When I played local artist Kelley Ryan’s new album, Telescope, I was blown away. Although the songs seem simple, there is a lot going on: They are layered with instruments and sounds.
For more than 20 years, Kelley Ryan has been working as a singer/songwriter, and she’s built a career as an independent artist who continues to evolve musically. During a recent phone interview, Ryan explained that the life experiences of friends, family and herself inspire her music.
“I’ve been writing songs since I had a guitar in my hand when I was 12,” she said. “Everyone has their way, and this is sort of my way of expressing things I see and feel—through words.”
Ryan splits her time between the Coachella Valley and Ireland.
“My husband and I have had a house here for about 10 years. I was born in Portland, Ore., and moved to Los Angeles when I was 19, and met my husband there,” Ryan said. “We used to come out here all the time for short and long weekends, and we loved it here. Eventually, my husband sold his business. … We spend half a year in Ireland, and half in Palm Springs.”
Ryan said some people express surprise when they learn that she splits time between here and Ireland.
“People ask me, ‘Wow, you live in Ireland and the California desert?’” she said. “I can’t imagine two more completely different places. One place, there are no snakes, and the other place, there are a ton of snakes. One place, we have a dehumidifier running all the time, and one place, we have a humidifier running all the time. The people in both places are the one thing we really love. In Ireland, we live on a cliff that overlooks the ocean, with fields and cows all around us. Here, we live right against a mountain. I do believe there is some kind of vibe in both places that is really inspiring to my writing.”
Ryan has put out eight albums, and has built studios in both of her homes.
“I took matters into my own hands and hung out with people who taught me how to use things in a recording studio,” she said. “I use the studio and the recording process just as much as picking up a guitar to write songs. I love being in the studio, and I work with really great people who are friends. I can roam around with my own ideas, record as much as I can, put little snippets here and there, and if I get an idea for a song, everything has to magnify that kernel of the idea. I love the process, and I record way more than I actually end up using.”
Some artists try to limit themselves when they record, Ryan said—but she does not.
“I think of a record more as an entity on its own. A lot of people will record a record based on the idea that they’re going to go out and play live,” she said. “Sometimes, I think that limits people to try things that are different on records, because they want to be able to replicate it onstage. They won’t have multiple voices or the sound effect of dripping water; they won’t experiment a little bit. I know when I play that I can’t take my horns player with me, but I’m still going to try to make everything sound great.”
While looking at the lyrics of the songs on Telescope, I noticed there was a song called “The Darkest Stars” with this dedication: “For Sylvia Plath and Anais Nin, with regards to Marilyn.”
“I had one little riff and got a melody,” Ryan explained. “I was wide awake one night and thought that all three of those women were unique and shined in real life. They were highly creative people, and I wondered what would happen to them if they woke up at 3 in the morning, because obviously all three of them had a dark side. I was thinking of that when I wrote it. Even though there are sparse instruments, I wanted it to feel like it was the middle of the night, and there was worry.”
The work by Ryan, who formerly used the name astroPuppees, has received accolades from various independent music news sources. No Depression recently said about Telescope that it’s “so lush that you feel you’re in a dream world.” Ryan said that with every album she’s put out, more people have discovered her work.
“It’s slowly grown, which is fine, because it’s exactly the way I do things, and I wouldn’t think my stuff is for everybody, or that it would be ‘huge,’” she said. “It’s kind of quiet, and every record I make, more people pick it up. This record has gotten much more of a reaction; the people who are buying it or streaming it are talking about it.”
For more information on Kelley Ryan, visit www.kelleyryan.net.