Soul singer talks dream collaborations and lessons learned from Kanye

The upstairs lounge of Toronto’s Pearl King is bustling with staff preparing for the evening’s show set to commence in a few hours. Amplifiers are being double-checked, chairs are distributed to each table and candles are lit to set an inviting ambience.

G.O.O.D. Music signee Ryan McDermott grabs an ivory-coloured guitar and strums a few notes. He is the man of the hour tonight.

It’s been over a year since the Oakland, California native released any music, and along with donning a fresh new look, he has announced a new album, Dawn Breaks, slated for a summer release. McDermott speaks with the same air he performs with; he is radiant with passion and an easy-going charisma.

Easing back into the music scene this year McDermott is eager to share his journey and sincere spirit with whomever is down to vibe with him.

HOW HAS BEING FROM THE BAY AREA IMPACTED YOUR MUSIC? The cool thing to me about the Bay Area is that it’s so down to earth. Even though it’s a very populated area, it’s very nature based, but the thing is it’s also the centre of technology and forward thinking. I love how the roots combine with the future and that is a lot of who I am as a person and also what my music is about.

TELL ME ABOUT HOW YOU WERE BROUGHT UP. My dad is a preacher, so I was somewhat raised in the church. He’s really cool in the sense that he shared his spirituality with us, but allowed us to discover our own path. Both my parents are creative, like my dad does music, he writes, he sings, he’s very talented. My mom recently got into painting and she’s really good, I don’t think she realizes how good she is. I think I’m very much a product of the spiritual, creative and entrepreneurial elements that were very [influential] for me.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO PURSUING A MUSICAL CAREER? I think before I even thought about pursuing music as a career I just pursued it as an obsession. I don’t know if it was ever a hobby because I was always so into it. Not just the creating, but the technical side of it as well. I was really into equipment from a young age. When I was really small, all I had was a Fisher-Price tape recorder so I started producing little records at around the age of six. My dad had a drum machine and my mom brought home a keyboard so I would put a book on top of the mic to keep it recording and then start the drum machine, play the keys and sing over it and just make little tapes and songs.

WHAT WAS YOUR IMPRESSION OF KANYE BEFORE YOU MET HIM? I’ve always been a Kanye fan. I love that Kanye has continued this tradition of this perfect balance of intricate, but simple, production and arrangement and also pushing sonics.

WHEN YOU SAY ‘PUSHING’ WHAT DO YOU MEAN? Sonically it’s just familiar, where you’re sampling records that are familiar or sounds that we’re used to, but then there’s other sounds that are futuristic and bring attention to your brain. I study a lot of the science of how the brain reacts to sound and I know that’s definitely a part of the thought process of great engineers, great producers and a part of Kanye’s process.

There are a lot of things that go along with getting signed, especially to a notable personality like Kanye. In your own internal process you think, ‘Now [you] have to redefine [yourself] under these new terms; but then I think you realize you don’t.

WHEN YOU DID MEET HIM FOR THE FIRST TIME WHAT WAS THAT MOMENT LIKE? WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD? I was in one of the most zenned out spaces I’ve ever been in. I meditated for hours right before I met him. It was one of the longest meditations of my life and it was just me saying to the universe, ‘You put me here for a reason, so let me make sure I’m in alignment with you as I step into this.’ It’s funny because we played a couple songs and I performed for him live and I think it was maybe the least nervous I’ve ever been to perform. I was just so present.

HOW HAS YOUR CAREER CHANGED SINCE SIGNING WITH G.O.O.D. MUSIC? I would say it’s mostly perception. There are a lot of things that go along with getting signed, especially to a notable personality like Kanye. In your own internal process you think, ‘Now [you] have to redefine [yourself] under these new terms; but then I think you realize you don’t. I’m signed and I was put in this position because I’m me and that’s what I’m here to be.

DO YOU THINK PEOPLE LOOK AT YOU DIFFERENTLY NOW? It’s funny because you’re literally the same person making music the same way as you always were. Ultimately it’s a blessing, but when someone like Kanye puts his stamp on something people think it must be [a certain way], but it’s exactly what it was before the stamp. I’m grateful because it’s a blessing to have that, because it helps in getting people behind something, but ultimately I hope people hear [my music] for what it is.

I really believe we’re all here to be the highest most authentic versions of ourselves and when we do so, we do everything we’re meant to. We’re made to really shine with the fullness of everything we are and G.O.O.D. Music embodies that.

WHAT’S THE MOST VALUABLE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE GOTTEN FROM THE LABEL? You’re making me think on this one. I would say the most valuable advice in G.O.O.D. Music is more unspoken, it’s a part of how it operates and it’s something that Kanye embodies in himself. I think there was something [online] recently where Kim [Kardashian] was talking to him about the whole thing with Bruce Jenner and he was like, ‘I could have the most beautiful wife in the world, I could have the most beautiful daughter in the world, both of which I have, but if I can’t be myself then what is it worth?’ I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the essence of what he embodies. I really believe we’re all here to be the highest most authentic versions of ourselves and when we do so, we do everything we’re meant to. We’re made to really shine with the fullness of everything we are and G.O.O.D. Music embodies that.

WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR DREAM COLLABORATIONS? Some of my dream collaborators are not present on the planet, but let me just say living. I would love to work with Stevie Wonder. I appreciate what’s happening now musically, but I’m such an old soul. I’m really blessed that one of the first groups I got to work with was Earth Wind & Fire so I kind of got spoiled in that sense. It’s funny ’cause not long after I got signed, I ran into El DeBarge at a studio and we kicked it for a second and I got to play him some of my stuff. It would be so cool to have his voice on something; he’s just timeless to me. Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel; I’m such a Genesis fan. There’s just again that perfect symbiosis of universal, but intricate [production]. I would have to talk for an hour to include everybody, but those are just a few that come to my mind immediately.

WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT WHO YOU ARE AND YOUR MUSIC? Who I am, is who I am. Every day for me is a process of trying to strip away anything that’s false and in the way of that. I just want to be the truest version of that and I would hope if I have any sort of position in the public that it would in some way encourage others to do the same . . . What I want most is for who I am at my highest level, and my music to be about something that’s bigger than myself. I am you; you are me. Whether we know it or not we’re on a journey, who I am [and my music] is the outcome of that journey and the journey itself.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU? I HEAR YOU HAVE AN ALBUM COMING OUT. I really believe it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s a bunch of movies, a bunch of journeys it’s sonically really cool, lyrically really cool. It’s just me really trying to find that balance and it’s an authentic expression of what I’ve been experiencing. I haven’t released music in over a year. I love what’s out there, but to me that’s old. I just feel like what I’m about to release is on a whole different level.

Photos By. Sadé Powell // © Urbanology Magazine