As the second Live at Left Bank approaches Event Organiser Darren Mills talks to headline act Ryan Spendlove to find out more about his background, influences and music career to date.
Good to speak to you as the second Live at Left Bank approaches which you’ll be headlining on Sat 11th of March. Here we go:
Prior to forming the Blueskins in 2002 what musical activities were you involved with?
R: Crikey, that was a long time ago and to be completely honest, I’ve probably forgotten more than I can remember haha. I wasn’t interested in learning music at school as it was all old traditional theory and they never played or taught music that I liked. I always had an ear for music and notation, but I found learning music theory very boring. Classical teaching methods definitely puts a lot of people off learning to play an instrument. I still can’t read music, but I can play along to anything. When I was nineteen, one of my older mates taught me a couple of chords on the guitar and I taught myself from then on.
The best and most inspiring way to learn is to play along with other people. That way you can think about why and how they play the way they do whilst progressing yourself and finding your own style. Jamming with others is like a constant discussion that eventually leads to the great ideas. About 2 years after picking up a guitar, me and a few mates formed The Blueskins and after 8 months of being together, we gained the interest of pretty much every major record label. We practised in the local Village hall which doubled as a bingo hall for the elderly. I still laugh when I recall the heads of these labels coming up to see us and remarking on “how quaint” our rehearsal room was; it was pretty normal to us. Within the space of 2 weeks, we were visited by Sony, Virgin, EMI, Domino and a few others and they all wanted a piece of us. We decided to go with Domino records as it was an independent label and we would have more input in the decisions that were made. That meant a lot to us and we knew the big labels could and would do whatever they wanted with regards to releasing and recording, the artwork and the production – with or without our say.
By 2003 considerable interest in the Blueskins mounted followed by the release of three singles, two EP’s, the album ‘Word of Mouth’ and tours across Europe and America. What were those days like?
R: Yes, life soon started going in fast forward mode soon after we signed with Domino records. We were on tour and gigging like crazy before we knew it and we liked it that way. In hindsight, we probably weren’t quite ready for what was to come. We had hardly had time to establish our sound before we went on the road. We were a great band with a unique sound, but we were very young and rather naive in some respects. We knew nothing about record contracts or publishing deals and I’m pretty sure none of us read the contracts before we signed them. It all just felt so cool to be signed at the time and we felt honoured at the attention, but at the same time it was intimidating to realise that you are signing your songs over to a company that will lovingly grace you with a whole 25% of all money earned through sales of your music (if you’re lucky). That aside, we got our heads down and gave it to the people. We had some amazing gigs including Leeds and Reading festivals. We went on a tour in Europe and played a few gigs in America, including SXSW festival in Texas. Most of our gigs were very successful and we were always wanted for interviews and radio sessions. We could handle the gigs and even being on tour, but things started to get a bit messy when we took an interest in the money which we’d acquired from labels and publishers. We were in our early twenties and none of us knew anything about the business side of things. We soon realised that we eagerly put a lot of trust in people and we eventually started to see a darker side of the music industry. In turn, my inspiration to carry on writing took a hard smack on the nose and the band didn’t seem as sacred anymore. Acceptance came slowly though, and I don’t regret any of it. We had some amazing experiences.
The band’s style was once described as “the sound of a teenage Led Zeppelin ripping through ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ in their parent’s garage”. Would you say that’s an accurate description and if so, what were your personal influences which led to the bluesy rock creations?
R: I guess that’s a fair description of our sound. When I listen back I can hear our personalities at that time. We knew we had something no one else had and we were ready to flaunt it to the world. We weren’t at all cocky, we knew where we were from and who we were, but we were truly passionate about what we were doing; and to me, the band was my world! I lived and breathed The Blueskins and I think I felt the closest to the songs because I was the main writer and I really meant what I was writing. We all liked a lot of different music, but we all liked a kinship of sixties bands like The Kinks, The Beatles, The Small faces etc.
Following the split of the band in 2008 you went on to a successful solo career focusing more on blues folk and gospel influenced acoustic songs; that’s a bit of a change in direction from Blues Rock, what led to it?
R: Actually, we had two line ups of the Blueskins with a new bass player and lead guitarist; the second line up also produced some killer songs, but we should have changed the Band name at that point as the sound took a different turn with the new members. Anyway, back to the questions…
Since I started learning guitar, I always knew that one day, after the band had had its time, I would go on to record my own album. So after a while of feeling sorry for myself after we split, I eventually picked the guitar up again and started writing and developing my own style. I got used to doing my own thing and decided that going solo was the best path for me. The sound I have just came naturally. I don’t even know how to describe it so when people ask I reply “Well I think my style is a bit erm… Bluesy…erm Folky, but I know it’s neither.
As a solo performer, you were spotted and signed by Candyrat Records in America and recorded your first album ‘Fable’ with them in Chicago 2011. How did it feel to be signed by such a label across the pond?
R: I knocked up a few songs and emailed 4 record labels with my rough recordings. I picked some labels that had signed a few acoustic artists as I wanted to have a go as a solo musician. Candyrat replied to my email the day after and following a brief discussion on what plans I had and what I was looking for, they offered me a deal; 3 months later I found myself in Milwaukee recording my first solo album. Candyrat is a family based label created by Rob and Holly Poland. I stayed at their house when I was recording and it really was like meeting my second family. Such lovely welcoming people who are really in it for the music. They are a lovely family who are so passionate about what they do and meeting them was just what I needed for inspiration; real people with warm hearts and determination who I am proud to call my friends. I am always proud to release my music with Candyrat.
What do you tend to listen to yourself, is it mainly similar to your own music or are there other genre’s which are important to you such as the Bluesy Rock type stuff?
R: It’s rare for me to get excited about most contemporary music. I find that pop music these days is completely bland, and the same production techniques are used making lots of modern artists sound very similar. I listen to a lot of 1920’s stuff and 60’s. I like funk and soul, reggae, (OLD) RnB….. lots of genres.
What have you got planned for the months ahead, more gigs, festivals or any new music?
R: My plans are to make more time for writing new songs. I fancy a change and want to do something different from my first two albums. Also, I just fancy a change from playing all my songs solo so I may involve a couple of other musicians in the mix this time. watch this space! I will be gigging every 2 or 3 weeks also.
That’s all from Ryan for now; come and see him play Live at Left Bank on Sat 11 March along with 3 more great acts – Lauren Smith, Jake Jellyfish and Emma Sargison.
Live at Left Bank is a charity fundraising event. All profits will support the development of Left Bank Leeds (run by Antioch Trust, charity no. 1146734.
Tickets and more info: