The new year is off to a solid start for indie singer-songwriter Casey Ryan, who spent his formative years in Idaho and Spokane and launched his music career in the Inland Northwest: Ryan, 31, has been selected by Breedlove Guitars to be the company’s Featured Artist for 2021.
Ryan’s new endeavor with Breedlove begins on March 1, and the musical artist who resides in Tucson, Arizona, chatted about Idaho and Spokane, his new music, his new podcast “The Starving Artist” and more via Zoom on Jan. 29.
You’ve been selected by Breedlove Guitars to be its nationally Featured Artist in 2021. How did this come about, and what will it entail?
I met a representative from Breedlove Guitars about five years ago at a show that I had in Bend, Oregon, where their guitars are made. After that, we were in contact about me being endorsed by them as a sponsored artist. Ever since then, I’ve tagged them on posts on Instagram, and they’ve been good about sending me strings or doing repairs for my guitar.
They’re a really amazing company. Given the pandemic, they were looking to adapt because artists are not able to play live that much, so they’re offering this program, based on the artists they select, with national livestream shows, national promotion of music, social media takeovers and how-to videos.
One of their representatives reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be the Featured Artist for 2021. It starts in March, and they will promote my new music that comes out March 1. It’s going to be a really cool thing.
What are you most excited about in being selected the Featured Artist for 2021?
What I’m most excited about is being able to showcase one of Breedlove’s new model guitars. Breedlove sent me one of their new models that they haven’t released yet, and I’ll be playing it starting in March.
Given the circumstances right now and touring being at a standstill, any chance to share music and the art I create on a bigger scale, I’m just excited to be able to do anything with music and share art with people and bring people together through that medium.
How long have you been playing the guitar, and what other instruments do you play?
I have been playing the guitar since I was 13, and I’m 31 now. It’s been a long time, and I started playing piano about five years ago. I’m self-taught in both, so piano, guitar and singing.
What is your connection to the Pacific Northwest?
I was born in Seattle and moved to Kellogg, Idaho, when I was 8. I graduated from Kellogg High School, then moved from Kellogg to Moscow for my undergraduate studies at U of I. Afterward, I moved to Coeur d’Alene for my master’s degree. Ever since then, I’ve lived in Coeur d’Alene.
I’ve lived and worked in Coeur d’Alene for a long time. Coeur d’Alene and Spokane have felt much more like home than anywhere. My life is very much embedded there, from heartbreak and love and loss to different jobs.
My music career started there. The most meaningful and supportive people in my life live there. It’s always my home, and it always helps me return to my equilibrium if I’m feeling lost.
For the uninitiated, how would you describe your style of music?
I am an indie singer-songwriter. I’m a solo singer-songwriter, but I try to put a different spin on that genre. When you think of acoustic artists, you think of John Mayer and Jason Mraz, but I try to put a unique spin on it by combing a few different genres into one.
Where I have the stage presence of a rock band but the lyrics and melody of a more melancholy acoustic artist, but then also put melodies through the instruments that are more upbeat and appeal to a broader reach of music fans. So, an indie singer-songwriter performing progressive acoustic guitar.
You’ve been to Spokane many times. What do you remember about performing at Pig Out in the Park and Elkfest?
Pig Out in the Park was one of my first performances. I remember being very nervous before that first performance, but people were very kind to me and supportive. I’ll never forget people coming up to me after Pig Out in the Park and Elkfest, in my infancy in music and still not having a lot of confidence in it or sure what I was going to do with it, and being very supportive.
It really meant a lot to me to have that support in my local hometown area. It gave me extra motivation to keep moving forward.
How was your experience at Austin City Limits?
That was insane! I was a side-stage artist, and right before I went onstage, it was before my favorite band, City in Color. So, I not only got to meet and open for my favorite band, but I got to play this iconic festival.
I’m sitting backstage and there’s Dallas Green from City in Color, my biggest inspiration in music. He’s just sitting right there, and there are other bands there that I really admire, one band that I really like called the Naked and Famous.
At that point, I had imposter syndrome. I didn’t necessarily think that I belonged there. But when I stepped on stage, it was the biggest audience I had had up to that point, and the professionalism of the production – you put in the work to get to that point, but you don’t really believe it when it’s happening. After that day, I was pretty much on cloud nine that whole week. It was a mind-blowing experience, and I am very grateful.
You’ve toured in more than 20 countries. Any countries that stand out?
Ireland, for sure. I don’t know if it’s because I’m Irish, but while every country I’ve played in feels like a surreal experience, Ireland was very comfortable and felt like home. It just felt like I was supposed to be there, and I rarely feel like that in any place because I’m an introvert who is forced to be an extrovert. I like cold, cloudy weather, and Ireland fit the theme of what I play.
How did your time as Hymn & Her prepare you for your future in music?
Going under that pseudonym, it was an idea I had before getting signed, I thought people would resonate more with something that wasn’t just my name.
It was a trend in music like Justin Vernon as Bon Iver, Andrew Byrne as Hozier, solo artists who go under a pseudonym. I thought it was something I needed to do.
In doing so, I kind of backed myself into a corner because it felt like I was writing songs from the perspective of somebody else and not really me. Looking back now, it wasn’t really that, but it prepared me in that I got to work with a professional record label, Vagrant Records.
They taught me how to market myself and put my own brand and identity into my work even if it wasn’t my work. I learned from all the failures and trial and error and eventually decided to go out under my own name.
Tell me about your new music that is being released on March 1.
Since the pandemic, a lot has happened in my life. I don’t typically write music when things are going really well (laughs). It’s just not really who I am. When things shift, like life does, that’s when I really dive into writing a lot of music.
COVID pulled the rug from under all of us. I hit a pretty low point mentally not feeling a lot of hope, and I had a lack of motivation, which is really unlike me because I try to be really ambitious and motivated.
I made the decision one day to just pull myself out of it and write and put pen to paper and see what comes out. An entire album, 10 songs, over the course of a month came out of me organically, and I felt a huge wave of inspiration in a place I didn’t think inspiration could be found. This music keeps with the theme of a lot of what I’ve released in the past, but it’s a completely different sound.
I’ve slowed things down a lot, but also made it bigger. There are a lot of layers in the production. My first single, “The Color of Joy,” is also the title of the EP being released on March 1 and launching my endeavor with Breedlove. It’s warmer music that I hope will appeal to a larger audience. It’s a new sound that I’m trying. I’m really proud of it, and I’m excited to share it with people.
Tell me about “The Starving Artist.”
The pandemic has forced people to try new things and adapt. I’ve been wanting to start a podcast for a while.
I release some podcasts as “The Starving Artist” and shared some vulnerable things. Basically, the podcast is centered on mental health and common suffering, but I also have had musicians as guests, friends, writers and comedians.
I’m just trying to have long-form conversations and talk with people about how they’ve overcome struggles in their lives. I hope that listeners can take something from it. My goal is to have people take something from it and apply it to their own lives, whether it’s how to get better mentally or physically or get inspiration when there’s no inspiration. I don’t have all the answers, but I think sharing my successes and failures can be a beneficial thing.
When is your next trip back to the Inland Northwest?
I am planning on a 10-show run up there in the spring, and I also want to come back for at least one month in the summer if not for the whole summer. Summer up there is impossible to beat.
I hope to be up there for the entire summer playing music if it’s safe to do so again. That is the goal. My last show before the pandemic was at the Pin in Spokane.
What are you looking forward to most post-pandemic?
People have this idea that life is going to go back to normal. I don’t think it’s going to go back to normal the way that we perceive is normal, and I don’t know if we want it to go back to normal. I think right now is a great time for people to take a step back and reflect on how to be kind to one another, how to treat each other better and move forward through life with more patience, self-awareness and compassion for people.
Again, I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve put in a lot of work to understand myself and how I can be better. When restrictions lift and we can get back to some semblance of normal, I’m just looking forward to being able to share art with people and hug people and see people’s smiling faces without a mask on and building a community and building relationships in a new way.
I’m really looking forward to coming home and seeing everybody and playing music in the places and for the people that mean the most to me. I want to give people the gratitude that I feel for them.
For more about Casey Ryan and his music, go to caseyryanmusic.com along with Apple, Google Play, Spotify and more.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.