You might not recognize Jeff Ryan's name, but you've probably heard his drumming on a number of acclaimed releases in the past few years. Playing on albums by Sarah Jaffe, St. Vincent, Pleasant Grove and Crushed Stars, he's also had time to do an ambient side project called Myopic. Myopic's second release, We Were Here, comes out this week, and we talked with him about that, as well as drumming for all of these great bands.
How did you end up being such an in-demand drummer around town?
You know, I ask myself that same question a lot. That's not false modesty. Honestly, I think it's two people: Stuart Sikes and John Congleton. That's it!
Good people! Two of my best friends. When Sarah [Jaffe] needed a drummer or the Baptist Generals got back together for a new record that's gonna come out on Sub Pop. Stuart and I worked together. When Annie [Clark, aka St. Vincent] needed a drummer. When the War on Drugs needed something on a couple of tracks. Luckily, they called me. I think it's because I'm kind of a no-frills kind of player. They know I will go in and get the job done, be there on time, be cool to the artist. Every artist that I've played with, whether it's St. Vincent or Sarah or whoever, they're still my friends. We still communicate, still play shows together, and it's a [knocks on wood table] very lucky thing.
Do you consider yourself a session musician?
You know, I don't. I don't mind being called that. I never think about it. It's like I get an e-mail or John comes up on my IM and says, "Hey, Annie wants to go to Alaska and do a show. You want to go with her?" I'm like, "OK." Total drummer nerd question: I remember reading Modern Drummer in the '90s about how bands like Soul Asylum would have a drummer, but then they be rather dickish about replacing him in the studio. And that was my perception of what a session drummer was. It's like, "Oh, I can learn a song in five minutes and my timing is perfect!" and blah, blah, blah. Have you ever had that kind of negative perception of other session drummers?
Like, taking over other people's parts?
Not really. There were a couple of artists that I did the drums for, and normally the drummer wasn't there. Normally I would only do it circumstantially. The drummer couldn't make it financially. I never pushed it like, "Hey, if you need somebody, call me!" Because if they've got somebody, then it's their deal, it's their job. With Sarah, Sarah didn't have a drummer. The very first song we played together, she stepped back and said, "Hey, you want to play some gigs?"
So, when do you find the time to do Myopic?
Late at night, usually. Headphones. It's my little bedroom project. I literally have an idea and I would either sing it, or play it on these little vibes that I have, or I'd go and record a drum part on my phone. I have this sampler and I'll record some Brian Eno droney stuff into. Honestly, it's never something I set aside five hours and try to finish the Myopic song I've been trying to finish for the last year. It's, "Hey I've got an idea! Let's loop it, collage it, and take it into the studio." Normally it's Stuart who will help me flesh it out. Stuart is kind of the other part of Myopic, as well as Todd from Crushed Stars. They have been integral in terms of helping me finish stuff. And Todd always plays on it and [Simulacra] is his label.
With We Were Here, was most of it recorded in your house?
Demoed. Demoed in my room where I live. Then I get this piecemeal on GarageBand or whatever and I go into Stuart's studio, Elmwood, in Oak Cliff and we just work at night, kinda piece it together. Pretty much, it was me and him doing everything. I had some session guys come in. I had Daniel Hart come in and play some violin. I had Todd play guitar. Stuart can play everything: guitar, keys . . .
And he can tell you about recording the Promise Ring!
And Loretta Lynn! He and I have this sixth sense about us. We know when things are kinda going good and when they're not going good. I can say anything or play anything know that I'm going to get the right response back. He's not afraid to say, "Ah, that sucks" or "Let's try it this way."
How long have been into ambient/electronic music?
A lot longer than I realized. I mean, even in high school, I would totally freak about the Orb and Orbital. In college, it was Aphex Twin, Kraftwerk, and even New Order to a sense. I always loved that analog keyboards sounds meshed with organic [stuff]. I do like a lot of dance music. I like taking that aspect of electronic music and put it with some hushed, close-miked snare and beautiful kick drum with a piano. For some reason, that sounds right to me.
Were there any records that were breakthroughs to you? Eno's kinda obvious, I gotta say.
Here Comes the Warm Jets, for example.
[Laughs] Yeah! Obviously Brian Eno, but I gotta say in 1993, when the first Tortoise record came out, I heard that and I heard this instrumental music going, and I thought, "Man this is awesome! These guys are bad-ass players and they're making beautiful music." I still listen to them a lot.
Any plans on doing Myopic live?
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Yeah! In fact, I'm glad you asked because there's another ambient drone collective in town called Waterfalls and they play those Aurora Dallas lights festivals. Super-cool guys. I'm actually going to do a show where they are going to play this record as they would interpret it. So it's like they're interpreting my record in how they want to interpret it. I think that would be the one and only show. Maybe do one at Dan's [Silverleaf]. It's not conducive to a rock club. It won't be in a club, except at Dan's.
I've seen shows like this before and while it sounds good, it's not exciting to watch.
It's not! It's not at all. A lot of it is going to be played live with instruments. But even that, the way it is, the music is slow and very ambient. There's not a lot of action. It's more of a mood setting.