Interview by Adrian Hextall
Having wowed UK fans with his infectious brand of country tinged power pop rock (the best way Ryan can describe his music) thanks to a supporting tour in 2016 with Ginger Wildheart and then a Pledge campaign for the Ryan Hamilton & The Traitors album ‘The Devil’s In The Detail’ which resulted in a headlining shows back in the UK, the talented musician has just set up the ‘Traitors Club’ a subscription service that, for £20 sees the subscriber getting new music, info and updates every month from the band.
Things are therefore looking good for a man who grew up in the heart of the music loving state of Texas. With the sounds of John Cougar Mellencamp and The Eagles shaping his musical journey Ryan also seems to have found a love of our small island and gained quite the following as a result. As such, he’s more than happy to have a transatlantic chat;
RH: I love talking to British people. Just in general.
MGM: Our little country also seems to enjoy having you over at every possible opportunity?
RH: Well, as my dad says, “I feel like I got to strike when the iron is hot.” So we’re trying to get over there while things are happening without being annoying. It’s a very fine line between playing too much and not doing enough for your fans.
MGM: Your time does appear to be now. Things are really looking up for you at the moment.
RH: Yeah man, it’s crazy because I think about a year ago, me, Mickey, Rob and Steve, Steve Roger is — he kind of helps us stay organised. He’s a great friend and he helped me set up our record label. We had a conversation that we thought that it’s going to take three to five years but if everybody was in, here’s our plan to get where we want. Three to five years of kind of worked and hoped and whatever, has now been rolled into like one, maybe one and a half.
It’s just nutty man, it really is. We’re loving it. We feel like the luckiest dudes ever. And its still kind of small potatoes, you know what I mean, when you compare it to some of the, quote, big bands in the world. We’re still a small— It seems strange to say new because we’re all older, but a small new band but with all this crazy momentum. It feels really great but it’s happening in a hurry.
MGM: The current workload sees the Traitors side of things, but you also have a rich musical history. You’ve got previous bands dating back in to the mid 2000’s and 2010’s with Jaret [Bowling for Soup / People on Vacation] as well. What made you change? What made you switch from what you’re doing then to what you’re doing now?
RH: It’s difficult to say. I don’t want to— that’s like a whole two hour long conversation to get to the nuts and bolts of all of that. But I will say this with Smile Smile which is arguably the most successful thing that I’ve ever done up to this point. I was in that band with my ex-fiance. I think that band always had an expiration date. But we had a lot of success when we did it even though we remained this kind of, you know, cool band to like.
Because we weren’t a big deal. It was like this underground kind of style, like operating in that sad indie world. But that band definitely, like I said, had an expiration date. We were just trying to enjoy a lot while it lasted.
And the thing with Jaret is difficult to talk about because I have to be careful with the way I say certain things because I don’t want to affect anyone’s perception of his other band. I just didn’t like the business side of the way that whole machine ended as machine.
MGM: I can imagine that’s pretty difficult. Bowling For Soup is still playing, but as you say, it’s a big engine that has to keep running because these guys keep going on big tours and release new music. You have to presumably find a gap to slot in there somewhere and I can’t imagine it’s the easiest thing to do.
RH: Correct and it’s not my style to say, you know, to personally attack or say bad things about people so I just want to say it like this, I just didn’t like the reasons that they have for doing certain things. For me it’s more about the music and the people. And everybody has the right to run a business and try to be successful and make money but they just— and when I say “they” I mean former management. I think that they placed money in some other things much higher on the priority scale or totem pole or whatever.
I got to a point a couple of years ago where I just looked in the mirror and I wasn’t happy with myself, with— you know. I just kind of have this “Who do you think you are?” moment. And it just didn’t feel like me. I felt like I was lost and I kind of got a— I don’t want to say brainwashed because it’s not that dramatic. I just kind of have the wool pulled over my eyes, I think. And thought things were going to be a certain way and that whole world is so much fun to be in anyway. The BFS world is a blast and those are still some of my favourite people. Erik [Chandler – BFS bassist] and I lived together for years. But it’s a lot of “This is going to happen and it’s going to be awesome and then this and then that and then…” you know.
But it all has to function within that machine in a certain way. So you’re very limited especially when you’re just part of, you know, what is considered as side project, when there’s time to do it. You’re very limited in what you can do because of everything else that’s kind of happening so I didn’t like it. I had to get the hell out of there. And kind of get back to what I love which was connecting with people and you know, making good music. Just for the music and for the people. And I’m very proud of doing that. Taking that chance. My wife and my band mates were big part of supporting that decision so… yeah as scary as it was at— God this is the longest answer ever but…
[Laughing Ryan, clearly a talker which makes my job as interviewer so so much easier, continues]
RH: There’s just so much other shit that went down that even trying to give a short answer to that question is still long. But yeah… I got out of there and it’s been really refreshing and rewarding the past couple of years.
MGM: You know if anybody asks you that question again [What made you switch…], I think the answer is “natural evolution.”
RH: That’s great. I’m totally going to do that.
MGM: Honestly that’s all I was looking for, I’m thinking “Isn’t it just a natural evolution from where he was as it bring a little bit of Smile Smile together, as it bring a little bit of, you know, The Vacation side together and then you get this because…” and the reason it made me look back at what you’d been doing was because of some of your social media ID’s still have The Vacation connection. Then there’s also your Instagram or your Twitter account are @TraitorRyan for example, so that’s the next phase in the evolution. It obviously still has a link there but yeah, we’ll go with natural evolution. NB: We Brits pronounce this “eee-volution”
RH: I like it but I’m going to change it to evolution [ev-olution] because that’s how we say it.
MGM: Good point. That’s the difference between Zee and Zed I believe as well.
RH: [laughing] Don’t start!
Check out Ryan’s video with Ginger Wildheart to understand why this one also matters!
MGM: Before I picked up the phone to you this evening, I put down a series of bullet points just in terms of how I perceived you are with the fans. The way you connect to people and how this community is building up and the whole openness thing as well, you know, from what you’re saying about that closed machine previously. The way you are with your fans, it’s very much an open relationship, isn’t it? In terms of the way you do connect to them and you make them feel wholly part of what you’re doing. Is it a difficult thing to juggle? Be far enough away from everybody to, you know, keep the distance but embrace them enough to make them feel wanted almost.
RH: It probably would be difficult if I didn’t feel like I was kind of making it up as I go. But I think a lot of that stems from operating in that former world and wanting to be different. All of the bullshit and like “Let’s not.” Let’s not do all these things that really make no sense to people. This unattainable, you know, thing where it needs to be on occasion for an artist to say hello to someone. What a bunch of shit that is. I think it’s the dumbest thing ever especially in today’s world with social media, you know…
RH: You know, Keith Lemon responded to a tweet of mine or something and I freaked out for five minutes I’m just like, “Oh my god I love him!” Like that’s— it’s an occasion, it’s a big deal. And I get that it’s a natural human reaction but what I wanted to do with music and with this new audience is create this sense of— not only community because music should be a communal experience before there was the internet or even the ability to record music. It was something that people did together, you know, a form of just kind of— like I said a communal thing to do, to sit around and play music and saying that it was a form of entertainment that people enjoyed as a group. I wanted to bring that element back in and get rid of all of this two thousand dollar meet and greet [Gene Simmons would probably sigh and shake his head now…], “Oh my god so and so…responded to my tweet”, you know?
Accidental rhyme. That was some Dr. Seuss shit right there.
Get rid of all of this two thousand dollar meet and greet
Oh my god so and so…responded to my tweet
But yeah man, it’s not difficult to balance because as annoyed as some people got in the beginning because I was just like, “I don’t care. I’m going to just start this conversation and it’s not going to stop.” And everyone is invited, you know. Some people feel like it’s too much, too often, too whatever but it’s just like there were some doors that were shut and I just flung them wide open and went, you know. Fuck it! Let’s go!
It’s not difficult to balance because it’s not something that I’m consciously really thinking about. It’s just, you know, here it is, let’s all do this thing together. I take an hour literally every morning and I respond to every message. So as things get bigger there are more messages. So maybe I’m going to have to start dedicating two hours but until then, that’s my routine.
I take one break a year where I go on vacation, this has been in the last two or three years. I go on vacation with my family that don’t have an internet connection on an island to South of Texas. Any other week, I take an hour every morning…
MGM: So it goes with the territory?
RH: Until it gets to just undoable, I really do plan on taking that time everyday to respond and it’s some of the most intense thing that you can imagine to just do some of the most surface level pleasant things.
MGM: In terms of the way you’re approaching things you’ve had the Pledge campaign for the latest album. You’ve had— I’ll use the word because I think it’s appropriate, so you’ve almost had an endorsement from Ginger as well. By working with him him taking you out on tour as well. It opened you up to his fan base and it’s almost like a golden seal of approval. If he gives you the green light that helps as well and it opens you up to a wider group really early on and that’s probably another reason that’s cut you from three to five years down to one to two?
RH: Yeah. One hundred percent, yeah.
MGM: And now you’ve got Traitors Club as well which resembles quite closely and even appears to have of the same guys working on that as G.A.S.S. [Ginger’s online 12 month fanclub service that also saw new music delivered every month along with podcast, news and more] Presumably you’re inspired by that as well and his approach.
RH: Yeah. When I was over recording this last album, Ginger played guitar on it and we’ve finished like a day early so he said, “Why don’t you— my wife Holly was with me and he said, “Why don’t you guys just come stay with me and Jane. We have this like whole day and a half, just come stay with us.” So we went and stayed. We had the best time but we got in this long conversation about the future of kind of fan-funded endeavours for bands, things like Patreon and PledgeMusic.
And then I asked him about G.A.S.S. It’s a slippery slope because it’s very tricky to not come across that as, what I would consider begging you know, “Please give me your money.” Or taking advantage and finding that line where the artist is inviting you to support them and you want to.
So for me, G.A.S.S. provided that sort of opportunity that left it, you know, to the fan or supporter. It was up to them to want to. It didn’t come across as, you know, “Please we need this now. We’re trying to fund an album.” So Ginger was actually very instrumental in setting up Traitors Club and telling me what he had learned with G.A.S.S. and what— to make sure we didn’t do— not because he didn’t love it but just because they learned from, you know, doing it before. It was like “This worked great. We should have done this different.” So after that conversation, I just knew that that’s what I wanted to do. As much as I love Pledge and things like that, I just— there’s still part of me that is uncomfortable with it for that kind of “beggy”, I don’t think that’s an actual word but I’m going to use it. Because of that beggy kind of vibe that it sometimes creates that panicky like, “We have to reach our goal” kind of a thing.
So with something like Traitors Club or G.A.S.S., you’re supporting the artist. It’s direct to artist, nobody’s taking 20%. And it’s delivering content just to deliver it. Just because you want to give these people a little extra something for being extra supportive. And it’s all on-going which I love too, there’s not this like, “Okay”, you know. “It’s done now. Thank you. We’ll talk to you in three months.”
MGM: Yeah. I was going to say because a Pledge campaign has, for want of the better description, it has a single climax. Everybody gets so excited for the release and then you’re done. And then it’s back to normality whereas this of course is, “Hey, there’s something new coming and it’s every month.”
RH: Yeah and the Pledge thing, I’ve grown to really dislike the aftermath so it’s— support is great, we made the album, here it is, everybody gets it, you know, digitally and then the physical copies are here. And then everybody wants the other stuff immediately and it’s like, you know, I’m still fulfilling things from the Pledge campaign for Devil’s in the Detail almost a year later.
Things like scheduling a songwriting Skype which— things like that have proven very difficult just to find the exact time for different people. But there are— not that I don’t enjoy it because I do, but there’s this level of stress involved with that. With trying to get it done, it’s like, “Come on. I’m still trying to get this and this and do this…” It seems to last forever and with something like Traitors Club it’s you know, here it is, every month and I love that.
MGM: And with the team on-board that helped work on G.A.S.S. presumably there is a sense of calm about the way it’s going to be delivered because like you say when you were talking to Ginger, Kris and the guys have gone through it before. They kind of know what to expect and what works and what doesn’t so you should be fairly smooth, you would hope.
RH: It’s the best, yeah. They plugged that same system into this and exactly what you said, they went, “This worked great. We’re going to do this again.” That whole crew, Kris, Ruth and Andy are the best. I love working with them. They’re super smart about this sort of thing in particular and it’s exactly as you say, yeah.
MGM: Looking at the album ‘The Devil’s In The Detail’, I’ve been spinning this for several weeks now. It’s immensely catchy but I can’t pigeonhole it into a genre. Where would you see yourself?
RH: I think that it’s— and just because of where I’m from— it’s country-tinged pop-rock. That’s what I think it is and i think that it’s the combination of me being from where I’m from in the world and Mickey and Rob [Rob Lane and Michael Richards] being from where they’re from in the world in the UK and kind of growing up in that— or starting to play Muse again, that late 80’s early 90’s kind of big rock era, like that. They love Poison, you know what I mean, like that kind of thing.
I think you you take those two elements and you put them together and that’s what makes our band sound the way it does. But yeah, I would say it’s pop-rock but it’s not overly poppy like you— catchy is the word people use so I think it’s because of the country influence that I can’t kind of escape. Just because of geographically where I have grown up and lived.
MGM: That’s definitely the thing that gives it the edge though. It doesn’t come across then as a pure pop-rock album. It’s not a real, you know, Kenny Rogers album on the other end of the spectrum or something like that.
Looking at the lyrics, you’re obviously dealing with things that have gone on, issues that you had to sort out and things that had to be addressed. The opening couple of tracks are pretty heavy hitting tunes in terms of lyrical content if you sit and listen to it.
RH: Well, I always like— this is a random reference— but bands like the Cranberries where you listen to it and it’s a pleasant listen but if you dig a little deeper you kind of go, “Oh, wow!”
And I think some of that and then some of the expected influences Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, just kind of inadvertently when I started writing songs they were there because, you know, those were bands and artists that I love. It’s always been— since I’ve been writing songs, even though I got a late start in this business— it has been important to me for the song to sound good but to also has some depths, lyrically, yeah.
MGM: As you push your way through the album, you get almost the traditional rock order of three energised tracks and then we get to “Heavy Heart” when, you know, you really take the time with it and push the vocals. When you get to the chorus on that, who’s pushing the vocals in the background really high?
RH: It’s a girl named Chrissy Barnacle and I heard her— we were looking for somebody to come sing background vocals on the album. We were going to be recording in Scotland, so I just reached out to some friends and somebody recommended her and sent me like some YouTube links, it’s like, “Oh my god we have to get this girl.” So she said yes. We worked out stuff on the song “Smarter”. She sings on several songs from the album.
So we pulled up “Heavy Heart.” We were already pretty happy with the song but we just dialled it up to the chorus and went just see what you can come up with. And she did that first take, that like witchy weird like harmony thing that goes up, way up high and then kind of warbled and comes back down. And Dave and I— the guy that produced it Dave Draper— Dave and I both were just going, “Holy shit! What is this? Who is this girl?” And it created the magic in that song. We knew the song needed one last little thing and when she did that, we felt like we had it.
MGM: It’s the track I keep going back to and it’s for that reason with her in the background on that chorus. It just grabs me every time It’s whoa! Shivers down the back.
RH: Yeah, me too still and it’s— you know, I’ve been living with that song longer than anybody else but I still have that same response.
MGM: Where did the artwork come for the album?
RH: So my father-in-law is a fairly famous artist and sculptor. He’s— I’ll save you the list but his name is Carn Standing.
His sculptures are all over the UK. Some stuff you’ll be like, “Oh my god!” That’s Ryan’s father-in-law’s work. But he also paints and draws. So I put it out into the world at one point online just like, “Hey, we want the cover of this album to be like a cartoonish devil getting punched in the face. Send your stuff in, you know, if you want. We’ll pay you for your time if we select it.” So people sent out a ton of stuff and my father-in-law saw that on the internet and sent it in just like anybody else would. I told Holly that, “Do you know your dad drew something and sent it in? This drawing is unbelievable. I can’t believe he took the time to do this.” And that’s the cover, it was just the weirdest coolest thing of him to do. To take the time and do that but yeah it’s my father-in-law drew that. It’s his work.
MGM: Was the album title ‘The Devil’s in the Detail’ before the picture or did he do the picture just to suit the title?
RH: We actually didn’t have the title yet. I suggested that image just because I think it’s a multi-layered kind of funny but then also if you think about that image and it just— it’s what the album— if I were to, you know, have a picture that visually represented the album, that would be it for me. So we didn’t have the title yet. We just knew we wanted that image.
MGM: So it ended up as a perfect fit?
RH: Cool, it has and thank you for saying that. Yeah, I didn’t want it to look too heavy metal, you know, once you start putting the devil and stuff in…very Iron Maiden if you’re not careful.
MGM: Where to next then? You’ve got Traitors Club now to keep you busy for the next twelve months but is that going to stop you reappearing over here or do we get you back anytime soon?
RH: So here’s what I want, I spent the last two years, you know, working really hard. Watching my audience dissipate and then regrow and I just— we’re really close now but I want to get to a point where I know we have reestablished ourselves and can have a career.
We can tour a few times a year. Nobody really has to worry, we know we can do it. We can keep putting out albums and going on tour a few times a year. I just want to get there and we’re really close. I have no interest in being Ed Sheeran or anything like that. I think a lot of people, they play music and they want to be famous. I’ve never wanted to be famous, I just wanted to be successful enough, if that makes sense.
I just want to get there. And we’re close. Traitors Club is just really another means to get there so I really want to keep doing it and I love writing music and playing it live, as do Mickey and Rob and the other people who play and tour with us. So I don’t see us doing anything but getting bigger and busier if things keep going the way they are and that would make me and my crew, you know, happy more than anything.
We also have a live album that we did. We’re trying to bridge that gap because that’s something I actually thought about. “Okay, well we got this one so when’s the next one?” We have so much content. It’s unreal and it’s to try and bridge that gap.
MGM: And that’s as a result of the shows you did in, was it in London recently?
RH: Yeah. It was this one show at St. Pancras Old Church. It was sold out. It was maybe my favourite show ever played and if not my favourite, up there amongst my favourites.
I think the live album will be out probably in the next two to three weeks. It would be the soonest everybody would be kind of okay with it.
MGM: Okay. That’s going to be a surprise for people. They’ll think it’s like Christmas come early.
RH: I hope so man. They have to— Steve and my band mates have to really reel me in sometimes because I’m like, “Just put it out now. Give it away for free.” They have to go, “Hold on a second.”
MGM: We want to grow and be successful enough, not grow and be broke, yeah.
RH: Yeah. We want to be successful and be able to feed ourselves…
Ryan Hamilton & The Traitors tour the UK again later in 2017, tour dates are below