Name: Ryan Dugré
Occupation: Guitarist, composer
Current release: Ryan Dugré latest album, Three Rivers, is out now on 11A.
Recommendations: If you are looking for a reflection on solitude, endurance, and a “feeling of smallness,” I recommend the “The Snow Leopard” by Peter Matthiessen. The song “Bite” by youbet is something I really enjoy. Uniquely melodic with the right amount of spike.
If you enjoyed this interview with Ryan Dugré, visit his personal website as a point of departure into his personal cosmos.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I’ve been playing in bands since I was 14. From the start there was always a desire to write original material, regardless of how original it probably turned out.
I didn’t feel like I had a style or voice, however, until I started working on my first record Gardens in 2015. The first songs I remember being obsessed with as a kid were “Along Comes Mary” by The Association and “Stayin’ Alive” by Bee Gees. There was something about the fast, high-pitched vocals and trying to imitate them that I really got a kick out of.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
The first 15 or so years of my musical life was spent soaking up all the music I came in contact with. From punk and rock on to classical, jazz, etc … I was excited about it all and loved learning new things. This is pretty standard I think. I never really thought about having a “voice” until I started digging deeper into jazz music. It was something my friends and I talked about a lot - who you sounded like, what your influences were. In the end, I believe that the community you surround yourself with plays a big part in shaping your sound, style, and taste.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Being the 3rd out of 4 children I definitely felt a need to prove something. My family is creative but not specifically musical, so I had to carve out my own path in that regard.
That said, I’m grateful that my parents were very supportive along the way, even though they probably didn’t understand why I was so hell-bent on doing music. It’s this sense of not being understood that I think has affected my growth creatively.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
When I started to write music the challenge was to simplify the ideas I had. I would often have too many things happening at once. Lately the aim of my writing has been to be concise and engaging.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My first electric guitar was an Ibanez I bought at Falcetti’s Music in Springfield, MA. My older brother had one so that seemed like the obvious choice. I’ve never been a crazy gear person but I do have strong connections to certain instruments. When that happens it’s great. Getting a new instrument can be really inspiring, which is the main motivating factor in any gear purchase of mine.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Not particularly. I am not the most technologically adept player, never have been. I am usually of the less is more approach, but this is not to say I am not inspired by new technologies - effects or different processing methods. It is all fodder for creativity.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I enjoy all the different ways of collaborating. One thing that has happened more because of Covid has been recording at home. Sending files back and forth. It turns out I like this method! That said, being in a room with people you are working with is great too and I miss that.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Routines change for me often. The most recent is waking around 9 AM. Coffee. Read for an hour. Yoga. Eat. Then writing or learning music, which changes based on my schedule. I share a space with my partner and because of this the worlds of music and normal life are more or less separate. Planning is a big part of making it all work.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Releasing my first record Gardens in 2016 was important for me. It made me sort out my own insecurities about releasing solo music into the world.
Until then I had always been a part of bands, collectively releasing music, but never alone. I started working on it in 2015 as a way to be totally in charge of what I wanted to do. The opposite of a side musician. Marc Ribot’s record Silent Movies was certainly one inspiration.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
For writing having a routine helps me a lot. I’ve done a few song-a-day challenges, and I found that having that pressure of having to get something done goes a long way.
Something else I found helpful this past year is to improvise daily. I did this for 20 minutes each day and recorded it all. Then weeks later I listened through and grabbed the best ideas and wrote 3 songs from that. These are just recent ideas, how to get into the mindset changes all the time for me.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Living in a city, we are bombarded with artificial sounds constantly. Sirens, trucks, horns … It would be great if more of these noises were pleasing, and less abrasive. How to do this? No idea!
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
This is a tricky thing to navigate, but thankfully it is something that is now considered and talked about more and more. One thing about music is that it has borrowed from itself since the beginning. The amount of cross-influencing that has happened across continents, countries, languages and styles is very complex, now more than ever. At the same time it is important, especially as a white male, to acknowledge where any influence may be coming from, and to celebrate and bring awareness to that tradition which is not your own. This is the majority of the American music tradition - most of it stemming from the creativity and originality of Black musicians.
I spent a lot of time studying and emulating Black music. I went to school for jazz. It’s a heavy thing to think about, how to use tools I’ve picked up from other cultures in a way that acknowledges the history, and at the same time just being myself. Imitation is certainly a form of respect, but monetizing off of the creation of others without acknowledgement needs to change.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I’ve never deeply thought about the mixing of senses, but they certainly interact with one another. Smell leads to taste, and sound to sight. It would be interesting to hear from people who lack a sense, because I imagine a greater awareness of these interactions is developed.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
When I am creating something it best comes from a mindset of discovery, or searching. I’ve never been able to think of a concrete idea or concept and write about it - it’s more of an improvised, channeled approach. I may be affected by certain elements going on in the world but how that comes out is unconscious.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I try not to overthink the mysteries of music and why we as a species are so connected to it. By being alive we are trying to avoid death at all times, yet every hour that passes we are closer to it. Music is a reflection of life, not death. Words are a reflection of life, and sometimes try to explain death. Confused yet?