Spotlight – Ryan Goodnight - By Jesse Warren of Fresh Records
In anticipation of the 1st Fresh Records release, we’ve got an interview with Shenzhen local musician Ryan Goodnight. This bedroom producer is poised to burst on the scene with his 4th full length album. After traversing a musical path from piano recitals to rock bands to electronic production, Ryan has found his own style that fuses synths, guitars, and vocals. Scope the interview below, then come see this talented solo artist perform LIVE at his album release party on October 20th.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
Well, I was born in Vineland, New Jersey in ’84. That’s South Jersey for the record. Grew up in a relatively rural area, 8 acres of land. My parents were both musicians.
As a young brash teenager, I wanted nothing more than to get away from home and see the city. I moved to Philadelphia, and was accepted to Drexel University with a partial scholar ship. Originally in college I studied art and graphic design, but somehow I ended up with a bachelors degree in engineering. When I graduated in 2007 I took a job as an engineer that involved traveling to a work site in China. Finally I moved over here and left my life in the US.
Other than that, I’ve got a sister that makes a living in NYC as a Modern dancer in a Dance Company. She’s great.
I’ve got a Dog named Mojo, and a special girl named Duckia. What more could a guy ask for?
What is your background as a musician?
Being in a musical family, it wasn’t an option not to play an instrument. My parents both play classical cello, so I have a good appreciation for the basics of rhythm and melody. The first instrument I played was violin, as a child. Really basic stuff. I dabbled in cello and took a couple weeks of vocal lessons once. Really piano is one of the only instruments I really took lessons consistently for a few years. It’s my go-to instrument. My first performances, were piano recitals. I remember being so nervous I would play the songs much faster than intended. Must have sounded like a broken record, spinning too fast. I didn’t know it at the time, but learning to play piano was the best thing for me. Because after piano, I could play anything with keys, and in later I’d find I’d fall in love with synthesizers. Retro, modern, anything that could produce a melody.
I taught myself guitar in high school and played in a couple of bands in College. I played in one hard rock band called Frequency Collusion that gigged around South Jersey and Philly for a couple of years. I was the lead singer and played rhythm guitar. I was in a second rock band with a female singer called Echo To Base in which I played bass guitar. We never made much money, maybe enough to pay for gas and a band dinner. Basically we’d break even.
In college, when I wasn’t studying or gigging with the bands, somehow I found time to start recording electronic music. I called it my side project and did it under my personal name, Ryan Goodnight. It was more for fun than anything else. I researched and used a bunch of different programs and finally settled on Propellerhead’s Reason for sequencing and Steinberg Cubase for audio recording. It came in very handy when Frequency Collusion wanted to record an album. We just went over to the home studio I had built up in room in my parent’s house. We plugged in and recorded a 6 song rock album.
My parents were pretty supportive of my musical aspirations, but it wasn’t all fun and games, I remember my father flipping the circuit breaker and killing the power to the entire house (and my home studio) because I was recording till 1 in the morning. I guess he got tired of yelling “keep it down”. He made his point.
Recently I got an old drum set sitting in my living room. I’ve been learning to pound out some beats on it. I’m not an expert at piano or guitar, or singing for that matter, but I enjoy it. Same with the drums, I don’t intend to be an expert, just use it to improve my rhythm and continue to challenge myself. Really I consider myself an electronic producer. Songcraft is my art, and I use the various instruments I play to compose that art.
What are your primary musical inspirations? Favorite current artists?
Depeche Mode and BT were my first big inspirations – they really led the way for me in terms of sonic development and drove me to be as ambitious as they were. Nine Inch Nails for making angry, but melodic electronic. Pendulum and Nosia for their great drum and bass. In rock, there’s Muse and Thrice, and Cake, and so many more. Hard to pick just a few. Recently, the Decemberists and Arcade Fire rock my world.
You’ve been making music for a long time. Tell us about your first several albums.
All of my albums are very different in my eyes.
Electronic Inside – (2005) this was my first album. It’s an instrumental electronic album, written before I really sung in the band. It wasn’t that I had nothing to say, it’s just that I hated the sound of my voice and didn’t know how to say it. A lot of this stuff originated from a groove and grew into a song. There’s some good tracks on here, some stuff I’m very proud of. And there’s other stuff that meanders around and might be difficult for people to get into.
Carbon – (2006) this was my first album with vocals. And it was both a big relief and challenge to sing. Once I opened my mouth I felt that I couldn’t close it. It was such a dramatic shift for me both in writing style and sound signature. These songs originated out of an emotion that I tried to coax into words. There’s a lot of exploration of different singing styles, including rap, on the album. The name carbon refers to the fact that there’s actually something living in the audio – not only synths. All living things are made of carbon.
Amalgamation (2007) – this album is a concept album. It chronicles the development and struggle to reach love. The songs are relatively autobiographical and also chronological. I think it’s a very mature album if only because of how many other good songs didn’t make the cut. I wanted to keep it pure to the essence of the concept. To be honest it’s a challenge to meet that goal, and it really helped me develop as a musician. I think we might see some of the other good songs that didn’t make the Amalgamation cut, in the future. We’ll see…
Has China done anything to inspire you as an artist or musician? How’s that Dongmen guitar going for you?
Being in China has continued to develop my appreciation for melody. A good melody overcomes everything. It’s something I’m trying to incorporate more into my songs. Also being here has enabled me to experience different music scene and in some ways rely on my gut more often. There’s so many different types of music and people in the world, all you have to do is find one or two that you like.
The Dongmen guitar is rockin’. It made an appearance at your live show in Xi Chong and in Lohou and has been featured all over my newly recorded stuff. It plays well, and produces a good sound. What else would you want from a knock off Stratocaster. Haha.
Take us through a typical song production from beginning to end…
It usually starts from a groove – a beat and bassline. Then the melody gets layered to fit on top. Usually there’s some synths and guitar that need to sit in the middle of all that. But it’s got to have a groove. Something to drive the song forward. A lot of my songs feature a steady strong drum beat. Layer, Layer layer. I think a lot of my old songs featured layers to the point that you couldn’t tell them apart. Editing is always a challenge.
Actually, before the groove is really an emotion. And I’m usually a positive guy so when I really get inspired to write is when things are shit. When I’m in a bad mood, I just want to bury myself in sound. It’s cathartic. And making music makes me happy. So even though there might be a hopeless theme, it usually ends up being somewhat upbeat. Ha. That’s me. Musical contradiction.
A lot of times, for better or worse, I’ll write and record at the same time so the result is often very impromptu. It’s good for capturing the fleeting essence of a song. But not always great for structure or cleanliness. Sometimes I’ll fall in love with a messy bit of guitar-work and want to leave it in because it feels right. My more cleanly electronic attitude will question myself would it sound better being replaced with a polished bit, but usually my rock personality takes over and I’ll leave it in. Fuck it. I like it. Haha.
Mixing and mastering is a whole different side of the brain. That’s the last step. It’s like moving from art to engineering. I mixed and mastered my last two albums by myself and it was a taxing experience. Tweaking and then listening to everything on multiple different speaker set ups like, my room, my computer, my car. A good mix will sound good on all speaker set ups.
What is your approach to live performance as a solo performer?
This is a new thing for me. I never intended my electronic music to be performed live. Anyway that wasn’t the goal. It was just to create. In a live venue it’s a whole different experience. I can’t go back and listen to the groove 100 times to be inspired to place the next layer. It has to happen naturally and efficiently. And it should happen in a way that could somehow involve the audience. That’s my ultimate goal. To get fully integrated. For now I’m featuring recorded bits with live guitar and vocals and I want to add live keys as well. Guitar is such a visual instrument. The fret board faces the audience. It’s really like a show. Piano is like a small bit of micro movement. It’s beautiful to watch an hear, but you can’t see it from far away. Something intimate about that.
How was your experience performing at the Endless Summer Beach Festival?
A blur of beach, bear, and beats! It was awesome playing on the stage with so many talented musicians. And to do it all in front of a sand dance floor with the sound of waves crashing just barely audible in the background. Major fun. And I think the crowd reacted well to the music. I want to keep It uplifting and fun.
My goal for next performance is to let go of thinking about everything and make some more intuitive decisions with the music and just enjoy it. Live the moment a little more.
Which is your favorite song you’ve produced and why?
Okay. Another hard one.
I Whisper off of Amalgamation – this one is very different from my normal style, but I feel like it’s a water color painting. Impressionistic. With the colors running together. It was a challenge to sing falsetto and also the structure is different from many other songs. It really captures a moment. I’m quite proud of it.
What can we expect from Ryan Goodnight in the future? Anything in the works?
I’ve released two simple cover songs recently. One a cover of With Or Without You by U2 and the other a cover of Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles. Neither is my best work but both fun to work on. Free downloads on my website (www.ryangoodnight.com)
I still have a bunch of songs that need to be released that were cut from Amalgamation, not because they were bad songs but because they didn’t fit the theme of the concept album. Some of them are the best I’ve ever written.
Finally, I’ve been inspired and writing a bunch of songs in my spare time. Some instrumental throwbacks to my first album and others more influenced by rock. I want to combine more guitar with synths to create my next sound. I have made a promise to myself to get an album out in the year of the dragon.
It looks like I’m going to keep that promise to myself with the help of Fresh Records. The new album is called “Reanimation” and it represents me coming back to life musically. It’s a mix of old and new styles and is probably some of the best music I’ve made to date. I’ll look for you at the live show on 10/27. I can’t wait to perform live again.
- Ryan Goodnight
Jesse Warren is owner and operator of Fresh Events and Fresh Records. He promotes great music in and around Shenzhen China. He's also a great photographer and friend.
Check out his site.
Link: SZ Fresh