Spotlight – meets Ryan Laird (7th October 2020)

This week, I am gifted to have very interesting interviews again in my Spotlight section. Just a few days after I had a long chat with Texas country singer Tori Martin, I had the opportunity to talk with Toronto-origin Ryan Laird about his music and his career. In the chat, you will run into Keith Urban, Taylor Swift and even have a small Toronto travel guide. But, of course, we are also talking about his music, including his new single Make It Work. meets Ryan Laird

FLYC: Ryan, thanks for joining my website for this interview. I typically start with some easy questions, but I just liked one sentence on your website too much “Laird is most commonly described as the Keith Urban of Canadian country music”. In which way is Ryan Laird better than Keith Urban?

Ryan: Firstly, I think Keith Urban is an amazingly talented artist. So I wouldn’t ever try to take anything away from his musicianship and talent. But my manager and I noticed that supporters of my music in Canada would consistently compare me to Keith Urban (in a complimentary way). So we didn’t really come up with the comparison. The fans did. I wouldn’t say any artist is necessarily better than another artist. I think music is such a subjective thing and there is room for lot’s of artists to share their music in the world 🙂

FLYC: And is there anything you would like to learn from Keith?

Ryan: I’d love to have a “jam session” with him. I’d probably learn a few really cool guitar licks!

FLYC: One thing you do have in common with Keith Urban is that you moved from another country to Nashville. The Canadian / Ontario country scene is already quite strong – but are there some areas where Nashville improved your skills as a songwriter or artist especially?

Ryan: Great question! Relocating to Nashville from Ontario, Canada opened up many musical and career opportunities for me. Through hard work and perseverance, I eventually was able to collaborate on songs with some of the most successful songwriters in the world (writers such as Monty Powell who has written many Keith Urban hits), and I had opportunities to learn from great studio musicians. After writing songs, my collaborators and I would often produce “demo recordings” of the songs in world famous recording studios in Nashville. The studio session musicians quality of musicianship is literally out of this world in Nashville and getting the opportunity to record with many of these players taught me a lot – dare I say more than I learned in music college!

FLYC: Regarding learning: a feature about you just cannot skip that you put up a Billboard in Nashville in 2008 asking Taylor Swift to produce your album. You really in fact met. What did fascinate you about Taylor at that point in time – and, maybe, how did she influence you?

Ryan: Taylor has demonstrated an ability to really connect with her fans through her songs. Her songwriting is what set her apart in my opinion. The billboard to Taylor Swift was a unique appeal to her to produce my album. Although she didn’t produce me, the billboard led to many positive opportunities in the country music world. I ended up signing a record deal and eventually had the chance to release a couple albums and even have a Top 10 song in Canada called I’m Your Man. This landed me a couple Canadian Country Music Awards nominations for “Rising Star” and “CMT Video Of The Year”.

While at the CCMA awards show, I approached Taylor and her mom who were sitting a few rows in front of me. I was about to introduce myself when her mom said “Ryan, it’s a pleasure to meet you”. They were both very sweet and Taylor’s mom mentioned they had kept a photo of the billboard at home. So that was a totally cool experience!

FLYC: You moved to Nashville in 2002 at the age of 18. About ten years later, you released your first record. Especially as a young man, what did make you keep up your spirit and the belief in yourself?

Ryan: Nashville has a very supportive artistic community, but at the same time, it can be highly competitive as there are a limited amount of slots available for commercial success and an abundance of talent vying for opportunity. I tried to write songs as often as I could. Sometimes I’d collaborate with other writers 2 or 3 times a day. I knew that having great songs would be the most surefire way to success. As difficult as it was to do some days, I consistently tried to hold my head high and maintain a positive outlook on the music business and myself as an artist. I think the primary element that kept me going was a deeply instilled desire to keep creating music mixed with a passion to share that music with others. Music is powerful. I don’t know anyone who can’t appreciate some form of music. So I guess the music has always kept my spirits high!

FLYC: On your debut album Ryan Laird, is there any song you especially enjoy even today, eight years later?

Ryan: I’m Your Man will always be a special song to me. It garnered so much success in Canada and was written for my brothers wedding. It was written on the guitar, but I’ve started performing it on the piano recently for fun.

FLYC: Based on Spotify streams, your most successful track on that album was a duet with Leah Daniels, Where Do I Go. What was the song and collaboration like?

Ryan: That was a fun collaboration! Leah is a great artist and I was happy to do that duet with her. Her producer originally contacted me about singing the song with her. We found some magic working together in the studio and it turned out so well, that we both included it on our respective albums. The music video was filmed in her hometown of Uxbridge, Ontario and it charted quite high on Country Music Television in Canada the year it was released.

FLYC: You just published two albums so far. In 2014, you released Bigger Than That (2014). What was that album about? Any special tracks you would like to mention?

Ryan: My album Bigger Than That was a collection of 13 songs I’d written or co-written over several years. I honestly had so many songs to pick from, but I’m happy with the ones my producers and I chose to record. The album also includes a song called Hey Ashley which was written about a 7th grade school bullying experience that I had. So when it came time to name the album, I chose to call it Bigger Than That as it had a few songs on it that were related to the Youth Empowerment school tour that I’m involved with called “BiggerThanThat!”.

FLYC: The title track also refers to a movement you are strongly supporting, BiggerThanThat! What is that program about?

Ryan: BiggerThanThat! is a Youth Empowerment Concert Tour which has presented close to 500 empowerment concerts in schools and other venues across Canada and parts of the USA over the past half decade. It’s a fun, motivational, musical event which inspires youth to believe in themselves, exert confidence and pursue goals in life. Music is a powerful medium to spread messages or positivity, and that’s at the core of the BiggerThanThat! movement.

FLYC: In your bio, I read that you were also exposed to bullying at school days. I guess it helps a lot to share your own experience when you are working with kids about that topic?

Ryan: Yes it absolutely does. I speak with the students about my personal experiences growing up and I also perform several uplifting songs. In addition to the many musical elements of BiggerThanThat!, there are several speaking opportunities for students to come up on stage and share a goal they have in life. I talk through it with them and we work out a plan of action in front of their whole school. By the end of the activity, there goal has been validated and everyone in the crowd has cheered them on. It’s great to see this kind of encouragement!

FLYC: Is there maybe a special moment or a special success you are especially proud of regarding your work with BiggerThanThat! ?

Ryan: It’s been very rewarding to receive literally hundreds of personal messages over social media from parents of students at schools which have presented BiggerThanThat! Empowerment Concerts letting me know that their son or daughter have been inspired by the program to pursue their goal in life. I have received too many examples to share them all here, but I’ve appreciated every one of them very much.

FLYC: Going back to your music: Your biggest song as an artist was likely Wear Me Out, please tell us a bit about this song as well.

Ryan: I wrote Wear Me Out in Nashville with my collaborators Joe West (who has written three #1 Billboard hit songs including Without You by Keith Urban and American Ride by Toby Keith) and my friend Mike Todd. We were in Joe’s studio joking around about how our wives all tend to wear our sweatpants around the house and how it can be annoying when you’re looking for your own “comfy clothes” but they have already been claimed haha. So anyways, we were chatting about that and then the line Wear Me Out popped out and the 3 of us reflected on how our significant others also wear us out in love too. At that point, I started grooving on the guitar and worked out the main riff in the song and the lyrics started spewing out. I recorded the song in Nashville with a live band, where I played guitar and sang with a band around me.

Nir Z played drums on the track. He played all the drums on the famous John Mayer album Room For Squares which is one of my all time favorite records, so it was pretty cool to work with Nir on this song. It ended up getting released as a single and did really well on Canadian radio and Spotify. It was added onto some official Spotify editorial playlists which helped get the word out about the song!

FLYC: We got in contact due to your latest single, Make It Work – which is your first new song since three years as an artist. Why has there been such a gap between the 2017 Gamble on Love and that song?

Ryan: It’s interesting that “Make It Work” was actually written over a decade ago! I have written hundreds of songs over the years and sometimes they get stashed away. When the pandemic started, I began writing and recording music for my upcoming album. I was perusing through my catalog of songs and came across Make It Work. I thought to myself, wow, what a great song. It’s such a groovy, uplifting tune with a deeply sincere message attached to it. I also thought it was a song that the world should hear right now. So I began recording it in my home studio. It was a lot of fun to record. I layered each musical instrument one by one on the record. I built a basic drum beat, then began recording guitars, bass, organ and all the vocal parts. Once everything was recorded, I sent the tracks to my co-producer Joel Fraser in Calgary, Alberta and he helped mix the track and put the finishing touches on it!

I’m super excited about the song and it’s already getting a great response on social media and on Spotify. It was added onto an official Spotify Editorial Playlist called “New Music Nashville”, so that has helped get the song some early exposure. It’s also currently spinning in rotation on Sirius XM Satellite Radio “CBC Country” Channel 171. You’re right about the gap between my previous single Gamble On Love and current single Make It Work. My former record label and I split in 2017 and my wife and I moved out west to Vancouver Island from Nashville around that time as well. We also have a 13 month old baby boy. So I think with all the changes occurring in my life over the past few years and due to the fact that I’d been in and around the music business consistently for over 2 decades, it was time for a little break. Of course music is in my bones and I’d never be able to step away from my music completely, but I needed some time to rejuvenate. Now I’m feeling inspired and ready to continue sharing new music!

FLYC: Make It Work indeed has a touch of Keith Urban in it in my point of view. What is the song about?

Ryan: Thanks! I’ve heard that from a few people so far. One of the descriptive lines in the song says “I don’t need a megaphone or a protest sign, but you’re welcome to a piece of my mind”. It’s a song with a purpose to bring together and unify mankind. Where there’s a will there’s a way to Make It Work.

FLYC: You are a singer-songwriter. From writing a song, recording it, publishing to perform live on stage – what is your favorite part of the business?

Ryan: I enjoy every aspect. If I’m writing and not stumbling upon any great ideas, then that can be a bit exasperating at times, but for the most part, I love writing. Recording is super fun too. I like experimenting with musical parts and working out the best way to express the song through each instrumental part. If I had to pick one area of the business that really hits home, it would probably be touring and performing live on stage. There’s no feeling in the world like making a strong connection with an engaged audience and communicating special songs. Sharing the songs live is one of the most rewarding experiences for me.

FLYC: On stage, you supported quite a lot of big names of the business like Dierks Bentley. I heard from many artist that the North American audience tends to ignore support acts in stage. How do you try to attract them to your music when on stage?

Ryan: I’ve always treated “supporting act” or “opening act” slots as a privilege as opposed to a right. Most of the larger name artists that I’ve had the opportunity to open for have been very accommodating and fun to tour with, which helps. Of course, the crowds are usually in attendance to see the main headline act. But I always try my best to put on the best show I can and connect with the crowd. It’s important to connect with your audience as opposed to just going through the motions of a song. That means you have to orient yourself into the space of the venue and really “be there” with your crowd. Observe them and feed off of each others energy. If you can do that, I’ve found you’ll often win over new fans.

I remember touring with Country Music legend Alan Jackson. I was the opening act and the venues were large with about 15000 fans in the crowd each night. I would go out on stage with only my guitar. No band. It was a bit nerve-racking yet exhilarating at the same time.

FLYC: If you could wish for a song, an artist you perform it with and a venue – what would that be?

Ryan: This is a tough question for me to answer as there are a lot of different songs, artists and venues on my list. So I’m going to go with my first instinct which is Straight From The Heart by Bryan Adams at Super Bowl Halftime Show!!

FLYC: Looking for wishes and the future – do you have any plans for the following months regarding your music?

Ryan: I’m hoping that Make It Work will continue to pickup traction and spread like wildfire. I’ve been busy recording new material in my studio, so at some point, probably around the new year, I’ll be releasing another single with a full length album to follow later next year.

FLYC: Easy ones at the end: I am very boring and touristic – my favorite place in your home town Toronto is the Hockey Hall of Fame. Which places do you like most there?

Ryan: Nice! Casa Loma is a fun place to visit. The CN Tower is another (if you don’t mind heights!)

FLYC: If there was something you could change in Toronto to the way it is like in Nashville – and, of course vice versa, “upgrading” Nashville with some Toronto place or spirit – what would that be?

Ryan: I’d transport some of the Nashville “southern hospitality” to Toronto and I’d have more Canadians in Nashville (although there are already quite a few) haha!

FLYC: Finishing with a short one: Maple Leafs or Predators?
Ryan: Neither. Toronto Raptors all the way! Haha


All pictures: Artist Material – BiggerThanThat Logo by BiggerThanThat


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