Mike Ryan is making a bold statement with his new album Bad Reputation, and despite the title, it’s a rather good lesson in how to blend Texas with the mainstream. Whether it is the mid-tempo lead-in “Dancing All Around It” or the plucky, pain-doused regret “When I Drink Beer,” Ryan made sure to pour every ounce of self-awareness into the project, freely sharing his penmanship on every song. From there, he took to Brad Paisley‘s home studio (in Nashville) to polish up the collection with electricity, powered through with slick guitar riffs, thumping bass and hooks that simply can’t escape the mind. “We were lucky enough to get that worked out [to record there]. What a guy!” Ryan shares of the experience of recording in Paisley’s own studio, in an exclusive NashvilleGab interview.
“Brad was out of town while we were recording which was the biggest reason why we got to use his studio in the first place, cause he was in the middle of recording a record too,” he recalls. “He got back in one night as we were finishing up and treated us to dinner.”
He adds, “We talked a lot about Star Wars and Harry Potter. I’m not well versed in either series so I didn’t have much to add to the conversation, but I was certainly entertained.” And the absolute best part of that experience? The inspiration: “We were surrounded by priceless equipment, guitars, amps, pedals, more amps, more guitars. It was incredible. We actually got to go out there a couple of times to watch Brad and his band at work recording his newest album ‘Moonshine in the Trunk,'” Ryan says.
And the rest is history. Now, Ryan gets to sit back and let the music do the talking, led this time ’round with “Dancing All Around It.” He explains why he settled on that particular track to sample the record, “It was one of the first songs we wrote for the album and it quickly became a favorite when we started playing it live. It was also the first song that Chris [DuBois] and Brent [Anderson] and I wrote together which is pretty cool… We have written a bunch of others since then, but there’s always something special about the first time.”
For the video (below), filmed in Antlers, Okla., the singer kept things simple, but nature-focused. “We have a good friend out there with some of the coolest land I’ve seen and he was gracious enough to lend it to us for a couple of days,” he says, adding, “[and] that cabin was too cool to leave out!”
Stylistically, Ryan’s Reputation differs vastly from his debut LP Night Comes Falling. He says, “I would say the biggest difference is that all the songs on ‘Bad Reputation’ are brand new. NCF had a lot of songs that I had been playing for years and had become very familiar with by the time we started recording. There were a few that I finished writing in the studio and a few covers, but for the most part, we were well acquainted with those tunes.”
It was after Falling that Ryan garnered the attention of Sea Gayle Music. He recalls that moment in his life like a storybook, “I didn’t know what to expect when we scheduled the first trip out to Nashville to meet with Chris DuBois. He was introduced to my music by a mutual friend of ours named Robert Gallagher. We talked briefly and worked out a good time for us to meet and booked flights… about 24 hours before we left I came down with some sort of upper respiratory thing and I was sick as a dog when we finally got there.”
He continues, “Chris met us for the first time at The Basement where I limped through a 30 minute acoustic set. The next day, my manager, Wayne and I met Chris up at Sea Gayle where I was fully prepared to hear something like ‘It was nice meeting you. Let me know the next time you come into town’ or maybe a ‘we’ll be in touch’ type of thing, but once we started talking, those thoughts went out the window. Chris said they were prepared to offer me a publishing deal and they wanted me to come back to town to write as often as I could.”
“I told him I was looking forward to working together, thanked him for the meeting we shook hands and left. As soon as we got in the car, Wayne says ‘Do you realize what just #+%@$?* happened!?!?!?!’ We were high fiving and woo hooing all the way back to Texas,” he says.
Notably, recording in Nashville (instead of his usual Texas hot spot) opened a whole new experience for Ryan, even more than he ever thought possible. “The musicians we had in the studio were just incredible and all these songs were very new, so there was a fair amount of experimentation that took place. It was really cool to see the songs come to life in that way.”
Of course, there were quite a few challenges along the way, too. “I wasn’t necessarily writing for this record, I was just trying to pile up as many songs as I could to build my catalogue,” he says. “Cowrites were somewhat foreign (and scary) to me at first because most of the writing I had done before was all solo. I was a little anxious going into the first few sessions with these complete strangers cause I was “the new guy” and all these other writers had been doing it for years, but after the first few it wasn’t so bad, and before long I started to become very comfortable with it.”
But Ryan wasn’t quite as comfortable with pushing the envelope, quite yet, with his music. It’s about building that fan base and reaching an audience first. “I don’t know that I’m really pushing the envelope with my music just yet. I have been very comfortable with all the songs that I’ve put out so far, and I don’t think what I’m doing is groundbreaking or way different. Its just me being honest and putting out songs I believe in, and hoping that they move people.”
Of course, his love of music had to come from somewhere. Ryan cites his family pushed him the most, from the time he was born, to reach for what he wanted. “My mother sang to me often before I hatched and continued to throughout my childhood. My family has always been very involved with music and I wasn’t gonna be any different. It started with church choir and piano lessons, then in middle school I played the saxophone in our school band for two years before moving to the choir, which continued through high school. We have a lot a musicians in our family which makes it a lot of fun around the holidays. We’ll get together and sing/play songs and Christmas carols around the piano complete with trumpets, trombones, french horns and guitars, and the coolest harmonies you’ve ever heard.”
“My goodness, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard a family harmonize with each other. There is just something about it,” he says. Musically, though, his influences run pretty deep into ’90s culture. “I grew up in the 90s which is my favorite era of country music. There were so many great artists and great songs during that time. I didn’t hear a whole lot of older country until I got to college, though. I knew about Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash along with tons of other artists of their time and I was happy to listen to their individual brands of country music, but my favorite artist of that era was Waylon Jennings.”
He goes on to mention “Rose Of Paradise” as his favorite country song of all time (or at least at this moment in time). “It’s just country music at its finest. The song tells a great story, a sad story, but the music doesn’t feel sad… thats always been very interesting to me. When you can take such a sad thing and still make it beautiful, when it brings a tear to your eye and puts a smile on your face at the same time. That’s country music to me.”
And understandably, music isn’t his only passion. He recently went wake surfing, a bold, daring first for the singer. “I’ve had a little experience behind the boat water skiing and tubing,” he says. “I had never done the wake surfing before. I was far from good, but I managed to get up and stay up for a little while. My boy Mark and his boat made a nice wake to surf.”
His other hobbies? Everything outdoors. “I love to play golf and softball and I spend as much time hunting in the woods as I can. I grew up hunting deer and hogs with a rifle, mostly, which was great, and I’ll always enjoy that, but the last few years I have gotten turned on to bow hunting. Its quickly become one of my favorite pass times and money pits… Im also a big duck hunter. Is it November yet?”
If you haven’t, grab a copy of Bad Reputation on iTunes now!