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Interview: Ryan David Orr
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
My mother was a singer/songwriter, and she got me playing violin when I was about 7 years old. That was my first experience with music. My first time in a studio was recording backing vocals for an album of hers when I was 9. By age 14, I had learned guitar enough to start writing my own stuff, and I was hooked. If I were not doing music, I might have focused on acting and film making. When I first went to college, I studied acting, and I have a degree in film, so that arena is another of my passions.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I am a college English professor, so I spend a lot of time teaching and writing. Obviously, that tends to influence my songwriting. I also love to cook, garden, hike, and travel. Most of those things instill me with a love and appreciation for the natural world, so a lot of my writing deals with that in some way.
How long have you been around as an artist?
I began performing original material in 1997. Since then, I have performed solo and with bands all over the U.S. and abroad.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I am currently based in Lakeside, Arizona, but I moved around a lot, so I have been influenced by many places I have lived. California, New York, North Carolina, and Tennessee are all places I lived, and they shaped my songwriting style greatly. Living now in rural Arizona has colored my music with an eclectic mix of roots music, a rock edge, and a love of melody and texture in sound.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
There have been several. I had the opportunity to open for Vanessa Carlton and Donavon Frankenreiter in Scottsdale, AZ. those were great shows. I also opened for Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers a couple times, which were really fun shows. I loved playing at Kulturpalast in Hannover. I also had a great time paying at the Pig 'n Whistle in Hollywood, CA. The Bitter End and CBGB's in New York were really great as well.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
My favorite so far was LiveWire in Scottsdale, AZ. Great stage and sound, and the room had this early 20th century vibe. There are many venues I would love to play at that I haven't. Red Rocks in Colorado is one I would certainly love to play someday.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I would love to be on the lineup of a show featuring Iron & Wine, Alt-J, and The National, or possibly Radiohead.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
I guess one important thing is to be proactive. Don't wait for the world to come along and grab you up - go out there and pound the pavement. I would also tell my younger self to stop trying to do everything yourself. Get other capable people involved and don't settle for slackers, even if they are your friends. Something else that is pertinent for this day and age is to ignore naysayers. They are everywhere and everyone is absolutely certain their opinion is important - but it's not. Figure out a small number of people you respect and trust for feedback, and ignore the rest.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
My advice would be to develop a manageable, sustainable strategy for audience growth, and then be consistent and persistent. And trust that every small victory, album sale, responsive crowd member, notable gig, is part of a larger endeavor, and that your musical career is the sum of these parts.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
It's hard to say, but possibly the song "Margaret". I wrote it about an adopted great cousin of mine who was an actress and musician in the 1930s. My only interaction with her was an old MGM glam photo that I saw at my uncle's house one time. After I wrote it, I recorded the song and had my mother sing backing vocals. Shortly after that, my mother died of breast cancer, so that song has several family connections and contains a recording of my mother's voice. Kind of special.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I think my favorite to play are the very mellow, melodic, emotional ones. I get really into performing those. I also love to play really head-bobbable songs, especially with my band. The songs I get requests for the most are a few of my indie-folk songs with catchy choruses. If I get requests for covers, they tend to be from artists that I sound similar to, like Cat Stevens or Dave Matthews, sometimes Gordon Lightfoot. Some of my most requested song titles are "Paper Horses", "Margaret", "Selfishly", and "Nothing More Than Love"
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
My process usually begins with a snipit of a song, like a small chord progression, or a line of lyrics I like. Then I build around that. I am generally most inspired by very human things, like cities, crowds, travel, media, etc. People often assume that I live in a rural area to get inspiration for my music, but I am not usually inspired musically by nature. I love nature, and I spend a lot of time in it, but I get my artistic inspiration from the human condition. I think that's because the human race is impermanent. Like, taking a picture of a building seems more worthwhile sometimes because long after the human race destroys itself, the natural world will remain in some form. I like the subtle fleeting qualities of human life.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
It's often messages about facing our demons, not giving up sacred things, the dynamics of love and loss. I often approach social, emotional, and psychological issues in some form. I grew up hearing the messages of many rock artists like Jimi Hendrix, CSNY, Neil Young, Janis Joplin, and the sentiment that "love is all you need" is a nice idea, but it's not as simple as that. We are complex beings, and often there are many internal or external factors that keep us from actualizing this concept. Those are the issues I like to discuss.
Do you ever have disagreements with your collaborators, and how do you get past them?
Sure, I've disagreed with many collaborators. Years ago, I think I disagreed often due to my own selfishness or arrogance about the art. Nowadays, I try not to voice a disagreement unless I have really considered both of our perspectives. I try to be respectful of others' opinions, and I try to only surround myself with artists that do the same, and I think that is key to moving past disagreements. I know that I tend to write lyrics in a personal way, so I generally just don't collaborate on that aspect of the music.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Over the next year or so, I will be releasing a series of singles through The Animal Farm, the first of which is "Dystopia". I am also finishing up a full-length album that will be released later this summer. I will release the new album on CD and Vinyl, and for MP3 download first. Then, I will release a few of the songs for streaming over the course of several months. I am also in the process of filming a video for one of the new songs that should be done in the next month or two. Folks can see updates by following on Facebook Instagram or Twitter. The main thing right now is promoting "Dystopia". My band is all psyched and ready to rock it out at our next shows coming up in June and July. We will be headlining the White Mountain Musicians Festival on Saturday, July 16, so we will definitely be playing the song there. Lots of new music coming this year!