Ry Bradley is premiering the lyric video for his current single “Leave You With a Song” exclusively on Talk Nerdy With Us. As Ry told me exclusively, the song is about “coming from that place of ‘this is what I want to contribute to the world.’”
In addition to premiering this video on our site, Ry took some time to talk to me about his background and career up until this point. We talked about what’s prompting his upcoming move to Nashville, why he started a rock ‘n’ roll camp in Norway of all places, his recently-found love for Harry Potter and so much more! Keep reading to see what he had to say.
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
I was about 10 or 11 years old and my stepdad had left a bunch of vinyl records out in the shed and they were getting rained on. So I brought them into the house and started listening to some of them. I just loved it. I kind of had a wild family and a turbulent house. But [listening to these records] was the thing that kind of saved me. It was this place of peace when things would get crazy. I would just put on these records, lay on my bed, and swim around in the music.
So when I was finally allowed to start watching MTV and stuff like that, I would see people up there rocking and I just had this thing where I was like, “I have to do that. That’s who I am.” A lot of those [artists] were Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, etc. meanwhile my mom was listening to Alan Jackson and Dwight Yoakam. I didn’t really think about genre; I just knew that music was something that took me away from whatever it was and got me high. So I’ve been living in that future of being a musicians since I was 10 or 11.
So obviously that was the moment where you fell in love with music, but was there a specific moment that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?
That’s an excellent question. I [was] in guitar lessons at 11 or 12 and these rockers were walking by and they were discussing this thing called being a studio musician. I was the worst practicer and the worst student at that age, but they were talking about how you could make $100 an hour playing guitar on people’s records. It didn’t occur to me that I wanted to be the guy to play on people’s records. Just like a welder or mechanic goes to work, you can actually do something [with music] besides being a rock star. Instead of it just being this dream, it was like, “Oh, I can actually have a place in this world.”
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. So you would typically be classified as a “country” artist, but how would you describe your sound without using genre names?
It’s funny. I was listening to Jason Isbell yesterday and before he started singing the song, he goes, “Nobody cares about genre anymore anyway.” And I was like, “Yeah, it’s true. Everyone has everything on their playlist.”
Yeah, so with that in mind, how would you describe your sound?
True life songs and rocking guitar.
Straight forward. I dig it. I know you were raised in Hawaii & California and still reside in California today. But did you ever feel pressure to move to Nashville because that’s where the “country music industry” is for the most part?
It just so happens that I’m moving there in a week.
So what prompted that move then?
10 years ago, someone told me I should move to Nashville and I was like, “whatever.” Then about 5 years ago, I got a publishing deal based in Nashville, so I would fly out there all the time to write songs. I love Nashville. I love the creativity, the people there, the authenticity in a lot of the musicians that you don’t see in LA. But I never looked at it from the perspective of like, “I should live there.” So I just kept doing what I was doing and I was able to build a really big fan base out here in California.
But at some point, I just started to look and say, “You’re lying to yourself.” And it’s not even really lying to yourself. It’s more like, “you’ve got a lot of excuses not to move there when really that’s the thing that’s going to fulfill your music.” I’m out here, near the beach, surfing; I have this huge network of people out here, friends, family, fans. I was like, “I don’t need to go to Nashville. I have it all here.” But then I just started to realize, if I’m not part of that community, it’s not going to get to the level I want it to. So it’s not even about success. It’s about being in a creative community of songwriters.
I want to dive in and talk about this new single, “Leave You With a Song.” What inspired this song?
Anyone who’s really sacrificed or really given something extra for the thing they are passionate about, even if it’s people who are committed to their families or to their country or something bigger than themselves, they’ll make these sacrifices and it doesn’t even seem like a sacrifice cause it’s so worth it. So this song is really just about coming from that place of, “This is what I want to contribute to the world.” Just like going back to when I was a kid listening to those records, that music really lifted me up and gave me some grace through the hard times. It’s happened many times through my life where I thought things were going to get super hard, [but] that perfect song would come on and [all of a sudden] there’s grace there. [The music] was just something you needed and that was bigger than you. That’s what making music is all about for me. I love to see people light up. We wrote the song “The Next Aldean Show” for the victims of the Route 91 tragedy; we were playing on the radio and someone calls in and said that song gives them the strength to keep going back out there and playing shows. That’s not even about me.
I’m kind of circling your question, but it’s really just about how that’s what I have to give. I may have more to give. I love speaking and teaching guitar; I love hanging out with teenagers and empowering musicians. So I probably do have more to give than just a song, but that’s how it all started. Playing guitar and making music has taken me everywhere I’ve needed to go in life. I hope that I can leave some kind of legacy behind and if it’s this song that lifts people up, I’ll be as happy as I could ever be.
That’s awesome. What was your songwriting process like for “Leave You With a Song”?
This song was actually written by my best friend [Justin Busch]. He produces my records; we spend all of our time together and we write lots of songs together. He shows up to rehearse for a festival and he says, “Hey man, look at this song I wrote.” And I said, “Can we please record that? I want to record that.” It’s funny because I’m a songwriter first. There’s this whole thing where people are like, “Are you an artist or are you a songwriter?” And for me, I’ve just always written songs and I’ll always do that. A lot of times the best songwriters will record a song they did’t write. Willie Nelson is one of the best songwriters ever and he didn’t write his first hit. Actually being able to sing a song my best friend wrote is pretty cool. It really spoke to what we all do as musicians and songwriters and people who are willing to sacrifice to make the music.
Was there any major changes to the song that happened once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
So I didn’t write it, but I’m in there and I’m just going to do it my way. I’m going to sound like me whatever I do; for better or worse, you just have to be yourself and own it. There were some challenges in that Justin was producing it and he wrote the song, but I’ve got to sing it the way I sing it. And he gets that. But there were some moments of like, “Just let me do it. Just let me work on it the way I think it should be.” Cause if you’re going to do a song, you’ve got to make it your own, no matter who writes it.
You typically play some crazy number of like over 200 shows in a year, which is an incredible number. What’s your favorite thing about being on the road and performing shows?
There’s a lot of good things. Sometimes there’s this moment where you’re not actually on stage, you’re like an audience to your own performance. For me, it’ll usually happen during a guitar solo or when I’m singing one of the ballads. I’m a big guitar player and in a lot of my songs, I’ll take the solo and it’s this incredible moment for me. So sometimes there’s moment in the middle of a guitar solo where everything goes away and you’re just an audience [member] to your own playing and it seems like there’s this connection with everything in the universe. Any real singer you talk to will talk about a similar moment where there’s this loop where you’re not there anymore. I don’t know if this sounds spiritual or whatever; I don’t care. There are these moments and the crowd is there with you and the people watching, the band, everyone is connected in this moment. But that’s what I’m looking out for, this moment where everything happening is bigger than me.
Last year, you started this Rock N’ Roll Camp in Norway where for no charge, you guided kids on performance, songwriting and the business of being an artist, which I know is something you said you loved doing. First, why Norway and second, what made you want to start this camp?
It would seem kind of random — like why Norway of all the places we could go? Growing up, my family had some friends from there that would come visit us, so I just kind of became close with them. A few years ago, my mom and I went over there to visit the family and I brought my guitar and I would sing a little bit. We would go to restaurants and I would pull out the guitar and sing a little bit; it wasn’t even a gig; [I would] just show up and sing, but people just really got it. It was cool. So my family friends said, “Hey, next summer, you should bring your whole band over here and we should see if we could get you some gigs and see how it goes.”
Imagine a place where people aren’t on their phones, they aren’t even really doing anything other than completely watching you, taking in the music and so appreciating it. Of course, some of the gigs will get wild. But just imagine a situation where you are so appreciated and people are so genuine and nice that you would have to go back. So we went back for the third year and we just really loved the people in these small towns in Norway. [We were] talking about ideas and I was like, “We have a lot of days off. Is there some high school or other place where we could give back and work with some of the kids?” I ended up getting connected with the Mayor and it all just kind of worked out. The city government helped fund a little bit of the camp and made it all kind of happen.
It was a magical experience for everyone in the band. When I first told them that we were going to be workin with these teenagers, they were looking at me like, “What are you talking about? We’re not teachers.” And I’m like, “It’s going to be great. Just go with me on this.” I saw a side of the guys in the band that I had never seen before. I was amazed to see how great they were with these teenagers. It was something they said they didn’t know they needed. We worked with these students for 3 or 4 days, put them in bands and had them play on that Friday night. The whole town came out to the show in this giant barn in this small town and it was just this incredible thing. It was like they were like our kids; we were so emotionally invested. It was just this magical thing with these Norwegians in a country where we don’t speak the language…
Yeah. I was about to say. Was the language an issue, first of all, with them being able to understand what you’re singing, and then second of all, with trying to work with them when it came to this camp?
They all learn English in school. The teenagers are a little more open to speak English than the adults. But at the same time, they were like, “We understand everything you’re saying. We’re just shy to talk in English.” It was kind of cool because before every session, I would get on the microphone and speak about things like courage and how courage is actually [when] you feel the fear, but you still take the action. I would say that [with] people who are courageous, it’s not that they don’t feel the fear, cause we all have it. This was something completely out of their comfort zone and I would acknowledge that every day. I’d be like, “You’re here with these weird Americans doing this camp and I have to acknowledge you for stepping outside your comfort zone.”
That’s awesome. Is it something you would do again?
But no plans so far to do it again this year?
No. I’m going to be writing quite a bit when I get to Nashville. I’m just switching more to a writing mode.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd. What is something that you are currently nerding out about?
I’ve always been a guitar nerd. Everyone else is out on Saturday night, playing “Sweet Home Alabama” and drinking beers while you’re at home playing scales, becoming the best guitar player you can. But something that’s really nerdy… I can’t believe I’m going to confess this right now.
My girlfriend is a bit younger than me and she’s obsessed with these novels and movies. And I’m like, “I can’t. It’s not in my world. I was in college when these came out. But okay, I’ll watch these movies with you.” And next thing I know, I’m so excited to watch the next movie and I’m going on some silly website to see which house I’m getting sorted into. Do you know what I’m talking about?
I know exactly what you are talking about.
I’m so obsessed with this world and it’s something we do together. It really is cool to go back and be a kid again with the Harry Potter thing. The stories are so well-written and the movies are just as engaging as can be. So it’s a pleasant surprise that I enjoy the Harry Potter thing so much.