Welcome, Ryan from Little King! Fill us in on what 2020 has had in store for you so far! Any big dreams you are running toward this year? Good afternoon! Yes, 2020 is off to a breakneck start. Busy with rehearsals for now, as Manny (Tejeda, bass) and I am wood-shedding all of the new songs with a bunch of the older ones in preparation for touring later this year. That's been fun and challenging, as all of the bass players who came before him in Little King made sure to make it as difficult as possible on those who came after them. We just spent a couple of hours on the solo section of the song "Virus Divine" from the album of the same name that was released in 2004. Shannon Brady played bass on that record in the studio, and he wrote a monster part for that track. I am sure he thought no one else would ever have to deal with it! He and Manny are friends, though, so hopefully, they communicate a little bit on it if Manny gets stuck. Was sounding good today, though. In addition to doing a bunch of interviews and rehearsing about 15 songs for the tour, we are also about to launch a national college radio campaign in March. We have a company in Minnesota who has worked on a couple of our records over the years with good results, and since I think our newest material from Occam's Foil is the strongest yet, I expect to have some great feedback soon. Hopefully, this will help launch us onto some commercial stations and festival stages as well. Radio is an odd beast, but I feel like "Hate Counter," "The Skin That I'm In," and "Forgotten Mile" are all strong enough to win some spins. Also doing some Spotify promo, a little bit of Social Media campaigning, running a business in Silicon Valley, raising a teenager, washing the cat, taking out the trash, re-shingling the neighbor's roof, and running for governor...
Can you recall the moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician? What do you think motivated you day in and day out to continue on the path? Oh yes, I remember it well. I dabbled in music in high school, as I was a "singer" in a cover band called the Green T's. We thought that was funny! Anyway, we played a few songs in the cafeteria at lunch, which was actually called "The Mushroom" because it was shaped like a giant Boomer. So we butchered some songs by U2, Rush, Zeppelin, INXS, and I think The Police. Or, should I say, I butchered them. The rest of the guys were pretty good. It was awful! But I kept practicing.
Before I was a musician, I was a serious basketball player. Like pretty dominant for a little guy, and I was actually coached and taught by the current coach for the Utah Jazz, Quin Snyder, who lived across the street from me just outside of Seattle. So I had major Hoop Dreams. But when my senior year rolled around, my focus lapsed. I was playing as much guitar as I was shooting jump shots, and because I was short, I was up against long odds. Our high school was generally considered to have the best basketball program in the state of Washington, so it was a SERIOUS BUSINESS. Anyway, I got cut before my senior season, and I was devastated and pissed. In retrospect, though, I probably didn't deserve to make the team.
In the absence of having basketball as my prime mover for the first time in 12 years, I got serious about music. When I really focused on playing the guitar, I found that I probably had a much better future in music than in sports. I eventually went to college in Arizona, and when I auditioned for my first band as a lead guitar player down in Tucson, I was hooked. I didn't make that cut either, but damn if I didn't burn that rehearsal up! Their loss, I guess. But that set me on a path that hasn't deviated for about 30 years.
How do you think you have grown as a musician since you first started making music? What if anything has stayed the same about your music-making process?
I think 16 years old I would probably make fun of the current me. Seriously, I was pretty narrow with my spectrum of musical influences back in the day. If it wasn't classic rock or metal, it wasn't on my radar. Guitar solos were mandatory, "serious" musicianship in the bands I listened to was more important than songwriting, and I don't recall ever wanting to emulate anything other than what I heard on KISW, Seattle's premier rock station. Times change. I draw a lot more inspiration from jazz, hip hop, classical music, and reggae. Yes, I guess Little King is still rooted in classic, alternative, and progressive rock, but I listen to a wide variety of genres. I am sure that seeps into my writing.
What HAS stayed the same, though, is a dedication to my craft. I take pride in writing challenging guitar parts and thoughtful lyrics. It is my mission to record songs that I am not thoroughly embarrassed by in 10 years! I've been successful, for the most part, in that goal. There are a few songs that I cringe at all these years later, but I don't have to play them and our audience doesn't have to be tortured with them. We all win that way.
Growing up, how important was music in your life? It can be a tough road, were your family and friends supportive of this career choice?
As I mentioned before, music was second only to sports until they intersected and changed roles at about age 17. My big brother Matt was a huge influence on my listening tastes as a kid. He's about 3 years older than me, so he would bring home a new album or listen to a song on the radio and I wanted to know who it was, what it was called, and who was in the band. I would then run to the nearest Tower Records and find a magazine that featured that band as soon as I could! No internet to scout new music...hell, this was even before MTV. It was a radio and off to the record store. Glorious in its simplicity, no? Matt and I used to have stereo wars. He was a big Zeppelin guy, and I was a Rush guy. We would go back and forth, much to my parents' chagrin, cranking songs at full volume. He'd blast "Dazed and Confused," and I'd counter with "Xanadu." But he was bigger than me, and when I got too aggressive with the stereo, he'd come into my room and sit on top of me and torture me with chest compressions. I couldn't breathe! It was all in good fun, though. My parents have always been very supportive. They aren't musicians, but there was a lot of music around the house. Dad loves the Stones and the Beatles. Mom...well, let's just say I know a few Gordon Lightfoot and Bee Gees songs by heart. But while they didn't UNDERSTAND what I was up to, and they still probably don't, they've always been particularly supportive.
It was fun not long ago to go on a road trip with my mom from Tucson, where she lives, to El Paso to visit my daughter. We spent 5 hours listening to all kinds of music, and I got to play a few of my songs and explain what they were about. You'd think we would have done that long before, but we hadn't. The song "Happy Home" affected her particularly, as it's a song about the pain of going through a divorce, and she lived that period of time with me. Mom and I are really close...it was a really special moment to share the last 23 years of my music with her.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music in your career? Have you had an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
The biggest surprise is how difficult it has been to stay active as a musician while juggling fatherhood, adult responsibilities, running a business...LIFE in general. It's not for the faint of heart.
But I am driven by my passion for songwriting and the desire to share my vision, both musically and lyrically, with the world. I went and got a BA in Creative Writing, and always try to infuse my lyrics with as much thought and care as possible. It's not easy, and after 6 albums, I have to be really careful to not be redundant. So that's been a challenge...no one likes that old guy who keeps repeating himself. I love the challenge of putting a setlist together and blending the new material with the older songs. It's so much fun to listen back and fit all of these 15 or so pieces together like a puzzle. Some of them are very challenging to play and sing at the same time, especially the songs from Time Extension (1998). I was reckless as a writer back then! But they still move me, particularly "Bloodline." The way we have designed the set for this year, there is a very definite through-line that links the songs together. What a thrill it will be to bring that to our fans. Can't. Wait!
Let’s talk about the new music you are going to be putting out. What has been your inspiration for new material? How creatively are you involved in what you put out?
Occam's Foil is the name of the new EP, and I am the primary writer of the lyrics and music, although Manny and Eddy (Garcia, drummer) have considerable input into the arrangements once I bring the songs to them. This album is a reflection of our time down in El Paso recording in 2019, as well as some things I have been through personally in the last few years. I deal with failed relationships, my pointed anger at our current political climate, the opioid crisis, living in a place that is far far away from the rest of my family, and so much more.
I think the songs are the best combination of the many styles that influence me as a musician that I have ever released. "The Foil" has a lot of reggae influence, there's a serious Latin flair to the bridge of "The Skin That I'm In," a ton of bluesy flavor on "Nerve #8," and some good old fashioned HEAVY on "Hate Counter." I took it as a challenge to write songs that would never be boring or sound too similar yet at the same time maintaining consistency in feel and passion. I think we achieved that quite nicely this time around. The title of the record, Occam's Foil, is based on a famous theory called "Occam's Razor." That philosophy has roots in 12th or 13th century England, as Father William of Ockham theorized that the simplest answer is usually the correct one, absent extenuating circumstances. I'm simplifying, but you get the meaning. So I counter that argument by encouraging deeper thought, more thorough investigation, consideration of counter-viewpoints, and a lust for the core of what really is righteous and true. That may not help me fill a dance floor - I get it - but at least I can be proud of leaving something behind that will hopefully inspire some introspection and perhaps even some change.
You have shared the stage with many incredible performers so I am curious which one really stands out the most to you? Who have you learned the most form?
I have had the magnificent fortune of playing and recording with some absolute monsters. Eddy Garcia has engineered the last 4 Little King records and has played drums on the last 3. He also founded the Texas Metal band Pissing Razors, has toured all over the world with Ministry and Overkill and is one of my dearest friends. Eddy and I have different backgrounds, but damn do we work well together! I respect his ears, his no-nonsense attitude, his honesty, and his ridiculous chops. The way he brings my vision to life on the drums is just something that I will never take for granted. I wish that people could see him recording Little King songs. His ability to make sense out of my bloody ridiculous arrangements in almost no time flat is nothing short of incredible. I love that dude, and he's had a major hand in literally shaping my legacy as a musician and human being.
I also had an opportunity to work with Terry Brown, Rush's producer, and engineer, back in 2003. This was a formative experience, sitting at the desk with the man who helped record and produces the soundtrack to my childhood. He's such a smart, humble, and talented man. We would work all day and then go out on the town in Toronto in the evening for dinner and drinks, and invariably people would recognize him. It was always a shock to him that people CARED who he was! I was also struck by the times he would be casually mentioning a funny story about Jimi Hendrix having coffee and acid in the studio while Terry would mic up a tuba. And he'd mention these stories without any sense of how utterly cool he was! That was a great lesson...my heroes are humble.
Where can we get our hands on new music and connect with you more?