Living in Nashville has *almost* ruined indie-pop for me.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the best music comes from a place of honesty and authenticity. It isn’t too hard to make indie-pop that sounds okay; just buy a telecaster and drag the drums to weird subdivision spots on the grid. But making meaningful, good music is a different (harder) thing, and as much as I love this city (after being exposed to four years’ worth of its “up and coming” artists and bands) it’s starting to feel like pretty much everyone in the genre has been cut from the same sheet of stale cookie dough.
Except for RYLY. And it’s because he’s authentically focused on honesty.
Just listen through his music and you’ll be able to tell; he started as a simple singer-songwriter with a killer voice and killer lyrics. Every song carries a heavy weight of self-reflection. He uses his music as a means of explaining himself, but as he’s grown as a person, he’s also grown as an artist.
His newest record, Young and Naive, is, in essence, an expression of that growth. Digging his heels deeper into indie-pop production, his music is, on the surface, as catchy and well-made as anything on the radio. But he hasn’t lost his honest lyricism, and that added dimension is what makes it special and resonant.
So, naturally, I wanted to talk to him about how he makes it. Read below to hear his thoughts on songwriting, and get the story behind the final track “Enough.”
Also, you should follow him on
to make sure you don’t miss anything. And here’s his website.
How did you start making music?
I started seriously attempting to write music at 15 and put out my first EP (with the help of some friends) at 16.
Who are your influences?
This changes daily and with every project I do but for this record…
Lyrically: Sleeping At Last (Ryan O’Neal), Noah Gundersen, Sean McConnell, Colony House, John Mark McMillan
Sonically: Cody Fry, The Night Game, Cory Wong, The 1975.
What does the songwriting process look like for you?
It’s different most days and it always evolving but most often it starts on keys or guitar and I play a progression and sing a melody. If it works I start on the lyrics.
Sometimes I’ll just program some drum samples and let it loop until something hits me.
How do you write lyrics?
I have a notes section on my phone where I keep lyrical ideas and type them out throughout the day. Before how the music sounds, or how produced everything is, I care most about my lyrics and what I’m saying.
I’m always being inspired by other artists and what they have to say, so many songs and ideas spark new things for me.
How do you write melodies?
Voice memos, voice memos, voice memos.
A good melody makes a song. I’ll sing something into my phone and go back to it a few days later to flesh it out. It never ends up the way it starts and it always building. I think if you have a crappy melody, it’ll ruin the song. It’s not the same for lyrics. 99% of songs in pop music have such superficial meaningless lyrics that contribute nothing to the betterment of the human condition but you can’t have a meaningless melody, if that makes sense.
Would you rather write about personal experiences or general themes?
I enjoy both. I don’t typically enjoy having to promote myself or “sell” myself as an independent artist, but I like to challenge myself. Something I’m naturally good at is writing songs FOR other people or FROM someone else’s point of view.
This record is the first set of songs I’ve written FROM my point of view, FOR myself.
Your sound and lyricism has definitely changed since your last record. Was that transition conscious, or did it just sort of happen?
A little of both. My co producer Nick and I both knew it was going to change we just didn’t know how. The 80s pop sounds just came naturally as we started writing.
Is it important to you to have your songs be fully understood as you intended them to be, or are you fine leaving them open to interpretation?
I prefer to have them understood as they were intended. I’m not opposed to a listener interpreting a message on their own but I never want my words to get twisted or lost in translation. I believe what I’m saying is important and I don’t want to do my music a disservice in that aspect. Some of my lyrics are intended to be dark and written from places that I believed things that weren’t true. In my song “Lonely” I sing “Nothing gets better in time.” I don’t actually believe that but the state I was in writing it, it felt that way.
What makes a song good?
In my opinion, the lyrics are the most important. If the message of the song is not important, I don’t care to waste my time listening to it (subjective I know).
Quality production is key as well. It’s not necessary but you want people to pay attention. I’m 19 and it’s easy for people to say “ah he’s good for a kid trying to do music” but when they hear my stuff they are really impressed. To any other artists trying to do this thing, don’t settle. Get your stuff produced well and take feedback on it. I know too many artists who just do things the cheapest way and end up with the cheapest quality… who woulda thought?!
What advice would you give to other songwriters?
Write about things you care about but also write about actual issues and problems. Find the balance.
You don’t have to write a song a day. People used to tell me that all the time. “Try to write a song a day”. It just burns you out. Write when you feel inspired. Write when you begin to feel something deeply.
Lastly, give only 10% thought to what people will think. It does matter because PEOPLE are the ones listening but it is YOUR art. Write music that YOU enjoy listening to. I’m proud of “Young + Naive” because it’s something that I listen to in my car. Write 90% for yourself.
What was the first part of “Enough” to be written?
The piano progression came first and then the lyrics started to flow out of me. It was definitely a song that had built in me and needed a release.
What idea inspired the lyrics?
I was sick of myself. Tired of the way I treated my parents and other people. I was a good friend to people but I was never a good son to my parents. I didn’t love them well and a lot of my mistakes in life stemmed from that. They are the best parents anyone could want, I just never treated them that way.
I was struck by the way the second verse opens:
I was given the garden but I picked from all the wrong trees,
and the hurt that I feel didn’t heal and now it’s my pain relief.
Can you talk about that line a little bit?
That’s one of my favorite lines too! I sang that while writing and had no idea what it meant when I sang it but I always felt like I was given so many good things and so many good friends but I was always the one who screwed it up. I would say something or do something and everything would begin to burn. I felt like every choice I made was the wrong one. And it made me think of a bruise. Mis-directional pain. If you have a migraine and then stub your toe, you will forget about the migraine because now your toe hurts. Then it’s a cyclical cycle of pain.
Who is the song for?
It’s for me. The most honest version of myself that I know how to share at this point it my life. Hopefully it makes the listener feel a little less alone and bit more understood.
The production is tastefully simple. What made you decide to keep it sparse? And why electric piano instead of acoustic piano or guitar?
I didn’t want high production and a bunch of instruments to get in the way. The lyrics are heavy and deserve your full attention.
The DX just sounds cool.
Is there a reason behind the song’s track placement on the album? (Like why is it track 11, how does it work as an album closer?
I liked the idea of having such a high production album and a bunch of big pop songs and then ending it all with an acoustic style song. It’s also kind of ironic that this album is my biggest accomplishment to date and what i’m most proud of and I end the whole project by saying that I’m not enough.
Are there any touring plans we should know about?
We are on tour right now! Go to my website for all the details. We have new merch on the website and we’re working on new tunes for 2020!
More shows for 2020 to be announced soon. We are just getting started.