Chris Ryan on Working with Jelly Roll, Going Solo and “Scared to Go to Church”

Chris Ryan is going solo. The artist formerly of the band BEXAR has amicably split from the group to forge his way on his own. So, what is Ryan doing for his first big step out into the wide world on his own? Well, he’s recruited his friend and tour mate Jelly Roll for a new song, “Scared to Go to Church.” The new song is out today (September 29).

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We caught up with Ryan to ask him about what it’s like to work with Jelly Roll, how their new collaboration came about, why he went solo and much more. For the country artist, who grew up loving the storytelling aspect of the genre, it’s a bright new day.

[RELATED: Top 5 Jelly Roll Videos]

American Songwriter: When did music first impact you in a major way?

Chris Ryan: Probably as a young kid listening to AM radio with my grandpa. I heard everything from Kris Kristofferson to Jerry Jeff Walker. They were amazing storytellers, and as I got older I started to appreciate how much a song can speak to the soul. It’s at the core of what I do today. A great song is almost like a sixth sense—it can take you to a specific place in time.

AS: How have you improved as an artist, songwriter and performer along the way? 

CR: Simply by living. The more you live and experience different things, the more you can draw on when it comes to writing and performing. It’s what shapes your artistry. I feel like we’re all constantly trying to improve, but with this music, I feel closer to where I want to be the more I bleed on these records.  

AS: You recently announced that you’re starting a new chapter in your career, going solo after playing in the band BEXAR. What went into this decision for a new start? 

CR: It’s nothing more than reaching the point where we wanted to go in different directions, musically. We’re still very close and we had one hell of a time making those records. Over the past year, I’ve worked really hard to make music that I’m proud to put my name on.

AS: To kick off your solo career, you’re releasing a new song, “Scared to Go to Church,” which features one of the biggest names in country music today, Jelly Roll. What was the origin of the song? 

CR: We were out on the road with J last summer, and one night in Cincinnati I told him I had a song that he needed to hear. At the time, I was at a point in my life where I was drawing a lot of parallels to what he was talking about in his music. He’s just so raw and transparent with his fans, and that really spoke to me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to play it for him that night, but a couple weeks later we flew to his show in Albuquerque, and over some shots of tequila, I played it for him and the rest is history. There’s more to that story but I can’t have that in print! Maybe one day.

AS: What was it like to work with Jelly Roll? How is he as a songwriting partner?

CR: It’s like working with your big bro. We play golf together. We get drunk together. He’s as real as it gets, so it really enables you to open up and get to the heart of what you’re trying to say. He’s uniquely gifted at making you feel like you’ve known him your whole life. It only takes one Jelly Roll show to see it. Every single one of his fans feels heard.

AS: How do you hope this new song and collaboration will impact your trajectory as an artist moving forward? 

CR: My ambitions run high. They always will. Kicking off my album with this record with Jelly Roll sums it up perfectly. I am not sure I can think of a better collaborator and friend to help me start this solo journey. I hope Jelly and I are playing this song on big stages all over the world together for many, many years to come. I hope this song is a huge gas can that helps this project explode in the best way. But more importantly, I hope to hear stories from people about how this song helped them get through whatever trials they may have faced.

AS: What do you love most about music, particularly country, and how it can be an outlet to touch on low points in life?

CR: As you hear more of my music, I think you will find that thread of battling through the hard times. The low points. I have had mine. These songs have encapsulated a lot of those struggles. Both as a man and as an artist. Country music has always been there for me in that way as a connection to not only the struggles we are all battling through, whatever path we are on, but, also, it gives us that lifeline of hope to get to the light at the end of the tunnel. Country music has definitely saved my life on more than one occasion. I hope that as more and more of my music is out in the world, others will find that same lifeline in these songs that I have found in so many others’ music along the way.

Photo by Shervin Lainez / Courtesy WMG

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