Pursuit of girl, interrupted

Ryan James

Pensive piano man: Ryan James turns heartache into melody.

Pensive piano man: Ryan James turns heartache into melody.

Photo By David Robert

“Actually, it’s funny,” says Ryan James, holding a copy of his EP. “I just realized this album is about a girl. One girl.”

His story isn’t like most of the hopelessly romantic songwriters in Reno. Diagnosed with various disorders and health problems—from Tourette’s to ADHD to bipolar disorder—James is doing his best to tell his story. Maybe it’s easier to express yourself by telling your stories than by describing yourself. That seems to be James’ theory, at least.

An hour and a half into an interview at a downtown coffee shop, James, 25, tells me a story about driving five hours on a whim to see a girl named Katie—a girl who wasn’t even expecting the visit.

“As far as I remember, we weren’t on good terms at the time,” James says.

Katie was in a band that was doing a show that night, and James, by chance, heard about it just in time to make the trip.

He waits until after the show to approach her. She is polite, but totally uninterested. Then one of her band mates overhears the conversation and approaches him. Turns out, he also pines for her—with a similar record of success.

After a long conversation filled with self-realizations, James starts the five-hour drive home. Sleep deprived, he crashes and totals his car.

“I wasn’t upset,” he says. “I was like, ‘This is funny.'”

Sounds silly, but if that’s what it took to get James in the studio to record his EP, Ready for the Downpour then that’s what it took.

While working on the project with local super-producer Tom Gordon (who worked with Dr. Dre on his Chronic 2001 album) James made sure not to cut any corners.

James says he went into the studio with a set of acoustic tracks to record. He left with three piano-based tracks, one acoustic song and a hidden two-minute gospel song.

His piano lessons as a child really paid off.

“I try to stay away as much as I can from the love stuff,” James says, acknowledging how cliché it can be. “But when you’re writing songs, and you’re not getting the love stuff, you’re straying away from something.”

Perhaps Katie is the reason James makes music; perhaps not. If so, he manages to keep his lyrics precise without becoming obsessional—he never mentions her by name. “As a writer, I really love to just dig into an image and describe it,” James says. “Sometimes that imagery leads to a deeper meaning for other people to figure out, not for me to put in there.

“Someday I will want the springtime and you won’t see me again,” he sings on the song “My Girl Rain.”

“So rain my darling, won’t you please leave me alone. Go find yourself a better friend, one who won’t love you so long.”

James makes it a point to write about his life, not songs that he thinks people will like.

“I’m just a storyteller,” he says. “My whole life is a story, and I’m just writing what I see.