Finding his voice and feet as an artist, Ryan Woods is closing the door on his introductory chapter with the release of his debut EP ‘The King Of The Basement. The Tennessee raised bedroom-pop artist has been honing his songwriting and production craft over the last year with a string of vulnerable and impressive releases that explore the intricate thoughts within his inner monologue. This EP highlights that growth and introspective manner that has made him an artist you need to keep an eye on.
From the the anthemic deliveries of ‘THE FRIEND SPACE’ and ‘Bad Texter’ to the more experimental layering of ‘There’s No Insurance For A Broken Heart’, he’s really crafted these emotional soundscapes that take the listener on a journey with him. The pop production is reminiscent of a coming of age soundtrack that could be found between Conan Gray and Joshua Bassett with a little Pink Floyd and Harry Styles twist.
I recently chatted to Ryan Woods about the messaging behind the coming of age moments in his life that inspired his debut EP ‘King Of The Bedroom’, explored the creative processes behind songs like ‘THE FRIEND SPACE’, ‘Sorry / happysad’ and the title track, as well as reflected on the effects of the last year on his mental health. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: Your debut EP ‘King Of The Basement’ is a very honest commentary on the coming of age moments in your life. So what is the biggest thing that you want listeners to take away from this EP after listen to it in full?
RYAN WOODS: Most of the coming of age thoughts I had were like; how do I grow up? How do I know who I want to be when I am older? How do you find direction in life? And for me what unlocked the direction I needed was realising that we are all human and we are all dealing with shit.
There’s a quote from the movie ‘Mid90s’ where he’s like; “A lot of the time we feel that our lives the worst, but I think that if you looked in anybody else’s closet, you wouldn’t trade your shit for their shit”. So for me that was a big thing in realising we are all human, and that suffering is quite inevitable. There’s good and bad in this world, and you have to realise that what is good and bad is different for everyone. So what is good for me might be bad for someone else, and vice versa. So it was more about preparing myself for how to deal with things when shit happens, because it will.
So what I want people to take away from this EP is that Im just like you, and if you’re human then you can relate to this *laughs*.
TB: ’THE FRIEND SPACE’ is an indie pop anthem that explores the in-between period of a friendship where you start getting feelings for them, and are unsure what to do. So what inspired this ideology and lyrical concept?
RW: The whole concept of the song was that you’re not stuck in the friend zone yet, you’re only in the friend space and it could go either way. It’s the realising whether I like this person because I think I’d be great friends with them, or that I want to marry them. It’s very human to think all of those things.
It was a big thing for me because in high school I would really analyse friendships, people’s relationships, and anyone in my life really as I would think about how that particular situation works for them. I just kinda noticed that the most under-deserving dudes got the most popular girl in school. It’s like that classic movie situation, and you’re the wallflower questioning why he gets her and you don’t. But it was also realising that we’re young, and if I take this too seriously then I could lose you later.
My parents were very religious and big on “date to marry”, and that was always so confusing to be a young person in a relationship and have to think about that. It’s pretty irrational. So I kinda just took my high school experience and relationships in general with the idea of meeting a pretty girl or guy and picturing yourself with them and what it would be like and capturing that delicate space before you make any moves.
TB: What came first then, the production or the lyrics?
RW: I started that song with the chords on an acoustic guitar and playing what eventually became the hook riff. I then started to think about what would sound good over it, so I started playing with melodies and stumbled upon the contrasting melody. Then came the lyrics from freestyling over the notes. “You couldn’t imagine the way I feel about you” worked perfectly, and I was like “that’s it, that’s where I’m starting”. I wrote the rest of the chorus and then that’s all it was for about 3-4 months. Then I had a session with Collin Cunningham who worked with 5SOS, so I thought this was a cool idea to pitch to him, and he loved it.
The pre-chorus changed like 4 times. It was the same melody but just different lyrics. But after we wrote the rest of the song we knew we had to change it. Once we did that then we knew it was done.
TB: One of the new songs ‘Sorry / HappySad’ is a mature dreamy ballad, that gave me Harry Styles meets Conan Gray vibes. What were your sonical references for this track, and how did you layer it to get it into that dreamy space?
RW: I actually started that song after watching a Cavetown video. He posted a video that was like “hey, this is how I make songs”. It was in the middle of quarantine so I was bored and just working away on my production skills and using that time to get better. In his video he was like “I usually start on an acoustic guitar and feel it out before maybe throwing some drums behind it”. So I was kinda like, okay, let me try that. So I had some chords I was already applying around with on the guitar and applied that mindset. I wasn’t trying to copy hoo structure but was more trying to figure out what “my own way” was.
I had a drum beat behind it, and it kinda felt like Pink Floyd meets Tame Impala vibes. Those are my two main reference points for that song. I referenced ‘Us And Them’ by Pink Floyd a lot because the contrast between ‘Sorry’ and ‘Us And Them’ is that the harmonies in the chorus were very choir-esq. But I did want a more silky Conan Gray and Billie Eilish feel, so I made that into my own vibe. Sonically, ‘She’ and ‘Sign Of The Times’ by Harry Styles were also big references, as well as the band Beach House in general too.
I actually started ‘HappySad’ as a separate idea, and for that one I didn’t really reference anything. It was actually created during a live stream I did on Instagram where I was just looping a drum pattern and playing guitars and keys over it. After I hopped off I realised how cool it was so I decided to try write over it, and then wrote the whole song.
I developed a really intimate relationship with that song as I spent like 20 hours a week on it from May – September last year. It was my big quarantine project.
TB: You titled this EP after the track ‘King Of The Basement’. What was it about this song that felt like it captured the whole vision and feeling of this EP?
RW: Mostly just the fact that my room at my parents house was their basement, and the inspiration for that song started off from the game The Witcher and the quest line where you meet this guy called The King Of Beggers. I related to his role in the game as I’ve always been one to allow my environment affect me very extremely. Being an empath is kind of a curse as you can’t turn off awareness of other people’s feelings.
I had my heart broken really bad in high school. I was just about to turn 17, and I suddenly turned into a completely different person. I never struggled with anxiety until then. i never really felt any depression before then. And suddenly i was feeling all of these things, and it was so confusing as I was like “I’m not anxious, I’m happy Ryan”. It affected me really badly and I ended up becoming a loner. I’d lock myself in my room and started working on music for the first time. So the person I’m now originated from the basement, and part of me overcoming all that trauma was realising that I’m in control down there as that was my happy and safe place.
Every song on the EP is a feeling I felt while in the basement, or something I cried about while down there. So I wanted to take that back by recognising that time and the growth I’ve had.
TB: Sonically this song gave me a big Tame Impala vibes. Is that what you were going for on it?
RW: Oh yeah, for sure! During that time I fell into a Tame Impala obsession where I would just listen to all of his albums from top to bottom, and read all of his lyrics as you can hardly hear what he’s saying. I wanted to know what he was exactly saying as there are moments you hear the genius shine through, so I wanted to know everything he was trying to say. And his sound design compliments the feeling you get from the lyrics perfectly.
TB: The hook in ‘There’s No Insurance For A Broken Heart’ where you sing “There’s no insurance for a broken heart. And I’m scared you’ll drop me and I’ll fall apart” speaks to me on a spiritual level. So can you explain the inspiration for you personally behind this lyric?
RW: I was mostly trying to win a girl over. I think she had feelings for me too at the time, but I was absolutely terrified of what happened in my last relationship. I never wanted to feel like that again. It was irrational of me to compare that to the relationship I was trying to get into.
I was basically speaking to someone and they were like “you can’t be scared of that all the time. It’s on you to learn from your past and apply what you’ve learnt and allow it to strengthen you and not weaken you”. I was in the shower thinking about that whole thought process and was like “oh, there’s no insurance for a broken heart”.
TB: In ‘how i’m feeling’ you very candidly describe your journey with depression and anxiety. With the last year being so dark in general for a lot of people with the lockdown, how have you guided yourself through it to make sure you look after your mental health?
RW: I definitely hit really low and close to rock bottom during that time. At first I loved quarantine because as an introvert I was like “I’ve got this!”. Before lockdown I would still go out and see friends to get my fill, but I definitely loved to just chill at home and work on my computer with any excuse I had. Then with lockdown I wasn’t allowed to go see my friends and couldn’t go do what I wanted to when I needed to, and that hit me hard. It was good until July, but then in August and September my mental health started to shift. Then when November and December hit I lost complete control of my anxiety. Those months were really hard. I was completely lost within who I was and didn’t know how to be me anymore.
I didn’t really end up getting my feet back on the ground until the end of January. I’ve made incredible process in the past two months. I started going to therapy, and doing a lot of self-help things as I realised I couldn’t go down any further. I feel like I caught myself at a crucial moment and realised I can’t go any lower than this.
TB: Thematically what storyline arc did you want this EP to tell when you listen to it from start to finish?
RW: They aren’t obviously all specifically about one person, but the storyline just made sense as a whole. It starts off by catching feelings for someone and telling her how I feel in ‘THE FRIEND SPACE’. Then it kinda goes into a relationship and ‘Bad Texter’ where my traumas start affecting the relationship, and I have to explain that I’m terrible at communicating because of these things in my past. Then it’s ‘Pillow’ where I’m like “I wish this could work”, and in ‘There’s No Insurance For A Broken Heart’ I realise the relationship didn’t work out and have to cope with the aftermath of that because it’s really sad when you put your feelings out there and they aren’t reciprocated.
It kinda drove me further to ‘how I’m feeling’ where I acknowledge feeling depressed. There’s a little bit of a lift in ‘Sorry’ as it’s a kind of a post-break up realisation song where I’m coming to terms of the why and how the relationship didn’t work. And then ‘King Of The Basement’ is me overcoming all of that and realising that I’m me, and my anxiety isn’t me. It doesn’t make up who I am because I am me.
TB: Being a self proclaimed bad texter, what has been the worst situation you’ve been in where being a bad texter has really not helped the situation?
RW: My room mate woke up one morning and his phone wasn’t working. So he booked an appointment with Apple to get it fixed as he really needed it for work as he’s a musician too. I couldn’t head with him to the appointment as I had sessions all day so he had to go get it fixed on his own.
Firstly I had to help him memorise the directions to the store as he didn’t have a GPS or phone to look up maps on. Fast forward a few hours and he comes home looking absolutely destroyed like he just experienced the worst day of his life.
He questioned me why I didn’t answer my phone, and I looked at my phone and saw that I had so many missed messages and calls from him. I felt so bad! It turns out that his car broke down in the middle of the road on the way home, and he was trying to call and text me to get help but I completely missed it. On top of that the new phone died because it doesn’t have enough battery so he was completely stuck. He ended up pushing the car to the nearest gas station and found somewhere to charge his phone before making his way back home. It was a big ordeal. He was like, “dude, you need to be a better texter!”.
TB: Now I LOVED the music video for ‘THE FRIEND SPACE’ as it was really direct to the storyline, playful, and felt like a montage from a netflix coming of age film. So if you could insert ‘THE FRIEND SPACE’ into any films soundtrack, what one would you choose and why?
RW: My housemate just started watching Friends With Benefits before I started this interview, so I’m going to say that film, as it would actually be thematically perfect.
TB: Lets play a quick game of rapid fire questions. You ready?
RW: Yes! Let’s do it!
TB: The emoji that best describes my EP ‘King Of The Basement’ is…
RW: The open human heart as it’s a lot more raw and vulnerable than the colourful hearts.
TB: The strangest hobby or obsession I’ve had during lockdown has been…
RW: *laughs*, hand stands! I started practicing them a lot and I got pretty good doing them and are now able to walk around a bit on my hands. It’s the best form of exercise as it’s a full body workout!
TB: The colour of my toothbrush currently is…
RW: Purple and black! I have these nice Oral B ones with the charcoal infused to help whitening.
TB: When I think of Australia I think of…
RW: Steve Irwin!
TB: Pineapple on pizza is…
RW: Great! Amazing! I actually had pineapple pancakes this morning which I know is also not a normal Pancake topping, but they were so good!
‘King Of The Basement’ is out now!