WATCH THIS and share BEFORE IT IS TAKEN DOWN!
When I recorded Impossible I had the vision of it being the song for Fifty Shades of Grey. Here it is world.
RSTAR MOVIE TRAILER GRAFFITI!!!!!!!!!!!
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.
On July 4th in West Palm Beach, Florida-- I was so touched by the fans that traveled far to see me. I invited them backstage and played one of my favorite songs. Off the America EP (download for free here: http://t.co/dkWaSgpJ ) this is America. -r
I hope you can come to these shows.
I love playing with my band more than anything- they are a part of my spirit and we are on a musical journey together. These solo shows bare the songs in a different way. It has been cool to strip down and get primal, like when I started in NYC.
Like last time, these tix will go soon so get them now. Don't wait. Bring your friends and let's get naked this summer in the city.
All love, r
AUG. 13th - 9:30pm: TIX HERE
AUG 20th - 9:30pm: TIX HERE
It was an honor to do a skype interview with Lisa. Speaking directly to the people who understand me best is a true gift. Enjoy the article she wrote in what I like to call, RSTAR - THE ALMOST FAMOUS INTERVIEWS.
The Art of RSTAR
I spend the better part of my days having typical conversations, in a typical world of ‘checking in and out’. For that reason I have key people in my life that I go to so they can push me beyond the mundane and trigger the art within me. On Earth Day nonetheless, I sat down virtually with Ryan Star, hoping and craving that he would indulge me with an “atypical” conversation rather than just another interview.
“I’m a fan of not-typical – like you - I’m not interested in checking in and checking out and checking in…” he says which elevates my confidence in the ‘interview’ format I chose for today’s conversation. In this last month as the winter slowly comes to a close here in Muskoka (it takes a while in these Canadian parts) and spring starts to peak out from the dirt I start to ponder new indulgences into my own creativeness. I’m not one to share my ‘art’ in the traditional sense; I don’t give it out willingly like a musician shares music with fans or a painter having a show at a gallery. The ebb and flow of creating in any medium can be a struggle. I’ve always been curious how Ryan stays inspired to write songs and create his ‘art’. I ask about his people and how it seems from my view that he surrounds himself with artistic characters:
“All the colours and the people come into my mind of who I’m thinking about….I like the uniqueness and specialness of people, when I watch Seinfeld and Kramer comes in the door like that and rockin’ through – in real life people are like, 'that fucking guy, the neighbor is so annoying’ – well I love it, I embrace that, that’s different, that’s fun, that’s special – it keeps it fresh. With my friends, the people I surround myself with, they are atypical, they don’t fall into that standard, but the other thing is they aren’t off-the-wall crazy creative where they can’t function in reality creative”
“the creative ones pop up and I use them – but more importantly I’ve learned from an early age that just because the guy has a Grammy or a credit or whatever to his name doesn’t make them better than my friend who lives next door who’s just fresh and doesn’t care. I see talent in people and when I see that, I try and harness it”
This attitude is genuine and ‘very refreshing’ (tm Kramer); if I had a Junior Mint nearby I would have offered one to Ryan. As an artist I truly believe that Ryan has an interesting way of seeing his world, it has a huge influence on how he has developed his craft over the last three albums. I don’t believe he sees anything he’s done as a mistake “I willingly did things outside of my comfort zone to test the boundaries of what I’m willing to do and who I’m willing to be as an artist.…I went far and it was interesting. I now understand that. But I like this more and I’m going to stay in this world more. Legends can tell you that it’s the third record that they realize who they were. It takes a second of going left and right until you finally bowl that strike.”
Ryan describes what he is doing now with Angels & Animals as a “modern version of Elephant”. He speaks passionately saying “I call it Nineties 2.0 - I’m proud of bringing back a rawness in such a computer world, try to bring back the heart, the same reason why kids want to hear records on vinyl, bring back the experience of listening to music. I didn’t sign up to play musak or just one single, I didn’t sign up for that……I didn’t make this record thinking I should go play the game.” As a fan, and one that follows closely, I will speak for the lot of us - we are glad Ryan isn’t playing the game - we want to hear what he wants to play.
Ryan goes on to say “the cool thing is I have you [fans] on the other end…when you are first starting you do it for yourself. Then you do it for the potential audience, and now I have an audience - it doesn’t matter small or big, I know who I’m singing to now.” I interrupt and let it be known that we want him to do it for him - that’s what we want to hear. Ryan poignantly jumps in and says “but at least I know what you like and it helps me get confident in what I like, because what you like happens to be what I like. It’s very simple and it’s awesome….a lot of this record was done like that. The rule was - if we think it’s good - it’s good. If I like it, that’s it, I like it. There was no editing, no 10 takes, you have one take to get this, but I’ll give you three takes.”
The refreshingness continues and I long for a Junior Mint.
He is very much a visual artist who translates what he sees into his music. ‘This is How I See It’ is one of those sayings that is a constant reminder to me and one that pops up in my life often – it is the title of the biography of artist and photographer David Hockney, who has been a huge influence on how I look at my world. Environment will influence and impact anyone’s life – creativity, mood, and general well-being, whether it is the Canadian Shield, or the pristine lakes of Muskoka in my case, or the Manhattan skyline Ryan gets to see every day, or the street art flanking the buildings in Brooklyn.
When asked about the ‘art’ that Ryan gravitates towards outside of music:
“Lately it is street art, and we talked about creative persons and this is someone that didn’t fall into my lap – I had to will to find this person. His name is Pixote…he’s a street artist around Brooklyn and if you come here you will see his shit everywhere (@themrpix on Instagram). Every building has his tag. It’s not what he is painting, it’s how he’s doing it and where he’s doing it. There is something to it…it’s very tribal. I literally looked up one day and thought - I have to find this guy. Next thing I know he’s doing the art with me on the album and has become a friend. It also turned out that he was in a rock band that opened up for my band Stage years ago, the connections were pretty incredible.”
Pixote is the epitome of underground NYC subculture, and Ryan has gone back the basics with Angels & Animals releasing this album without major label support: he says ‘the music consistently follows my environment more than I create the music’. The artistic connections between these two artists goes beyond the inner 12-year-old boy and his skateboard. They are both purists with their art forms, indie musician and elusive graffiti artist. The collaboration on Angels & Animals has these over-lapping subcultures creating a raw version of the rstar entity that jumps back to ‘elephant’, and at the same time launches Ryan Star miles forward.
What is good and who decides? I’m in the midst of an ABC Playlist project and how could I not ask Ryan to contribute? As my list is a work in progress there was no harm in skipping ahead to R - for rstar. We decided that he’d give me five songs - what he’s listening to…what he can throw at me in this particular moment. Of course he defers to songs on the cover challenge and we agree those are a good start but he still needs to give me five. Here they are….
R is for RSTAR
Frank Ocean - Bad Religion
The National - Fireproof
Bon Iver - Perth
Band of Horses - No Ones Gonna Love You (although he gave me the choice of this or Is There A Ghost - both equally great songs)
Matthew Good - Strange Days “for the Canadians” he says. We had a lengthy discussion about our mutual love of Matt Good. Strange Days is the song that led Ryan to MG (not his favourite, which he never did divulge)
And the songs from the cover challenge if you aren’t familiar with it…..
Tori Amos - Crucify
Pixies - Where is My Mind
Pearl Jam - Black
Tool - Sober
Chvrches - The Mother We Share
Bastille - Overjoyed
The 1975 - Chocolate
Imagine Dragons - Demons
Leonard Cohen - If It Be Your Will
If at the end of the cover challenge Ryan says ‘fuck it I’m covering xxx’ then you know that he took to heart my granting him permission to rig it. Blame Canada - it’s been done before!
The challenge talk turned into full-on music chat about The Pixies and the fact that they were one of the first bands I saw live way back when, loving the music we grew up on and trying to engage the younger generation. Ryan says “I’d love to talk to the 16-year-olds right now and get them into cool shit” and he speaks with excitement about showing his younger cousin the way with artists like Jeff Buckley. The generational connection we have is clear – we like many of the same artists, support the same causes (see dog rescue information below), and we see the world around us uniquely. Perhaps this is the Gen-X way of living in 2014? The years in which we came of age shaped us all into the people we are now – connecting us all with the music, art and lifestyle from our past. Nostaglia is present, and when you experience the full circle - second time around effect - you see how it was the first with clarity and the phenomenon of ‘enlightenment’ is very refreshing. (I just couldn’t help myself with that one)
The conversation turns into an all-out Canadian geography lesson explaining the location of cottage country and the venue “The Kee To Bala” where Matt Good plays every summer. “I love Matt, he’s my favourite. He’s amazing. I chatted with him on the phone for a few hours. He knows more about American politics than I do. We were talking about him producing some songs off Songs for the Eye of an Elephant and then I went on a TV show. Sliding doors, you know” GAH!!! Imagine that, a MG/RSTAR collaboration. Maybe someday? A girl can dream…..
“You need to say ‘Ryan wants to come hang’ next time we are in the area. We’ll make a detour, I really want check it out….I need to get a gig at The Kee, that would be sweet” is how Ryan closes the conversation.
I’m holding you to that, Mr. Star.
Dogs are close to my heart and if you follow Ryan on social media, you know he’s a dog person. I strong-arm (with little effort) Ryan into promoting my RadarDefectiveDog Facebook page. I have a Jack Russell mix, who has a not so ‘unique’ rescue story, and my husband and I are using him as a spokes-dog to promote awareness for animal rescues and help connect people with your local rescues as well as organizations in Canada & The USA. If you see Ryan wearing a Radar shirt you will know what it’s all about. And another tidbit of info – the song on the Stage album, the hidden track called ‘way down there’ is about burying his beloved Jack Russell Terrier.
Links for Radar – we’d love a follow/like from our fellow RSTAR fans!
Follow Radar on Twitter: @radartherescue
Lisa Overholt (@lila_lyric) lives, works, and plays in Muskoka, Canada - voted Top 20 Best of the World Must-See Places by National Geographic. She spends her free time blogging about her love of music & arts and photographing her dogs and the amazing environment around her. She is a dog rescue advocate, promoting rescues and animal welfare with her crazy terrier, Radar.
Great thinker and disrupter of our time Max Lugavere wrote about my summer residency at Rockwood Music Hall. Check it out on Huffington Post- pass it along and leave a comment when you can. ps . make sure to be on the mailing list at rstar.net for pre sale info for the next one!! see you this summer. all love - r
by Max Lugavere
Another installment from the ANGELS + ANIMALS record release show at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC. From the Songs From The Eye Of An Elephant album, this is one of our favorite songs to play live. Enjoy...
During the recording of ANGELS + ANIMALS, D.A. Knightly and I stumbled upon one of my favorites. Mezcal in hand, a view with a bridge and just a moment in time. Enjoy... -r
Randy Scott Slavin has been a friend of mine since junior high. He has been filming me in my most vulnerable moments since STAGE's first music video... countless studio sessions and even college parties. It is still so cool to hang with him and his camera rolling. He is a true artist and I am lucky to have someone I can be so honest in front of. Here is a moment he captured the other day in NYC. For photographers, it was quite the moment-- behind me you can see hundreds gathered to capture the sun setting on 42nd street. It's known as MANHATTANHENGE. My friend Randy, the photographer and filmmaker, caught this moment instead. There will be more to come so be sure to subscribe to my youtube page at youtube.com/rstar. Enjoy.
Bullet from A N G E L S + A N I M A L S
On iTunes Here
Shot by Randy Scott Slavin
Repost this video on instagram and encourage your friends to follow me @eyeofrstar for a chance to win a trip to NYC for my show this Thursday.
by Jerome Valero ( @Jro_88 )
Ryan Star is a busy man. Our Skype interview is sandwiched neatly between an early morning appearance at a New York ASPCA adoption drive and a late afternoon deadline to write a Newsday review of last night’s Madison Square Garden concert of one of his personal heroes, fellow Long Islander Billy Joel. While Star speaks excitedly about the release of his third full length album, the independently-produced A N G E L S + A N I M A L S, the enthusiasm he conveys in describing his entire day’s schedule foreshadows the image of an artist genuinely happy with his place in the world.
Star is streaming from inside his home recording studio in Brooklyn, where much of A N G E L S + A N I M A L S was born. Despite the cozy setting, Star is bundled in a hoodie and vest, a sure sign that the world’s longest Winter has stretched well past its departure date. As someone who’s followed his career, from Stage, Star’s first band, to his appearance on the cult hit Rock Star Supernova, bookmarked in between by the release of his first solo album, 2005’s “Songs From the Eye of an Elephant” and his major record debut, “11:59” in 2010, I’m admittedly eager to get comfy, dive in and hear his perspective on the most mature record in his repertoire to date.
“It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever created”
A N G E L S + A N I M A L S is a “journey”, as Star describes it: an 11-track narrative of finding and losing love, before ultimately recapturing it. From the album’s opening track, ‘Sailing On’ (“If you promise me the sun is right behind the haze”), to the Bon Iver-inspired odyssey ‘Fuck’n Up’ (“What are you wasting your life for?) and closer ‘Where the Island Ends’ (“We scream into the sky to tell them who we are”), A N G E L S + A N I M A L S is full of soaring melodies borne from an artist whose DNA is equal parts Pearl Jam and Frank Ocean, Nine Inch Nails and The National. “The older material taught me how to be. That’s my chemical makeup,” explains Star. “Then the newer stuff, James Blake, Bon Iver; they capture an intimacy and energy that I’m really excited about.”
Star is well-connected to his legion of fans online, with a loyal following on social media; to date, countless official, live and cover versions of his songs, including impromptu sing-alongs on the street and inside bars across the country, together have garnered millions of views on YouTube. So how does Star feel when his fans approach him with tales of being inspired by his music, much the same way Star was moved by his heroes? “I know the level of respect you’re talking about when somebody says that to me because that’s what I would say to Eddie Vedder, to Leonard Cohen, to Michael Stipe, to Tori Amos. I know that feeling. When someone says it to me, it’s like a warm hug.” Star continues, “Art inspires art is the coolest thing. It’s an evolution: the ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’ idea. That is the ultimate compliment.”
It is perhaps this support from his ever-expanding fan-base that gave Star the confidence to forego releasing A N G E L S + A N I M A L S through a major record label, instead opting to produce the album entirely on his own. Critical fan-sourced funding through PledgeMusic ultimately ensured the album would be released. While this newfound independent route gave Star the creative control a recording artist always dreams about, it wasn’t the glamorous path one might imagine.
“Have you seen ‘Indie Game: The Movie?’”, asks Star, deftly acknowledging the inner fanboy in me using an Xbox One to Skype with him today. The documentary in question follows the struggles of three independent video game creators trying to find their own way in a world of multi-million dollar blockbuster game productions. “I related to that so much because they are competing with gaming companies who have thousands of people. I’m making a really competitive record but doing it completely on my own, literally, with everything going through my hands. It was quite the endeavor to do.” When pressed as to how the album would have sounded if released by a traditional record label, Star is adamant: “I tried to dance that dance. There’s a filter that happens where they look at everything else on the radio. At one point, whistles were popular and they’ll say, ‘Hit songs have whistles!’ It’s just not in me to chase these things…,” he pauses, before adding, “Creatively, I feel so proud and committed to the new album that it opened me up to be excited to make music again. There’s something right about that.”
“Ryan, you’ve got one take to get it.”
Clubhouse Studios, a fully renovated music recording facility converted from a rustic 19th century barn, is located just outside Rhinebeck, a couple of hours north of Brooklyn. Renowned for the pure sonic quality of their recordings, Star had access to much of the classic analog equipment at Clubhouse to record A N G E L S + A N I M A L S, seemingly to try to capture a genuine feeling in the sound that at times lacks in this age of digital perfection. “What I find is perfect is kind of…. all level”, Star explains while wavering a raised hand across the screen. “Then there’s eccentric things that happen when you see, for example, a beautiful person and there’s a little imperfection; there’s a freckle in the wrong spot. That’s extra beautiful. Your uniqueness comes out.” Circling back to the state of radio play today, Star ponders, before adding, “I don’t think you hear that in music a lot because you can easily do things and get it perfect. We can tweak it and do a hundred takes and make you sound like the best guitar player ever made.”
He would argue, though, that recording in analog alone was less a factor in the album’s authenticity than his overriding intention to celebrate those imperfections captured with his live band in the studio. “On ‘Fuck’n Up’, I gave myself one take. It took me two weeks to get that one take, but I didn’t want to edit it. I needed that song to be a full story,” explains Star. “This is why the album has a raw feeling in a modern sound. A N G E L S + A N I M A L S captures this raw, primitive future… this raw version of modern music. That to me is more ‘analog’ than how I recorded it.”
“The cost of being a muse.”
There’s a scene in the 2000 film Almost Famous where William Miller, a budding rock journalist, finally convinces the lead guitarist of Stillwater to sit down for an interview he’s chased the entire tour. William begins his interview by asking, “Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?” I pose the same questions and, after some collective admiration of Cameron Crowe, Star responds, “Let’s hit these questions, because I don’t think he answered them in the movie.”
“No, you don’t have to be depressed to write a sad song,” he begins. “To be in love to write a love song? For me, for me, yes. There’s one concentrated moment that I’ve been pulling from—I’ve been writing about that 10 seconds of my life since that moment happened years ago.” Star adds, “I think one of the best songs I’ve ever written is ‘My Life With You.’ The truth behind that is so important. To sell it. To believe it. To sing it.”
The last question garners the strongest response. “I’m going to say yes. I think years ago, I would have said no. For me, the truth now brings me closer to something. We’ll create a sound, and the intention behind making it, saying ‘Here...,’” Star raises his hands as if to present an offering. “Here’s something that you not only hear. That’s when something hits you. If it’s coming from a real place, it’s truth. I think you will hear that. You will feel that.” These are perhaps the answers William Miller sought in understanding why music affects the devoted so deeply. “I can see Stevie Nicks writing Landslide in the Aspen mountains in Colorado. I believe that the intention behind that, based in truth, speaks. We hear it not with our ears. Something else happens, and that’s when music changes us.”
If the truth in Star’s music lies in those pivotal 10 seconds, where love can be found or lost, is that love ready to have its story told to the world? “That’s the cost of being a muse,” responds Star, with a tone closer to enthusiasm than regret. “I think they’re ok with that. They realize when I’m more honest, everything’s better. I’m happier. Being inspired… it’s very private but yet it’s so public. I want it to be so public. It’s not a little gift that you keep under the bed or a pillow. It’s the bigger gift of how far it can get out there. I think a muse would be proud. That’s their job and I think they’re happy.”
“Do you. Be you.”
In every music enthusiast’s life, he or she will have those two or three bands who define a part of who they are, whose songs recall vivid memories of years past, and whose last listen will garner the same emotional response as the first. Ryan Star may very well be on my list. ’11:59’ gets me up in the morning, while A N G E L S + A N I M A L S is the soundtrack to hope and longing that comes around so rarely it should be celebrated every time it is discovered. I’ve long lost how many times I’ve listened to ‘Songs from the Eye of an Elephant’; I contemplate whether this first album is his masterpiece—a completely stripped down, honest and vulnerable body of work.
I divulge this admiration to Star, who humbly tells me this story: “You know those Boss guitar effects pedals? They’re like the beginner pedals, they’re great pedals but they’re considered the mass produced pedals. But then you find the boutique stuff. The ‘Whoa, analog this!’ stuff. Dan Tirer, my guitarist, started with those Boss pedals, then got into the analog boutique stuff and learned how to use it and got really intellectual about it. Then, after all of that, Dan realized those Boss pedals are the best! There’s a purity and perfectness about them so he comes back to them. And now Dan only uses those again, but now he plays them way differently than if he never took that journey.”
Star then relates back to ‘Elephant’: “Creatively, you do that. You find this thing you don’t completely understand. You move on and try different things and push different limits. Now the idea of me coming back to that idea with what I know now might be really cool. That’s where I think I’m headed next, to do my version of that with what I know now—with the truth, the intentions and the honesty that I’ve come to know in my songwriting.”
Almost Famous ends with William Miller asking the question, “What do you love about music?” It’s something I don’t ask Star, realizing it is his truths, intentions and honesty that form the core of what fans love about his music, and it’s Star’s own love of making music—his vision of his music—and putting it out into the world that continues to drive him to create. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Star leaves with this message: “A N G E L S + A N I M A L S is my best work and I’m getting closer to the heart of who I am. The biggest thing I learned from A N G E L S + A N I M A L S is to ‘Do you. Be you.’ It’s easy to say, but there’s a time in everyone’s life, hopefully, where they really understand that. I have heard it my whole life, and you’re like, ‘Of course, that’s right.’”
“But when it hits you and you really become that, then you’re powerful. Nobody can tell you otherwise, because only you know. And that’s a good feeling to have. I’ll say it makes me feel excited about the future, about what I’m going to do next.”