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Ryan Star interview 

Ryan Star
Submitted by Peter Fenn on 2009-09-29
The music industry today is starved for people who truly love music. Those who do it not for the money or the stardom, but because they truly love making good music -- music that they know people can relate to --- the type of music that they´d want to hear. One such person is Ryan Star. Ryan´s been at it for almost a decade now, first with his band Stage, once signed to Maverick Records. After Stage fell apart, Ryan moved on to self-record his debut solo album, ´Songs From The Eye of an Elephant´ in his own living room, an album that would eventually see a wide re-release on Koch Records. Ryan then went on to star in the Rock Star: Supernova competition in 2006, a competition that he nearly won. Now signed to Atlantic, Ryan has the backing to finally get his music out to the masses, and he´s been doing just that ever since. His song "Last Train Home" was featured in the movie ´P.S. I Love You´, and he´s had several songs featured on network TV shows. Ryan´s major-label debut is forthcoming, due out this fall. sat down with Ryan recently to discuss this new album.
Peter: Hi Ryan, what´s up? Ryan Star: Nothing much, just waking up in sunny California! Peter: Where are you calling from in California? Ryan Star: Well, I don´t know where I am exactly. A friend´s place in southern California. We´ve been camping out here all week ´cause we´ve been touring here with Collective Soul. We´ve been playing these dates around LA and in LA so this is our home base for now. It is what it is, it´s home for now. Where are you? Peter: Cleveland, Ohio. Ryan Star: We just had a date in Cleveland at the Grog Shop not too long ago... Peter: Yeah, that´s right down the street. Not too far. I was there, actually, when you guys were in town. How´s the tour been coming along? Ryan Star: The Collective Soul tour has been really cool. These guys have fifteen years of making big fans on the road and all these hit singles, so on many levels I am able to learn from Ed Roland, the lead singer, because not only is he an incredible songwriter and performer, but he´s also quite a profound human being. He´s really spiritual and he has a nice way of going about every day in life. I think for me, he´s come into my life at a really good point in time, because this rollercoaster ride is just that, such a rollercoaster ride, and I like to keep it a little more even when I get the ups and downs. He gives me a new perspective. I´m just enjoying it. I´m really enjoying the tour on that level, and I´m really enjoying playing for these incredible fans. These guys have been coming to see them for years, so now I´m able to make real music fans --- people that are going to come back and see me again. Peter: Right, those kinds of fans are lifers. Ryan Star: They are lifers. I loved the David Cook tour, but for a lot of people there, that was like their first concert. This is a different vibe; it´s a very heavy, intense vibe. You make a fan with these guys, it´s like you´ve won them over. Peter: Right, because they´ve had their fan base for like a decade and a half now. They´ve been around for a long time. Ryan Star: Yeah, they don´t need new music. They´re cool. It´s been really cool. And above all, I really love playing every day, and being able to get up every day and say "I have a show tonight!" I love New York, but when I´m home more than a day, I´m like, "Man, I´ve gotta get out there." Peter: How does it feel to be playing headlining shows now? That has to feel pretty cool... Ryan Star: Well you saw how it is right now, it´s still small. In New York City, we sell out the place, and it´s a really cool thing. You make it there, you can make it anywhere. Tonight we´re playing a headlining show in Ventura, California and it should be really packed. We´ve become pretty solid in California. But there are still these pockets that have never heard of us before. It is at one end very exciting and invigorating and a powerful feeling to play a show on your own, even as small as they might be right now. Then at the same time, it´s also humbling, because I can see I have a long way to go. No eating the bologna sandwiches yet! We gotta get out there and work, and that´s what I´ve been doing since I was a kid. Peter: I´ve noticed that in the past two or three years since the show Rock Star, you guys have been out there pushing the music. You signed a record deal pretty soon after the show, didn´t you? Ryan Star: I did. The cool thing about Rock Star is that it´s not like American Idol where you´ve got twenty days to make your record and get it out. With this show, I had the time to make the record that I wanted to make. This time, I was like, you know, I´m going to take my time, I´m going to write songs that I believe in, I´m going to work with the right people, I´m going to collaborate in the right way. It took a long time, you know? Two years to make a record! I´m not going to do one again like that, but I enjoyed this process. I learned so much and I think my record-making skills improved a million times over. I look forward to doing it again when the time comes, but I don´t think I´ll ever spend that much time on a record again. I´m more of a guy that likes to keep moving and keep creating. Peter: Your previous album, ´Songs From the Eye of an Elephant´, was written, composed, and recorded basically in your living room. Quite a contrast… Ryan Star: In twenty days, give or take! There were a few more days for mixing and stuff, but I wrote and recorded it completely in my living room. I kinda streamed it, like there are some songs on there I´ve never played again. Some people scream out at shows, "Hey, play this song!", and there are some songs that I never played before and never played after. It was just recording, I just streamed it. It was almost like a stream of consciousness thing. It was a really special thing for me because I´ve never done anything like that before, and it was a great experience and a great record. I listen to some of that and I´m like, "Wow, this is cool, I don´t even remember doing this." For me, it was just a moment to cleanse myself, because I´d just broken up with my band Stage at the time. This was a moment to cleanse myself and do something new, and remind myself why I like music so much. It was definitely a real opposite, which is why I wanted to spend so much time getting the full production right on this record. You always want what you don´t have… Peter: Now you´ve got that major label budget and backing behind you, do with it what you can, right? Ryan Star: Yeah, there´s a lot of money wasted in the business, but these days, we´re understanding that you can´t just give money out all day, every day. They have a more indie idea behind them these days, which I think is going to save the music business. I think they´re being smarter about it. Peter: How did it feel making an album on that kind of budget? Was there more pressure? Ryan Star: Not so much pressure… When you have people involved, it´s not just me alone, producing and recording my own 20-day, 20-song record --- which was free, by the way. Instead you have people stopping in that are paying the bills and people checking up on you, wanting to hear songs. Luckily enough, I worked with such a talented and successful producer, Matt Serletic, that he´s proven himself enough times (with Rob Thomas, Aerosmith, Matchbox Twenty), that they kind of left us alone during the creative process. We got to do our own thing, which I felt was very important in the creative process. I don´t do well under that kind of pressure. I´d rather just lock myself in the studio and not talk to anyone, and that´s what I did. I lived on a beach and played music every day. It´s interesting because I never thought I´d sign with a major label again. I was on Maverick Records with my band Stage years ago, and I thought for sure I would be indie and make my scene that way. This was the right people though, and it was the right match. I thought, at this point, I wanted to get the music out in a much bigger way. Peter: Thinking back to the Rock Star: Supernova show and many other big shows you´ve had, have you ever gotten nervous? Especially on Rock Star with all those big names like Dave Navarro, Gilby Clarke, and Tommy Lee. Ryan Star: The excitement of getting up on stage with people I respect is an entirely different idea. People like Collective Soul… because I can watch what they´re doing so right. If I were playing with Coldplay, the nervousness would come from meeting them and doing a good job. But I know what I do, and I know that I´m confident in what I do and who I am. Just from watching them and learning what I could learn, that´s where the nervousness would come from. Not from a crowd though, because I´ve been doing this since I was a kid. Peter: The show certainly seems to have built your fan base quite a bit. Your shows are noted for having a very diverse crowd. They don´t always seem like the typical rock concert crowd. How did your fan base get so diverse? Ryan Star: The diversity is beautiful. When I started playing shows around New York after my band Stage broke up, and I was like, "How do I fill this? How do I play once a week and start filling a room?" I´d start interesting little things – one day I´d play a rock show, with a rock band. Then next week I´d show up with a strings section. Then the next week I´d just show up alone and I´d just play cover songs by 50 Cent and Gwen Stefani on the piano. I would keep changing it up, and before you knew it, it was a rock crowd, an indie crowd, a hip-hop crowd, I´m not even kidding. It was a real diverse crowd, both physically and musically. People were just cool with it. These days, in generation iPod, I feel like people can listen to Coldplay, and then listen to Kanye, and then listen to Kid Rock, then some Jay-Z. I think it´s just all over the place. People just want good stuff; honest stuff. That´s what I´m all about. Peter: So I have to ask a few questions about the album. First of all… We´ve been hearing about it for two years now. It´s been a work in progress, I know, but is it done now? And if so, when is it coming out? Ryan Star: The album is absolutely, completely finished. It was going to come out, but we kept going on and off because I kept writing songs. I´d do this thing where I´d go to the studio and just pound it out, then two weeks later I´d write a few more songs, and then we´d end up going back to record more. I just felt like I was in no rush. I really wasn´t. My whole life has been waiting for this moment to show the world what I´ve got, and I feel like I have this opportunity and I´m not going to rush it. So I did it right, I spent enough time on it, worked with the right people, and I finally finished it in the beginning of the year. Then I quickly went out on tour with David Cook in February, and I´ve been touring since then. We did about ninety shows with David Cook around the whole country, and now we´re on the Collective Soul tour. The only reason why the album hasn´t come out is because of scheduling and timing and making sure that it makes sense. These days, you can´t just throw something out there. And that´s not my business. I play music and I write songs, that´s what the record company is for. That´s kinda why I dropped the indie thing, I just can´t handle it. I have the record company to deal with that, and they´re waiting until the fall to release it, and that´s cool. What I did fight for though is to release some songs early, which are on the ´Breathe EP´ and the ´Last Train Home EP´ on iTunes. I felt like these songs were getting out. A lot of these songs were getting played on FOX, I have songs on ESPN, on commercials, and in WWE, and all this stuff. I was starting to feel that the people who were following me are thinking like, "There must be Hollywood suits walking around with my CD because they keep playing his songs," but yet they haven´t heard it themselves. It´s probably a little insulting. In one way, my songs are getting out there to the world, but then also the people who I want to get this music the most aren´t feeling like executives in Hollywood have it and they don´t. That´s why I released all of those songs early. It´s a cool thing, being able to use this technology to get music out there quicker. Peter: I remember hearing "This Could Be The Year" on ESPN in late 2007, and I remember hearing your voice and thinking, "Is that Ryan Star?" I looked it up, and sure enough, it was you. I love the way your music is marketed like that. It´s a new way of getting it out there. Ryan Star: That´s cool to hear, because all you heard is the voice, and you knew. On that end, my voice is supposed to be the constant thing. I made a rock record of music to jump onstage to [with my band Stage], then I made a record of me on piano with stripped-down songs, and now I made a record that´s really produced, of like Peter Gabriel-inspired music. When people ask me what style I am, well at heart I´m a rock artist, that´s what I do. But it´s the voice that´s the continuity in all of this. You know, I really respect people like Kanye West who aren´t afraid to change it up. The voice, the message, that´s what I´m all about. That´s the glue that´s holding it all together. Peter: You´ve been playing a lot of older songs at shows, such as "Back of Your Car", are they going to be included on the album? Ryan Star: Yeah! "Back of Your Car" is on there for sure. It actually closes out the album, sort of paying homage to where I´ve come from. There are certain songs that I´ve done that have never gotten fully realized, for example "Losing Your Memory", which I love. Both are off of ´Songs From The Eye of an Elephant´, which really was essentially just blueprints of songs. So for me, it was important to go back to the ones that I loved. "We Might Fall" is another one. It´s really exciting to hear it the way I´d always imagined it in my head. I needed some more time to do it right, versus just doing it in my living room. Peter: If you had the chance to work with someone in the business as a collaborative effort, whether it be a producer, songwriter, singer --- anyone --- who would it be? Ryan Star: Well my first instinct is Lily Allen, because I´d just want to meet the girl and have a drink. And maybe she could emasculate me and make me feel like I´m not a man, and I´d fail miserably. I want to say like my idols, like Tori Amos and Eddie Vedder, but lately I´m learning that the people I grew up listening to have a place in me, but they were a part of a different generation. Their purpose was to keep the music going and produce my generation, and shape who I am, and that´s what I feel I really want to do. I´d really love to work with Kanye West and do an album like ´Songs From the Eye of an Elephant´ with his kind of approach to things would be ridiculous in a really cool way. On a harder level, I´d love to jump on the stage with Paramore someday. My favorite new band actually is The National. They opened for R.E.M. and they they just have this great sound. I also really love Brand New. Peter: Oh yeah, they´re local boys for you. They´ve changed so much over the years. Ryan Star: Yeah, I´d love to be in that band someday. I´d do anything. Peter: Well Ryan, that´s pretty much all we have right now. I know you´re busy, you´ve got to get back out on the road with Collective Soul. We really appreciate you sitting down with us and talking with us. Ryan Star: Thanks man. Keep in touch, it´s nice to know that there are people around the country who get what I´m doing. I really appreciate it very much.