After years of touring the Midwest as a welder, Andrew Ryan exchanged his welding helmet and chipping hammer for a guitar, looking to fill a void in his life that left him feeling unfulfilled. Flash forward five years later and the Missouri-born singer-songwriter is set to release his latest album, A Tiny Death, on April 1, which only further confirms that he made the right choice in hanging up his helmet.
I recently sat down with Ryan to discuss his crossroads of culture, embracing the unknown, and how we can all rely on the same old friend named Music.
Americana Highways: Prior to the pandemic, you hit the road hard, playing the songs that would make up your new album A Tiny Death, which is due April 1. Does this album feel like more of a marathon than usual given the lull the world experienced before it could see the light of day?
AR: Yeah, I think a marathon would be a good analogy with this album and time period. It certainly feels like it’s been A Long and Slow Death instead of a tiny one.
AH: With that in mind, have you moved on creatively from A Tiny Death? Are you doing things now with your songwriting that makes this collection of songs feel like a different chapter of your life?
AR: I try really hard not to write the same song the same way twice. I released three singles in 2021. Two that I would categorize as “indie rock” and would definitely not tie into the sounds of this album at all. I also wrote an original Christmas song “Restless Christmas,” that was heavily influenced by the sounds of the early Beatles. But middle of the road, Americana, folk music is where I always eventually land. Being from the Midwest (raised in an old lead mining town in southeast Missouri) I’m at a crossroads of culture. It’s a toss-up of 2/3 Midwestern and 1/3 southern, and maybe there’s a correlation with my music being not country enough for country music and not indie rock enough for the indie-rockers.
AH: Much of that pre-pandemic touring was done solo. As someone who has done many miles on the road alone, what does that time in your own presence without any distractions (other than the cars in front of you) do for you? Does it open up your mind in a way that the regular hustle and bustle of life is unable to?
AR: There’s a lot of time to think and self-reflect for sure. Your perception also increases when you’re constantly traveling across the country. You’re more aware of people and you can pick up on who’s drifting around. I think it’s something a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily be thrilled to do alone but like anything else, it has its benefits too.
I did have a good friend of mine who plays lap steel and electric guitar travel alongside me for a good chunk of that year, and it certainly helps not only with the sound, but it also helps out with all of the driving.
AH: What would someone learn about you in sitting down to listen to A Tiny Death front to back?
AR: That’s a good question and difficult to know. Maybe they would be able to see reflections in themselves with the album. For me, the album is about realizing life isn’t always black and white. Without forgiveness we cannot discover redemption and that the end is only the start of something else.
AH: As we mentioned, this album is a long time coming. Given the journey, what are you most proud of with having seen it to the finish line?
AR: I’m most proud of the songs collectively this album ties together well. It’s some of the best work I’ve done so far and I’m just excited to get back out there and perform these songs to an audience again. I had some very talented friends, some of which I had met from the road, and the best thing for me to do is to let people who are great at what they do, do their thing. It’s always exciting when you’re starting on a project and making progress on it but when it’s finally finished and out there it’s this strange feeling of relief and the unknown.
AH: You have said that you only write about subjects that you are familiar with. With that said, are there any subjects that you feel are too personal to put in your songwriting? Is there such a thing of putting too much of yourself into your music?
AR: If I were writing and singing songs about subjects and topics, I have no experience with then it would be not only a disaster, but I would feel like a snake oil salesman, and I still believe people can tell what’s authentic and what isn’t.
But there is a fine line between putting too much of yourself out there, and being discrete enough. It’s certainly a gray area that I think a lot of artists deal with. There have been several songs that I’ve written and recorded knowing they probably won’t be played or performed live, but the fact of getting it out of my system helps me work out what’s going on within.
AH: Every generation has its share of difficulties, but what do you feel is the most challenging aspect of maintaining a career as a musician in 2022?
AR: The most challenging aspect is that you have to have and continue to keep the mindset that you can have a career as a musician in 2022. Streaming is really killing artists of my generation compared to those before the 2000s. I’m fortunate enough that I’m able to handle the recording and mixing aspects of making records. The more challenging things for me is handling booking all of the shows and mapping out the touring routes. Designing T-shirts and other merch. I’m definitely 100% in the DIY category. Being an artist or band right now is to own your own small business and hopefully attract a larger company that believes in what you’re doing. The great thing about this time period is that you can do all of this yourself and breakthrough without the “old system” support, but it’s definitely a marathon and some marathons might take more than a decade to finish.
AH: Life feels more complicated than ever these days. Music, for so many, is an important escape. Are you just as much a fan of music as you are a participant in it, and if so, what does it do for you after a long day/week?
AR: I’m a huge fan of music. There is no doubt music has saved my life and many, many others like me out there. Music is this thing you feel but cannot touch or hold. It’s also like how thoughts float around or different personality types. So it’s like these different friends you know: an old comforting friend who knows you so well and is there for you when you’re at your lowest, or that friend that shows up and pumps you up and makes you feel anything is possible. Without music and art to turn to life would be worse than it is.
AH: Would the Andrew who first picked up a guitar be surprised by A Tiny Death if he had a chance to preview it all those years before?
AR: (Laughter) On man, yeah absolutely. I remember struggling to play open E major to D major chords on my brother’s electric guitar many years ago thinking, “People can actually do this without their hands breaking?” My younger self would also probably wonder why it isn’t super fast and louder.
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?
AR: I would. I feel like I’ve already crossed the point of no return. I spent a decade of my life traveling as a welder, working at power plants and oil refineries all across the Midwest, feeling unfulfilled and hollow. These last five years have been more rewarding even with all of the ups and downs and uncertainties that come with this lifestyle.
For all thinks Andrew Ryan, including to hear the latest singles, click here.