Photo: David Guenther

Alberta-based singer-songwriter Ryland Moranz is set to release his latest album XO, 1945 on January 15th. He recently dropped his new single “Where Are My Blue Eyes”, so we caught up with Ryland to chat about new music, his influences, and how he knew he wanted to be a musician.

From The Strait: Tell us about your new single, “Where Are My Blue Eyes”.

Ryland Moranz: It’s my spin on bluegrass traditional storytelling.  I have a real tendency to romanticize, almost in real time, so when moments of great homesickness descend upon me they do so with a heavy sense of global mortality that puts me in a very contemplative mood.  I think that comes from all those old bluegrass and folk tunes that talk about missing someone so hard you wish you were dead, I go in for that stuff really hard.   
When I wrote Blue Eyes I was spending a lot of time thinking about the atomic age and how everything has changed since the unveiling of the atomic bomb.  My curiosity got the better of me and I began to wonder what the Carter family might sound like if they talked about atoms the same way they talked about “the lord”.  The more I thought about it the more I started to figure that they were both the same thing, and voila!  A song about the beginning of the universe and the end of it, all wrapped up in clawhammer banjo.

The video was really fun to make.  My pal Evan Uschenko and I filmed it in 16mm and all the working prints were hand painted.  It took about 40 hours to paint 17 minutes of footage.  I’ve always loved analog technologies and the creative process around them, there’s an authenticity to the art that has more soul to me.  It might be bogus, but the old ways always feel more intuitive.  

FTS: Your new album XO, 1945 comes out January 15th – what can we expect from this record? What were some of the highlights of creating it?

Ryland Moranz: I’m so proud of this record.  It’s a collection of twelve songs spanning old-timey bluegrass and Canadiana folk that focus on where we are, how and why we got here and where we might be going in the end.  I really challenged myself in making it and I think that shows.  Leeroy Stagger produced it and the band are my fellow Rebeltone Sound alumni.  We’ve all toured together so much in recent years everyone’s playing is super instinctual.  I played a lot of instruments myself, (guitar, banjo, manolin,  mandola, slide, harmonica) but the Rebeltone guys really elevated the whole thing, And they did it in that way you can only get with musicians that really know each other.  Lots of the “off the floor” stuff is the first or second take, it’s my favourite way to make things, there’s a real honesty to it. 

FTS: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up, and how do they differ from your current ones?

Ryland Moranz: My favourite band of all time is The Clash.  The first time I heard London Calling (the album) it was a revelation.  Spanish Bombs became the anthem of my formative years and looking back had a huge influence on my writing even to this day.  As with all Clash tunes, especially Joe Strummer’s songs the melodic content was really the delivery vehicle for the lyrics and Joe’s message.  Spanish Bombs was particularly interesting to me as a kid because it’s story sent me down a new political rabbit hole.  It was transcendent to be told something true that had real-world effect and consequence.  I always respected them for being a group that championed “the news”, that always really stuck with me.

My other influences growing up were great Canadian musicians like Willie P. Bennet.  Willie used to stay with my folks (who were and still are festival promoters with the South Country Fair in Fort Macleod, AB) and as a kid he had a huge impact on me.  His songwriting was so great and he was so proficient at so many instruments, mandolin and harmonica specifically.  His presence really had an impact on my life, specifically in wanting to be a multi-instrumentalist.  He was my first introduction to the “lone folk troubadour”.  

My current musical influences are along those same lines.  I’ve played with Leeroy Stagger for five years or so now and he’s had a great influence in both a personal and career sense.  He’s such a great songwriter and playing with him definitely helped me raise the bar in my own writing.  Noam Pikelney and Danny Barnes are my banjo heroes; they’re both so technically incredible and are able to fuse tradition with innovation, which is a lot harder than it looks if you’re trying to do it properly.  The Punch Brothers have been a big thing for me in the last few years as well.  Chris Thile and Michael Daves put out a record called Sleep With One Eye Open that I listen to a lot, that one’s like bluegrass on speed.  I love Gillian Welch too, everything she does has such a vibe to it.  Blaze Foley and John Prine are obvious ones, so I won’t even mention them.  

I’m influenced by writers a lot too, actually.  There’s a lot I’ve learned from classic literature that I think has informed my songwriting.  I found after reading a lot of Hemingway my writing became more concise which was probably good.  I”m reading Pasternak now, so things are probably gonna get bleak for the next record.   

FTS: Can you recall the moment when you decided “Yup, I’m going to become a musician”? Was it a song, an artist, or just something you always knew?

Ryland Moranz: I feel like I’ve always been headed down this path.  My folks are musicians and were founding members of my hometown folk festival, so music and musicians were always a constant in my life.  Both my sister Gillian and I grew up in the arts and as a result have made our own way in the Canadian music scene as adults.  We like to joke that we never had an opportunity to become accountants; that joke always slays with accountants.  

That being said I did deviate a few times growing up, for a few years I thought I was going to be a commercial pilot.  I did my flight training and got my private licence which was a lot of fun.  I still fly and it’s actually featured in the video for the first single off my new record “If I Had Wings”.  

I ultimately realized that the only thing that would make me happy was to play music, so here I am.

FTS: Describe your sounds in 5 words or less.

Ryland Moranz: Aphoristic acranistic anachronism.  
Or if you prefer – folk/bluegrass historical postcards.

Check out the latest single from Ryland Moranz, “Where Are My Blue Eyes”!


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