Nostalgia may be the many-faced God of Indie music. But it’s fickle isn’t it? Sometimes its effervescence reprieves us from the ever-mounting haggles of growing up. In other cases, it’s illusory… a romanticized polaroid of the past that paralyzes progress. But Ryan Lawhon shapes it differently in Mating Ritual’s new single, “OK”, where at the risk of sounding “youth pastoral” the past is instead, a place to learn.
“I want to know the way I used to feel with the sunlight on my face.” —sings Ryan, a line that begs curiosity about his own relationship to past selves. The brothers Lawhon teamed up with friend Jane Holiday and what started as a dissection of the industry evolved into a broader acceptance of past mistakes, personally and professionally.
So maybe diving into the past feels more like watching bad reality TV, some habit of commiseration you can’t control and can’t turn off. Well if the chimerical spirit of a youth pastor does live somewhere in this song, their lesson of the day may be that the cringing leads to yearning and the yearning, as it usually does through art, leads to acceptance. To no surprise, it manifested itself wonderfully into the grand glimmer signature of the Mating Ritual sound.
We had the joy of speaking with Ryan and getting more of a sense of his relationship to the past, his bandmate and brother Taylor and the industry that he lives so close to…
Do you see younger versions of yourself as different people? Almost like an old friend you haven’t kept in touch with?
I have the terrible habit of mostly remembering cringe moments from my past, so the majority of my interactions with my past self are contorted facial expressions and audibly saying the word yikes, which has caused some awkward moments when I’m zoning out in public. I think of it like watching Vanderpump Rules (or any Bravo show for that matter), I can’t change what’s going on but that doesn’t stop me from yelling at the screen.
To that, do you find nostalgia more as a respite from tough times or a trap that holds you back from progress?
I wouldn’t say respite or trap, as youth pastoral as it sounds, most of these interactions I view as ‘teaching moments’. I put my foot in my mouth frequently, though I’d like to say less so than when I was younger. Nostalgia in general I find a lot of beauty in, as long as your focus isn’t on recreating fuzzy feelings you once had.
“OK” alludes to drinking more and feeling older than you are. Even the picture for the cover art looks like you two are standing in the hallway between a green room and a stage. Was this song born out of the weary existence that is touring?
Touring is definitely a part of it, but this song was born more of the weary existence of just living with yourself and the choices you’ve made. Touring in my opinion, especially DIY touring, can be a magnifying glass for any issues or insecurities a band is facing, and at some point you just have to accept them and put on the best show you can every night.
Your voice has the rare ability to sound big but also very smooth… Who are your tops? Who really made you want to sing?
Dawww, thank you, but actually singing was never something I focused on as a child, maybe because my mom primarily played New Age and Lilith Fair artists around the house. Despite my best attempts I couldn’t, and still can’t, sound anything like my favorite singers Enya and Sarah McLachlan, so I focused on playing bass. I adored Peter Hook, Flea and Victor Wooten. When I eventually started writing songs I sang the scratch tracks out of necessity, and found a place I couldn’t reach growing up. I started admiring vocalists in way I’d hadn’t in the past, especially interesting voices with some flaws like Nick Cave, Rodriguez or Devendra Banhart. That said, I’ve never had any formal training or really modeled my voice after anyone, for better or for worse.
The brother dynamic in a band is always fascinating. I’d imagine the writing process is collaborative musically, but do you find the innate empathic connectivity you have with him feeds your writing? For instance, one may assume “Ok” is from your perspective, but has a song like this ever come from wanting to give a voice to something you’re witnessing in him?
Absolutely. I’ve written a few songs either from his perspective or about what I see in his life. I try to mostly refrain from critiques or judgements in my songwriting, and focus on how I relate to a situation, so most of these songs are about my interactions in our relationship. This song, however, is actually from the perspective of our friend Jane Holiday, who we co-wrote the song with. It started as more of a lived in critique of the industry, but eventually widened the scope to accepting our entire lives and moving on from mistakes we make, which definitely include professionally.
In Los Angeles, we always feel like we’re standing within arm’s length of ‘the one that gets a break’. For the sake of manifestation, what would be the first thing you’d do or buy to celebrate that ‘ever illusive break’?
I’d fly a bunch of friends down to Sayulita, rent a bungalow for a couple weeks and work on my Irish skin tone.
To keep it topical, is there any one song or artist that has kept you sane throughout the quarantine? If so what would you ask them if you were stuck in their place with them for all this?
One album, Wave by Antonio Carlos Jobim, and I’d ask him if there was a better beach that I should be fantasizing about.
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story / Chris Hess