Hailing from Ireland, Berlin-based artist Joey Ryan has been making waves with his atmospheric take on classic rock.
We talk about the transition from metalhead to singer-songwriter, playing on festival pathways, and being the shit Amy Winehouse.
Hey Joey. Can you tell us a bit about your musical background?
I come from Ireland, and I come from a very musical family. They got me a guitar for my 7th birthday, and I started doing lessons, and it just grew and grew and grew. I started a metal band and we were playing metal clubs in Ireland as teenagers. Eventually, I grew out of that, I didn’t feel so angry anymore. My first girlfriend dumped me, and I went into my room, picked up an acoustic guitar and started writing depressing, self-depreciating songs. And here we are, years later.
Would you say the musical culture in Ireland is unique?
Considering how small it is, it has an amazing musical culture. It has all the Irish traditional music, but also U2, who are one of the biggest bands in the world. There’s so many other bands, like Thin Lizzy, Van Morrison. Ireland’s got a great musical heritage and a cool scene as well.
‘I’m not going to go to Bristol. The only thing I want to do is go to Berlin.’
Why the move to Berlin?
I was doing a lot of gigs in Germany, back and forth for maybe two years. I visited Berlin one summer for a week and I just really liked the attitude here. I was going to do a PhD in Bristol, before I realized how much reading was involved to even get onto the course. One night I was driving home from a gig in Ireland and I thought: ‘I’m not going to go to Bristol. The only thing I want to do is go to Berlin.’ Six months later I left.
How was the transition from metalhead to singer-songwriter?
I just couldn’t be in a metal band for my whole life. It’s too angry, and I’m just not that angry. I can’t be convincingly angry all the time and I respect those guys that can. Thankfully I don’t have too many problems to be angry about. I also like the whole solo artist thing: being in control of the genre and being able to change it up on every album.
Think of Amy Winehouse except it’s a man and she’s shit.
How would you describe your music to a deaf person?
Think of Amy Winehouse except it’s a man and she’s shit. That’s usually how I describe my music to people. If they became deaf after Amy Winehouse, that’s what I would say.
I love your recent video for Violet. Where did the idea for that come from?
The song Violet is me trying to write an unstereotypical love song. The word violet, it’s a colour, it means nothing really, but I was trying to describe the feeling that you get when you start seeing someone and it’s this rush of emotions. I had the concept with the two directors I was working with that Violet would be a character as opposed to just a feeling: this kind of dark, mysterious woman following me around.
Regular content is very important, but I also feel you should put the time into making it really high quality.
How important do you feel it is for artists to have video content these days?
Regular content is very important, but I also feel you should put the time into making it really high quality. I’ve nothing against putting up videos I’ve shot on my iPhone of me rehearsing because it’s interesting if you’re just showing a look into the rehearsal room. When it’s an important song or an important piece of music it should be given the attention that a good videographer and director can give it, as opposed to just slapping it up there with some amateur footage, which I was doing before.
You tour a lot. What’s the worst show you’ve ever played?
This festival booked me to play on the Polish-German border. When I arrived, they’d forgotten to include me on the main stage line up, even though the contract was ‘main stage, 40-minute set, 3pm’. They were kind enough to suggest to me that if they put a seat at the side of the path, that I could just play there acoustically. And that’s what they did.
Can you pinpoint the moment you decided to become a musician?
I think it was the first time I saw the cover of Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. It’s that really famous photo where he’s leaning on Clarence Clemens and he’s got that telecaster hanging off his back. I was like: ‘What’s this cool thing? I want to put on one of those and play.’
Everyone was in black, so he just stood out a mile away.
What was your first gig?
Iron Maiden and Marylin Manson. I was 14 and I had to bring an adult with me, so my dad came. I took the day off school and we went up to Dublin and queued up for the day. My dad hadn’t been at a rock concert in a long time, so he wore this white tee-shirt. Everyone was in black, so he just stood out a mile away.
What are you listening to right now?
I’m listening to a lot of The National because I went to see them play in Berlin last week. I went on the Monday and I was so impressed that I canceled everything I had on Tuesday and spent the day on eBay Kleinanzeigen trying to find a ticket for the next night. Then a friend of mine contacted me at 6pm saying: ‘I’ve got a spare, do you want to go?’, and I went again. It was one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had at a gig, just insane.
I would probably just be wandering around lost with a Sternberg in my hand
What would you be doing if you weren’t a musician?
I really don’t know. I would probably just be wandering around lost with a Sternberg in my hand all the time just thinking: ‘Ugh, I want to be a musician’.
What’s next for you?
I’ll have a new video out in December with Twisted Reel, for a song called ‘Return to Earth’ which is going to be cool. It’s from my last album so it will be the last song I’ll release from that era of mine.