The insightful, yet somewhat overreaching thinker that said that you only get one chance to make a first impression has obviously never met talented singer-songwriter Ryan Sims. As a founding member of critically acclaimed EastonAshe, Sims and the band received nationwide recognition for their unique blend of trademark originals and revamped cover music.
The group’s triumphant debut album – 2006’s “Can I Drive It?” – went on to win the Independent Rock Album Of The Year Award as well as garnering them the title of Performer Of The Year at the 2007 and 2008 L.A. Music Awards. Sims followed that up by garnering the 2009 Singer Songwriter of the Year Award at the Phoenix Music Awards.
And so it is that legions of loyal fans of the exceptional country-rock musician won’t be the least bit surprised when Sims releases his solo debut to universal praise later this month. Arizona’s own will be celebrating the release of his self-titled first solo record with an Album Release Party Jan. 11 at Harold’s Corral, 6895 E. Cave Creek Rd, Cave Creek, Ariz.
The festivities kick off at 8:30 p.m. with an EastonAshe reunion show, featuring past and present members of the band playing Sims’ original material from their early albums. Sims will then perform his newly-released solo album in its entirety. The night will conclude with an all-star set featuring Sims, EA members and a few surprise musical guests.
As he prepared for the upcoming release, Sims chatted with me about the remarkable new record and life as a solo artist. “Ryan Sims” won’t be the artist’s initial recording foray, but it will certainly be an album of firsts for the musician.
“Well, let me just use my words wisely here,” he professed. “It feels different because this time I’m responsible. If it goes well, it’s my fault and if it doesn’t go well, it’s still my fault. There’s not that whole ‘lean on your brother,’ camaraderie thing.”
“This is a much bigger step for me, as an adult really, more than as a musician. There’s nothing to hide behind. These are my songs. These are my ideas. These are my business plans. It’s all me this time. There’s really no easy way to put it. This one’s on me.”
Of course, given Sims’ preferred musical medium – namely acoustic – no one’s going to accuse him of hiding behind anyone or anything. It’s just all in a day’s work for the tunesmith. “At this point, just as a musician and just as man, I feel a lot more confident in my abilities.”
“It’s funny that you talk about the acoustic shows because I play three or four acoustic shows a week where it’s just me – or maybe me and one other guy. And I think playing those shows gave me the confidence to go out and do something like this, because you’ve got to be good to do it. If you want to succeed, there is nothing to hide behind. You can definitely tell what kind of musician you’re dealing with.”
It’s obvious that the self-assured Sims knows exactly who he is as an artist. And with this insightful musician, what you see is definitely what you get. So it comes as no surprise that he doesn't hesitate when asked about the most meaningful award that he’s received.
“Singer-songwriter. I think every songwriter would say that. Performing is wonderful and it’s a great way to get some energy on stuff. People in 30 or 40 years aren’t gonna remember your performance, but they’ll still be singing your songs.”
Given the intense emotion behind Sims tunes, there’s no doubt that people will still be singing his songs 100 years from now. Some songwriters can sit down and knock things out just like clockwork. Others write better when they’re suffering through life’s challenges, making the songwriting experience cathartic for them. Sims confessed to being “right in the middle.”
“I used to rely on intense life experiences for my writing. But after spending a lot of time in Nashville, doing a lot of co-writing with very experienced writers, I've learned how to channel the human experience. I have a much better understanding of the general feeling that everybody has. And that’s what I've really tried to do with this record.”
“I guess the best way to say it is when you’re writing country music, the best advice I ever got was ‘Use the people’s words. Don’t over-think it, don’t try to be too clever, just use the people’s words.’ People want to grab onto those songs and it means something different to everyone. It’s better to not generalize but key in on the experiences we all have.”
“What I do when I write, is try to put myself in the position of the person I'm writing the song about. If I'm writing a break-up song that’s absolutely crushing, I just put myself in that headspace. It took me a long time to be able to do that. But having lived those experiences as a younger man, it made it a lot easier to remember what that felt like. You can really key in on that.”
“It was not a big leap for me to go country. My songs have always been based around stories. I've always thought of myself as a storyteller when I get to songwriting and whether it’s country or rock and roll, it really doesn’t matter. It’s just kind of the way you dress it up.”
It’s Sims innate ability to “use people’s words” that makes his songwriting special. And it’s that same gift that enables him to play an intimate set whether he’s in a 30-person club or a 3,000-person arena.
“I play the same show in front of three people that I play in front of 50 thousand people. It’s always from the heart and it’s always the best I can do every time. My fans have been so good to me and really encouraging me with my songwriting and really understanding what I was trying to say in the first place.”
“And I've been so lucky to have people in my life that don’t hesitate to tell me when something really means something to them. That gives me a lot of confidence when I do sit down and write, that I'm going to help somebody feel something.”
With nine original rock-infused country tunes on the new release, Sims’ self-titled debut album is sure to make everybody feel something. And if his self-professed “most important songwriting lesson” is any indication, Sims’ mother may be feeling a little something as well.
“Be brutally honest, even if it means writing something where I have to admit something that I wouldn’t necessarily want my mom to know. Be brutally, brutally honest because if you hold back, you’re cheating the song.”
“And I'm guilty of that quite often. My mom will listen to a song I've recorded and she’ll be like, ‘Did you really do that?’ And I'm like, ‘Ooh, dang, yeah I did (laughing).’ ‘Is all this true?’ And I'm like ‘Oh yeah, it’s true (laughs).’”
“But yeah, just be brutally honest every time you sit down to write because that’s what people want. And that’s what all the best songs are. All the best songs that I love come from writers that really tell the truth and you can tell.”
As a self-taught musician, Sims expects nothing less than brutal honesty from his songwriting. But that’s just the way his fans like it. “I always felt that taking music lessons – guitar or vocal lessons or songwriting lessons – were going to give me a certain set of rules that I would just naturally follow because it’s more like school.”
“Being self-taught and not going to traditional learning methods gave me a much more original sound, I guess. Something I get a lot is when you hear one of my songs, you know it’s one of my songs, whether someone else sings it or not. I attribute that to being self-taught.”
One thing is certain. After listening to “Ryan Sims” on Jan. 11, music lovers will all be praising the talented singer-songwriter’s teacher.
You can get tickets to Sims’ Album Release Party for $25 at www.ticketmaster.com or $30 at the door. Ticket prices include a copy of the “Ryan Sims” album.