Words and Pictures: Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
With a recent band name change, a successful return to what Ryan describes as a second home (the UK) and a packed set of tour dates, a Patreon scheme to help fund future music and more, Ryan Hamilton is a busy man. We took the opportunity to speak to him before a sweaty, heaving mass of people descended on the Camden Assembly for a wonderful night of rock and roll.
An enterprising man, Ryan Hamilton has already used crowd funding to great effect with his Traitors Club. A web based fan club where people subscribed to a service that provided monthly news updates, exclusive new music, artwork and more. Developed for the fans, giving them that extra connection to the artist that everyone craves Ryan’s update have been honest, open and often unnerving, exposing the music business and all that surrounds it for the harsh, unforgiving environment that it truly is.
Yet we want more and more. More insight into that world, an understanding of what it’s really like and more importantly we want it from Ryan Hamilton!
Ryan: It’s good to be wanted. [laughs]
MGM: Absolutely. Let’s discuss your latest venture, the Patreon side of things. [A monthly subscription service offering amongst other things a penpal service where Ryan will be a real honest to goodness pen pal of yours… Real paper, real pen, real thoughts and an envelope and a Texas stamp (which basically means the envelope has been branded!) and before long your letter from Mr Hamilton arrives in your letter box.
MGM: I got my letter. Thank you very much. I now know I should have brought the response, shouldn’t I? But I didn’t actually think about that.
Ryan: You know what, a few people did. I had them in my coat pocket.
MGM: Fantastic. Has that been difficult to deal with ? Have you suddenly got a grasp of just how many people you need to respond to?
Ryan: I had to cap it because it was going so crazy. It was like, “Okay, I can’t write this many letters.” It was really that first chunk, even that first 50 to 100. I don’t remember what it ended up being.
I didn’t want to be just the same form letter, you know, typed. So, I tried to do my best to split the diff, type them, but write on them also. Anyway, it was a pretty big undertaking, but I had to cap it because it was getting crazy. I just wasn’t ready.
MGM: On the upside, though, the level of support, if you had to cap it, it just shows the amount of support you’re getting on this.
Ryan: Yeah. It felt really good because Patreon is new to a lot of people, just like Pledge or Kickstarter or any of that. So, you don’t know. You kind of cross your fingers going in, but yeah. It’s the best. I feel like I do have my brain wrapped around how it’s going to work. I think it’s just going to keep getting bigger and bigger.
MGM: Presumably for you alone, it opens more doors because it gives you that cash base that means you can do more things that you want to do.
Ryan: Well, as you know, being in this business, it’s really hard for artists and musicians to make a living, especially the way they used to. I saw this story come out recently where the music business made whatever, millions or billions of dollars, and the artists got like eight percent of it.
MGM: That’s crazy.
Ryan: Yeah. So, I’m very thankful for things like Patreon because as well as we’re doing, we’re not playing stadiums. I still have months where it’s tough to pay the bills.
MGM: If it means it can keep you going, people are going to do it. Everyone wants to see you on nights like this. We want to see you in bigger venues. That’s the key one for us as well.
Ryan: It feels good.
MGM: What’s your support network like? Because this is a lot for you to take on. You’re obviously the figurehead in all of this. What’s your network like behind you? Is it there or is it really all on your shoulders?
Ryan: No, it’s there. I have a great manager, Steve Rosier. An amazing tour manager, Pam [Pam had just gathered us all together for the group shot with ROGER CLYNE & THE PEACEMAKERS as well that you can see below]:
Ryan: Yeah. She’s the best. Let’s see. Matt Reynolds my PR, you know as well. There are these people that they’re not necessarily our support, but we’re lucky to work with them, they believe in us. That has to be mentioned because a lot of people do this for little or no money. Everything that is getting made right now is getting put right back in because we have this window of opportunity. We can all feel it. It’s going to cracked open. It’s like “Well, let’s take advantage and let’s put fuel on the fire.” But, there is a team of people, it’s not just me. It was me, just me, for probably longer than it should have been, and it got all too much to handle. But, I was determined to not sign to a record label, not have a booking agent, not have all these things. I still don’t have booking agent. I think that might change soon. I’ve waited as long as I could to ask for help. That’s what it feels like to me. It’s like admitting. I need some help, you know.
MGM: Is that a tough hurdle to get over?
Ryan: Yes. Especially when you come from a world of record label promises and the industry people saying, “We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna do that.” Half of it happens maybe. They just want you to be happy and excited and when you go through that and all of these promises that didn’t get followed through. When that happens and you’re on the other side and then you want to do it on your own like I did, it’s in your hands, so it’s up to you. I actually like that. So once I got in that scenario and could do things on my own and see them through, I was like, “This is great.” I’m saying I’m gonna do stuff and then it happens, right?
MGM: And the way you wanted to as well?
Ryan: Exactly. Right. Quality control in a lot of ways. So, to let go of that now, that I’ve had it for a little while, it was pretty difficult. But like I said, we have the most amazing people working with us.
MGM: Because of course you’ve experienced it from both sides?
MGM: You’ve had the bands that you’ve been with previously, presumably had these things as well. And then, you saw how that worked or didn’t work in some cases. So, having that control and then admitting actually, “I’m gonna have to give this up again.” I know how it can go south. That’s got to be a tough call initially.
Ryan: Very scary and we were very picky about, you know. We’re lucky and I’m very thankful for the attention that we have had in just a few short years in record labels. These people come and they start paying attention, right? They outright come knocking, if you will. We said no to some and we found some that we were gonna have to chase or presumably chase, and they acted like, “Oh, maybe they’d be doing us a favor.” That, ironically, was easier for me to do than I thought it would be, to say no to some of the record labels before we found the right one.
MGM: Should I just jump on the first one that offers me a deal?
Ryan: Yeah. You think that way, right? You go, “Okay. What’s their roster like? Do they have a lot of money to spend?” It’s so stupid, but you can’t help it.
MGM: Am I gonna get their attention?
Ryan: Yeah. You can’t help but be that way. It’s such a strange dynamic to have been on both sides and it went really wrong for me, first time around.
MGM: Yes. We’ve read and heard from you.
Ryan: I know. I can’t keep my mouth shut. I can’t help it. [laughing]
MGM: But this time, I mean, working with Steven [Van Zandt / Little Steven], for example, that’s clearly the right person, the right space for your type of music as well.
Ryan: It is. For him to believe in me is incredible and he comes from the mindset of, everybody’s looking– this isn’t a direct quote, this is just what I take from his philosophy– “Everybody’s looking for what’s new and different, but a lot of what’s new and different is shit.” Sometimes it’s good enough. Well, I think what he thinks is what used to be the thing that everybody was looking for and what used to be good enough, should still be good enough and should still be the thing that everyone’s looking for. It’s rock and roll music or pop rock or whatever. If that music is timeless in a lot of ways.
MGM: The only magazine that looks at what is in the future rather than analysing the past is probably [inaudible / fzzzz pop / audio error]. They move with this deKade’s teenage population compared to all the other magazines. They’ve forgotten that aKtually, what Kame earlier was bloody good. What’s wrong with that?
Ryan: There’s nothing wrong with it and that’s why there’s classic rock radio and stuff like that. This stuff is gonna last forever. I don’t think that there’s gonna be– I don’t wanna name any bands to get myself in trouble– but I don’t think that there is gonna be an insert genre here that was cool from 2005 to 2008, you know what I mean?
Ryan: On a classic rock radio in 50 years. Because it doesn’t have that timeless thing, it feels like a fad. I love making this kind of music. It’s nothing we do on purpose, it’s just what comes out, because it doesn’t feel like a fad, it doesn’t feel temporary.
MGM: Timeless would be the right word.
Ryan: Well, thank you, because I don’t want to say that out loud.
MGM: It’s what I hear in your music.
Ryan: Well, because I don’t wanna say that we’re doing something that’s so good it’s gonna be timeless. What I’m saying is it’s in that world. It’s in that world of music and influences that have influenced people like myself with music that is gonna stand the test of time, if that makes sense.
MGM: But it still doesn’t feel like it was released in this decade, the previous decade, the one before. It doesn’t matter when it was released. At the end of the day, it’s the music.
Ryan: Yes. And, that’s the other thing. It’s important for me for it to– It’s clearly influenced by what came before, but for it to still sound new and fresh. Definitely, a lot of people get ashamed of like, “Oh, I don’t want to be compared to whoever, Tom Petty.” Yeah. Why wouldn’t you? Like completely embrace it. If somebody says we sound like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, that’s like the ultimate compliment for me, like a wow.
MGM: I remember your personal Facebook post when you’d heard that Tom acknowledged the band.
Ryan: Yeah. You know what’s funny is after that, a lot of people don’t know this– I found out a little more, a little more, and so he was curious, wanted to know what was going on, so there was the chance that he would have dug a little more. However far away, we were on his radar. To have found all that out after he passed was just, you know. Of course, it’s nothing close to what his family experienced, but it was devastating. I mean, he is a hero. I couldn’t believe. The flip side of that coin, to hear that he heard the music and he was like, “This guy is good. Who’s this?” ……….
MGM: At the end of the day, that does at least mean, as far as he was concerned, you’re doing the right things.
Ryan: Right. That’s what it felt.
MGM: Which got to be a boost, doesn’t it?
Ryan: Yeah. It does. Stevie comes from that world. You’ll see him say in interviews and stuff that they experienced a renaissance in music that will never happen again, and it’s true. We’re gonna try. I don’t think we’ll ever see what happened in the 50s or 60s or 70s ever again because they were figuring it out.
MGM: Yes. I agree. I mean it was such a wholesale change from what you’d heard in the ’30s and ’40s, for example, that switch late ’50s. Really big deal, and everything that came after that.
Ryan: I heard Stevie say he stopped going to church after he saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.
MGM: Is that right?
Ryan: He was just like, “This is my entire life now.”
MGM: Yeah. This is my church. Wow. And, of course, you’d been very heavy on the Twitter side of things. He’d actually responded on Twitter, and making your records, like record of the week and things like that on his show. So that presumably was the initial kick start to the two of you getting in touch with each other?
Ryan: Correct. So, it was a song that Ginger Wildheart and I did together that they first heard and somebody went, “What’s this?”
MGM: ‘Fuck You Brain‘.
Ryan: Yeah. And then not long after that, somebody reached out to me and said, “Can you send us all of your music?” basically. I was like okay. I didn’t know I was sending it for them to give to Stevie to listen to. So, I sent it to them and I guess he put it on a CD or had it in his car or whatever and added half of the album, the “Devil in the Detail,” to his radio station. I didn’t even know anybody would do that, right? So after that, that would’ve been enough. The relationship has clearly developed into something I never thought would happen.
MGM: When do we see the end result?
Ryan: Today, actually. The new single came out, called “Bottoms Up” which is on vinyl.
MGM: That’s the pink vinyl out on the stands, yeah?
Ryan: Yeah. So, we got a pink vinyl and it’s an A side and a B side. It’s super old school. I love this record label. They’re the best. They’re like, “We’re gonna put out a single like we did back in the day, so there’s gonna be an A side and a B side.”
MGM: As it should be.
Ryan: Right? Why did we ever stop doing that?
MGM: A lot of people like that, like me, I’m still buy vinyl. Everything I buy is still on vinyl.
Ryan: Yeah. I’m just saying. I mean, it’s becoming more and more now. Like, I wanna go get it on physical, physical copy. The older I get, the more I noticed the sound difference in digital and physical too.
On my phone and with earbuds. It sounds good. It doesn’t sound bad, but then I put an album on or even a CD, and I notice. I turn it up and feel the speakers.
So, the new album is almost finished. Thirteen songs or something. It comes out in May, should be out in May 2019.
Ryan: This is our last show headlining for like a year. Everything else is support for a year.
MGM: Everything else it either on hold or support?
Ryan: It’s supporting other artists.
MGM: But then again, that’s a good profile raiser.
Ryan: It is and I like the challenge. I go into those like, “I want every single person in this room, like I’m gonna get you in a fun way.” I love it.
MGM: Your reaction to that is how many t-shirts we’ve managed to sell? If the numbers can keep going up, you know you guys are doing a good job.
Ryan: Yeah. I love– you know, my former bands did this– supporting bigger tours, right? And they don’t know who you are. First couple of songs, you get maybe half the crowd if you’re doing something right. I want that entire audience by the end of the set. I push myself whether it’s something fun or musically or whatever to get them to really try. I can’t wait for that challenge.
MGM: If you look at you, Rob [Lane], and Mickey [Richards]. The rapport the three of you have got, especially on stage as well, Rob’s never standing still. The two of you bounce off each other very, very well. Mickey’s a whirlwind in the background. Now, you’ve got Dave [Winkler \ Guitar] on board as well, you know? Is it feeling more like a five-piece these days than a three-piece band?
Ryan: It is. Just because Mickey and Rob and I have been friends and playing together for so long, it’s gonna be tough for anybody to play catch up, you know what I mean? Because we have that history just as friends. But, it is starting to feel more like a solid unit. Dave, there’s nobody like Dave. Dave is one in a million.
MGM: Isn’t he?
Ryan: Yeah and I love him.
MGM: I’ve seen him play with so many bands, so this feels like a natural fit with you guys.
Ryan: I think so too. He’s still finding his place, but everybody’s getting there. It’s getting better and better and with Carol [Hodge] too. I wouldn’t be surprised if this lineup sticks for a very long time.
MGM: I, for one, am hoping that that is the case.
Ryan: I hope so too. I feel bad sometimes because you just can’t help it when you’ve been friends, like Mickey and Rob and I have for so long. You have inside jokes and things. You want to explain, it’s like “Here’s why we’re laughing about this.” You know what I mean?
MGM: But the longer the five of you stick together, the more they’ll blend into jokes that the five of you get.
Ryan: Yes. Exactly, and that’s starting to happen.
MGM: Nice. Just to come to the social media side of things, we see a lot of both sides of you what I would classify as the triumphant Ryan when everything’s going really well. But, there are your down times as well. You’re possibly one of the most open people I’ve ever seen sharing an awful lot. I mean, is that just because it’s therapeutic, cathartic to be able to do it or is it because that’s just who you are?
Ryan: Well, it’s who I am but I got so fed up with people being fake, like they’re, “This is who I am to my fans, like this isn’t who I really am.” I saw so many music friends do this and it infuriated me. I got out, I should say, of a music world where that was happening and I was just being told, “You’re this guy. You’re gonna look this way and do this.” I was like, “No, I’m gonna be myself.” So, when Twitter and all of it started and I broke it on my own. I had a little bit of a, let’s say, stone in my shoe about it all. I was highly annoyed by the whole situation, so I said, you know what, I’m just going to basically, like I would text one of my friends on Twitter just all the time. Here’s me, here’s what’s going on, I’m having a bad day and whatever, instead of “I’m a rockstar, check me out.” I hope I never refer to myself in that way ever. That’s where it started.
MGM: Just on that note though. On stage, you have to be.
Ryan: Of course.
MGM: Because that’s the presentation, isn’t it?
Ryan: I guess I prefer entertainer. I’m here to bring everybody together, right? Of course, entertain. I don’t ever want it to feel like, “Look at me. Everybody now, watch me and what I’m gonna do.” I really do want it to feel like, “Here we go together.” You can’t help when you’re on stage with a microphone, you are leading that whole scenario.
MGM: Yeah, but if you’re taking your fans with you, then they’re gonna love it, won’t they?
Ryan: Right, and that’s what it’s about. I go back to when music was created. There wasn’t a stage or a PA. People were making instruments to play music and enjoy it together around a campfire or whatever. Somewhere along the lines, somebody went, “A lot of people want to hear this. We should have a stage.” Eventually, somebody went, “We should sell tickets.” You know what I mean? People don’t think about it, but it started as a communal thing, and it’s turned into what it is now, which can be done lots of different ways.
MGM: You were talking about the friends you were texting on Twitter?
Ryan: Oh, yeah. That started in a way where I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being what I found disgusting. That’s fake, gloated version of what you really are. The irony is, it got me in a lot of trouble because I was so open and I’ve really tried to dial it down now. Everything was out there and people take advantage and people bully, you know.
MGM: You’ve said before that you’ve been subjected to that.
Ryan: It’s terrible. We needed the authorities involved and people were threatening my wife (and calling her a whore) and my band mates. It got really scary. That was eye-opening because those types of people are just waiting on me to say something on Twitter, something that they don’t quite like.
MGM: That they can latch onto.
Ryan: Yeah. I’ve really had to learn, unfortunately. As much as you wanna be like, “Fuck you. I say what I want.” You see something. I’m only human. You see something that says, “Die” or whatever. I don’t need to go down the list. You see stuff like that and it’s like, fuck, it feels like you got punched in the stomach. You can’t help it. I used to respond and just get in there, but you can’t win.
MGM: As your fan base expands, you can put the messages out, but the best thing to do is never read some of the responses in there.
Ryan: Yeah, and I had to learn. It was a difficult lesson to learn. There’s just no convincing some people that you’re a certain way if they don’t wanna believe it. Again, the irony, I think the ultimate irony was people saying, “He’s only being this way. It’s a fake persona. This real person he’s being. This is his persona to sell tickets.” I know and I was just like, “I can’t win.”
MGM: Jeez. So, you put yourself out there, you’ve exposed yourself, and then people say it’s fake because it’s just too real for them to believe?
Ryan: It’s terrible. Shocking.
MGM: Did you manage to resolve it all?
Ryan: Yeah. I got in hot water one time really bad. It just got taken the wrong way, you know, what I said. I guess it’s happened a couple of times, but I hate how it comes across on text sometimes on a screen.
MGM: It’s so easy to misinterpret above everything else.
Ryan: Yes. People can’t hear and they twist it. Really winds me up. So, I’ve had to learn to be very careful with the way I’m saying what I’m trying to say. Capital letters in the appropriate spots. Emojis in the appropriate spots. Whatever.
MGM: Like if I put a laughing, crying with laughter face at the end, they’ll know I’m joking…. just in case.
Ryan: It’s so stupid. Oh my god. I always put wink faces. I call them text message air bags because it’s just like the safety at the end.
MGM: Tell me about the show, what can we expect tonight?
Ryan: I think tonight is– because like I said, it’s the last show of three years really of hard work like this. I think it’s gonna feel like a celebration. That’s how it’s gonna feel for us. Last time we were here for Camden Rocks Festival. That was our, what ended up being our last show as that band (Ryan Hamilton & The Traitors) and our first show as a signed artist.
MGM: And this is the name that’s gonna stick now?
Ryan: I think so. I love it. It’s so hard these days. I don’t wanna put a number that looks like a letter in my band name. I don’t wanna do that. There’s so many people who are in bands and you don’t know what’s taken. Let’s do something cool and different.
MGM: Well, this is a pretty safe bet. There’s nothing like that name-wise out there.
Ryan: Yeah. I like that it’s challenging. I also like that Stevie was part of that process. I mean who gets that opportunity? If I could throw in names back and forth with Stevie. Yeah. It’s nuts.
MGM: Nice. Excellent. I like that. Celebration. That’s perfect.
Check out the shots from the gig at Camden Assembly below. Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts at their very best. The faces of all present, both band and audience would confirm it was something else, a true (as Ryan says) celebration of a wonderful year for the band. Roll on 2019 and the new album.
Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts live at the Camden Assembly