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SS22 with Ryan James Carr.

A man in a checkered shirt plays drums.
A black and white photo of someone playing drums in a checkered shirt.
A man sitting on the ground holding a percussion instrument.

Photos: Carlos Lima

As part of our SS22 seasonal collection rollout, we commissioned drummer and producer Ryan James Carr to compose and record three tracks for us. We first came across his work last year via TikTok and were immediately drawn not only to the music itself but specifically the way that he recorded and presented it. As a multi-instrumentalist, Ryan uses short video clips breaking down all of the different percussion instruments he employs (and there are a lot of them) within 20-30 seconds. A flash of a wooden agogo here, a chime there - these quick visual blips draw the listener in, encouraging them to look out for the effect to appear again later on the song… or in our case, on the second, third or fourth loop. These quick-hit compositions often leave the listener wanting more, or imagining where the track would go if it was a full length song.

If you haven’t watched the videos yet, you can catch them on your preferred platform below. We took some time to interview Ryan about his background, his approach, and what’s up next.

Video 1: Instagram / TikTok
Video 2: Instagram / TikTok
Video 3: Instagram / TikTok

A man plays the keyboard in a black shirt with white dots.
A man in a checkered shirt plays the drums.

We’ve never seen anything like the videos you make. How did you land on your approach and aesthetic?

I think my minimal preferences dictate what I strive for in my videos, and in my music as well. When composing, I will think about how each layer would be experienced visually, and that can often be a helpful limitation to impose on what I'm making. I remember several videos that inspired this approach - one in particular is from an artist I have loved for a long time, Emily King’s “Distance” music video. It’s very linear, clean, witty, quirky. All things I find myself gravitating towards.

With all of that being said, I am not the first to make process videos like this. Social media has plenty of them being posted every day by very talented people. When I started with my videos, though, I wanted to prioritize a minimal and clear visual aesthetic: something that felt interesting enough that someone would want to watch it ten times in a row, but simple enough to where they didn't have to watch it more than once to understand what they had just seen.

To that point, there’s a really fun sense of discovery in your videos. It almost makes someone want to keep watching to see if they missed anything the first time around.

I love how a visual experience can dictate how you hear something. I think in the digital streaming age, we can be a little out of touch with the human aspect of what went into that musical creation, the tactile nature of how it was made, the record sleeve, the tape hiss, the production credits, the sweat and smoke in the room. Incorporating my growing collection of percussion trinkets have been a fun way to show the different little sonic elements that might catch your ear a bit easier because you saw it being used in a video.

A man in a striped shirt sits with some congas.
A man with a face inside a tambourine.

Tell us a bit about your musical background.

I grew up in church. My Grandpa was a preacher and my mom played piano and sang in his church. So I would go to the rehearsals and sit and just be mesmerized by the drummer. I became absolutely obsessed, and one time he let me come sit and hit the drums for the first time in my life. I remember it was an electrifying experience, and from then on I HAD to have a drum kit. For my eighth birthday, she surprised me with my first set of drums and that was that. That was all I wanted to do. Everything became musical to me. I would be riding in the car and the tires on the highway would have a rhythm to it. I would walk and hear a beat in my footsteps. I would play along to the radio on my legs so much that they would be red from slapping them, pretending I was the drummer in the song.

The drums were a beautiful escape for me in ways I needed in order to deal with the complex realities of my childhood while growing up in a tumultuous family situation. I still find that relief today through music, that experience of losing a sense of the time when I am producing, recording or playing the drums. Music can be a beautiful safe haven from the scary parts of life, and I think that can actually be a really healing thing that, when used in healthy ways, can be soothing for the both creator and the listener.

What instruments and equipment are you playing on and recording with?

I didn’t know how to record or engineer myself until my late twenties. I realized that if I wanted to continue making music from a place like Kansas City, I had to learn to record and produce. So in a very short span of time, I went from owning one drum set and no recording gear, to building a pretty decent set up where I can give clients I work with high quality drum recordings, 12 different mic sources to use, with the choice of 6 different kits, 10 snares, 20 cymbals, etc. I have a Prophet 6 synthesizer which I use in most everything I’m making, and then I use a ton of virtual instruments when I am working on stuff by myself. I use a vintage Tascam m312b mixing console for my pre-amps and EQ and go from there into an Apollo 16 interface. I recently was endorsed by a German cymbal company called Meinl Cymbals, which I’ve used for years and have loved before being endorsed, so it’s been fun to have more colors to choose from depending on the music i'm working on.

Most of my drums are vintage kits made in Japan, kits that were made in the 60’s and 70’s that were less expensive “stencil” versions of the more popular American kits of that era (thanks a lot Ringo.) I love their rare nature, their wacky wraps, and their retro tones. They are often imperfect, out of round drums that I find interesting and unique. And then I have a growing collection of different percussion instruments, vintage congas, shakers and tambourines I’ve been collecting, each with their own little story. I am always scouring thrift stores and antique malls for weird stuff like that. This one shaker I love, I got when I was in Uganda in 2008. It has these straps that people would use to tie around their legs, and do these insane musical dances that differ depending on the region. So yeah, I generally like getting gear that has a story, and that is a little beat up and has some grit to it. I like to believe that you can hear that in the music I am making.

A man playing a tambourine.
A man playing congas

What’s up next for you?

I just released a new EP this last week called “I Like Drums,” which is a drum centric soul/funk instrumental album. I recently released a single called “Sunshine” that is more of a proper song with me singing on it. I helped produce a record recently for an artist named Mark Barlow, with my friend and collaborator Kevin Dailey in Nashville. I definitely see myself doing more production for artists, singers, songwriters, and rappers in the near future and have some things in the works. I hope to continue releasing my own music under my name, and have plans to put out some more albums in the future.

On the production end, I’ve already released a drum sample pack and hope to make more in the near future - it consists of a bunch of recorded files of my drum/percussion sounds that producers can use. I am always writing music and exploring different genres that are exciting to me. I would love to work with so many different artists I admire, whether they are well known or not known at all. Ultimately, I would love to continue making music I believe in and enjoy with people who are passionate, authentic, and vulnerable. Looking forward to the future!  

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