Ryan Traster: Banjo is a four-letter word

Categories: CD Release
Photo by Suzy Henningsgard
Funny how a change of heart can take you by surprise. Ryan Traster, Portland resident by way of Minneapolis, is back with a new album immersed in indie-rock -- it's just this time, he's dug a little deeper and hit some country roots. Like Traster, the new album Get Easy cuts straight to the chase, brushes cheeks with brashness, and makes no apologies.

The singer is back in town to share the new album and he, along with bandmate Mike McGarthwaite, share the story behind the new album and talk of their love for the banjo and hate for Mumford and Sons.

On the new album: Mike McGarthwaite - Guitar, Lap Steel, banjo Peter Anderson - Drums Daniel Brummel - Bass Jason Borger - Keys

Gimme Noise: Where are you today?

Ryan Traster:

Gimme Noise:
Has the new album been released yet?

Ryan Traster: Not yet. There's gonna be a release show in L.A. in June, and the official release is June 24. We're releasing it via my friend's label called Loon Vault. He lives in Korea now.

Gimme Noise: On first listen, Get Easy is a lot more Americana/country than anything you've ever released. Do you think this is true?

Ryan Traster: Funny that you mention that, because I feel like it came across that way because of the recording, although I listen to far less Americana music now than I did at the beginning of this solo thing. We did this in L.A., and we only had a week to record.. We rented a house, and there was a studio filled with instruments where we ended up collecting a lot of strings on the album. That's how we made it sound so country -- the arrangements.

Gimme Noise: Who did you have on this album?

Mike McGarthwaite: Peter Anderson helped on drums. He's played on all of Ryan's stuff so far. Peter recorded in Minneapolis, and we took his drum parts in an envelope to L.A. We drew a picture of Peter on the envelope. [laughs] It was a striking resemblance.

One of the most fun things that we realized while we were there were the notions of what the songs would be. We were lucky enough to get dudes out there to play on the record as well. That mix ended up being very cool.

Gimme Noise: There was a lot of banjo on this album. Who contributed the banjo?

Mike McGarthwaite: That was me. It turns out that banjo is actually a four-letter word in L.A. People don't like the banjo. [laughs] So we flew out there and told the producer that I'd be playing the banjo and some mandolin, and he assured us that he could get those things. But a couple of Facebook posts were met with ridicule, so we actually had to rent that banjo to be able to have it on the record.

Gimme Noise: Why do people hate that instrument so much?

Mike McGarthwaite: Maybe they tend to lean more on rock side of things on that side of the country.

Ryan Traster: The Jayhawks used it wonderfully on their album Rainy Day Music -- it's subtle and nice. I love the usage of the banjo, but it gets associated with Mumford and Sons now. Mumford is definitely not cool at all.

Our producer helped make it cool. It's a really interesting story on how I met him. His name's Joe McGrath -- no relation to Mark McGrath. I was hanging out at a bar in New York, and I was really drunk and it was really late at night. Fortunately, it wasn't too late in L.A. I started spouting off on how I thought Love is Hell by Ryan Adams was one of the best sounding records ever. My friend Cory was like, "My band did a record with the guy who mixed and engineered that record, and I know him." I made him give me his phone number; I wanted to talk to him. Against better judgement, he gave me his number, and I called him at 3 a.m. New York time, but it was only midnight in L.A. He's a 50-year-old guy with a family, and he answered, and I started telling him I was going to move to L.A. in two weeks and make a record with him. That's pretty much exactly how it happened. [laughs]

Gimme Noise: I'm glad it worked out. It could have gone either way, and he could have hung up on you.

Ryan Traster: For sure. During our first meeting, I spoke with him about my ideas for the album. I could tell he thought I was insane, but he dug it. It was a match made in heaven.

Gimme Noise: How do you think he changed the album?

Ryan Traster: I had a lot of demos, and he helped pick out what songs he liked the best. He didn't structure too much, but there were a few times he added a bar or a bridge. His best contribution was that he was exactly on the same page as me and Mike. We all wanted it to sound exactly alike.

Mike McGarthwaite: We liked the wide breadth of artists that Joe worked with, so he brought a really good sound to the project.

Gimme Noise: Have you worked with a producer before?

Ryan Traster: We worked with Ed Ackerson on the first EP. He was super awesome, but I was still really green. I didn't have an idea of what I was doing. There wasn't much for him to contribute.

Gimme Noise: I feel Ed runs into a lot of young musicians.

Ryan Traster: He knew how to deal with my supreme idiocy.

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