Although Tyler Ramsey is most immediately recognizable as the tall guitarist for Band Of Horses, he is also a noteworthy singer/songwriter with solo music dating back at least 10 years. His solo work stands strong as a collection of folk-style songs with intricate guitar-playing along with Ramsey’s hauntingly expressive vocals woven in between.
We spoke with Ramsey about his influences, how he knows when a song is finally a song, and his upcoming show at The EARL. Read below and don’t miss him live in East Atlanta Village this Saturday night!
What was the music scene like when you were in Asheville?
The music scene in Asheville has always been really good. There’s a lot of amazing musicians, it hasn’t always been a place where people can make a living playing music but it’s a great place to work on music and there’s a lot of great musicians around to learn from. It’s been a cool place to live; I’m not really the type of person that’s gonna move to LA or New York or something to try to make it. So it’s nice to have a place that I love that I could also afford, and have time to work on what was important to me, which was music and writing songs.
When did you decide that you wanted to play music? Which instrument were you attracted to first?
I was probably around 8 or 9 and I played piano. I had this little battery-powered keyboard and would just kind of pick up trying to learn songs by ear on that thing and then my folks got a piano and I just really got into that. I pretty much loved it from the start. I don’t imagine that I was 10 years old thinking that I was going to be a musician or anything but I definitely have always enjoyed it; it was a part of my life from the start.
When did you start transitioning to the guitar?
Right around 8th grade I started picking it up. I think I might have even taken some electric guitar lessons and learned some typical things on that, and then I got an acoustic guitar maybe my freshman year of high school and started messing around more with that, which is the direction that I’ve gone in since then.
What artists inspire your music?
It’s always something new. I’m always trying to find something different. A lot of it is older music, like originally I think I really locked in to the guitar when I was hearing a lot of country and blues guitar players, and ragtime guitar players and things like that. Like people doing multiple parts, making the guitar sound more like a full song or a full band almost, that kind of music really grabbed my attention. And then anybody that is composing instrumental stuff for guitar, like Leo Kottke is a huge influence of mine. Compositional style guitar, things like that I really latched onto and really want to learn how to do.
Describe your songwriting process. What’s your ideal way to write?
I haven’t ever really come up with a proper process, which is maybe my downfall, but it just kind of feels like it just has to happen in its natural way, like I have to be in the right mood and latch on. I play the guitar all the time and I always write or at least come up with ideas that I think are good, but then whether or not I see them through to a complete song is more based on the moment. Occasionally I’ll latch onto something and see it through. I know a lot of song writers have their methods or working hours or a place that they go to write, things like that. I’m just kind of hit or miss really, it just depends on the day.
I really enjoy your song “Time Is A Changing Line.” Can you tell me a bit more about why you wrote that song?
I think I was walking around this property in North Carolina, I don’t know why this one line came from that, but it was a really literal like being able to see really far, like okay that’s a line and that just came back probably a couple weeks later and I just wrote it down. Yeah, it happened really fast and I had no idea it was going to be finished or on that record until a little bit later in the whole process. I was kind of like, well I like this one but I didn’t know if it was even finished at that point and maybe it still isn’t finished but I do like it. I ended up liking it a lot.
How do you know when a song is finished?
Sometimes I think you just get a feeling that you’ve said everything about that particular thing that you need to say. I dunno it’s just a deep-down feeling that’s like, “Yeah, okay, that’s it, yup, good.” And occasionally you can work too hard – I’ve got a couple songs right now that I’m working on, one them has about five pages of writing so you kind of start to lose the direction or the original feeling of it. So I think like any artist or painter has to know when to stop, I think anyone that’s doing that kind of work needs to have that feeling or that gauge in their head where they’re like, okay, if I do anything more it’s gonna get too far or it’ll just distract from the original thing.
In terms of going on tour, what are the main differences to tour as a solo artist verses as a part of a band? Which do you prefer?
Well I don’t do the solo stuff as much, I always enjoy it a lot, it’s always something that when I do have the time to do it, it’s really satisfying. And obviously Band Of Horses is playing bigger venues, so when I play solo shows it gives me more of an opportunity to be in a room with less people and have that kind of amazing – hopefully amazing – connection with people where everyone in the room feels like we’re just hanging out. That’s a really satisfying part of it, you know, talking to people before and after the show, I dunno getting to just kind of play music for people in a really relaxed fashion. Since it’s all my songs there’s definitely pressure for me to get them right, but it’s also more interpretation that night, I can kind of manipulate the songs to fit the night.
What do you love the most about performing in front of a live audience?
The energy that you get back off the crowd, you don’t necessarily always get that personal connection with an audience but sometimes you’ll connect with groups of people or there’ll be one group of people that are fired up in the back and going crazy. But with my solo stuff it is kind of that connection, if I feel like I did a good job and I’m hanging out after the show, talking to people, and people enjoyed it as well. I think it’s that feeling – really a sense of satisfaction in a way – of having done something that wasn’t just me, I feel connected with a handful or a roomful of people. It’s really satisfying in that way and that’s one of my favorite things about it.
How do you know when you are connecting with an audience?
When you’re not, you definitely know. I’ve had those shows where I’m just like, oh my Lord, please let me get through this, just make it through the night, say goodnight and go hide somewhere. But those aren’t really that common, mostly it’ll be a varying degree of success as far as like winning the crowd over, even if you have to win people over who don’t know who you are or even if it’s a room full of people who know your songs and you have to play new songs or things like that. You can really sense people’s attention, especially in the rooms that I’m playing in, a lot of them are smaller rooms, occasionally you know what people are thinking because you can see half the people, they’re kind of right there in front of you.
Do you have any new solo stuff in the works?
Yeah I’m actually really close to being ready to go into the studio and do some work. Hopefully that’s gonna happen soon, like in the next few months I’ll get in and get something started and see it through and have another record. I’ve been writing a lot more lately, I kind of had a down period, but now I feel like I’ve got songs that I’m happy with, I’m just trying to get to that point where I know what they’re going to sound like or what’s going to happen within the song.
Have you ever played in Atlanta before, as a solo act?
Yeah I’ve played there quite a bit, I think the last time I was there I did The Earl and I’ve done Eddie’s Attic, that’s always a good one to do. The Earl we played a bunch with Band Of Horses, we did a New Year’s run there once and it was wild…so I know that place really well (laughs). And they’re great people. I’m really looking forward to it, I’m trying to play some of the new songs, and see if people like them. And if they don’t like them they shouldn’t tell me because I’m going to record them anyways. But really it’s gonna be fun, I’m gonna have my friends playing with me and I’m really looking forward to it.
Tickets are $12. Doors open at 9pm.