Most early twenty-somethings are still figuring out the meanings of life and love, like a student abroad absorbing the surplus of tastes and experiences. Ryan Schmidt captures this exploration in his first full-length album, Black Sheep, Run, with a confidence atypical of someone in an age group that’s still trying to find their footing. The singer/songwriter ventures down multiple artistic paths, weaving disjoining routes that won’t let him be pegged down.
The New England native is no stranger to the music scene, he’s been making music since 2004, has booked and promoted for the Boston Music Awards, and currently studies music at Northeastern University. Schmidt first connected with folks at reputed Q Division Studios in 2008, recording his first EP, Burning Bitter Years. He returned to the studio to record Black Sheep, Run, collaborating with veteran producer Ed Valauskas. Schmidt worked on the DIY album for three years – writing, recording and marketing until it was ready to be released this past November. He also just wrapped up his first national tour, which included a sold-out stint at SXSW.
Describing his would-be hypothetical musician parents, Schmidt is a mash up of old and new: “I would like to say I’m kinda like this musical lovechild of indie pop and…the folk revival of the ’60s. I like to tell people textually, The Shins, but maybe message-wise and vocally it’s Nick Drake and Bob Dylan.”
His lyrics are seemingly simple and terse, while his vocal styling is smooth and traditional, raw and experimental. “Her Story” opens to a soft raspiness that the music builds around, pauses and evolves. Faster, aggressive tracks like “Lost Somewhere” and “Notice Me Tonight” show the record’s flexibility with sophisticated, echoing bridges and diverse instrumentals with surfer riffs and a country guitar twang. In “Not What I Used To Be,” the conversational lyrical flow and jazz staccato on piano and percussion are also noteworthy.
Black Sheep’s heart is in its genuine stories and the production that supports them. The instrumental mixing on “Under Attack” blends violin, guitar, and percussion naturally. “Night The Bells Rang” includes complementing vocals by Juliana Hatfield and tells of a family’s challenges during WWII. And Schmidt is continuing to develop his storytelling on two EPs that he hopes to finish up by the end of the summer. One is an acoustic venture and the other an apocalypse-themed affair: “It’s kinda a like an old Western/Hank Williams/Johnny Cash take on the apocalypse.”
“I do want to tell the story of people. I don’t want to make it about the end of the world – people are dying, all of this stuff. I really want to have it be a story about who rises to the occasion and how relationships get tested in that situation. I feel like nobody else has really been trying to do that – they’ve just been like, ‘It’s so lonely, it’s so dark.’”
Schmidt is disappointed that he didn’t finish the apocalypse album in time for the rapture festivities this May. But with a style so varied this early on in his career, there’s so much potential for his future endeavors. And there’s always the next rapture in October…