Ryan Avery is majestic.
The oddball vocalist who practically grew up in the Phoenix scene and now runs a weirdo/specialty label, Related Records. Not only is it an avenue for his own musical projects, he’s released a bevy of albums by some awesome Arizona acts including Dinosaur Love, Human Behavior, Serene Dominic, Space Alien Donald, and Treasure Mammal to name but a few.
And who can forget the compilations? A master curator, Ryan has released such classics as Everybody’s Looking At Their Phone, Where’s The White Shadow? (a tribute to the hardcore and punk catalog of the Beastie Boys), and SELF: a compilation of music that is self aware and self absorbed., again, to name but just a few.
Sure, he’s had a documentary film made about him, played over 1,000 shows, and sometimes DJs — yet he remains the humblest of men. Ryan took the time to catch up with us and fill us in on some history, what’s happening now in Camp Avery, and offer a sneak peek forward to some future endeavors. Read the full interview below…
YabYum: What first got you interested in music?
Ryan Avery: I can’t remember a time when I was not interested in music. My oldest brother Matt was always into pretty cool music and he shared it with my siblings and me. It was always a pretty big variety of music too, but the stuff that has made the biggest impression on me has been They Might Be Giants, R.E.M., The Dead Milkmen, and The Violent Femmes. Matt took me to my first few shows and took me to buy my first few cassettes and CDs when I was 8 or 9 years old.
When did you first start playing for audiences?
My first band to play shows regularly was a band called Locking Your Car Doors. Our first show was July 2003. We all dressed as the Unabomber, our shows were fun, messy and obnoxious. The band consisted of anywhere from two members to a dozen each show, sometimes we played instruments, and sometimes we played a mix CD of party music and did karaoke over it. Pretty much every time we played we made a mess. We were banned from most venues in the Phoenix area (some of which before we even got a chance to play). Our last show was May 2006 and we made everyone sign a waiver before entering the building because we drove a car into the building (show was at the phix which was an old auto-body shop converted into an art gallery on Grand Ave.) and demolished it in a small space. It was awesome and terrifying.
Before that band though, I played drums for a handful of ska and punk bands (most of which never played live) and DJed high school parties between the ages of 12-16.
So what musical projects do you currently perform with?
I am currently just performing solo under the name Hi My Name Is Ryan. All my other projects are on hiatus or in the works.
How long ago did you start Hi My Name is Ryan? What was your very first musical endeavor?
Hi My Name Is Ryan started at the end of 2004. The first bands I started were in elementary school. They never really left the school-yard or went beyond writing songs and drawing artwork for albums I never recorded. The first band that played a live show called The Putties we played one show in 2002, then broke up.
And, for our readers who are not aware, a film was made documenting you called Hi My Name is Ryan, correct? How old were you at the time of filming?
Hi My Name Is Ryan was filmed in August 2006 and premiered at Cine-Vegas in 2008. It is a film about all the different musical and artistic projects I had during that time and about the music and arts scenes I was involved with in Phoenix. It toured film festivals from 2008-2010 and eventually it was put on the shelf. I put it up on YouTube on April Fools Day a couple years ago as a gag for a day, I took it down after getting yelled at by the producers of the film and then quietly put it back on YouTube for Christmas that same year.
Related Records has been in operation since 2013.
What initially prompted you to start the label?
I thought for years that before I could start a label I needed a lot more money, organization or connections. Then while I was going to school for music business it just hit me “I can do this, anyone can do this, WHY AM I NOT DOING THIS!?” So I got started, I only told a handful of people that I was working on it until the first release was ready. I didn’t want it to end up being one of those things I never actually would have seen through.
Does Related Records have a mission statement?
Not an official one. The mission of Related Records has always been to put out music that I love and believe in. Every release is also limited to less than 500 copies to make them extra special and more valuable.
How do you usually find bands to work with for your label? Is it usually people you know personally? Or that you’ve seen perform? Or do people submit music to you?
Every artist has a different story for why I am putting their music out. With only a few exceptions, I have known these artists for a while and in every case it’s an artist I really love and admire.
I know you got started younger than a lot of folks in the local music scene but it seems like you’ve been part of #PHXMUSIC forever now. Has your perspective on the music scene (or on music-making) changed a lot since those early teenage days?
I used to run azska.com which was a local ska music website where people could find out about old and current ska bands and where they were playing. I also made flyers for shows that were not being promoted “good enough,” made Help Wanted flyers for bands when they would lose a member, had a message board and list of cool/safe people who would provide rides for people to and from shows (it was called a skarpool).
Towards the end of that I started thegoodshows.com with my friend Emily Spentrino-Murtagh and it was a show listing/promotional company that only had 3 rules:
1. All shows are all ages.
2. All shows are under $15 (most were under $5)
3. All shows are shows we would actually like to attend.
I had a big list of websites I would scower for information, a list of artists, promoters and venues that I would call every month to find out what was happening and put it all in a simple text based website that just had a big list of shows for the whole state of Arizona. The website also had a list of cool promoters who were booking shows that fit these restrictions that touring bands could contact if they wanted a show.
It was a lot of work and was a full time job for 1 person, and I was able to do it because I didn’t have a lot of responsibilities, only worked part time, and was passionate about the scenes (I was a part of) being healthy and active.
I still care a lot about the scenes but over 10-12 years of running AZSka and The Good Shows (plus working with a bunch of other promotional companies, venues and galleries that I didn’t get into here) I realized that most people didn’t feel the way I did and things that are important to a scene or community come and go. When I say that I don’t mean to sound like caring is a waste of time, and I feel like the time and effort I put into things helped and were really rad, but I just don’t want to do that anymore.
I use to get so mad if certain people or friends didn’t come out to a show or support a band or something and it hit me that I was expecting these people to care like I did and that’s unrealistic and shitty. So now I just do my own thing and if people care about it, that’s great–if they don’t that’s fine too because I don’t do it for them and when I really think about it, I never did.
My perspective on music making has always been: You have an idea > you do it > if it’s terrible so what? > if it’s great — that’s great and people will usually recognize that it’s great > but you gotta express every idea otherwise you’re suppressing thoughts and feelings and they will mostly likely manifest themselves in a terrible way.
As I’ve gotten older though, I have enjoyed putting more thought, time and energy into my music then I did when I was a kid, but I still try to see through every song/recording/artistic idea I have without worry or fear of what others will think.
I know you spent some time living in Los Angeles. Sooo what were you doing out there? Working with a radio station? Meeting/signing LA acts? Learning where all the good vegan restaurants are? Inquiring minds want to know…
Sara and I moved to Los Angeles to live closer to her family and to be closer to the industries and things we like. I worked at the Bootleg Theater 1-2 times a week; worked full time for a breakfast spot/tourist trap called Eggslut and then later for a delicious bakery/dessert spot called Valerie. I was planning on working on a musical I started writing before we moved called “Meningitis: The Musical” but never had time alone to focus on it because of all the working + driving + living with in-laws. I was a guest DJ a couple times for KXLU, played a couple solo shows and met a grip of cool artists and people. We were there for almost a full year, before moving back to Phoenix.
You definitely have an interestingly direct approach to music-making: have an idea, follow-through. I think that places the emphasis on the act of creation rather than the finished product. Was this a philosophy that you just naturally acquired? Or was it by trial and error that you adopted it? What I mean is, were there a lot of projects that you thought about and never moved on before you thought, “This is dumb, I should just do it.”
My approach to making music is just the way I have always felt about it, partly motivated by seeing brilliant artists and friends come up with ideas and never finish/document them. (i.e. Emily Spetrinos old art punk band The Children of Hell or James Fella’s guerilla show project Very Nice Person) Partly inspired by artists who have a ridiculous catalog of music they have released. (Examples include Jason Polland, They Might Be Giants, Drew Danburry, The Residents…) While I do admire and understand the artist(s) that work on something until it’s perfect before releasing it to the world, I still look back and think about everything in between that they never finished and sometimes feel sad. I have lots of projects still that I haven’t completed or focused on that I still want to do and hope to accomplish someday. (Meningitis: The Musical and HECK are a couple recent examples) And then there are other projects that I know are not very good right from the start and I see them through anyway because I will be upset with myself if I don’t. (Macy Gray’s: Jagged Little Pill)
What are some of the differences between the LA/PHX music scenes that you noted? Anything you would like to see PHX do a little differently? Or anything that you really missed about the music scene here while you were off on adventure?
Something I thought was so cool about the people in Los Angeles in general is everyone is thirsty for knowledge of things that are new and cool. People want to be up to date on everything and want to feel like they are a part of that something. There is some of that in Phoenix for sure but it felt like everyone had this type of energy in LA and that was really inspiring and has kept me motivated to keep discovering/researching new artists. The thing that I missed the most about Phoenix is how easy it is to start doing something here and something I both love/hate about Phoenix is how unprofessional things are. It’s kind of like the pros and cons of working for a corporate company vs. an independent mom and pop shop.
You mentioned that you have some projects in the works. Anything you can mention to us?
I don’t really want to mention anything about my current projects (aside from Hi My Name Is Ryan) until there is more to them. But if anyone wants to start a band or musical project with me I am currently down for trying new things and working with new people…