Productive to a fault, U.K. power pop true believer Paul Ryan (no, not that one), also known as Super 8, has recently issued his second album of 2018, Turn Around Or… MusicTAP took some time with Ryan to talk about what he’s up to, what inspires him, and the perils of being an adherent independent musician.
You’re a busy guy. T-T-T-Technicolour Melodies! was released in January, and you’re back with Turn Around Or… in June. Were the songs written approximately the same time and recorded at different times?
I’ve been writing songs for as long as I can remember. I’m pretty impulsive, especially when it comes to music. I remember when I got my first guitar as a kid. I only knew two chords to begin with but that didn’t stop me trying to write a song straight away. I can’t explain this need to ‘document in a song’ as it were – I guess I’m just programmed this way!
So yeah, back to your question … I’ve always written. Some songs come easy, others not so. I get a feeling when a batch of song ideas are beginning to relate to one another, a thread starts to develop, be it purely musical or lyrical or both, and the songs suggest they want to be together. It’s at this point I think about making an album (I still like albums! The ‘concept’ of a body of songs that fit together like some kind of sonic jigsaw appeals to me.)
When it dawns on me I might have a good album bubbling under the surface well, that’s when the ‘hard work’ begins.
You write and record everything except, on the latest, you have a small handful of musicians with you. First of all, what is your process for putting it all together? Your songs sound very fleshed-out, not locked into the world of the “one man bedroom pop auteur.”
I pretty much tend to write on my own these days. On occasions, I have collaborated & contributed musically in the past and that’s been fine but, that said, I also find it rather a compromise. Of course, I’m aware collaboration can result in unexpected musical surprises & happy accidents and when these occur they can bring with them that little bit of magic but, oftentimes, when I collaborate with say a ‘proper’ record producer, I find that my songs never really come out sounding the way they play inside my head. When I’m in the zone, tied up working on a new song, I can usually hear the finished production, sometimes before I’ve even put down a note!
I guess what I’m saying is, I tend to have a pretty firm idea of how I want this music I write to sound. It’s taken me a long time to come to this realization though: to just go with my gut & have confidence in my convictions. That said, I’d still opt to take Brian Wilson’s ‘Wrecking Crew’ every time, were that possible! I admit, there are times when my technical limitations as a musician can get in the way of the part or sound I’m hearing in my head to the extent that, on the last album, I had to call in ‘the professionals’ for a couple of songs!
Tell me about the folks who came on for Turn Around Or…, how you connected with them, and what you wanted them to bring to the project.
The album opener track (namely: ‘Hey! Mr. Policeman’) is a pretty dynamic-sounding song. As such, I knew it needed a very powerful drum beat to drive it along. It needed the ‘Keith Moon’ treatment! Thing is, try as I may, I have to face facts & accept that, most of the time, I just can’t play drums like Moon so … I had to call in a favor!
Fellow label mate Nick Bertling ended up banging the skins on that one (well, mostly – he played all the fancy Keith Moon ‘scattergun’ stuff for ‘the fast bits’ and I just held the steady beat in the verses!) (“Thanks again for your sterling efforts Sir Nick ‘Moon’ Bertling!”) Sticking with this song in question, I also availed of some Futureman contacts in order to physically interpret the horn section part I was hearing for this track too (namely top Californian saxophonist Bill Philips and musician/sequencing wizard Owen Hodgson!) Their contributions I feel really ramped this song up a notch!
The other track on the current album where I had some outside assistance was ‘Wild Apple Girl’. I could hear in my mind that it would really benefit from some sympathetic strings to capture & articulate the whole mood and ‘vibe’ of the song but my self-taught violin playing has been known to send folk running & screaming to the hills so, again, I called in (another!) favour with the record co. and the talented Miss Sunnie Larsen turned my dodgy whistled violin & viola lines into something that now sounds very soothing & melodious to my ears! (“Thanks again for that Sunnie!”)
As for the rest of the instrumentation on Turn Around Or…, it is as it was for T-T-T-Technicolour Melodies, IE: just me, myself & I attempting to play anything (& everything!) I can lay my hands on. My latest ‘thing’ is trying to bring the washboard back into popular music which a certain Mr. Keith ‘Futureman’ Klingensmith seems to find amusing for some reason!
The new album has a cover of BMX Bandits’ “Serious Drugs.” How did that come about?
It just happened really! I’d always loved the song but I hadn’t heard it in some time. It popped up on an old mix tape and I happened to have a guitar to hand (not unusual!) and just started jamming along trying to work out the chords to it whilst singing some half-remembered lyrics. It seemed to suit my voice so, not having one of my songs on the go at the time (for once!), I decided to casually explore the idea of maybe doing my interpretation of ‘Serious Drugs’. (I did actually get in touch with Duglas T. Stewart of The BMX Bandits to ask his permission first, mind!)
He said I was welcome to cover it and sent me over the chords. I put down my version that very evening then, somewhat nervously I have to say, sent it off to Duglas. He said it was really good. “Better than The Gigolo Aunts cover?” I asked. “Better than the BMX Bandits original!” came his reply. Well, I certainly wouldn’t go that far but, yeah, it sure was a lovely thing for him to say. (“I’m not worthy!”)
Being a one-man band at heart, what are some of the benefits of being “the guy” as opposed to working by committee? By the same token, what are the drawbacks? When you are putting together a song that has multiple instruments going, what are you thinking when you’re in the middle of it?
I guess the benefit is that I don’t really have to answer to anyone I suppose … musically I can do whatever I like without having to compromise or justify it (perfect for a self-confessed control freak!) Of course, this can backfire at times as I’m aware I can become too indulgent.
Fortunately, I have learnt how to recognize this trait over the years and have been known to give myself ‘a good talking to.’ Yeah, it’s good to have free rein but it can get quite lonely at times too! Take for example the track I’m working on right now (namely: ‘Mr. Sunshine’ which has made it to the short-list for the third SUPER 8 album of 2018 – you heard it here first!) It’s a 5 minute song with 50-odd component parts (and counting!) I’ve had to play in each & every part individually using a multi-tracking recording process, slowly building the music up level by level. That’s a lot of playing, not to mention time spent setting up & recording!
As I’m writing, engineering and producing my own stuff these days it can get tricky at times trying to wear all the different (home) studio hats simultaneously like, for example, hitting the record button then running across the room to the drum kit situated in the corner in the hope of coming in on the beat!
Another fairly major problem I keep coming up against with my productions is that it is not unknown for my songs to run into component track counts of over 60 parts. The now antiquated (by today’s standards!) desk I record on only has a max of 22 playback channels so I normally have to do a lot of sub-mixing & moving stuff about in order to get everything to fit before I can get to the stage of starting work on the final mix. On average it takes me about a week in total to perform, record, mix & produce just one song recording in such a way.
How many Super 8 recordings are out there for people to find?
Well, all the stuff I’m happy to let folk hear is currently up on the SUPER 8 Bandcamp page here: https://trip8.bandcamp.com and over at Futureman Records: https://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com. As I hinted at above, I’m currently in the process of attempting to put together the third SUPER 8 long player of 2018 (working title: ‘HI LO‘) so keep an ear to the tracks for that before the year’s out. That’s if I can manage and afford to pull off the third album this year! Read on …
Currently, you live in the U.K. Your last two records have been released by Futureman Records. What’s the relationship been like?
Err, “Transatlantic” (hee! hee!) Yeah, overall it’s been great! Record company head honcho Keith Klingensmith (who’s actually one-third of Michigan Power Poppers, The Legal Matters!) is a good guy & we both seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet. As with all independent labels though, we could really do with more of a budget (read: ‘a budget’!) in order to get the Futureman’s music to more ears! Sure, as a collective we’re doing the best we can on a shoestring to get the word out but it’s very much grassroots and word of mouth. It’s good to get opportunities like this to speak to someone like yourself, Dw. – it all helps spread ‘The Good News’ but the sad bottom line & harsh reality is: it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ‘exist’ as a musician these days!
Yeah, yeah! Cue world’s smallest violin to play in the background but I’m being serious here! I’m not looking for fame or fortune (although a bit of fortune right now wouldn’t go at all wrong, to be honest – I’ve released two albums this year so far and I’m stone broke!) but yeah, for me the whole point of going to the effort of making music is for it to be heard surely? (Speaking personally, if I didn’t want it to be heard then I would just leave it in my head!) Thing is, these days, mass communication & multi-media interaction can actually be more of a hindrance than a help, it feels.
It’s become increasingly hard to get heard ‘out there’ especially when there’s no promotional budget to place your musical efforts where the people happen to be looking this week. The likes of Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Lady GaGa, etc. release an album and, well, you just know about it (whether you want to or not!) That’s not the case for most independent artists I know and, as such, a lot of great stuff just slips through the cracks. I’m actually really proud of the two SUPER 8 albums I’ve put out this year so far but the reality is … very few people have heard them nor will get to hear them as things stand which is both frustrating and a great demotivator!
And another thing, Facebook as a platform for trying to promote music really sucks these days … just sayin’!
Much like the creative side, there are economic benefits and deficiencies in doing things all on your own. What’s been your biggest struggle with running the Super 8 ship almost unilaterally? And what part of doing so has been a great benefit?
Yeah, as I say, it’s just the sad realization that due to the way things are nowadays, unless … I dunno, what? Billboards advertising my music just magically start appearing in towns & cities across the planet, then the majority of folks just aren’t going to know it’s ‘out there’! I don’t think Spotify is helping matters either, far from it in fact! They really need to come up with a way of making independent artists more visible on their platform.
They need to stop their daylight robbery and start giving something back to the artists and creators (creators whose musical ‘product’ they pilfer & trade with). I don’t think people realize just how badly the music makers are being completely & utterly fleeced by the streaming services! What Spotify et. al. pay back to the artist is just embarrassing – an utter pittance! Last time I looked, Spotify were paying out a mere $0.00437 for a full song stream – it’s scandalous! Getting back to your question, I guess one advantage to running the SUPER 8 ship solo is I get to keep that entire $0.00437 per play. Hmm…
Your sound looks back to the slightly psychedelic pop of the late ’60s. What was it about that era’s music that grabbed you?
Ha! Ha! ’60s Pop Psych’ – Yep, you’re not the first to have mentioned that! A fair few folk have made that connection so there must be something in it I guess. I personally don’t hear that so much, it’s just the way it comes out! I’ll admit, like everybody else, I’m influenced by certain things & music but I definitely don’t go out of my way to ape a certain style or a sound or whatever. If folk think my stuff sounds sort of ’60s-ish then that’s fine, I’ll take that as a compliment as there was some truly great music being made back then but no, it’s certainly not an intentional attempt to sound like that!
I will admit, I am a huge Beatles & Beach Boys fan but, if anything I’d say I’ve actually been more influenced by the soundtrack to my musical youth that was current & seemingly all-encompassing when growing up in the North West of England during the mid-’80s to mid-’90s. There’s a number of (contemporary at the time!) bands that I know have left an indelible stamp upon me and have affected both my attitude to music and the way in which I process & write it.
Do you have a goal for future compositions that you hope to reach, be it structurally or musically? Is there a “brass ring” that you are building toward in terms of where you want to go with your songs? Or do you write what you feel at the moment, and are more driven by catching whatever your inspiration brings at the moment?
Well, as I’ve mentioned, I do hope to be able to produce & release a third album before 2018 is out but it’s tricky (to say the least!) Don’t get me wrong, I love music making and I wish I could eke some kind of existence from doing what I love but the harsh reality is, for my entire life to date, all I’ve done is pay out to make music. I’m going to have to really push the boat out if I’m to be able to scrape together the funds to release another album this year. Making the previous two albums this year so far has left a big hole in my finances. (It really hasn’t helped that I had a load of physical CDs professionally manufactured for both albums only for it to slowly dawn on me that, in general, people just don’t seem to be buying music on CD anymore!)
There is a very strong correlation here: the more music I make, the more in debt I seem to become! Maybe it’s just me but, I dunno, it’s not really supposed to be like this surely?!! For me this has been a great year for music making but, conversely, a crap year for being broke & just watching my music fall through the gaps from lack of exposure. Rock ‘n roll!
I dunno, I can’t help feeling that the whole ‘Music Industry’ is really confused & broken these days! There’s no light at the end of the tunnel (not that I can see anyway!) to suggest that things are going to get any better either. I don’t think ‘The Music Industry’ knows where it’s heading anymore. To make matters even worse (if that’s possible!), more & more artists now are feeling obliged to ‘play the game’ and just give their music away for free (no doubt in an effort to be heard – yes, back to that again!)
Thing is, this does nothing I feel to solve the problems of the modern music industry. All it does is just devalue music and reinforce the growing general belief that music is a worthless, free commodity. I can’t think of any other industry where a creator (be it a butcher, baker or candlestick maker!) works so hard to create their product (or ‘art’?) only to just desperately give it away for free! Something doesn’t add up here. I know how much it costs to make music and, well, the modern way of doing things just doesn’t make any sense to me – it’s totally messed up!
This is a typical, cliched question that seems to pop up in every interview, so I apologize for resurrecting this particular zombie here…but who are your musical influences. Which artists are a source of drive and envy for Paul Ryan?
That’s easy! In no real particular order & entirely off the top of my head: The Beatles; The Beach Boys; The La’s; The Smiths; Burt Bacharach; T-Rex; Astrud Gilberto; The Doors; The Stone Roses; Neil Young; Simon & Garfunkel; The Monkees; The Everly Brothers; Teenage Fanclub & Big Star…oh, and yes, I’m still trying to write SUPER 8’s ‘There She Goes’ which is possibly the greatest Pop song of all time in my not so humble opinion!
P.S.: If you ever fancy a jam in my home studio, Lee Mavers, just give us a call, la! I’d be interested to hear what we might come up with.
Find more of Super 8 at: https://trip8.bandcamp.com