With all of the general dismay and disarray of what’s going on in the world these days people are looking for leaders who lead; people who do more than just talk about what needs to happen. A good microcosm of that is the music industry. People talk a great game of what needs to be done to fix things but nobody is really doing anything. Free music is released by big bands all of the time but that’s released to get people to come to the party and buy something. Young bands release free EPs all the time too, but that’s so they can get their own party. We’ve been waiting for someone established but still growing to come along and do something significant… not just by putting out something for free but by putting out something meaningful creatively that can be embraced as art. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Ryan Star is that person.
The big news this week in Ryan Star’s camp is the release of his new free EP The America EP. There was no ticker-tape release, there wasn’t a huge announcement four weeks before it was released to build anticipation either. Star just posted the link on his social media outlets and told people to go to town. Changing the music business isn’t Ryan Star’s intention. During Alternative Addiction’s recent interview with him he never said a word about changing the way the industry does things. But it all goes back to that leadership thing. Who would you rather follow? Someone who talks a big game and then executes his plan half-assed; or someone who just does something without telling the world how great his actions are or are going to be?
“I had these songs and I needed to put it out,” stated Star proudly in a recent sit down with Alternative Addiction. “I knew I wanted to release an EP called The America EP because it had this theme of not so much a political stab as much as it is a journey, a story, or a snapshot of where this character is and his view in the world and having his own personal plight. And it was cool for me because I haven’t felt this tapped in to the artistry of making a coherent record since Stage. That was really cool for me to put it together and it’s going to inspire how I approach this next album.”
How Star is approaching his next album is very fascinating. The last album was a record that Star poured his heart and soul into and one he’s proud of. But it’s also a record that he worked on with some hot names at the time. There’s no doubt those partnerships worked, but there’s some speculating on who came up with the idea to work with those names in the first place. Star, talking about his pride in his new EP, hints that he might be slightly tired of a few industry things.
“I’m proud of what I’m doing,” said Star of his decision to release his new EP for free. “I played the game and it just didn’t feel as right. You wind up justifying when you do that. I don’t want to sell a record and then be like ‘hey that song was supposed to be like this but…’ F___ that. Nobody’s going to care at the end of the day what I have to say about it. They’re going to listen to it and make a decision. That’s where we’re at and I think people are going to love this next album because of that. This EP, in the meantime is going to be a reawakening of who we are and it’s awesome to see people posting it and getting it out there.”
Star talks in ‘we’ because he’s connected to his band and the people in his corner, like they’re in his band too. Another person that takes a similar approach is Bruce Springsteen. It’s a stretch to compare Ryan Star to The Boss at this point in his career, but when mentioned that the theme of this EP was something that was very ‘Springsteen’ of him, he responded.
“That’s awesome. I do feel connected to that world,” said Star. “It’s funny you say that. I don’t have mentors; I’ve never had mentors my whole life. And Steve Van Zandt of Springsteen’s band, the guitarist, has kind of become that for me. We get together once a week and we have dinner. We talk music and he teaches me about the renaissance of when The Beatles and The Who came to America. Then all the way up to Kurt Cobain’s death... of what music was all those years and how it’s changed now.”
“I have a playlist on my iPod, its Steve’s playlist. It’s got everything from Chuck Berry to Muddy Waters to The Who to Otis Redding. It’s really gotten me deeper into what this is all about. I stopped trying to figure out how to placate to the masses of, ‘we need a hit’ and start getting back to the artistry of what I set out to do when I was 15 years-old. And I think he got in my head like that and I appreciate that’s what came out. The fact that you hear that might be because my mentor stood next to Springsteen his whole life.”
Star has proclaimed Steve Van Zandt to be his mentor but two other sources of inspiration have notable places in music history too.
“Spending time with Steve and then touring with Bon Jovi has been huge.” An exasperated Star tried to wrap his mind around the people he’s been around and heard from in the past year or so. “You start picking up on these guys and the shit they’ve done. They don’t play the game that we play today. Here we have it all figured out. 'Oh, you’ve got to write a hit' and 'you’ve got to do that.' Between him, Jovi, and just being around people that have experienced such greatness. Not just making it… but being that one percent of being on another level. It reminded me of what I’m after. And I thought surrounding myself with these people has been a really cool thing. And then last week Billy Joel commented on the set after he came out. It was just the coolest thing. So I’m relating more to these guys lately in my heart and in my music. That’s what I’m going to go with. I don’t care if the business side gets it or not. That’s why I’m putting this shit out for free.”
Why free though? Why release this music for free when, from a business standpoint, you’re as hot as you’ve ever been, and from a quality standpoint, this is more than good enough for people to dish out a few bucks for.
“There were a few reasons,” explained Star. “I did this because I’m an artist and I just want to put this out and I don’t want to jump through any hoops to do it. I don’t want to have to make any phone calls. I just want to record it, I want to press a button and I want all my fans to spread it around and tell me what they think of it and move on. And that’s what I did.”
Moving forward, Star will push this EP out to the masses so people will get a chance to hear it. While this EP is a noble act for the artist and a lead-in to what’s going to be an amazing sophomore release, it’s just that… it’s a lead-in. Star’s task after a co-headline run with Andy Grammer is to hit the studio and make the album.
“I know I have the album, so I just want to get in and do it. That’s what I’m going to do in March. Hopefully I’ll be done by April/May and get out on the road again and release the album and keep moving."
There are a lot of outside factors that determine when things get released and when things get done in this business. Those factors increase when you’re working with a record label, even if that record label is a great home, like Star has with Atlantic. But Star’s new found, determined approach makes you afraid for anyone who wants to delay the release of his next album.
“I’m just not waiting on people anymore” Star said annoyed. “I feel like I know who I am and I know what I need to do. If you’re on board with me, great let’s go. If you’re not, get out of my way. That’s how it’s going to have to be from here on out. This EP is an example of that. It feels so good to not have a filter and to just put it out. No one’s saying ‘hey man, change this’ or ‘change that’ or this ‘lyric isn’t working.’ It’s been a direct relationship with the fans and that’s been powerful for me to watch it unravel.”
That direct relationship with the people that listen to his music is the real reason why he’s out there making music and performing for people every day. We can talk about this EP being a new approach, a stand, an outlet, or anything else. But really, this EP is for the fans.
“From all of the road experiences I have, I think for the most part my music breathes positivity in people and I see it every day at these shows,” said Star. “I think this EP is going to that again. It’s going to be good. I’m going to hear some really great stories and get some really great feedback from this I think.”
Grab Ryan Star’s The America EP for free here.