Another installment in the 'Almost Famous' Interviews... these were super fun to do. The passion and attention to detail have made these interviews better than ever before. Much love to the future writers of America and thanks to Alla M. for this interview. -r
The first time I saw Ryan Star in concert was when he opened for David Cook in Valparaiso, Indiana back in 2009. I have followed his career and have enjoyed his music ever since. His current record is Angels + Animals which he self-released through a PledgeMusic fundraiser. One of the perks of supporting the project was to conduct an interview with Ryan and then write it up as an article. I was fortunate to be able to interview Ryan on April 28, 2014. It was a pleasure to speak with Ryan. He was genuine, open, sincere. No question was off limits. The songs on his new album are raw, personal and honest. I strongly recommend checking it out and listening to the album all the way through.
AM: Your new album is wonderful and I really enjoyed it. What are the current plans for it?
RS: The current album, as you know, is a story. I think the current plan is to figure out how to get people to hear it, starting with you, and you writing this… I don’t know….I don’t know. No Idea…I just know I love it and I want the world to hear it. So I’m just going out and playing radio stations and I’m trying to get it out. I’m open to suggestions.
AM: So you’re currently visiting radio stations. Is it hard to do without a label behind you?
RS: Oh, yeah. It’s like climbing up a mountain and having people kick you in the head.
AM: But, you seem to be more successful than some others in getting your music some airplay.
RS: I’ve been very lucky with success there, but the mainstream world, there’s definitely a club that you need a lot of funding for to get in… it’s the opposite of viral world. I go in and hope it works. I just try to do my thing. I play honest music and put on honest shows.
AM: Are you planning to tour to support the album?
RS: Yeah, I think the album has to support the tour, really. I have to figure that out, but I would like to play more for sure.
AM: Is it something that you’re planning for the summer?
RS: Figuring it all out right now. It’s not that I’m not telling you. It’s that I don’t know yet. I just finished scoring a movie that I’m excited about. Just sitting down and writing new songs and doing that. I don’t want to go out to just spin my wheels. I want it to be right.
AM: Can you say what movie you just finished scoring?
RS: It’s a movie called “Hard Sell” an indie film I’m really excited about….a teenage coming of age movie.
AM: What does it take to score a movie?
RS: Shit if I know (laughs). I don’t know. I just jumped in. I tried it. I just created emotion. I took cues from the actors and the writing and then created more emotion around that, which is fun for me, using a different part of my brain which I like.
AM: Since you have released your albums both independently and through record labels, what do you take away from both experiences?
RS: Record label is - from the time you’re a kid, you think that you make it if you have a record deal, that’s how you grew up thinking. Now it’s different. Now I think when you make it is because you have fans. So, I think the difference is on my own, the idea of success is having incredible fans and support and people that want to hear your music and love what you do. And on a label, you…, it’s kind of more political support and there are more filters between the art and the fans. So the kind of musician I am, being that I don’t wake up thinking how I’m going to land a new Starburst campaign or Pepsi Cola, I wake up thinking about how I can connect more with my music and with my listeners. That’s why the indie thing works better for my sanity as an artist and now I have to figure out better how to connect those dots so it does get out into the world where we live in now which is very homogenized and corporate and heightened. As open as it all is, you’d be surprised how tight they keep it, you know, as to who gets into the mainstream door these days.
AM: Back to your album, “My Life With You” is a great song. Could you tell me more about the song? What is the story behind it?
RS: That was probably the most…, easiest song I’ve ever written. So I think that the writing on that was the easiest I’ve ever done. It came very stream of consciousness and didn’t take long to write, and yet I think it’s the best song I’ve ever written because it has so much story and in a way I feel it’s my verse 2.0 of “We Might Fall”. So I was really excited and I’m very proud of that one so when I, one day pass to the next world, I’m happy I leave the world with this one.
AM: Question about the song “Impossible”: There are two different versions on the album. Why did you decide that and do you prefer one version over the other?
RS: I thought it was a big song. So I wanted to make sure there was an outlet for the message of the song. So I kind of re-approached it with the remix version, but truly, I like the main version, which is track 4, which was kind of designed as the end credits to a film, designed to keep you in your seats and stalk around you. That’s the song I had in mind you when I wrote it. I wanted to re-approach it to tie up loose ends.
AM: Now for more random questions, not necessarily about the album. You’ve noted quotes from Ayn Rand and mentioned that “The Fountainhead” is one of your favorite books. Who is your favorite character from “The Fountainhead” and why?
RS: Well, as an artist, I read that book with a certain view, you know. I connect…, the path I’ve chosen in life because I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been on Keating and the Roark side. My sister, Kristen Farrell, she is a jewelry designer, maybe the world’s best in my opinion. She is an artist, she makes everything by hand. I call her Roark because she is just uncompromising and sticks to her vision, her truth and it’s beautiful. For me, in music, along the way, you think you’re doing that but you’d be surprised how outside forces can kind of get in your brain. So when I would use my brain, I related with the Keating character, but that didn’t last so long because I didn’t like the outcomes of that. So for me, as an artist, I relate absolutely with Roark because I just won’t play anymore, it won’t make me happy if I’m not doing exactly what I want to be doing because that’s the only way I’d like to make a difference. My DNA, my fingerprint is solely mine. So I don’t want anyone smudging it or blurring it because what I’ve learned is that people who like what I do. They want to know just that. They don’t want to think that someone else has got their hands in it. They want to know what I wanted to say to them and that’s my relationship with my fans like we’re talking now. So I don’t want any compromise. I don’t want to at all think I changed what I thought I heard in my head because nobody knows better than me about me. It took me a long time to learn that and it’s a really powerful place to be.
AM: What artists are you listening to right now?
RS: I do like to listen to new stuff. I listen to new stuff all the time. I’m also often a little bummed. Like, really, is this what people are celebrating? I’m only concerned about what people celebrate which is the definition of celebrity, right?. And it makes me worried that that’s what we’ll be known for, like our generation, and it concerns me sometimes because I know there’s some great stuff out there and that stuff is The National, James Blake. I do like Lorde, I think culture got her right. I think we got her right. I like even this new band out of Brooklyn. I’m friends with these guys called Animal Years. I like them a lot. I like realness. I think as I learn more about music I learn like how people chase things and how people make things. So anytime I hear about people chasing, I’m not down.
AM: What is your favorite 80’s movie?
RS: I really grew up in the 90s. The movies I would say are right on the cusp, like “Pump Up the Volume”. I’m going to go with “Heathers”, but I just have to blindly just say “Goonies”. I’ll never turn down a “Back to the Future” marathon.
AM: More about your songs: Losing My Memory is also one of my favorite songs - What is the inspiration for the song and what is it about?
RS: It’s fitting that you ask about films because one day I sat down, and sometimes art inspires art, inspires art, and the great story with “Losing My Memory” is I sat down, and I had a line. I had a chorus on loop for “you’re losing your memory now” and it just did that over and over again. I knew I wanted to write a song around that. I just wanted to build it. So every time I sat down in front of the piano and tried, nothing inspired me. And then I sat down and watched “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, one of my favorite films, and I pretty much wrote all the words by the time the movie was over. Then I thought to myself, that this is such a non personal song because I just wrote it about something that’s not at all my life. Turns out that when I looked at the lyrics when I was done, I said oh my god, this is so under my skin and personal that I would have never thought of this myself. However I processed the movie and then, through my hands wrote it. It became such a personal and subconscious thing. So then I took that and made it this beautiful song. It’s one of my favorites. I’m glad you like it. Then years later it inspired more art because I was inspired by this art and then I inspired my friend Joshua Butler who was the director of the Vampire Diaries and he made this whole scene around that song. And then I see some other people watch that scene and they get inspired. And they either draw something or write something and they send it to me. And it’s a beautiful circle like the rain falling from the sky and operating back up to the mountains and the stream and becoming dinosaur bones. It’s a beautiful artistic circle and I really like it.
AM: You’ve had great success getting your songs used on TV shows. How does that happen? Is it something you pursue and submit, or do they come to you?
RS: I think it comes to me. I don’t know how to do that. I try. Sometimes I think a lot of songs on this new album are really fit for that and I’m still kind of waiting to see how it’ll be out there. It’s been another difficult hurdle. I know the business side of it. I know it well. But the truth is, I’ve learned that there is so much noise, there’s so much music out there that you just can’t compete. Your time is better off spent with your eyes closed talking to the universe at this point, I think. The hard work, you’re just a pile, you’re just a song and every kid with a laptop is making a song right now. The noise is very heavy. We’re losing art. It’s like photography. Everyone is a photographer now. So, how do you see the truly gifted artist? As beautiful as it is that we’re all making something, who’s enjoying what we’re making? Everyone is making, making, making and talking, talking, talking and who’s listening?
AM: What do you think of Spotify?
RS: I don’t think much of it, I just kinda go with it because I’m not in the camp of me trying to change music. I’m simply trying to get my music out there. Clearly Spotify is a way to do that. So I have no comment on the idea that Napster has officially won. If there was a battle, then Spotify is the legal version of free music. I’m not here to fight that fight. I, like everybody else, am trying to get heard. But the truth is, Spotify is the end of purchasing music as we all knew it. Again, I’m not fighting the fight. So I have nothing to say beyond - be careful about free. You get what you pay for, I would say. The other thing is there is pride. When I would save up my money and buy an album, there was a pride in investing in something that I believed in and really wanted to listen to and enjoy it. I remember when I was younger and I would hand out free demos. The odds of someone listening to that demo were really slim, but if I charged them a dollar they would absolutely listen to it. There is a psychology that when people pay for something they value it more. I’m really excited on one hand that music is everywhere and it’s accessible to everyone but I’m not excited that I feel like the value of music has gone down.
AM: You’ve toured with many artists. What’s most memorable?
RS: Touring with Bon Jovi. We played the MGM Grand Las Vegas pretty much every night. It was as good as it gets.
AM: I saw you open for Andy Grammer in Chicago. I’ve noticed that he drew a very young crowd and there were many kids in the audience. Did you feel that it worked for you or do you see your audience as a bit older?
RS: The audience is really wise because I’m not singing flavor of the week music. It’s real stories and real emotion that I’m putting down. Andy and I really enjoyed playing to the little kids. I think the 13 year old kids reacted better to my music sometimes than people in their 20s or 30s. I think it was the first time they heard… the first time these bubblegum pop type kids first heard the real artist approach to music. That’s what Tori Amos and Radiohead were for me.
AM: You’ve have credit on a “Right Here With You” on David Cook’s “This Loud Morning” album. It’s also one of my favorite songs. How did the writing process come about. How did you collaborate?
RS: It was the song that I was writing for the Twilight soundtrack when it first came out and it never made the cut. I really thought it was a great song, so I reworked it with David and it’s where it belongs now [Johnny Rzeznik, Gregg Wattenberg also have credits on the song]. He did a great job with it.
AM: People are saying that Rock is dead. Do you feel like it’s being replaced by EDM? I feel like the younger generation doesn’t really know Rock.
RS: I believe it’s cyclical. When I hear Rock, to me, I think Lorde is Rock, I think Kesha is Rock in a way I think Kesha is Punk Rock. If they make music that your parents want you to turn off, that’s Rock. As far as the sonics of it all, the bands are out there. It’s just cyclical. Right now it’s beat centric and digital world because it’s easier to make that kind of music and it’s cheaper to make that kind of music. So, there are great bands out there. It’s not dead. It’s not being heard. People aren’t as into it. EDM is incredibly healthy right now in the business world. It’s Disco. It’s party. It’s drugs. It’s fun. There is a time and place for mindless machinery and there’s a time where you’re going to want to get into the heart and soul of it and that can’t give you that like a Bob Dylan song can. So, in fear of sounding aged, I just think that when the time is right people come back to thought and emotion and when they do at least I’m here waiting.
AM: Where do you see yourself in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years.
RS: To think I would know is really like mystical of me I guess. If it’s a sign of where I’ve been, then I would be making music, creating things, and hopefully be happy.
AM: If you were to play the song "Fuck'n Up" in a children friendly crowd, what would you change the lyrics to?
RS: I haven’t had to do that yet because I have enough songs. So I usually don’t play it. I don’t know… I think I can’t do it… I think that the idea of that song and singing it so sweetly the way it is…. To change it would be doing that song a disservice and it wouldn’t make sense. For all the people who want to cover it out there, you can always say “Messn-Up”. Or Effin-Up. Can you say that in front of kids?
Thank you to Ryan Star and his team. Thank you to @imogenPH of @COOKistas, Anthony Ong, and Marie L. for helping me with putting together the interview questions.
Alla M. is a rehabilitation counselor and music enthusiast from the Chicago area. She first became a Ryan Star fan in 2009. She has been a fan ever since and was very excited to get a chance to interview Ryan.