When I walked into Jammin’ Java and shook hands with Tyler Ramsey, I could tell he was a guitar player. The lanky, tall musician had some of the biggest hands and longesty fingers I’ve ever seen and I thought to myself, “Self, I’d be a much better guitar player if I had those hands.” One of the reasons that Jimi Hendrix was so successful was because his hands made playing a normal size guitar a piece of cake. In fact, two girls who sat down next to me even asked if he was playing a miniature guitar. Seriously.
This unique attribute makes Tyler Ramsey’s guitar playing look like Usain Bolt running the hundred. It looks effortless and so easy that it makes you wonder why every human being can’t do the same thing. That is, until you see the rest of the pack and remember that they are all also world class. Here’s a video of Tyler playing “1000 Black Birds” (a contender for my song of the year) Tuesday night at Jammin’ Java:
The show was incredible. I often found myself thinking that this man was making more music than was possible. Greg wrote in his review that he thought this album wouldn’t translate well to the stage and I agreed with him. But, boy were we wrong. Ramsey was able to create a sound on the stage that almost perfectly mirrored the sound of the album. You might think that that’s a bad thing, but you’d be wrong. It’s unreal to sit and hear someone who sounds as good, or better, in person than in the studio. In short, see Tyler Ramsey solo or with Band of Horses. It doesn’t matter how, just see him.
Before the show, we had the chance to sit down with Tyler and he was appreciative and laid back, humble and happy to be making music. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: How is this album different from the ones that you’ve done before?
Tyler: I think the approach was different. We tried to do it rather quickly. We went to the studio in Nashville with the idea that we would do just basic tracks, but Bill Reynolds, who was producing it, was like “let’s just go for it” in that small amount of time, which was like 6 days, 5 or 6 days. And I think that approach made it have a different feel, a more grounded feel. The songs weren’t over thought and there weren’t tons of over dubs. I would just play a song until it felt like I had the right take of the song, which managed to come pretty quickly because some of them were pretty new. I’d been playing them and I had just written them, so it felt like that was easily attained.
Q: How is what you’re doing now, playing solo and releasing solo stuff, different from the stuff you’re doing with Band of Horses and how is it similar?
Tyler: Well, I haven’t got to do this in a while and I’m just out like driving to shows, so it’s kind of, you know, tiring in a way. I guess the first long one was from Charlotte to NYC and, luckily, that was on a day off, which also happened to be my birthday, so now that that one’s out of the way, it’ll be easier. I feel like I just try to do a good job, mostly. No matter what, whether its solo or Band of Horses, I just wanna feel like I’m doing it properly, that I’m in the right frame of mind to perform well and not the one, especially with Band of Horses, that messes everyone up. If I’m doing solo shows, I can mess up and cover it up. I don’t have a bunch of people playing with me so I’m not going to throw anybody off by extending a chorus or doing a half chorus or singing the wrong line. It’s got that cool kind of freedom when you’re by yourself. You can expand the songs or just do what feels right at that second. I’ve always been a fan of that.
Q: Do you have a preference, band or solo?
Tyler: No, I just enjoy it, it’s a total blessing to be able to do both. There’s no preference, it’s just a blessing getting to do what I’m doing at whatever time.
Q: We wrote in the blog, “…the album gives the sense that it’s not the kind of album that translates well to the stage”. Thoughts
Tyler: A lot of the sounds on the album are things I was doing while I was writing the songs. Those kind of sonic qualities came about from me sitting in my basement with one guitar and a drum machine and just playing them. I think in a way they’re geared towards getting across to people on that level, like a guy and a guitar and a few toys on the side. A lot of the sounds that you hear on the record are just, like a lot of the electric guitar sounds are just those guitars echoing what I’d be playing on the acoustic guitar anyway, so just doubling that. There might not be some of the magical echoes or whatever we caught in the studio, but the songs that I write, I write to be complete on their own anyway, so that’s just me with an acoustic guitar. That’s kind of why the album was done the way it was, because I didn’t want a bunch of studio trickery on it. But I definitely see what he’s saying. You could apply that to anybody going out on their own. You just hope that you’re getting your point across with the solo acoustic.
Q: You’ve been getting a lot of comparisons to Neil Young. Are you OK with that?
Tyler: Oh, yeah! Why not? It’s, you know, a hero for so many people. So that’s awesome. I’d never take that in a bad way.
Q: We also wrote in the review that the album was hard to categorize. If you were in a record store and thinking where your music would fit, where do you think it would fit?
Tyler: I did work in a record store at one point, but I don’t know….I think I’d get like 15 copies and put one in every section. How about that?
Q: Awesome. One question we always ask is what the songwriting process looks like. What does it look like for you?
Tyler: I think it’s definitely different every time. I don’t really have a formula or a gameplan. Sometimes I’ll come up with a line in my head or a sentence and write it down and nothing more comes of it. Then, eventually a melody comes out of the guitar that seems like it would go with that and then…expand. I’m still just always hoping that there’s that inspiration that pops up and makes me write, but that doesn’t always happen and you don’t get a lot written when you just wait for that to happen. I guess, over the last couple of years, even more so to take pieces I’ve had around before and match them with things I have in my head now. I’m just constantly trying to figure that out myself. Haha.
Q: I felt like that album had an atmosphere, not per song, but the whole album had a “feel”. Do you think about that when you’re writing, like “What does this album feel like?”
Tyler: I think it just sort of happens, with the whole album thing because the songs definitely have a feel and then if the songs have a feel and they were all written in a period of a year or six months, it ends up just being an explanation of a certain period of time.