Ryan Traster on life coaches, Brooklyn, and "Cruel Love"
Photo by Peter Wrightwood
Nothing makes for better music than a breakup. Recently moving back to Minneapolis from Brooklyn, indie-folk artist Ryan Traster is getting set to release his 7" vinyl "Cruel Love" -- a song based on a breakup. Treading on soft sounds, snappy beats, and floating melodies, the song branches out from Ryan's normal sound, and leans more on the pop end of the spectrum rather than the folk.
The singer, along with his producer and bandmate, Mike McGarthwaite, sat down with Gimme Noise to talk about the release before his show Saturday at the 7th Street Entry with Scattered Trees.
Gimme Noise: You moved back recently to Minneapolis.
Ryan Traster: Yeah, three weeks ago.
GN: What was the reasoning for that?
RT: (laughs) well, I was living with a girl in Brooklyn, which was my third return to Brooklyn after two lengthy stints in L.A. I met this girl in L.A., then we moved to New York together. We lived together, and she and her life coach -- she had a life coach cause she's from L.A. -- they decided it wasn't a good fit anymore.
GN: Do you pay for a life coach?
RT: You certainly do. Let me tell you a thing or two about life coaches. So she has a life coach, which is not a therapist and not a sober coach, it's a rent-a-friend, if you will. It's a little harsh, but basically that's what it is. She talks to her on the phone once a week, and it costs a sizeable amount of money to have this conversation for about an hour. At one point along the way, it started getting personal -- part of the fact that there's maybe a conflict of interest with this life coach. If you're happy, she loses out on money. After their conversation, I had an hour to move back to Minneapolis, so I'm back here.
GN: What was the music community like in Brooklyn?
RT: It's cool. There's all these good bands playing every night; it's inspirational and exciting. It's not as closed off or tight-knit as people might think. People are really accepting of new groups. What I do, per se, it's not a popular vibe in Brooklyn. It tends to steer towards the noisier kind of music or straight indie-rock. Bands like Grizzly Bear or something with that kind of vibe tend to do better out there. It's not a huge folk scene, surprisingly enough.
GN: Did you play with anyone while out there?
RT: Yeah, most recently Kraig Johnson from Golden Smog. He has a music night out there, so I played with him a few times. I jammed with Norah Jones' drummer; he had a great thing going out there, and I think he still does it every Wednesday night. Just a basement and a bar in West Village. It fills up with people, and it's a good musician's vibe.
GN: Are you touring? Do you book your own shows?
RT: The last tour I did in the summertime, I booked it all myself. The tour before that, I was with another band, and we split the booking.
GN: Do you like booking?
RT: No, it's absolutely terrible I gotta say. Talent buyers are the sect of the music industry that are the most difficult to get ahold of. Let's say record label being the hardest, managers being a notch below, publicists a notch below that, whatever, right? Local venues are exponentially harder to reach than all of those people. I hate booking tours.
GN: You have to have that relationship, or they don't even bother answering.
RT: Absolutely. I feel if I had a solid booking agent, I'd probably tour ten months out of the year. I'm not a grounded person; I don't live anywhere. I just like to tour, but booking it myself is just too daunting a task -- let alone trying to get enough money at shows.
GN: Why do you think you have so much wanderlust? Did you have it growing up?
RT: Definitely. I have a lot of nervous energy, and I get excited by certain notions. I always like to go places. Up until my early 20s, I lived in Minnesota. Then I joined a band that toured constantly; it was a cool band, and we toured hundreds of dates a year -- four years probably -- so I got a taste for the road. I just got used to that lifestyle, and it appealed to me because I find that everywhere I go, I meet people that I love being around. It's great.
GN: Do you find yourself an introvert or do you make friends easily?
RT: I think I'm introverted. I make a lot of friends, and I have a lot of friends in different places -- maybe cause I'm used to it.
GN: It's hard to be objective about what you are. Maybe you don't realize that you're an extrovert by nature, but also a reserved person.
RT: There's a lot going on in my mind.
GN: Let's talk about the 7". "Cruel Love" is your song is the first song on the vinyl; what's the other song?
RT: It's called "As We Go Up, We Go Down" by Guided by Voices.
GN: Why'd you pick that?
RT: Well, I was going through some rough times, maybe about half a year ago, and I was listening to a lot of Guided by Voices. Robert Pollard is a genius; the dude pumps out so much material. I heard this particular song one day, and it had all the sensibilities about a pop song that I really enjoyed melodically. It's short; it's just a beautiful song. The second I heard it, I connected to it in some way. On this B-side, Mike, Peter [Anderson], and I were trying to experiment sonically a bit, more of a washy sound and more reverb. Most of my recordings are vocal-centric. We were trying to get more atmosphere just for this one project. It felt like a good time to do it.
GN: Was that your decision or Mike's?
RT: In terms of sound change, that was a decision I made, but we all figured out how to achieve that sound together.
GN: Who produced it?
Mike McGarthwaite: We all did together. I have a studio space, and we all worked on it together down there. The "Cruel Love" thing unraveled really quickly. We got Peter down there, and Peter's an amazing engineer in his own right, so we all took turns behind the desk. Peter played drums; Ryan moved in and played guitar. We had this great rotation. Stopped, had dinner for fifteen minutes, and two hours later, we had a tune.
GN: What is "Cruel Love" about?
RT: It's about the aforementioned L.A. relationship. The irony about the whole situation is that I wrote that song when we were still dating. I thought of a really small scenario in my head that I blew up into a large scenario. It ended up being foreshadowing, and it was really actually what happened. Neil Young always says something about how no matter how happy he is before going in to make a new album, he will destroy his personal life. Maybe I'm subconsciously doing some of that.
GN: What's the goal with the 7"?
RT: I'm hoping to bridge the gap between my EP that came out a while ago and this full length that I will be working on soon. A while back, I made a pact with myself to at least put out an album a year. That sounds absurd, but I personally like the idea of an arc -- always striving for the next creative idea. I think it would have been difficult for me if my first EP took off when I first put it out; I would have had to live up to something. I just like making music, and now my collaborator and best friend has a recording studio giving me ways to release records. I hope to continue building it.
Ryan Traster will release his Cruel Love 7" at the 7th Street Entry with Scattered Trees and Miles Neilsen & The Rusted Hearts.
18+, $10 adv, $12 door, 8 pm, Saturday, July 28
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