Growing up in a small Texas town, Ryan Beaver began writing songs early in life, and was performing his compositions in venues when he was just seventeen, playing drums, guitar, and piano. But it was through songwriting where he found a way to make sense of the world. With two albums already under his belt, the Nashville based Beaver is set to release his highly anticipated album, Rx, (called such because he says "the songs are like medicine to me") on May 5th. He graciously took the time to talk about the album, thinking outside the box and more.
Your music might be new to a lot of people, but you have been writing, recording, and performing for years. This time around, with Rx, there’s a huge buzz. So, first, are you surprised by that, and second, why do you think that is?
I’m definitely surprised by the positive feedback I’ve heard, but at the same time we’ve worked the better part of two years on the record - it’s actually been done since January of 2015 - so it’s taken a really long time to get this project off the ground. I think my patience was being tested (laughing). Also, this is the first time I’ve ever really had help with press for a record, so I think that’s probably a big part of why we’ve received much more attention. Before, it was simply a grass roots effort, doing the best we could. We’re still definitely fighting the big mountain and putting the album out on our own right now, but having help in the other departments changes everything. It helps me to not have to be doing every single thing so that I’m able to focus on the music. It’s been a blessing.
The sound of your previous album, Constant, was very roots based, while Rx seems to take a slightly different lean. Is that a fair assessment?
Absolutely. Every one of these projects that I’ve done has been different and on every one of them you can absolutely hear growth in my singing, and my playing, and my songwriting. I was twenty-one when I made Under The Neons, twenty-five or six when I made Constant, and then I started this project when I was twenty-nine, so there’s a journey in every album. With the other records, I felt very rushed, like I was just in to cut my songs and get out. With Rx, I definitely spent a little more time in the studio pushing the knobs, and tweaking, and talking about what out of the box stuff we could do more than I ever have. I had the opportunity to live with the songs longer. In fact, there were even a couple of songs that we cut that didn’t make the record because they just weren’t as strong; they didn’t hold up. So to have that time was a nice luxury.
You’ve spent time in both Austin and Nashville, how did those differing scenes shape your sound?
I was born in a tiny town in East Texas and then spent seven years in Austin and the last three years I’ve been here in Nashville. It’s funny because I feel like I got the best of both worlds. I got to experience two different cities and two different music scenes, which a lot of times people just go to one or might not know about the other. For me, it’s like I got to take what I love about the Austin music scene and what I love about the Nashville scene and apply it to my own thing.
Actually though, there’s not really a big difference. At the end of the day, people are trying to make art and survive -- and trying not to suck doing it (laughing), but there’s definitely different ways of doing it. It’s a do-it-yourself kind of attitude in Austin versus Nashville where they have the cookie cutter thing down, yet there’s more opportunity in Nashville because of the commerce of the business. I couldn’t write songs for a living like I can in Nashville, so I would say those are biggest differences.
While the songs on Rx are lyrically compelling, the melodies are just as strong. It seems they work in tandem to convey the stories and emotions in the songs. Is that something that’s important to you when you’re writing?
Yeah, absolutely. My favorite songwriters have always paid attention to both. There are times when I felt like I had a great melody but I hadn’t really nailed the words and then there are times when it is the other way around. You’re always in constant pursuit of capturing the best of both and the minute you do and it’s a well-written song, that’s when you land in the hit song world. I don’t mean that to refer to radio success, but I believe once or twice we found a little magic and bottled it up. That’s what you’re always out searching for; it’s what keeps you going and showing up.
Earlier you mentioned about doing some things out of the box and that certainly applies to some of the melodies in the songs, particularly at the end of “Habit” and “Rum and Roses” or “Gravedigger,” where the listener gets thrown a curveball, but in the best way possible.
Well, we live in a world where it takes a lot to keep our attention, so part of the thing about the production on this record was to bend your ear just enough to make you kind of be like, “What was that?” so that you’ll keep listening…….and then we kind of trick you with a song in there.
You’ve premiered a few of those songs already, including “Dark” and “If I Had A Horse,” which are the opening and closing tracks on Rx. What did you choose those songs to anchor the album?
Those two songs were recorded in totally different ways at different ends of the spectrum. We cut "Horse" live. We did a couple takes and chose the best one so what you hear on the record is just the take that wasn’t edited or changed in any way. We definitely spent more time with “Dark,” which is more anthemic. From a songwriter standpoint, the songs are two of my favorites, they’re a great representation of my life and what I was going through when I wrote them.
“Dark” leaves you hopeful while “If I Had A Horse” has a bit of a melancholy nostalgia.
Yeah, there’s this sort of bitter-sweetness about getting older. Nostalgia is always something I love to sing about and try to write about. For me, that song was just sort of me waking up one day going “Man so much life has happened.” I’ve gone through so much good and bad, up and down, and I’m grateful for it, so the song is just the moment you look in the mirror and remember the kid who used to take the broom out of my mother’s kitchen and ride it around like a horse. That image was so strong, I could see my mom there and me doing what kids do and realizing that it all just went so quick; that’s what I wanted to try to capture that in a song. I’ve read this somewhere, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” and that’s how I feel about it.
I've heard that before. It's definitely a good way to think about things.
Did you have a hand in writing all of the tracks?
This is the first time that I haven’t. Being in Nashville, you hear all these great songs by all these talented people and then it really makes you sad when you hear something so great and it goes and sits on a shelf and nobody ever hears from it again. It’s very heartbreaking because there’s this graveyard of amazing songs in this town. So with this project, I set goals for myself and one of my goals was to do something I hadn’t done before. So I wanted to find some great songs, whether it was one or ten that I really loved; songs that drove me nuts because I wish I had written them. I felt that with “Rum and Roses” and “Still Yours.” I love those songs and the writers of those songs [Josh Osborne/Ryan Tyndell and Blake Chaffin/Luke Dick respectively] so much, so hopefully we’re doing those tunes justice.
It’s like the best song wins when you're deciding what goes on a record..
I’m such a fan of that. if you can stick with it. I’ll look at this record and as a songwriter, I’m so proud of it. The right songs should be all that matter, they really should. It can get kind of political with labels, but if you don’t have that in that in the mix, and you’re on your own as an indie artist, then you free up a lot of that sort of thing, so I was pretty proud of how it all turned out.
I do country-heartland-roots rock, that’s how I’ve always described what I do to people, but at the end of the day, I really just love a good song. You can put yourself in a box when you just sort of sing about partying or Friday nights, which not everyone loves. There’s so much more in life to write about and so that was a big part of this record to make something that I would want to hear and that I would buy that encompasses a lot of different areas in life.
I think a lot of people share that sentiment about what they want in a song.
One other song I wanted to ask about was “Kristofferson,” which I heard you mention was an ode to him. You precede it with “Jesus Was a Capricorn.” Why did you choose that song, out of the many in his catalog, to place it where you did?
As a song, “Kristofferson” is a tip of the hat to him, but at the same time it’s kind of about anybody who has ever moved to town to do music and chase a dream and the things they go through. It’s a realization that hits you; it’s one of my favorites.
We had just cut it and were listening to that particular record [Jesus Was A Capricorn] when that song came on and I noticed it was in the same key, G, as “Kristofferson” was recorded in. They were so close in tempo too that they could almost bleed together. So I picked up a Resonator and I got to that line, “If you can’t find anybody else help yourself to me.” I love that line so much; it speaks to me on a different level than it was probably intended, but I love that attitude in a world where people are so hateful and pick on so many people that you’re saying “Take it, put it on me.” I just thought that was such a cool, cool thing and so we recorded 45-50 seconds of that song to see if it rolled right into the next song, and it did. That’s another tip of the hat to the poet himself who has a lifetime catalog of songs that are just amazing.
In the fall, you toured with Ashley Monroe and are returning to NYC on May 5th. Will this be your first time headlining a show here?
This’ll be the first time that I’m playing as the headliner I guess you could say. I’ll be playing the record with a full band, which I’m so excited about. It’s interesting to me because nowadays we have analytics and can find where the music is being purchased or streamed and it’s pretty amazing to see how much of it is working up there.
NYC has a huge amount of music junkies who are simply fans of good music.
Yeah, and those are my kind of people. It’s funny I only got to spend twelve hours in the city the last time I was there so it’ll be nice to have a few days. I’m looking forward to it a lot.
For more information visit his official website
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Pre-order Rx here
Ryan Beaver will play Mercury Lounge, NYC May 5th