When you're part of one of indie rock's most beloved bands (and a forerunner to the modern alt-country explosion), it takes a certain chutzpah
to strike off on your own. Yet, that's exactly what Band of Horses' multi-instrumentalist Ryan Monroe
has done. While still remaining a full-time member of Band of Horses, Ryan Monroe took the time to release his debut solo album A Painting of a Painting on Fire
which is an impressive blend of classic rock hooks with modern garage riffs. We had the chance to chat with Ryan Monroe about the production process of this record and his plans for the future.
Ryan Monroe's decision to make A Painting of a Painting on Fire
was long in the making. As Monroe puts it, "Well, I was stockpiling a ton of songs over the last fifteen years." He was waiting for the right moment to release the songs when he realized he needed to "shit or get off the pot." With the help of a friend, Monroe was able to sift through all of the material he'd collected over the years and narrow it down to 11 songs. He had become very attached to all of his own music and it took an outside observer to help him realize which songs were the best fits for the album.
During the interview, I compared the album's name (and that of the title track) to something out of a Charlie Kaufman film. Ryan Monroe was quick to mention that any post-modernism was not his goal. "I kind of ended up writing the verses for the title of that song. That was the only thing that came out to the music. I would sing the chorus, and that came out of my mouth." As Monroe continued, it seemed that the lyrics of the album were one of the last things to arrive. "The lyrics were written at the last minute of the recording." As the song progressed, it came to be about the "depth of human potential and the potential they don't realize they have."
The sonic makeup of A Painting of a Painting on Fire
is very different from the majority of its indie rock peers (and couldn't be more different from Monroe's work with Band of Horses). With pieces borrowed from garage rock, classic rock, and even prog rock, the album is sonically diverse. Monroe said, "I wanted it to be elements of mayhem like inside of melodies, and I wanted there to be a dark element to some pop music. It is not around that much." Although Ryan Monroe can come off as slightly shy and reserved in conversation, he definitely embraced the idea of risk and eccentricity on his album. "I still wanted to put elements of mystery and craziness in it. I can lean more on the crazy for my next record."
Monroe played all of the instruments on the album himself. As someone who's listened to the album, it's very impressive. Obviously, that's a serious self-imposed challenge in the production of an album and Monroe had some interesting thoughts on the process. "Well, it turned into a challenge halfway through. I had it in the back of my head, I may call in a studio musician if I can't do it. but I want to be able to play everything on the record." Which is what happened. Other than featuring two girls on backing vocals for one of the tracks, A Painting of a Painting on Fire
was a Ryan Monroe labor of love from beginning to end.
Although the album comes at you filtered through a modern interpretation of 70s FM radio, Ryan Monroe says that the albums lyrics come from a darker place. "I think a lot of it has to do with being out of the darkness and into the light. My 20s were very dark. It's a dark time like it is for a lot of people who used to believe they aren't an artist. And they won't stop trying to do what they love." Monroe continues by expressing gratitude for being lucky enough to be able to do what he loves for a living. "I was fortunate enough to snag a gig in Band of Horses because Ben [Bridwell] and I grew up together. I was out of work. I didn't have a real job before."
When asked if he had any plans to tour in support of his new album, Ryan Monroe seemed saddened to report that he wouldn't have any time in between his busy touring and production schedule with Band of Horses (in addition to his work on his second album which he hopes to release as soon as possible) to do any solo promotional touring. "I might play a couple shows around the holiday when Band of Horses is done, but I don't have any plans in the near future."
When asked what he wanted his fans (and BoH fans) to take away from A Painting of a Painting on Fire
, Ryan Monroe was hopeful that people would give him a chance and understand that it sounds very different from Band of Horses. "Well I hope they will be automatically anxious to hear some other music and other styles of music from me."
A Painting of a Painting on Fire
is out now and Band of Horses are on tour supporting My Morning Jacket.