The Ryan McGrath Band
An interview with roots-rock country and blues artist Ryan McGrath
by Mike Huberty
The Ryan McGrath Band
With a voice that can move from southern Country twang to downtrodden Blues, THE RYAN MCGRATH BAND is honest Black Crowes and Creedence-style roots-rock. In addition to singer Ryan, the band is Tall Paul Sabel on harmonica, Willie “Roadhouse” Rauch on bass, Dr. James “The Cardiologist” LeFevre on drums. And they’ve opened shows for artists like Darius Rucker, Trace Adkins, and Peter Frampton. They’ll be playing June 14th at Lone Girl Brewing, June 15th at the Anchor in Edgerton, the 21st at Octopi, and the 29th at Wisconsin Brewing Company. We talked with Ryan about his music and their upcoming sets.
MI: Why do you love Roots-Rock?
RM: I love how genuine the roots of a lot of that music is. It ain’t processed, it ain’t filtered or auto-tuned, it’s real and it’s infectious. Growing up I always loved CCR. John Fogerty’s voice and his songs are amazing sure, but the rhythm section and the arrangements of those songs are what drew me in. There’s no smoke and mirrors, no glitz; it’s just music for the working man. And it really tells the truth about American music too; it’s rooted in life’s experience and steeped in the blues.
MI: What’s the latest song that people should check out to know what the band is all about?
RM: Check out the lyric video to the song “Three Black Crows” that we released a couple months back. It really showcases how nice Tall Paul’s playing on the harmonica is, and what a depth of blues knowledge the man has. He’s got some sweet little James Cotton kinda licks in there. There’s Dobro, there’s banjo, it’s just a nice little rootsy track.
MI: What’s that track about?
RM: I wrote the song a couple years ago, picking the dobro on my porch and looking at the fields. I was thinking about how many different ways there are to give up on something or let a dream die. Everybody has aspirations and goals for their lives but sometimes because it’s practical or just because it’s difficult they give up on those dreams. Maybe they think they’ve got all the time in the world, they think their trip here on Earth will go on forever or something. Like Albert King said man, everybody wants to get to heaven, nobody wants to go now. It’s a good song because it’s simple, short, but it says a lot.
MI: Is there any theme that runs through Know My Name?
RM: Know My Name was the first album that we put together. There’s really not much of a theme but we recorded the original tracks we’d been playing for awhile that captured the kind of stuff we do when we play live. I like the album because the hard work in studio was maybe a fraction of the hard work done out on stages all over the place. We pry played most of those songs a hundred times a piece live before they ever made it onto the album. When I listen to it, I think of all the small-town bars we used to play all the time, and the good hardworking people that would come down to listen to us play. If a bar has $2 tall boys of PBR and there’s old beer signs and license plates all over the walls, it’s probably the kind of bar I like…
MI: What’s the story behind the name?
RM: The title track of the album was actually a song I wrote a few days before we were recording in studio. That song was originally recorded at Egg Studios in Minneapolis, and because of a last minute change of plans we couldn’t record the song we’d originally planned on. So I sat down and wrote the song that afternoon, and the boys and I practiced it in the hotel room the night before we recorded it. The lyrics are all about my life when we were a young band. Emailing and calling clubs, hearing nothing back, trying to get paid at the end of the night, apathetic crowds, non-existent crowds, everything. I respect cover bands, and we do more than our fair share of covers in a given set, but when it comes to original music sometimes people just don’t know what to make of it. So it’s always nice to play a joint that loves live, original music. There’s actually a song on the album called “Play Somethin’ I Can Dance to,” that came from a real conversation with someone. We were playing a private party in these people’s garage, we’d maybe been a band like a year, and this gal came up to me during our set break while I was changing a guitar string. She was saying, “You guys play too many blues songs, you can’t dance to the blues. You should play something I can actually dance to.” I just looked at her and was like, “Well, this is gonna be one damn long night for you.” But then the song came to me later that week so I guess I should thank her.
MI: What’s been your favorite show?
RM: The most memorable night we played was out to Riley Tavern outside Verona. Awesome bar. We played there the night of a Badgers Hawkeyes game, and a bunch of Iowa fans were there mourning their loss. They danced all night, cheered after every song, hung out with us during set break and even paid us to play a couple hours extra. Riley Tavern is already an awesome bar, but that night it felt like heaven on Earth, to put it plainly.
MI: How do you get inspired to write?
RM: When I need inspiration, I work a long day, swing by E-ville Spirits on the way home, buy me a case of Hamm’s, and sit out on the back stoop listening to the train and watching the fields–drinking ice cold Hamm’s. Hard work makes cold beer taste better. It’s a fact. But that’s when the blues comes back to me, and I start thinking about something to write. I still have my Grandmother’s old piano in my house. It’s a little out of tune, but sometimes I’ll sit and play that piano for awhile… playing jazz. She loved jazz. When I listen to old recordings of Monk, or the Duke, Ella, Miles, even Dave Brubeck–you can’t help but get inspired. There’s always something from those artists to draw from. “Kathy’s Waltz” by Dave Brubeck, is just about the nicest song I can think of.