For someone who has a great skill for writing uplifting pop songs, Texas based musician Ryan Hamilton has also known the darker side of life. Ryan’s solo work is certainly upbeat but there’s a strong hint of other things lying underneath it’s surface. In fact, Ryan is quite open about himself and his struggles. It’s something that endears himself to his ever growing fan base. In this interview we talk about his music, his new album, his relationship with the UK, how he struggles with depression and his fight against a persistent cyber bully.
Would you like to introduce yourself to people who don’t know you?
Sure! My name is Ryan Hamilton. I’m a singer/songwriter from Texas, and I front the trans Atlantic rock n roll band Ryan Hamilton & The Traitors.
You’ve got a new album out shortly called ‘The Devil’s In The Detail’. The album was helped in it’s funding by going through PledgeMusic. Any particular reason or is it another aspect of keeping it ‘hands on’ with your fan base?
Both, actually. I was in a terrible, controlling, money obsessed situation with my former management and record label. So, when we parted ways I couldn’t have been happier. I was (and remain) determined to do things differently. To be BETTER than the greedy, self obsessed assholes that seem to flood this business. So, not only does PledgeMusic provide the opportunity to create a real connection with fans/friends/supporters, it is a welcomed opportunity to NOT have to deal with typical record label ways. We actually started our own label. Our band is the only artist, and it has the greatest label name of all time: Fanny Pack Records. Haha. Seriously!
Your previous solo album, ‘Hell Of A Day’, it’s probably a little poppier sounding than your new one, which seems a little bit more rocked up. Is this a result of working with your live band The Traitors?
Yeah. 100%. Don’t think most people realize that I had never made a solo album before ‘Hell of a Day’. That one felt like an experiment. I knew I had some great songs, but I had NO CLUE what I would (or wanted to) sound like. So, even though I’m SUPER proud of that first album and everything it has led to, it came out more “pop” than I would have liked. But, and I feel it’s important to mentions this, I didn’t have anything to gauge it by. Linus of Hollywood (he produced that album) did an amazing job, and I love the sounds we got on that album. It was only when me, Mickey and Rob started playing those tunes LIVE that I realized we were more rock n roll than that album. So, this new album sounds like our BAND. It’s an accurate reflection of the way we sound when we perform live.
Speaking of The Traitors, would you care to talk about them for a bit?
Of course I would! I love those dudes. Mickey (drums) and Rob (bass) played in People On Vacation with me and Jaret Reddick (Bowling For Soup). After the shit hit the fan (Jaret and I don’t speak anymore… and I have no interest in doing so, but that’s a whole different interview. haha) I asked Mickey and Rob if they would stick with me. They agreed to, and I am in forever in their debt for doing so. The last couple of years have been amazing. In a lot of ways we started over. But man, and I mean this in the most humble way possible, I am SO PROUD of everything we have accomplished so far. I really couldn’t as for better band mates. Super talented players and really great dudes.
Over the past year or so you’ve worked alongside UK musicians Paul Miro and Ginger Wildheart. How did this come about (BTW, I love the cover you and Paul did of the “Theme to the Fresh Prince Of Bel Air”)?
The past year has had many strange coincidences. It feels like magic to me. Paul and Ginger are perfect examples. Paul reached out to a friend, who reached out to me. He looped us together and before we knew it we were working together. It felt SO out of nowhere. But I love that sort of thing. The Ginger thing is even weirder. He was at a friend’s house and they were taking turns playing DJ, listening to music etc… and a guy named Kris Coverdale was there. Kris decided to put on my song “4 Letter Verb”. Ginger heard it, liked it… and before I knew it we were chatting online and he invited us on tour. So crazy. So random. Isn’t stuff like that just the best? I’m a lucky dude.
The new album was recorded in a fairly remote part of Scotland with Dave Draper at the helm. Did you decide this for any particular reason or were you really looking forward to enjoying the Scottish weather?
Scottish weather?! Haha. You’re funny. First, I would like to say how incredibly talented Dave Draper is. He’s gotta be the best producer I’ve ever worked with. Such an insanely talented, wonderful person. Not only that, he’s become a great friend. We talk on the phone almost every day. Love that guy. He took a big chance packing up and heading to the middle of nowhere to make an album in an old building… in Scotland! Haha. We had never even hung out before. So, it could have been a disaster. But it was incredible. Just the best. Being from Texas, I had never seen anything like that part of Scotland before. I visited there, for the first time, a few years ago. My father in law lives in Portsoy. I had a moment when we were visiting some old castle ruins by the sea. I was truly overwhelmed by the beauty, and the history of that place. I decided then and there, if I got the chance to make another album I was going to make it in Scotland.
You’ve got Chrissy Barnacle adding some gorgeous backing vocals on the album and duetting with you on “Don’t Say I Told You So”. How did this come around and what do you think she brings to the album?
I’m a big fan of the way my voice sounds with female backing vocals. It’s probably some sort of subconscious thing from my Smile Smile days. I was looking for a unique, beautiful, female voice. So, I started reaching out to some friends. Someone recommended Chrissy. As soon as I heard her sing I knew she was perfect. She couldn’t have been sweeter or easier to work with. I think she brings an element of otherworldly, witch-like, vocal magic… THAT is what I think she brings.
Speaking of guests, Ginger appears on the album too. How was it having him appear?
THE BEST! I still have to pinch myself. He’s become such a great friend. Also, it’s worth mentioning, Ginger Wildheart is on a VERY short list of people who I feel 100% comfortable being 100% MYSELF around. I respect him and look up to him a great deal. Not only is he a great friend, he’s gotta be the best guitar player I’ve ever worked with. What a talent.
I love the feel of the album, it kind of harks back to the seventies and people like Tom Petty without being derivative. Was this a conscious decision or more a reflection of where you were going?
Thank you. Honestly, I never have that “I wanna sound like this” conversation. I think the album came out sounding the way it did, because it’s just the way we sound. Dave Draper definitely picked up on a vibe and ran with it. Also, my dad is a big music lover, and the music he loves really affected me as a kid. So, I’m sure some of that 60s & 70s rock n roll planted itself firmly within me, a long time ago.
Any highpoints on the album for you? I know it’s kind of like asking to choose your favorite family members…….
Haha. Yeah, I’m terrible at answering questions like this, because my answers change. But right now, I think my favorite moment on the album is “Heavy Heart”… or maybe it’s “Smarter” … damn it! Haha. Ok, I’m gonna say “Heavy Heart”. For now.
So, even though I’d heard of you before I think some of my friends only really heard you on the Ginger Wildheart tour last year. How was the tour? It looked like it was a lot of fun. Do you think people were surprised about the show as you come across as a bit more ‘rock’ live?
The tour was SO MUCH FUN. Not only that, it was a game changer for our band. I think we found a new home with the Ginger fans & supporters. It has been, and continues to be a welcomed change. People were probably surprised, yeah. Like I mentioned before, the first album was recorded before we attempted to play the songs LIVE. But that’s all people had to go by. So, I wasn’t surprised that they were… well… surprised.
You and Ginger also recorded the joint single “Fuck You Brain” recently, raising funds for the Samaritans and creating awareness for mental health support, something you both advocate. How did it go?
It went great. That song seems to just keep kicking ass and gaining momentum. Really proud of that tune. Not just because of the music, but because of the cause (TOOTD – you can get the ‘Fuck You Brain’ single over at Bandcamp).
Let’s talk about mental health for a bit. You’ve been quite open about your dealings with mental health. What were your first experiences with them? How do you find dealing with it? We all have good days and bad days so how do you approach things?
I first started having problems as a teenager. I knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what… or why… or how to deal with it. So, like a lot of others, I turned to drugs and alcohol. I didn’t get a diagnosis or the correct help until my early 20s. I’ll save you the rest of the long, sad story. But once I got the right help, it quite literally changed my life. I have a chemical imbalance that I can’t help. I still have good days and bad. But having the knowledge that it’s something I can’t control or help sometimes, ironically seems to help. It’s an issue that deserves a lot more attention… and education.
How do you find people react to you when you talk about depression and the like?
Most of the time the response is positive and supportive. But inevitably you get some uneducated, ignorant people that don’t understand… and say shit like “Just get over it”. It makes my blood boil when people react that way. A normal, human reaction… especially when you suffer with depression, is to NOT want to talk about it or put yourself out there anymore for ignorant people to judge that way. But I refuse to shut up about it.
Being open and talking about mental health has been the subject of quite a few media campaigns over the past couple of years. Have you noticed a change in around the subject?
Yeah. I think more and more people are becoming aware and educated. It is a REAL problem. We have a long way to go, but it’s really great to see some progress.
What would you say to anyone experiencing these issues right now? Any words of advice?
I would tell those people not to be afraid to talk to someone. They are NOT alone. So, don’t feel alone. There are SO MANY people who struggle and keep it to themselves. When, ironically they are probably surrounded by people with similar struggles and problems and them. Don’t be afraid to share, or ask for help.
Last year also saw you talking about the effects of bullying and how common it can be. What happened there?
Ugh. So, I a couple of years ago, after People On Vacation called it quits I started getting the most TERRIBLE, threatening emails. At first I was really confused. These emails were coming from several different email addresses. So, I was under the impression that these people had all, randomly, come to the decision that I was a terrible, untalented, cruel person. I didn’t know how or why people would think that. It was a REALLY difficult time. It went on for far too long before we got the authorities involved. Once the right folks were involved and we started tracing the emails, we found out it was only ONE PERSON. This crazy obsessed Bowling For Soup fan that decided he was going to bully me on Jaret’s behalf (without Jaret’s knowledge) because Jaret and I weren’t friends anymore. According to him (because I told him I wouldn’t press charges if he called me on the phone to apologize) he had heard some incredibly untrue, and unfair gossip about me, backstage at a BFS show. The investigators sent me photos of this guy’s office. It was COVERED in personal photos he had taken of Jaret and BFS over the years. It looked like something out of a crime/drama film, where stalkers cover a wall in photos. It’s actually creeping me out all over again right now. I’m just glad we caught the guy and put an end to it.
You released a video talking about it (**you can find the video on YouTube here**) and about how you can tackle it yourself. I can imagine you getting quite a positive response from that as it’s a subject that’s not often talked about. Does anything come to mind in particular from the experience?
The response was amazing! People like Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) and a few other heroes, who I don’t know personally, started sharing and posting about it. It was crazy! I think the biggest thing I took away from it is that you can trace pretty much any email you get. Emails leave a very precise internet paper trail that leads right back to the person who sent it. I had NO CLUE just how many email tracing tools there were out there.
Let’s look at finishing things off then. Your new album comes out officially on 14th February. How are you approaching the album’s release?
I think this is the best, and the most important album I’ve ever released. I’ve been in 2 bands now that almost “made it”, but fell victim to music industry bull shit. This time I am DETERMINED to do things right, and do them on our own terms. I put A LOT of pressure on myself. But I feel amazing about this album. It’s gonna get promoted, released and pushed accordingly. Radio promo, video promo, tours… the works! SO excited. So ready.
You’re touring the UK starting late February and it’s billed as an evening with Ryan Hamilton. We’ve heard there’ll be some band shows and some solo ones. Are you looking forward to the tour and what can we expect (without giving too much away of course)?
Been wanting to do a tour like this for a really log time. Probably because I used to be OBSESSED with MTV Unplugged. Haha. People can expect that sort of vibe/show. Except probably more drunk… and “Texas-y”, whatever that means. Plus we’re recording the tour/shows for a LIVE album and DVD.
After you’ve got the album release out of the way what are the plans for the rest of the year for Ryan Hamilton and the Traitors?
We really want to tour A LOT. Gonna try and come back to the UK for a big, loud, rock n roll tour later this year. Hopefully tour the US too. The album is gonna get pushed all year long. Fingers crossed for big radio success. We will release the LIVE album (that we’re recording on this acoustic tour) at some point. I really want to put in the necessary work so we cement our place in this business, with this band.
Any final few words for everyone? The floor is completely yours…….
Yeah. I really enjoyed this. Great questions. Thank you.
I would like to thank Ryan for taking the time to answer the questions with great honesty and openness. I would also like to thank Ila Desai of iwastherephotography and Gordon Armstrong for the kind use of their excellent photographs.
You can catch Ryan Hamilton and the Traitors on tour at the end of February. You can buy his albums at his webstore. You can get a taste for the album by watching the video for the single “We Never Should Have Moved To LA“.