You Can’t Fake Vibe – An Interview with Tuck Ryan
You can’t Fake Vibe – An Interview with Tuck Ryan
By Jackie Hynes
Tuck Ryan is a Lancaster native singer-songwriter who has recently dropped his debut album, “Warmest Blue”. Touring regionally, he is spreading good vibes and kick-back jams to more and more people each day, and we are lucky enough to have him back in An Sibin, the Tellus360 speakeasy, on Jan 25th for a singer-songwriter night with Liz Fulmer and Jesse Barki! The show was thought up by Ryan, who stated, “My whole push in setting up this night was to create a night to give local artists the opportunity to share their stories with a listening audience.” The night will feature all three artists in 40 minute sets, with collaborations here and there. Click here for tickets and more details!
We recently caught up with Ryan to discuss some of his musical upbringing, inspirations, songwriting, plans for the new year, and what a day in the life of a songwriter looks like. Thoughtful and authentic answers are below!
Let’s start with how you first got interested in music and how that stemmed into a career?
“Well, I grew up surrounded by music. Both my parents musical tastes played a very big influence early on for me. My father was always a big fan of Steely Dan and Van Morrison, artists that to me are really just singer songwriters that have a brilliant mind for arrangement and production. My mother raised me on lots of Motown, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Both my parents are historians as well so it was more than just sharing the music, they got me interested in the history and significance of it. Countless books on different genres of music and how they came to be. My parents always encouraged my exploration of music, and I did shows for a number of years at the Fulton Theater. Eventually, in high school I began playing music with my good friend Jordan Rast, who took me under his wing and taught me a lot about how to play guitar and play in a group. From there it just kinda took off, I realized that I could, with proper planning and time, wrangle a living out of it!”
From what I’ve read and listened to it seems like you take a lot of your influences of electric piano, horns, grooving bass and drums, and warm guitar, from noted artists such as Amy Winehouse, Stevie Wonder, and Ryan Adams. How has your inspiration from those artists stemmed into your own music?
“My inspiration from these artists has frequently stemmed from their ability to write timeless songs, particularly Stevie Wonder. You can take any Stevie Wonder song and play it in almost any style and it sounds good because he’s an incredible songwriter. Same goes for Ryan Adams. I try to write something that is a reflection of myself that other people can identify with and find comfort in, I suppose like any songwriter. I also take a lot of inspiration from the processes of these artists and their instrumentation. When recording keyboards, I don’t like using simulations, I want to use the real thing. If I want a Wurlitzer, Rhodes or Hammond Organ sound, I find and use a real one. Authenticity is important, you can’t fake vibe. You have to seek it out and sometimes wrestle it out. Older instruments can be finicky and difficult, but there is something about using the instruments that your favorite artists have used to create that inspires confidence and creativity.”
Who is the artist right now that you really want people to check out?
“That’s a tough one cause I feel like there are a lot, but to name a one, my good friend Nina De Vitry has just released her first EP “Trust A Dream” and I cannot stop playing it. Her writing is sleek and powerful. It feels like if Norah Jones and Amy Winehouse decided they were gonna be best friends. It’s just such an impressive first record to release that is brimming with maturity and I think we can expect incredible things from her going forward. So check her out on Spotify and iTunes!”
What are some elements that you like to add and get excited about when it comes to writing your music? What makes them “Tuck Ryan” compared to your other preceding projects that you’ve been a part of?
“I think the greatest thing that makes it my own is probably just growing in music now and being more sure of what I want. Second Hand Suits and my other projects have all been truly group efforts, so when you’re only putting your name on the record title it’s a little scary but it allows you to make the choices that you want to make. I think something that is unique to me is that with the exception of 3 songs on my last record, I perform all the lead vocals and all of the backing vocals on the other 6 tracks. This practice is of course not entirely unique to me, but I know what I want things to sound like exactly so I only bring someone else in if I feel that something is out of my reach or someone else could do it better. This is greatly influenced by my holy trinity if you will, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and D’Angelo. All of these artists have mastered the use of their voice in multipart harmony and creation. Marvin Gaye has up to 40 vocals tracks on a single song and everyone of them is him. I love writing lyrics too because it is the toughest and most frustrating part, but also the most rewarding.”
In terms of songwriting and lyrics, your album, Warmest Blue has a very timeless vibe and message to it that is so refreshing. There’s so much imagery and great messages, but I wondered if there were ever any lyrics you wish you could change or adjust now after releasing the record last year? Any favorite lines that make you beam knowing you wrote it?
This is a good question honestly. In short, Yes and No. There are always little things you can kind of go back and knit pick on, but something that I try to always remember is that what you create and put out is an expression of you in the time you create it. I don’t believe that Stevie Wonder wrote and recorded his Innervisions record believing that it would be considered one of the greatest records he’d ever made, I think he wrote it about what was going on around him and how he was reacting to that. My point is you have to just accept what you have done and see it as part of you, maybe more part of your past then future, but part of you nonetheless. I’ve always been rather fond of this line from my song Catch Me If You Can, “Placated on the walls, like the vines upon this house, your love with be a memory that id rather live without.” I’m not sure what it is that I like about it really, it just evokes a strong memory of the time in my life I wrote it about.
What are some of your favorite tracks off of the album and the “go-to” songs you really want people to kick back and listen to?
I think that my favorites are probably Dark Matter and That Girl. They are the most groove oriented tracks on the record and I think the biggest indicator of where I see my musical styles continuing and expanding. But honestly I like it all, it all tells a story and chronologically even so. Every story for every song is backed by some form of true experience. Artistic license is sometimes used to convey a better story, but it all comes from my life. My goal was to create a piece of work that could be just out put on start to finish and curate a kick back and relax feel throughout.
Favorite part of the recording process of Warmest Blue?
Thats a tough one, but probably recording vocals because it showed me a lot about what to do in the studio and not to do. I’m very particularly about my vocals down to a single phrase. I think doing this album made me understand that I want to take even more time on my next project with the vocals, making sure that I’m putting out the absolute best I’m capable of. But it also taught me part of nailing it the first time or the second time is practicing your ideas thoroughly before you arrive at that moment. I might know exactly the melody, riff or vocal run I want to do in my head, but if I haven’t really rehearsed that idea it’s not going to come about easily. But when you are prepared then you can take those ideas and dive into the real complex harmonies and melody lines. In short, you have to crawl before you run.
In terms of instrumentation, how do you go about starting your process in writing out parts and collaborating with the band?
About half the tracks that I wrote on this album I wrote on acoustic guitar, the other half on the piano. Piano is usually my go to and where I feel most comfortable writing from. Usually I will bring a mostly finished song to the band with much of or all the music and vocals written and then receive input about arrangement and feel. “Dark Matter” and “Wear The Crown” were written with my good friend Andy Mowatt. In the case of “Dark Matter”, he already had the music and melody and feel, I just wrote lyrics. For the “Wear The Crown”, we just sat down one afternoon and hashed that all out together, throwing back and forth lyrics, melodies and chord structures until we had what we wanted. My band mates are truly inspiring and without them the music would never come to life the way I want it to sound, but I definitely am particular about how all aspects of playing should be. We work together and they help me bring the best out of my songs.
So discussing the upcoming Singer-Songwriter night on Jan 25th – This was something you really pushed for to perform alongside Liz Fulmer and Jesse Barki. What are some of the things you are most excited for the crowd to experience that night?
Yes! I think that An Sibin, the basement speakeasy bar of Tellus360 is one of the best and just vibey-est rooms in Lancaster. It has a really intimate feel and allows the audience to be up close and personal with the audience. So if you haven’t been in this room that is worth coming for on its own. My whole push in setting up this night was to create a night to give local artists the opportunity to share their stories with a listening audience. I had known of Liz Fulmer from hearing glowing things from people around town but had not actually played with her until last summer as part of a Last Waltz tribute to The Band. She sang Coyote by Joni Mitchell and it was probably the biggest moment I’ve ever had of being floored on stage. Liz’s voice and her delivery are literally spell binding and I have wanted literally any reason to perform with her again since then so she was a natural choice when setting this event up! Jesse Barki, one of the lead singers and songwriters for The Mellowells as well as Sun Not Yellow, has been a favorite songwriter of mine since I first listened to one of his solo records, “It’s Been A Long Time Coming” a year ago. Jesse and I didn’t really know each other personally until more recently when I plucked up the nerve to ask him to do a show together as a one off band with other members of Sun Not Yellow. I’m just so impressed with his voice and excellently crafted lyrics. I’m excited for our audience to have the chance to see these two songwriters up close because they are both so insanely talented. I’m also excited because we will all be collaborating a little with each other throughout our sets.
As an artist, what are some things you are most excited about in your 2018 year? Any big plans?
I’m excited to be touring now more than ever with my good friends in Andy Mowatt’s Steely Jam. We are on the road for 4 day stretches, 2-3 times almost every month. So it’s super exciting to be getting our music out there and being able to see the country while doing it. I’m also excited to be releasing new music of my own very soon! While a full length album is in the works, it’ll be sometime before that sees the light of day. I’m currently preparing to release about 5 new songs over the next couple of months that I have been working on at The Sugartank Recording Studio with Mike Newman and Lucas Gienow. These new songs are the proudest I’ve ever been of my studio work and I think will be setting the bar for lots more new music to come!
What is a day in life of Tuck Ryan like?
I am thankfully very lucky to be able to do music full time and support myself with it, so I usually have pretty laid back mornings. I wake up around 9am, get up have a cup of coffee and clean my house a bit, although assuredly my girlfriend Hilary would say not enough. Next, I usually practice piano for about an hour before trying to dive into some writing. I try to write something every single day, though I don’t always succeed. Most songwriters will tell you, simply sitting down and starting to write is the hardest part. It’s a discipline, not just wondrous creative energy hitting you, though that can happen and is magical when it does. After usually an hour of songwriting I do school work for about 2 hours. I’m currently a senior and will soon finish my history degree from Millersville University. After school work and Hillary is out of school, we grab lunch and hit the gym (again like songwriting, getting there is the hard part.) The remainder of the night is usually spend in rehearsal with my band, steely jam or another pick up gig group or is spend playing somewhere in the county. Alongside breweries, bars and restaurants I play a large number of private parties, corporate events and weddings which keep me busy and fed when not on the road or playing out publicly. If I’ve got no show and no work, you can usually find me attending a concert somewhere or stuffing my face at LUCA (Shout out to LUCA cause they are the best)! Live music is the fuel of my life and just about my favorite thing to do!