Ryan Martin Talks Creative Evolution on New LP ‘Wandercease’, Shares Video for “Fathers to Daughters” (INTERVIEW/VIDEO PREMIERE)

On his previous album, 2018’s Gimme Some Light, singer-songwriter Ryan Martin tapped into the kind of 70s folk-rock and Americana sound of groups like The Band, with rich, heartfelt harmonies and lyrics that conveyed honest music from someone who has lived an at times rough life but aims to do right. The album was an impressive collection of songs from this under-the-radar artist, demonstrating a high level of songwriting talent alongside the wisdom of an old soul.

In October this year, Martin returned with the follow-up, Wandercease (High Moon Records), which found the Hudson Valley, NY-based artist taking his sound in a different direction from Gimme Some Light. Ranging from deep introspection to radiant joy, the album finds Martin diverging from folk-rock and Americana in favor of a more exploratory sound rooted in pop and indie rock. Playing around with Moog, piano and synths, as well as horns, while his gorgeous harmonies remain in-tact, Martin seems to be focused on crafting bright and infectious tunes. There are still plenty of folkier moments, but this is an album that takes its cue from soul and 70s pop, with Martin drawing inspiration from a slightly different sonic palette as well as a whole new range of artists.

Recently, we talked with Martin about his musical evolution on Wandercease and he also shared the animated video to his charming, bouncy organ tune “Fathers to Daughters”…

Obviously this album has a much different sound than your last one, which was more rooted in country-folk. Did you consciously set out to do something poppier than your last album, and if so what was the motivation to create different sounds?

I don’t want to stagnate. I think evolution as an artist is important. It all comes out in a way I don’t really have control of anyway. The songs, the vision. It’s guided by my intuition. These songs were what came out of some rough years. Some deep questions about my intentions and some new ideas of who I want to be. The sound of this record is largely the hand of Kenny Siegel, Matthew Cullen and the musicians. I worked with all new people on this record, we had some amazing talent in the room. The rest is collaboration and inspiration. I never intended to make it poppier, but I do write pop songs, so it makes sense. Funny thing is this record was probably labored over less than any other I’ve made.

Were there any specific albums or artists you found yourself listening to as you went into the recording of this album or during your songwriting process?

Yes, I was listening to lots of Mark Kozelek/Sun Kil Moon/Red House Painters. Also ambient music and soundtracks. I like the work of Daniel Hart. Lesley Barer I love. And some classical like Bach and Beethoven. And Sigur Ros, and country music and Bruce Springsteen.

One of the interesting things about the album is the way you balance moments of joy and romanticism with darker, more grim reflections. Can you talk about where you were coming from in the writing and how it made sense to you to present this contrast?

I suppose I tried to make this record feel like my personal journey over the last few years. Which had both of those emotions in heavy doses on each end of the spectrum. I’m a nostalgic guy. I like to reflect on the past, I still like to think of what it felt like when I was 20 and in love. That was right in the time of my life when I was in and out of jail for a bit and using a lot of drugs and so forth. The good needs the bad to be good and vice versa. The true bliss of falling in love has always been followed by the inevitability of falling out of love and the absolute anguish and pain that comes from separating from someone you were so close to. In a lot of romance stories, they focus on the falling in love part. What would these relationships look like 5 or 10 years later? I’m trying to break the waves and get to the other side.

Is there a central theme that you feel links all of these songs together as one cohesive album?

Yeah, it’s a break-up album. It’s about me accounting for my actions and facing myself. Uncovering truths about who I am, and trying to change what I can that brings harm to other people. It’s the story of a kid coming up feeling ashamed of who is and trying to reconcile that with love for another person, without feeling love for himself. Of owning up to what it means to be a good person, a good father, a good lover, a friend. After I survived the youth that I thought would kill me, what do I do now? That kind of thing.

Going into the album, you relocated from New York City to Upstate NY. How did that change your focus and approach to the music?

Well, I love the solitude and I think that’s good for me as an artist. It made me focus on my vision for the songs. I had my own little world and it was undisturbed for a time when I wrote and recorded demos. Being more directly around nature is helpful, as is the quiet. I hear more in the spaces.

Did Kenny Siegal producing bring anything to your sound or creative approach that you feel like you hadn’t previously heard?

Yeah, Kenny brings his love for music. He’s a classic kind of producer that’s inspiring everyone with his passion for what you’re doing in the moment. He has an understanding of the core of the songs, and what makes it move and soar. I let Kenny and musicians really guide these songs. Instead of playing a lot of the instruments myself on the last few records, and crafting the arrangements myself. I think the collaboration served it well. Also Kenny believes in doing things live. Even encouraging me to sing live, which was daunting, since I know my limitations, but there is a fire in the moment you’re all playing together in a room and the sounds all blend and bleed. There’s a lot of that on his record, which is something Old Soul is set up for.

Singer-songwriter and classically-trained harpist Mikaela Davis also has a strong presence on the album. How did you meet and what was it about your musical chemistry that worked so well?

Kenny and Mikaela are friends and early on in the sessions Kenny suggested she come in and play harp on a few songs. The idea struck me as an interesting choice for an instrument to be a part of these songs, but he was pretty emphatic about how great she was, so what the hell! Her musical sensibility is amazing. She found her way into the record with the harp and added some textures that really helped the songs. Then we asked her to sing on “Coma Kiss.” I immediately felt something exciting about hearing her voice with mine and so did Kenny. So we asked her to sing a bunch more. She’s the secret weapon of this record.

You experiment with a lot of electronic sounds on this album. What drew you to that after having previously taken a more acoustic-based approach?

As I said before, I want to keep evolving as an artist. From what I’m saying in the songs to the instruments and sonic vision for the album. Also, I would say having it all available at your fingertips at old soul is inspiring. I never had access to those sounds before. And really it goes back to the collaboration between the musicians and Kenny and myself. I still think there’s a good blend of electronic sounds and good old acoustic instruments.

One of the things that stands out on the album is the electric guitar. What was your process for layering in electric guitar into the songs?

That credit goes to Kenny, and Matthew Cullen the engineer and Connor Grant who played guitars. Kenny has an instinct for laying guitars with different tones. And I think some of what you’re hearing is Connor’s ability to listen to the arrangements and synchronize his playing with what I was doing. Or moving around it with flourishes and textures. He’s a great player and Matthew Cullen has great ears. Also, when we gave the tracks to Paul Kolderie to mix, I could immediately hear his talent for bringing the guitars to life. He made em’ shine.

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