Quick Q and A with Ryan Hommel

Talented multi-instrumentalist Ryan Hommel is dedicated to his craft and has an incredible work ethic which shows when he plays his own original music as well as contributing instrumentation and backing vocals to a number of well-established musicians like Seth Glier, The Sweetback Sisters, Heather Maloney, and Stephen Kellogg.  Ryan is developing his own sound with The Optical Shop and they will be releasing a new recording later this year.  Ryan will be playing at the Green River Festival in Greenfield, MA on July 10-12, 2015.

For more information about Ryan, check out his website.

For a taste of Ryan solo, take a look at this video.

Here’s a video of Ryan with The Optical Shop.

Ryan Hommel1

It sounds like you’ve been into music for as long as you can remember.  Do you have any vivid memories about what you dug about music?

When I was a toddler, the USPS released the Elvis Presley postage stamp. Along with that release came a big flood of made-for-TV movies, documentaries and radio airplay all of Elvis. That left me with a hot passion and undying taste for that brand or 50’s rockabilly and rock’n’roll, blues, r&b and country. Guitar came into the picture for me around that time and I latched on hard. I guess I really dug the way music seemed like another whole universe within the one we all physically inhabit. An unlimited number of notes, combinations of notes, chords and rhythms allowed me to remain perpetually excited about learning music. I dig everything about music.

Were you a precocious child who begged for an instrument or did you have some that were accessible to you?

Both of my parents are musically inclined, so there have always been guitars and a piano in the house where I grew up. When I was three, my mom offered to teach me a few chords however, I was convinced I knew how to play guitar “my way,” which involved breaking the two and a half inch leg off of my kiddy pool table and using it as a slide (though I don’t think I really knew what a slide was yet, it just made sense to me).

Your bio cites early Elvis and Stevie Wonder as influences.  Why those two?

Elvis and Stevie both have a unique swagger to them (both visually and sonically) which, combined with their virtuosity and apparent hard work on their crafts, made them a persisting standard I’ve always been reaching for. Of course there have been many more potent influences along the way, but those two are special to me and many others.

As you matured, did you become influenced by other artists? And, if so, what was it about them that spoke to you?

In high school, my dad bought me three CD’s that really busted open my musical world. Robben Ford’s“Blue Moon, Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow and Steely Dan’s Countdown To Ecstasy. Jeff Beck taught me how to be bold and daring as a guitar player, while Robben Ford served as a constant reminder of how cool it is to refine, refine, refine your facility as a musician and Steely Dan showed me how to apply the two extremes in perfect harmony with one another. I can’t think of a better trilogy of new music to expose a person to. Those three CD’s are still one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.
You’ve spent many years as a sideman.  When you get hired as such, do the artists explain to you what they’re looking for or do you just jump right in and learn along the way?

There is no absolute, but I’ve always done well starting with my instinct for how to approach working with a new artist and their catalogue of music. At its best though, the beauty of working with people is actually working with them. There’s a specific sensitivity and ability to really listen that’s required on all sides of the puzzle in order for everything to fit together and make a big beautiful picture.

Ryan Hommel2

How much rehearsal is needed when you get hired as a sideman?

Generally, I get all my homework done so that I feel as prepared as possible before I take up anyone else’s time. That way, any discussion about the music can be creative, not the artist teaching me how their song goes chord by chord. This is a lesson I learned on another level with Stephen Kellogg. He’s got such a big beautiful catalogue of songs, all of which demand and deserve their own respect. I came in admittedly a little green and unknowingly underprepared despite my best efforts. We worked through it with the common goal of wanting the music to be the best it could be. I think the shock of a body of work so new to me and so opposite to the work I’d been doing for about 10 years prior with Seth Glier really got the better of me. But I recovered, did better work informed by that first rehearsal and am ultimately very proud of the music Stephen, the band and I were able to make together.

What inspires you to sit down and write a song?

When I first started writing, it was very personal and therapeutic through some tough times for me. I continue to write my way through life’s bumps but have recently been trying to write from the positive side as well. I guess it’s just harder for me to bury myself in my notebook when life is totally awesome – which it usually is – I’d rather be out enjoying it. When I’m feeling dark is when I’m reflecting, questioning and even complaining to my notebook. All of that said, a song is always sort of writing itself in chunks, leaving me to put the pieces together. Many verses get written along the way and it’s my job to pick the ones that tell the story.

You have recorded an EP but are you planning on any other recordings — solo or with the Optical Shop?

The Optical Shop does have a full length record about to be mixed right now. Marc Seedorf (bass player in the band) beautifully engineered the record and co-produced with me. We pulled in many great players along the way and can’t wait to show it all to the world! In addition to that, I am currently recording a second solo record (though my first full-length one). It will be recorded at Blackbird Studios in Nashville and engineered by the incredible students at Blackbird Academy, an innovative and important engineering and production school for young engineers to learn how to manipulate old school and new school gear in a hands-on environment.

What’s the longest tour you’ve ever gone on?  What are the most difficult aspects of touring?

The longest tour is hard to pin down. There are about four or five consecutive years that, looking back, seem like one long tour with Seth Glier. We learned a lot in those 200-300 gig years together, including how to tour efficiently and sustainably. Those years and those lessons are a part of my everyday life (both on and off the road) to this day and the experiences and memories are the dearest and most fond that I have.

Do you have any favorite tour memories?  Any favorite spots?

What’s so wonderful about touring is the ability to create and re-create your own fate on a day-to-day basis. Now, I’m not claiming to have been successful at every turn. It’s just a humbling and inspiring thing to wake up to every day. You both HAVE to and GET to create for yourself a beautiful life and whether we’re talking about touring or life otherwise, each day presents a new set of challenges and opportunities. I am always grateful for that daily sense of renewal and continued responsibility to work as hard as I can on this thing, this favorite thing of mine.

In other words, I can’t complain about any of it.

 So you’re a coffee enthusiast!  Have you had many perfect cups of coffee?

I keep coming back to this one little spot in Appleton, WI that I discovered last year during Mile of Music, a new (now about to enter its third year) festival there. It’s called Acoca and if anyone out there happens to be within a 100 mile radius of Appleton, don’t hesitate to make the extra trip! Lots of Fair Trade Organic coffees from all over the world, roasted to perfection and brewed by the cup, to order. Sort of like the way I try to make each song and take each stage