teen comedies. They inspire more lyrics than you would imagine about me. That’s another thing people don’t know about me, my obsession with teen movies. I just saw one the other day, an incredible one called Premature. It’s like Groundhog Day but every time this young boy ejaculates the day starts over. Incredible. It’s such a great movie. So yeah, the movies that get no reviews? I like them.”
CM: What would you say is your favorite childhood memory, childhood being anything before the age of 18?
RS: “Probably opening for Bon Jovi at Jones Beach, a big amphitheater in New York, being on the radio at 16, getting a sneak peak of the dream. That was a big childhood experience for me.”
CM: If you could go back and relive one moment in your life, good or bad, what would that be and would you change the outcome?
RS: “These are like Back to the Future movies now. These are heavy. Maybe I’m reacting too heavy to them, I don’t know. The answer’s no. I think we’ve watched enough of those movies to know you can’t change it because everything might be different. I had a doorman in New York, he was an incredible Jamaican spirit and he would say, ‘Every day above ground a good day, mon.’ And I think when you think about that you don’t really go back and change anything.“
And then he turned the interview around… ”What about you? These are all great questions…I wanna ask you the same ones.”
CM: That’s a whole different interview but I’m kinda with you. I think everything we do shapes us and if you change it we’d be totally different people and maybe not the right people.
RS: “You’re right. There’s probably something we’re learning along the way. There’s a great book I read called Many Lives, Many Masters and I recommend that. It’s a life-changing book. I recommend it more than anything. I think these things that you wanna go back and change you probably needed to learn.”
CM: I think that’s exactly it. I think the whole journey is about the learning.
RS: “Like don’t take the fun away. I always think there’s something special about the struggle in people. There’s an experience. I know a very wealthy guy and he told me the other day that he wants to give the kids…he doesn’t want to deprive them of the luxury of being poor. I thought that was really powerful.”
CM: I think that’s it. Because if you don’t learn it, when something hits you, how are you gonna handle it? Yeah, there’s stuff I wish I would have done different but I know in the end, it probably wouldn’t have made that much of a difference if I did. When you look back at things you think, yeah, that was stupid, but I was 18 so whatever.
I have a few silly friends that ask silly questions so I threw a few in to wrap things up.
CM: If you had to join a traditional boy band, which one would it be? Either past or present boy bands.
RS: “Only because I know a lot about these guys…the Backstreet Boys. It would have to be them. What nobody knows, you wanna talk about who lived the rock star life? Those guys…the things I heard…oh my god. No one realized they were going harder than Motley Crue in 84. Pretty wild times those guys had. That being said, I can’t do vocal runs so I’d be terrible at that. I mean if we’re going to go in the truest sense? The Beatles are a boy band. I’ll take them.”
CM: Let’s say The Voice used all six of the original judges and you got a six-chair turn, who do you choose as your coach and why?
RS: “Blake [Shelton]. He seems the most real and honest and he would just get me and say, ‘Cool, you’re already good. Let’s go have a drink.’ It’s about real.”
CM: I can totally see it and yes, it is all about that. I mean when you really break it down, that’s really what is so interesting. Like who is really real out there?
RS: “Yep. Oh, I’ve seen a lot…I mean that’s part of my mission here, to bring that back.”
CM: No one would ever accuse you of not being real, that’s for sure.
RS: “Yeah, I get accused of being on the other side too much. But I don’t know. I’ve been in that situation, the ‘Dance, monkey. Dance!’ situation and it’s just not for me. I prefer to make records like I just made.”
CM: From my friend Layne, who you’ll meet at Off The Record: If you had a hot tub filled with cheese, aka a fonduzi, what kind of cheese would it be?
RS: “The healthy side of me says Swiss because I know the white cheeses are healthier. So I’ll go with Swiss if I’m being good and if I’m being bad I’d just pull off a bunch of pizza cheese and put that in there.”
CM: And finally, my last question, if you had a theme song that played every time you walked into a room, what would it be?
RS: “First thing that popped inside my mind just now is Getting Stronger…what’s that one? The Rocky one? Whatever that is.”
CM: “Gonna Fly Now?”
RS: “Yeah, that’s it. [Gonna Fly Now is the theme from the original Rocky movie…composed by Bill Conti]. That and, It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp [Three 6 Mafia].”
I really can’t thank Ryan enough for taking the time to chat and let me - and therefore everyone reading this - in just a little bit deeper. I learned some things, laughed a lot, and now have an even greater appreciation for this man and his art. He’s definitely one of the good ones. Also, he takes amazing selfies. See you in March, sir, if not before.
Carrie Medders (@cmedders) lives in the Bay Area and works full-time in Human Resources to support her music and sports addictions. Many nights she’s standing by a stage, taking photographs and singing along; others she’s sitting in a stadium or an arena cheering on her favorite team. In between all that she’s tweeting, blogging, hanging out with friends and planning her next adventure.