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We recently worked with Ricky Duran on a series of videos with Elixir Strings, and in the process got to know the talented young singer/songwriter who most of the country came to fall in love with during his recent stint on The Voice.
While the show may have put him in America’s homes, it’s his talent and humble personality that’ll carry him through to the next level. We caught up with him this winter to learn more about his background, his songwriting process and where the musician is headed next.▼ Article continues below ▼
OK, where did music first enter your life and when?
Sure, yeah, music was always in my family. My dad was a musician. He moved here from Guatemala to Boston, and he was a performer as well. So, he was just doing that until he had my three older sisters, and he gave me [a] guitar. It was kind of always around, but I think as soon as I could really hold it, I was trying to play, I think I was about six years old. My first instrument is actually piano, though.
But yeah, when I learned my first chords on the guitar at about six, I kind of just took it from there and my first performance was for my 4th grade talent show. I did a song by Green Day. [laughs]
What about your earliest influences?
I guess that would be whatever my dad gave me, you know? The Beatles, Santana, he showed me Jimi Hendrix. I kind of went through a punk rock phase in middle school, but as soon as that was over, I was back to Blues guitar, and I really dived into that. Guys like Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan. And then I went further into the Blues, like Albert King, Freddie King, B.B. King, Lightning Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, stuff like that and yeah, something about the Blues really speaks to me…I don’t know why.
I don’t really know how to describe it, but it’s definitely what I always fall back on, and it’s prevalent in in any style of music that I’m playing.
Was that the sort of stuff your dad was performing, or was that just kind of the stuff that you were listening to at the time?
My dad was performing more like 60’s pop music. The Beatles Cat Stevens, Elton John, stuff like that and he listened to some blue stuff, too, but I really kind of took it a step further and became more of a soloist with my instrument; my dad wasn’t really necessarily a soloist.
So, did you keep up with piano or was a kind of guitar-only thing from there on out?
You know, I always play some piano, but I never got into it like the guitar. I can hold my own if I sit down at a piano and I can write on the piano. I actually really like doing that. But guitar is definitely my forte.
Gotcha, so at some point singing does enter the mix and I think for a lot of people that’s probably what they most associate you with.
I always kind of sang, at first to accompany myself. But I really didn’t find my voice honestly until I was 20, even more until after I graduated college, and I don’t really know why that is. I always sang, but for some reason something just clicked [then].
When you went to school, you weren’t you weren’t there for vocals, because I know you went to Berklee, correct?
I graduated with a music business degree in 2011, but my principal instrument was guitar. I was singing in my spare time; I had a band during my time in college.
What was the plan after Berklee?
So, I really wanted to be a performer and I wanted to travel and play music. That was the goal. That scared the hell out of my parents. [laughs]
Sure, it’s not an unfamiliar story, especially when we interview children of first-generation immigrants who turn into musicians.
Yeah, it definitely frightened my parents, but my dad really pushed me and encouraged me to go [to Berklee].
So, you graduate through the business program…
I discovered right after I graduated that I really didn’t want to be anything other than the musician, artist, the performer.
So, after college I just started playing out at all these small venues. Really all these bars, private parties, that kind of set up, you know?
Did you move to Austin at some point after doing the New England circuit for a while?
Yeah, I had traveled here, I lived here for three months about five or six years ago and I was actually with my ex-girlfriend who was a travel nurse. We kind of just stopped in different cities for a few months and I fell in love with this place.
It’s just a totally different scene up [in New England] and I realized as soon as I touched down here that I had to move through to either, you know, Nashville or Austin, some sort of Music City.
Did you find it hard to adjust musically to the scene or was it welcoming?
You know, everyone is really welcoming. I walked into a bar, it was called Chuggin Monkey on 6th St. I walked in on a Saturday and it’s like, ‘hey, I’d like to play here,’ and this really manager came up to me and she said, ‘what are you doing tomorrow?’ She had someone call out, so I was like, ‘yeah, I’m there.’
So, I bring my stuff the next day and I play, and she loved me, so she took me up and down the street and recommended me to all these different bars.
I know Austin is a big scene for covers, but you eventually started writing more originals down there. Can you explain a little bit how you approach the writing process?
I never sit down and say I need to write a song and try to figure something out. I usually go off an idea that just kind of comes out. Or maybe it comes out while I’m practicing something else and I do my best to keep it, to not force it. I think that’s really important about my writing.
I’d never force anything, even lyrically.
Everybody has their own way of working and some people are like, yeah, I sit down every morning I make my coffee and I have a two- or three-hour writing session.
Yeah, and I’ve done that before and I just kind of end up not really liking the song or not thinking that it’s authentic to me, you know?
Let’s address the elephant in the room and talk about ‘The Voice’ because that’s where a lot of people probably first got introduced to you. What was the process like for you to actually get on the show?
First, it was an audition. Someone turned me onto it, so I wasn’t seeking that out at all. I played a show here in Austin and the guy who hired me mentioned, ‘Oh my friend’s a producer on The Voice and coming here to do private auditions. If you’d like me to put your name out there…’ — I said, sure, why not? And I got a call for a time slot to go audition here in Austin. I didn’t have to wait in the cattle call… then they interviewed me and flew me out to LA for the executive producer auditions. So, there were basically two auditions before the blinds.
As someone who’s been through the process and kind of got well, I mean, as far as you can get in in a program like that, are there certain opportunities that open up after that?
It was insane — like I would be, and it still happens to this day, but right after the show I was traveling a lot. You know, all these people reach out to you and…I don’t know, something about them seeing you on TV puts you in a different level in their book.
It got me a whole bunch more work, a whole bunch of fans…and it’s crazy being recognized in different states just walking around. It really blew my mind right off the show. But yeah, it definitely launched my career, and you know, I’m still kind of riding that wave to this day.
Let’s talk about what’s coming up — you mentioned a new song [before we started the interview] that you wrote with your co-writer and naturally that is going to be on your new record…
Yeah, the new record is called ‘Space and Time.’ My [publicist] has told me not to give too much away, but it’s gonna be [released] early next year [hopefully].
Do you plan to tour behind it?
I would love to — that’s the plan. That was the plan right after ‘The Voice’ and unfortunately, I haven’t really been able to do that. I’ve just kind of been taking shows here and there. But hopefully by next year if the state of the world is a little better [I’ll be able to].
Follow on Instagram @rickyduran
Photos by ANGELEA