Tuesday, May 10, 2011

10 Questions with Ryan Lawson

Ryan Lawson is a country/folk singer/songwriter from Choctaw, OK.  His video for the song “You and I” was entered in this year’s Norman Music Festival and Cinematic Artists of Norman’s Top 10 Music Video Picks contest.  Both the song and video are dark and haunting.      

This interview was conducted via email May 5 – 9, 2011.

For more information on Ryan Lawson check him out on Facebook, MySpace, BandCamp, YouTube, ReverbNation, Last.fm.

Dave:  When did you start playing music?

Ryan Lawson:  I started when I was eleven.  I joined concert band as a percussionist in junior high school.  My parents had to by me a concert snare drum in order for me to participate.  I quit the class after a year, but always held on to the snare.  I taught myself how to play the drums by using the rim of the snare as the high-hat and pretended that the rest of the drums were there.  In high school I played drums in a band called Santa Surplus with Lucas Dunn and Aaron Tackett who are now members of the Purple Church.

During the entire time I was playing drums, I always eyed my father's old Jenkins brand classical acoustic guitar.  I tried playing around on it a few times but never put any real effort into learning to play. 

It wasn't until college that I picked up a guitar (after a break up, of course) and started teaching myself how to play it, and it wasn't until a year or so after that that I learned to sing and play at the same time.  Beyond that, it all gets murky.  I couldn't tell you exactly when I started playing live in front of people or when I started to develop my voice.

Dave:  Describe your writing process (if you have one).  What do you prefer to write about? 

Ryan:  I don’t have a definitive process.  I usually oscillate between writing lyrics first and music first.  I only know one certain thing about my writing process, which is it cannot be forced.  I’ve learned that trying to force a song out during a lull is pretty futile. 

I’ve always been taught to write what I know, but I don’t know much.  Instead, I write the song I would like to hear or I write the story I want to read. 

Dave:  Do you have any plans to release a full length album? 

Ryan:  I have one album called “This Old Knife” that was recorded and produced by Brad Fielder at LoFi Shit Records in Norman.  It was released back in October.  Because I’ve picked up the pace in a short amount of time, Brad and I started working on a new album that will probably come out sometime this summer. 

I think the album Brad and I are hammering out presently is a nice progression from “This Old Knife.”  We opted to throw in more tracks and instruments on the newest release, which is where it differs from the previous CD that was only me and my guitar.  The new album features appearances from Okie fiddler Daniel Foulks, backup vocals by Melissa Stevens, banjo and drums by Brad Fielder, slide guitar by Aaron Tackett of the Purple Church, and bass by Kristina Tackett. 

Dave:  Have you had any interest from any record labels?  Are there any labels that you’d like to work with?

Ryan:  I’m working with LoFi Shit Records, which was founded by Brad Fielder.  I’m only interested in working with LoFi Shit, but I’m always open to doing collaborations with other labels.  Personally, I think the idea of a major label is a dead one.  The trend now seems to be on a more personal and grassroots level, which is where it should be.  I like working with LoFi Shit because I know Brad Fielder personally as well as I know all the other folks who are also recording with the label, e.g. Brian Cagle, The Father Phil, Robert Spencer, Bloody Ol’ Mule, Penny Hill, Brad himself, and more. 

The best thing about working with LoFi Shit is that it’s a community of players working together to promote each other.  Every artist is an individual, but they have the backing and support of the rest of the players. 

Dave:  How would you describe your music?  Country obviously comes to mind.  Last.fm also listed alt-country.  Would you say that is a fair description of your music?

Ryan:  I think my music is heartfelt and good.  That’s how I’d describe it first and foremost. 

I originally did call my music country, but I’ve been told a number of times that it isn’t country and that it is more folk and singer-songwriter.  But, if it takes calling it country or folk to get somebody to listen then that’s what I’ll call it.  There’s always going to be somebody out there to argue over whether or not it’s country or folk or acoustic or blues (or good, for that matter), so I gave up on the idea of trying to put it in a nice labeled box.

Really, it depends on the listener.  People who don’t usually listen to acoustic music will hear the twang in my voice and call it country.  Others who listen to nothing but country will say it’s anything but.

It’s easiest just to say who I like and who influenced me and then to let the listener draw their own conclusions.  Townes Van Zandt, Mississippi John Hurt, John Lee Hooker, Jimi Hendrix, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Dan Reeder, Possessed by Paul James, Scott H. Biram, etc. are all folks I listen to, so if you like them then there’s a pretty good chance you’ll like me.  But, you have to listen first.

Dave:  What are your thoughts on the music scene in Oklahoma?

Ryan:  I think the scene in Oklahoma has enough potential to be its own thing.  I don’t think Oklahoma will ever have a scene like Nashville or Austin, which is how it should be.  Those cities are doing what’s right for them. 

I feel like the musicians who are out there playing all nights of the week are working their hardest.  But, the musicians are only part of the picture.  The venues and the listeners have to branch out and make efforts, too.  It shouldn’t matter if a show is on a week night.  Go out and live life and support the musicians who are busting it to make something of the state.

So long as we do our own thing and do not mimic the other successful music scenes around the country then we’re going to be just fine.

Dave:  Who are your favorite places to play and bands to play with?

Ryan:  The Bluebonnet Bar in Norman is my number one place.  They’ve treated me and the rest of LoFi Shit Records like family from the very beginning.  There’s no pandering or games involved with that bar.  The city of Norman as a whole is extremely supportive of the music going on in the state hence the Norman Music Festival.

I’ll be playing my first show during Live at the Plaza in Oklahoma City with Ali Harter and O Fidelis on Friday, May 13th, which I’m really looking forward to considering all of the support The Plaza District has given to the local music scene. 

The Spy along with Fowler VW have also worked really hard to give a sense of community to a lot of local talent.  So, even though they’re not venues in the conventional sense, both have played, produced, and promoted musicians in ways that none of the conventional venues could ever do. Whether it be The Spy streaming locals all day and night on their radio station, The Oklahoma Rock Show (or oklahomarock.com) promoting local shows, or Fowler VW and Nathan Poppe filming and dispersing the Fowler VDUB Sessions, that entire crew deserves a whole ton of props.

Dave:  This is a High Fidelity inspired question.  What are your top five favorite bands, albums, movies, TV shows, books/authors? 

Ryan:  Favorite bands: Townes Van Zandt (Live at the Old Quarter), Waylon Jennings (Honky Tonk Heroes), Jimi Hendrix (Are You Experienced?), Possessed by Paul James (Feed the Family), and the Red House Painters (Songs for a Blue Guitar).

Favorite books/authors: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Green Grass Running Water by Thomas King, Native Son by Richard Wright, The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Dave:  What’s next for you?

Ryan:  Outside of finishing my new album and trying to book shows, I’ve been working on a couple of collaborations with The Purple Church and Katie Khaos (from the Norman band The Needles).  I’ve also been working closely with Brad Fielder on promoting the label.

Other than that, I guess I’ll just be living.

Dave:  Any final thoughts?

Ryan:  Just want to say thanks for letting me be a part of 10-questions, and thanks to all the folks who have supported me thus far! 

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