You would be hard-pressed to find a high rise with a floor 13 or a gate of the same number at an airport. Thirteen is widely considered an unlucky number, but in just 13 songs, country artist Mike Ryan displays a decade’s worth of hard-earned skill on Longcut. Luck has nothing to do with it.
Having spent over a decade building a career independently, Ryan’s growth as an artist and as a songwriter is apparent in his fourth studio album. It’s one rife with songs that paint from a broader emotional palette, full of tunes that mix playfulness with soulfulness, and heartache with hope.
These were tracks he got to live with, having some written for several years. “We took our time with this one more so than I have with any other record,” Ryan tells American Songwriter. “It’s definitely one we put a lot into.” Ryan, with his co-writers and producers, Bart Butler and Ryan Gore, put time, heart, and soul into this album, resulting in songs that emotionally and sonically pack a punch, and come out fighting their way to the top.
“This record was a little bit different than the stuff that I’ve done in the past,” he admits. Following his 2017 release Blink You’ll Miss It, Longcut is Ryan’s first album in five years. The record has an urgency and a maturity to it that only time and a pandemic could grant. His usual brand of contemporary country has an unmistakable edge this time around with 13 songs all driven by Ryan’s powerful, country-rock-tinged vocals.
“Early on, I feel like the stress and pressure of the studio was a lot, and the first couple of records, not that they weren’t good, I didn’t necessarily have a whole lot of fun recording them,” Ryan shares.
As an independent artist, his first several experiences in the studio held a lot of uncertainty. “I didn’t have anybody showing me what to do,” he says. “It was just kind of up to me to coach everyone else and tell them what I wanted when I didn’t even really know myself.”
A turning point came in 2014 with his album Bad Reputation, when he started recording in Nashville and getting in-studio help and advice from like-minded people. Every record since then has benefited from that shift. “I feel like I’ve gotten more comfortable in that atmosphere and we’ve gotten better products because of that,” he adds.
“The studio itself is just a lot more comfortable for me and I feel like we can get in there and really make some cool stuff happen because I’m not just stressed out or under pressure,” he explains. “I’m just excited about what we’re about to do.”
Having found comfort in recording, Ryan’s songwriting never really had that problem. It’s his writing skills that made Nashville take notice early in his career. It’s the same skill that, for a decade, has earned him respect among his peers for his boundless creativity and insane work ethic. It’s also the reason he will make his debut at the Grand Ole Opry on November 8, joining the ranks of fellow country greats.
While his songwriting process hasn’t changed much over the years, the content of his songs has seen a shift. “I’ve made a pretty good career, so far, out of break-up songs and the bad-side-of-love songs,” he says. “As I’ve gotten a little bit older and I’ve had a few kids and I’ve found the one that I love, it’s cool to write a little bit more about that on this particular record.”
Along with his usual co-writes, for the album, Ryan also welcomed contributions from outside writers, some of Music City’s finest. There are always songs a musician wishes they’d written, he says, adding “We stumbled on a couple of those for this record and I just can’t believe that I got the chance to cut them.”
Going into the studio with a “best song wins kind of attitude,” what came out was Longcut – half Ryan and half Nashville, a mix of some of the best songwriting in country music. On Longcut, you’ll meet the heart-aching “Loser,” the honky tonk-textured “Gonna Take a Woman,” the country-swaggering “Get Away With Anything,” and, in turn, get reacquainted with Mike Ryan, his newfound growth and confidence, openness and all.
Longcut is out now.
Photo credit: Nate Stibolt / Pitch Candy PR