Ryan Martin,
The TVD Interview
and Vinyl Giveaway

Ryan Martin has a new album out on High Moon Records titled, Wandercease, but is he really ready to cease his wandering or is he just exploring the idea of settling down?

With producer Kenny Siegal, Martin’s new album was crafted into a large scale work that defies being tied down into one specific genre. He’s also enlisted a very talented group of musicians to help him bring his latest batch of songs to life. Of note is the very talented Mikaela Davis who continues to build an excellent solo career of her own.

Mixed by Paul Kolderie and mastered by the great Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound, the vinyl version of this album sounds great. So great, in fact, that we want you to hear it! 

We find you packing up your apartment; it sounds like you haven’t ceased wandering yet.

Well, very accurate to the record in that way. No, I haven’t ceased wandering. I’ve always moved around and I’ll probably continue moving. I have my eye on Europe. So, that might be in the foreseeable future in the next few years. And yeah, man you know, I’m born with a wanderlust. It’s a real thing.

I’m always interested in titles of things, of books and movies and albums. Even though you have this wanderlust happening, do you feel like you should cease wandering? Where did the title come from for you?

Yeah. I mean, I do feel like at some point I would like to. For me, Wandercease is the point where you’ve finally found home and I suppose I haven’t found that yet. I have a daughter and that’s the closest thing that I found to home and a greater sense of home in my life so far, but as far as like where I’m supposed to be living, the east coast is great, but I think I’m going to travel around Europe for a while. I’m going to try that out. I haven’t been struck by the feeling like, ah, you know, like this is where I’m supposed to be yet in my life.

And you’re in New York City at this time, but where are you from originally?

I’m from Los Gatos, California which is the South Bay area in between Santa Cruz and San Jose. That’s where I grew up, spent my life until I was 18.

Well, east coast, west coast and Europe—you can’t do better than that. You’re getting the full picture!

That’s right! Yep. Spent some time in Kansas City, too. A little time in Texas. I just can’t help it.

This album is a big production and I’m tempted to say it’s like a ’70s production, but I don’t want to say that because it’s more contemporary than that, but there are a lot of other elements: the female vocals, a lot of little musical phrases that really push the tunes along. What are some of your thoughts about the production and assembling this record? Tell me about working with Kenny Siegel and the overall production of the album.

Yeah, it is a big production. I always tell myself that I’m going to avoid it after the first record that I made back in 2010, but it always ends up being a production. So, I guess that’s just where my tastes lead me. I mean, as far as the vision for the record, I really worked hand-in-hand with Kenny Siegel on that. The previous records I made, I think I was more in the driver’s seat as far as the vision and down to the instrumentation and the genres, the sounds, the styles, and with this one I kind of let guide it and I kind of relinquished some of my more, you know, I let him make some decisions with me.

There’s a lot of inspiration that I get from music from the ’60s and the ’70s, but at the same time, it was kind of about just assembling the musicians, being inspired in the moment, and letting people make choices that inspired them, and so whether that be someone playing a Mellotron for most of the songs or making it a bigger production—even more than I would’ve thought—certain songs like “Wandercease,” they tended to be bigger productions than I had envisioned and that was kind of like Kenny’s guiding hand. In the end, man, I try to make sonically interesting and dense music. There’s always more that I hear and Kenny actually kind of seems to be on that page, too. So, having to check myself and limiting myself is usually a struggle as I’m making records.

And you talked about having this musical crew—how did you pick everybody? How did you come up with the personnel that you used?

So, most of them, kind of the core band which was bass, drums, guitar, and keyboards—those people were all picked by Kenny Siegel and they’re friends that he’s worked with before. The drummer and the bass player had just done the Chuck Prophet record prior to me coming in. So, Kenny was really excited about them. And then Jared (Samuel) who played keys was kind of a longtime friend of Kenny’s and he’d done projects with him. And the guitar player too, it was great, this guy, Connor Grant—they’re all kind of connected in a way to each other so I was basically brought into Kenny’s world and to their world. So, it was interesting for me to bring my songs basically to a group of musicians—and people who are producers themselves—and kind of see what happens after you brought it through the machine that had already kind of been there and then collaborate with them.

Tell me about those female vocals or maybe it’s just one female. Whose angelic voices are we listening to, is that Mikaela Davis?

Yeah. Mikaela ended up singing on almost every song on the record. Kenny brought her in to play harp which I thought was a really interesting idea and then we asked her to sing backups on a song called “Coma Kiss” and we both just loved the sound of her voice with mine. You know, there was a kind of unique blend I think that happened between the two of our voices and we asked her to sing on I think ten other songs, most of them made it to the record. She’s a great singer. I love her voice. And then there were a group of young people who Kenny knew up there. One of them, her name is Storey Littleton, and then there were two others, and they also sang more of the group harmony parts and they’re great, too. I’m really, really lucky and grateful to have worked with such a talented group of people.

“Orphan Song”—it seems like there’s a lot of stuff going on in there. Can you tell us a little background about that one?

I guess lyrically it comes from a personal place in my twenties, kind of living a life that was on the edge, it’s not an easy thing; it’s a struggle to get through life, at least from my perspective. I’ve seen some friends and family members really struggle to just survive whether it be mental health or addiction and stuff like that. So, yeah, kind of my love letter to my friends who may have fallen or were still struggling. At the same time, I guess it’s reflecting on myself as someone who’s been there, too. So, at least, lyrically, that’s kind of where that song came from.

In listening to your record, there’s a really unique sound that blends so many artists together without really leaning on anything or becoming derivative. You’ve got the pedal steel and the strings on “Wandercease” and it’s like this chamber music/country thing, but then there’s a little soul, some rock. It’s a weird mix, but it’s really original and eclectic and it works. Can you talk a little bit about your influences in your writing and how you put together those twelve songs on the record, how did you choose them?

It’s always been hard for me to stick to one genre, even on a single record. There are artists who are really good at evolving from record to record and there seems to be a cohesive sound on each record, but for me, it all kind of seems to find its way into each record, the mix of genres. I love lots of different types of music and I’m a vehicle for what ends up coming out and coming through me. So, I can’t sit down and choose to write a country/rock song and it might not even be because I’ve been listening to Gram Parsons or Gene Clark or someone like that. It might just come out because that’s what’s in my mind, that’s what’s given to me.

I’ve made eclectic records and to me, I mean, I appreciate you saying that: the hardest part is to make it a cohesive thing without it feeling too schizophrenic and I think some of that comes with instruments you choose, changing the arrangements of songs while you’re rehearsing and even the sequence of the record. But a lot of it too, I have to give credit to the collaborators, the musicians and Kenny, the people I worked with.

A song like “Fathers and Daughters”—which is the closest thing to R&B that I’ve ever done—was not my idea. I played it as this kind of folky, Big Star, “Thirteen” strumming pattern song that was very much like a straightforward rock/folk song and it wasn’t working. And then, someone suggested that we give it this kind of Bill Withers beat and that really sent it to a place where we all couldn’t deny how much better it was. So, I mean, these are the benefits of having people around me who can see things from a place that I necessarily wouldn’t be able to see them from.

Isn’t that weird how you can have a song and be hacking away at it and trying to work it out and it doesn’t quite work and then somebody says, “Hey, just go like this,” and you go, “Boom! Hey, Whoa! Where was that?”

It’s the beauty of making music and making records in the moment, man. That’s also, I think, Kenny’s philosophy on record making or producing records is to let people be inspired in the moment. So we tracked a lot of the things live between the core band that I mentioned and myself and even a lot of the vocals were taken from live takes, which I didn’t even know that would have been possible for me to do. So, I have to thank Kenny too for pushing that. It has to do also with, not pressure, not that the pressure is a good thing, but limiting yourself is a good thing, not overthinking things.

How do you like to write, what are you most comfortable sitting down with to compose?

Mostly, it’s a guitar. How I like to write is still a mystery to me. It seems to come when it wants to come. I don’t have command over that enterprise, but I still try to commit time every day to have a guitar in my hand and whether I’m rehearsing old songs or learning someone else’s or trying to write something new for myself just to commit to doing that and then it kind of comes when it comes. But it’s always a melody. It’s usually a melody that’ll come, a couple of chord changes and, you know, a melody comes to my head and then I’ll maybe stick it onto a phrase that is also kind of spontaneous and then it evolves from there.

“I Just Want to Die” is another one of my favorites. Who’s playing that tasty guitar solo?

That’s Mike Robinson, he’s an unbelievably talented guitar player. He also plays pedal steel and banjo. He plays with a band called Railroad Earth. He was in New York when I met him and then I played some shows with him before I started making the record. There’s a great slow version of that song that was a collaborative kind of thing, but then for the record—the version that you’re talking about—it was always kind of like the barn-burner, you know, rock and roll kind of “take no prisoners” version, which he had played on.

So once we committed to that, I knew that I had to bring him in because he’s such a talented country/rock guitar player and he’s a talented guitar player in general. He uses a B-Bender. He’s a big fan of Clarence White, which I am too, and so there’s not a lot of people I think with his kind of talent, at least that I know of, that I’ve ever met around there. Yeah, man, he’ll inspire you for sure.

B-Benders are awesome and just for those who maybe don’t know what a B-Bender is, it’s a little device built into your guitar—usually a Fender Telecaster—and you can sort of raise the pitch of your B-string by using your shoulder and it makes a traditional guitar sound like a pedal steel; it’s a really cool thing. I’m still telling my wife, “Honey, one day I’ve got to buy a B-Bender.”

(laughs) Everyone needs it. Yeah. I probably wouldn’t know what I was doing with it, but it’s pretty; it’s a really unique sound. Like you said, it brings the guitar closer to the feel or the sound of a pedal steel and those late-era Byrds records with Clarence White on them. If people are curious about hearing what a B-Bender sounds like, you can listen to, “I Just Want to Die” or you could also listen to some of the late-era Byrds.

Tell me about the recording studio in Catskill, New York—Old Soul Studios. It looks like a really cozy place to record an album.

Yeah. It’s a unique place. I would say, from my opinion, there’s not a lot to it when you walk in that speaks to you that this is a recording studio, and I say that as a compliment.

Well, actually, it’s funny that you say that because when I was looking at pictures—and readers can search for pictures on the web—and you’ll get the pictures that we’re talking about, but I had that same feeling. I looked and I thought, “Geez, that looks like a living room!”

Yeah, that’s exactly right. The live room is the main living room downstairs, the control room is really not separated or isolated by much, except for a wall and these sliding glass doors. There’s no real insulation or isolation happening. There’s a lot of bleed between the instruments and the sounds and that’s something that Kenny embraces. I mean, you walk into the bathroom and you have to walk past a giant bass cab cause that’s where they track, you know, electric bass (laughs). And then you could walk upstairs and you can use an upstairs room as an isolation booth for vocals. Or, in my case, I was just set up through the glass doors, looking at the band and singing and playing along with them, trying to make it as much of an alive feel as it could get to which I really, really liked.

I think that sound comes through on the album.

Great. Yeah, man. Thanks for saying that. I think so too, and that certainly is something that Kenny believes in and I believe in. For this record, it was great, man.

Your album cover is a bed with a nightstand on a beach in front of the ocean, and you’ve got some pictures there. You just must have plunked that bed on the sand somehow. How did you conceptualize this album cover? It really looks cool.

Thanks, man. Thanks for saying that. It just came to me. I was thinking about it at the end of the sessions and, for whatever reason, I’m sure it’s like a mix of images and album covers that I’ve seen before and I wanted to create this surreal image. I just had to rent a truck and take it out to the beach and we had a great photographer in Brian Geltner who came out and took the photos.

Where was it, Ryan? Where is that beach?

It’s a beach in Connecticut near the town of, or in the town of, New Milford. I’m pretty sure. Originally, I wanted it to be overcast and a little more bleak, but I think that the lighting that we got on that day was appropriate. I guess looking back on it, it’s good that it wasn’t so bleak because the record itself, there’s not one kind of fixed emotion there. So, I was really happy with how it turned out.

Well, “Wandercease”—Los Gatos to New York City and to the Hudson Valley and perhaps across the Atlantic and who knows when your wandering will cease, Ryan Martin.

Who knows, man, all I can do is keep going until I find it.

Wandercease, the new full-length release from Ryan Martin is in stores now via High Moon Records—on vinyl.

Enter to win a vinyl copy of Wandercease by streaming the release up top and commenting below citing your favorite track on the record—and briefly why. We’ll choose one entrant for a copy of the LP one week from today, April 19. 2021. 

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PHOTOS: BRIAN GELTNER

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  • Vitos Bandos

    My favorite track is “Orphan Song”. I love lyrics and slow flowing from one verse to another. Very nice album.

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