When Scott von Ryper joined The Jesus and Mary Chain as their guitarist in 2015, he had already spent a lifetime in the music industry. The Australian-born multi-instrumentalist and producer had signed his first record contract with EMI at age 19, been a member of The Morning After Girls, and co-founded The Black Ryder with Aimee Nash. Through the many decades, however, von Ryper had yet to release a solo record, which is why he is so proud of his latest album, Dream State Treasure, due this Friday on Tran-si-ent Records and in conjunction with SilverDoor Music.
I recently sat down with von Ryper to discuss looking back with hindsight, giving his emotions a much-needed rest, and removing the gatekeepers of music.
Americana Highways: You’re no stranger to putting music out into the world, but Dream State Treasure is your first where it’s only your name stamped on the cover. Does this one have a different feel to it just because the creative investment was different than some of your previous works?
Scott von Ryper: It absolutely does. There’s an additional sense of achievement and pride I think, but it comes with the full weight of an enormous amount of work and added responsibility to write, produce, and mix the majority of it and then release it on my own label as well. There were things that were never in my wheel house before that I’ve had to step up on. It’s a huge investment.
When I think about the fact that I was writing and recording songs in my bedroom when I was in my early teens, playing all the instruments (thanks to my brother for getting a drum kit), I’m not sure why it took this long to release something purely on my own, but I’ve also been really fortunate to collaborate with the people I have in my life.
AH: The process of putting Dream State Treasure together took about two years. While the outside listener may not be able to differentiate the passage of time in the passage of the tracks, are there multiple Scotts present? Was the Scott from 2018 in a different mindset than he was in 2020?
SvR: Unbelievably so. I went through a number of significant personal changes in 2020 in addition to the change we all went through with Covid. In addition to those two years, there’s ideas on the record that actually date back over a decade. It would be impossible to describe the different versions of myself that have interacted in one way or another with these songs over the years. That’s what makes this record so special to me. It’s almost like a closure of a long time capsule in my life, or multiple lives.
AH: If someone sat down and listened to the album front to back, what would they learn about you?
SvR: Firstly, they’d probably learn a little more from this than anything else I’d done for a very long time, because I made a conscious effort to be more open and vulnerable, and hide less within the bounds of carefully crafted obtuse lyrics.
A friend recently said something to me about the record that had never occurred to me. He had assumed that I had written the songs and crafted the running order of the record to tell a story of some kind of personal/spiritual journey. He noted that the start of the album is clearly about negative attachments and addictions that prevent us from feeling love; for ourselves and for others, and then by “Lucifer,” there appears to be a review of this life lived with some clarity. “Pulse” then talks about leaving a life behind.
By “Oh my lord, take my soul,” it’s about pure love, surrender, acceptance and peace. And the last track, “Reckoning,” although an instrumental and quite melancholy, is also very spiritual.
So there’s a story arc in there that is probably very illuminating if I look back at that with hindsight, and it’s interesting to me that I chose to place the songs on the record the way I did, because my thoughts at the time where purely on the music and how it flowed.
AH: You played most of the instruments. You produced. You mixed. When you finally called wrap on the album, did you feel creatively exhausted? Did you have to step away from music momentarily and refuel the tank, so to speak?
SvR: It only occurred to me recently that I’ve had a habit of falling into serious depressive episodes right after an album finishes. I recall one album where I actually lost half my hearing from stress and exhaustion at the mastering session because I’d been up until 4:30 in the morning tweaking a mix for the 200th time, and another where I was at a dinner celebration for the finish of the record and just couldn’t feel the slightest bit of happiness. That’s not a habit I wanted to continue.
I find the never ending mixing process I seem to gravitate toward can be mentally exhausting, although deep down, the mixing process has the most satisfaction for me for some reason. It’s something that I’ve wanted to be good at for as long as I can remember so it holds significant pressure and reward; I guess because it’s essentially making all the other elements of the work as best as they can be. The wrong mix will ruin a great song, and it’s amazing the amount of songs that might otherwise be thought of as average, that can become memorable because of talented producers and mixers.
I can become really obsessive with mixes. I could spend all day working on a mix, then wake up the next day and realize I hate it and undo all the work I did the day before. If you repeat that process enough, that can really burn you out, so you HAVE to put it aside at times in order to get perspective and also give your emotions a rest.
This time around, I took a lot of breaks within the album itself, so by the end, I wasn’t so exhausted. I actually continued to listen to the record simply for pleasure for quite a long time after it was finished. That was reassuring.
AH: The album is a great journey, but there’s also some great sounds that the listener can explore and may not necessarily pick up on the first go-around. That got me to thinking… how will this album translate to the stage? What will you be doing differently to bring Dream State Treasure to life in a live setting?
SvR: Thank you. I’m actually still undecided if I’m going to bring the album to the stage. As you said, there is a lot going on in some of these songs and I wouldn’t want to do a half arsed version of it live, which means that I’d need a significant sized band to do it. It’s not off the table completely, but it’s not in my immediate future. Maybe next year. I guess it also depends on the reaction to the album.
AH: Did songwriter Scott and producer Scott ever butt heads in terms of what one wanted to accomplish and what was actually possible when you sat down to record?
SvR: I don’t even think of these roles as separate to me. I’ve been recording/producing my songs for almost as long as I’ve been writing them, and I also love to use the studio tools at my disposal as part of the writing process itself. It helps me flesh out the song. I usually always find a way to accomplish what I’m hearing in the imagination. The significant progress in music technology has helped that. A lack of recording budget is no longer such a road block to fulfilling your ideas.
AH: You signed to your first label at age 19. A lot has changed in the industry since then. Do you think it’s easier or more difficult for an artist to find success in 2021 than it was when you first got started?
SvR: I think that depends on your definition of success. Exposure? Making a living from your art? Quite clearly the music industry is not in good shape if you’re an artist. The streaming revolution has essentially stripped the recording artist of their ability to earn almost any compensation from their work. It’s an extremely dire situation. We now live in a society where people expect music for free, and I don’t know how or if that will ever resolve itself, but on the flip side, the birth of the internet and advancement of home recording technology and digital distribution has removed the labels as the gatekeepers of music. They no longer get to decide who gets to make and release records, which is a positive thing. I’d say it’s easier to get exposure but harder to make that exposure translate to reward.
AH: You joined The Jesus and Mary Chain in 2015. How has that experience impacted what you have been doing with your music beyond the band itself? Has it been a career moment or more of a life experience?
SvR: Well I think it’s both to some degree. It was a really significant career moment of course, but the life experience of that is always ongoing. I don’t think playing in The Mary Chain has affected the music I’m personally making in any way, although I think it’s made me a better guitarist, simply from the amount of touring and the fact that I’m being challenged to play in a different style than what I had been doing before.
AH: What is something that 12-year-old Scott would never believe would one day happen to him if you had a chance to sit down with him and give him the highlights of your career to date? What would blow his mind?
SvR: I think it would all blow his mind to be honest. I was never one of those kids that had this “dream big” confidence about myself, so to find myself in this position would be completely surreal to the 12-year-old me.
It’s so easy to forget or take for granted everything that has happened over the years, but if I look back at it with some perspective, there have of course been difficult times and probably more to come, but I’ve really been so fortunate to be able to experience things that I never would have thought possible back then. Playing and collaborating with people I love and so many musical heroes, moving half way around the world, writing songs and making records that I feel proud of AND that other people actually appreciate too, getting to tour the world playing music I love. Even just releasing this record. I could write such a long list of stuff I wouldn’t have even dreamt of when I was 12.
There’s so much providence in what’s happened. I always knew that making a life with music was such a long shot and you can never take it for granted as it might stop tomorrow, but I’m extremely grateful for everything that’s happened. That’s always good to remember when you catch yourself about to complain about something stupid.
AH: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
SvR: Funny enough, I’ve done the psychic thing a few times in my life, 10 – 15 years ago, and their predictions for the following decade or so had some surprising accuracy, but I’ve had no interest in doing that for a long time. I don’t think our futures are totally predestined. I think we co-create them.
I also don’t like to have attachment to the outcome of things. Despite my curiosity, I wouldn’t take the trip into the future because it’s not the outcome that really matters, it’s the journey. If I knew the outcome already, where’s the fun in that?
To learn more about Scott von Ryper’s solo debut, visit www.scottvonryper.com.
Discover more music and musicians on our website, for example here: Key to the Highway: Ben Nichols