Brett Ryan
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Brett Ryan

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
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SWEET SOUL MUSIC
Converting church into recording studio inspired Ryan to make St. Cecilia Soul
By STEPHEN COOKE Entertainment Reporter
FOR SINGER-SONGWRITER Brett Ryan, getting the inspiration for his first CD in nearly a decade was truly a hands-on experience.
Working with producer Hayward Parrott, Ryan had spent the last couple of years converting an old chapel in Purcells Cove into a state-of-the-art recording studio, but at the time he didn’t realize he was also laying the foundation for some of the most intimate, soulful music of his career.
The result was St. Cecilia Soul, a sparkling collection of organic grooves that takes its name from the church, which was in turn named after the patron saint of music. It’s the kind of full circle experience that seems to mark Ryan’s return to the East Coast music scene.
"(My wife) Lara always says that the same thing that took me away from music brought me back to music," says Ryan, relaxing on a leather couch in the main room of the wood-panelled studio. "By the mid-’90s the arse-end had fallen out of the industry, and I realized I had to do something. . . . Luckily, through osmosis, I learned to be handy and how to restore things. I bought some Victorian buildings and restored them and found I could feed my family. Then when we bought this church, during the restoration process I got the bug to write again, it was like being on automatic pilot, waking up in the middle of the night and then being in my home studio until four in the morning, whispering these songs into the microphone.
"It wasn’t like I was planning this big comeback or anything; I just wanted to make a really good record."
Unlike the modern rock sound of Ryan’s previous albums like the chart-climbing The Answer’s Electric and Escaping Gravity, St. Cecilia Soul has a loose, horn and Hammond B3 organ-driven soul sound, mirroring the Stax and Motown sides his dad played around the house when he was growing up. The record features the ace sax section of Chris Mitchell, Kenny MacKay and Jeff Goodspeed, with bassist Jamie Gatti, drummer Dave Burton and percussionist Geoff Arsenault handling the rhythm parts. Bernie LeBarge and James Logan played the guitar parts, while Canadian music legend Doug "Dr. Music" Riley brought his four decades of skill to the keyboards and arrangements.
"When we started doing this album, it was like a lightning rod," says Ryan. "I had no intention of making an R&B/soul/gospel record, ’cause I don’t know anything about that; I’m just a blue-eyed pop songwriter. But as soon as I started working on the studio here, I’d come home at night and wake up at two o’clock in the morning and it’d be like taking dictation, the songs would start writing themselves.
"Then it came time to do it, and I had to start thinking about putting the band together. Doug’s name came up because he’s such a great R&B player and he’s the king of B3. Paul Schaffer said he was one of the top three B3 players on the planet. . . . then we got all these great players from Halifax, and it turned into an R&B/soul/pop record."
The addition of a gospel vocal trio in Toronto made the sessions complete, inspiring Ryan to really step up to the plate vocally, delivering a performance reminiscent of Van Morrison’s horn-driven recordings of the early ’70s. Writing again with lyrical collaborator Ron Foley Macdonald, Ryan considers their work on previous records "more calculated" in terms of constructing a sound and mapping everything out with an eye on the music marketplace.
On St. Cecilia Soul, they decided to let the album’s titular muse guide the music and the players through to each song’s conclusion.
"This time, it was just ‘Let’s get some great musicians, give them these songs to play, and see what happens,’ "says Ryan. "It was as close as I’ve come to magic, in terms of getting a chill while doing the tracks."
The next step for Ryan is getting back on stage and reconnecting with a live audience. "We can do a stripped down version of the band with five members, the songs hold up. I can do the whole record on acoustic guitar without all the embellishments, and it still stands up. But we also want to get the right venue and have the complete over-the-top production."
scooke@herald.ca

- Halifax Herald


Brett Ryan returns and makes music for the masses
Behind the making of Brett Ryan’s comeback album, St. Cecilia Soul
by Sandy Macdonald
Photo by Sandor Fizli

Maybe it was more than serendipitous that Brett Ryan would buy an abandoned church named for the patron saint of musicians. After refurbishing the building into a gorgeous recording studio, Ryan set out to record his own comeback album as the maiden voyage for St. Cecilia Studios.
“The record I was first going to make was completely different from the one I finished with,” says Ryan. “It went from being a poetic, pedantic project that I sometimes get caught up in, to a straight-ahead R&B soul record. Just hanging around the church, it took on this gospel, R&B feel.”
One of the reasons of that old-school R&B feel was the involvement of keyboard kingpin Doug “Dr. Music” Riley. A master of the piano and the Hammond organ, Riley had played with or arranged for countless artists including Ray Charles, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Moe Koffman. Ryan first worked with Riley over the phone when the Toronto musician scored some string parts for Ryan’s 1998 Escaping Gravity album, but the two never actually met in person. Then two years ago, Ryan was sitting in the second row of the Rebecca Cohn when the musician was performing there with Symphony Nova Scotia. Ryan was blown away by Riley’s command of the keyboard. Acting on Hayward Parrott’s suggestion to get him involved, Ryan called him and the pair was soon trading ideas.
By September of 2005, Ryan rolled a grand piano and a Hammond B-3 into the studio for Riley who also charted out the sizzling horn parts for saxophonists Chris Mitchell and Kenny MacKay. Dave Burton set up his drums in one corner, guitarist James Logan set up in another, and Jamie Gatti hauled his bass rig into an isolation booth. Much of the album was recorded live off the floor, bringing a vibrant joyous feel to the soul music. “The sessions were pretty magical,” says Ryan. “It’s such a creative environment in this studio, and the walls were just screaming for some kind of record. It was the dog days of summer—we’d do a track then go outside and have a beer then come back and work some more.”

The band nailed 16 tracks in just three days, capturing the free-flowing soul of the songs. There are certainly echoes of Van Morrison’s gospel-influenced R&B of the early ’70s, with big punchy horns, churchy backing vocals, and irresistibly upbeat grooves. Ryan’s voice has also found a more natural place on this outing. Maybe it’s a maturity that comes from passing 40, raising kids, and running a business. “My voice is definitely coming from a different direction on this record—it’s not so bombastic,” he says with a laugh. “It’s more laid back and fun. I’m just enjoying myself and letting it happen.”
Riley brought another magic touch to the project that set it aflame—the gospel-inflected background vocals of three Toronto singers, Sharon Lee Willliams, Dionne Taylor, and Maddie Willis. “Their voices gave this record an instant identity, a Stax feel to it,” says Ryan.
The finished package is a vibrant, joyful, and often insightful collection of tunes by a passionate musician with some hard-won perspective on the music industry. “I have no delusions of grandeur, but I’d like to find an audience for this record,” says Ryan. “I’m at a good place in life right now—a great family and we’re comfortable. Life is good.”
Read the feature article about St. Cecilia Studios in the July/August 2007 issue of Halifax Magazine, available at newsstands in metro Halifax.
- Halifax magazine


Brett Ryan's New Inspiration
Ron Foley Macdonald

Nova Scotia recording artist Brett Ryan has explored several genres during his 20-year career in the music business. An early winner of one of the first East Coast Music Awards for Best Male Vocalist, the Halifax-based songwriter--and audio post facility owner--has recently released his latest album, a 13-song collection entitled St. Cecilia Soul.
Anyone working in the entertainment sector these days must be prepared to weather the ups and downs of the business, finding inspiration in parallel careers. Ryan found his latest inspiration in the restoration of a tiny Purcell's Cove Church--aptly named St. Cecilia's, the patron saint of musicians--which he turned into a warm, compact and inviting recording studio co-operated with Nova Scotia audio legend Hayward Parrott.
I should admit that like Hayward, I've been lucky enough to be a collaborator of Brett's, having worked on song lyrics with him for almost as long as he's been recording. Back in 1987, the lanky musician played bass and managed the briefly sensational Halifax modern alternative rock trio Little Ministers. The group released a single album on vinyl and cassette, juggled record contract offers from three majors, and then disappeared into the enveloping mist of Nova Scotia's rich musical history.
Brett Ryan took this experience forward to build a solo career which eventually netted him a worldwide deal with Canadian Indie outfit Attic Records in 1991. His first disc, The Answer's Electric, went Top 20 in this country and Top 10 in Australia and New Zealand. The album and hit title single still get played on radio in various parts of the world to this day, from Japan to Belgium to Norway.
The gutsy roots-rock sound of The Answer's Electric gave way to a denser, more polished sound on his second album, The Babylon Mask, released independently after amicably parting from Attic a couple of years later. Working again with producer Terry Brown--who helmed the first twelve Rush albums, along with handling production chores for groups such as The Cutting Crew and Blue Rodeo--Brett Ryan carved out some more substantial territory on his sophomore effort.
The Babylon Mask also sported two supporting music videos from then-rising East Coast motion-picture genius Mike Clattenburg, who at that time was a few years away from inventing his hit Showcase TV series The Trailer Park Boys. Clattenburg's intense and fluid visual style matched Ryan's material just about perfectly; they may be most impressive music videos ever to have come out of the Atlantic Region.
The mid-1990s, however, saw the East Coast's days in the international music industry spotlight reach an eclipse. Brett responded by releasing an EP entitled A Place At the Table. He also appeared on an episode of CBC TV's acclaimed music program Up On the Roof. Penning tunes for groups and artists such as The Irish Descendants and Wayne Nicholson, Brett kept one foot in a declining business while taking up a new passion, the restoration of run-down Victorian buildings in and around the Halifax region.
Another full album followed in 1998. Called Escaping Gravity, it re-united Ryan with Terry Brown and a quizzical cast of guest stars including The Cutting Crew's Nick Van Eede. The disc had a lighter tone with whimsical undertones, bringing lushness back to Brett's primary pop palette.
As the music business began to stall out right around the world through the turn of the century--the seven major companies merged to four, and then three--the square-jawed Halifax-based musician turned most of his energy to raising a young family and his continued passion of building restoration.
Flash forward to 2004, when Brett stumbled upon an abandoned de-consecrated Catholic Church embedded in a hillside in Purcell's Cove, just across from Halifax's beautiful Point Pleasant Park. Finding musical inspiration in the old choir loft of the former house of prayer and praise, Ryan felt the urge to return to recording.
Transforming the tiny church into a modern recording and post-production sound facility while retaining its profound spiritual warmth--he even had his father make new stained glass windows--Brett Ryan embarked on a new path towards a tight, passionate soul sound that recalled the great days of pop/soul on the radio in the early 1970s when the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Van Morrison ruled the airwaves.
Consorting with one of Canada's greatest arrangers, Doug Riley--the man rang up a string of hits as the head of a giant conglomerate known as Dr. Music in the '70s and was one of Ray Charles' pool of musical point-men in the '60s--Brett Ryan moved towards a cool, concise soul/pop sound that summoned up the enduring spirit of Stax and Motown.
The result is St. Cecilia Soul, his new album, a 13-track slice of concise, passionate Rhythm-and-Blues-influenced material that sounds like heavenly salvation for music fans weary of today's narrowcast universe.
It's a welcome return to the East Coast recording milieu indeed for Brett Ryan, one determined survivor of an up-and-down Atlantic music scene that certainly seems--with the release of St. Cecilia Soul--to be on the rise once more. - Aliant.net


Divine
Inspiration
It took a saint, some tools, and a D.I.Y. spirit to get Brett Ryan back in the music biz
Could a long-dead saint, martyred almost 1,800 years ago, reach through the centur¬ies and nudge a jaded musician to rekindle his love for music? Brett Ryan isn’t dismissing the notion. The 44-year-old award-winning musician had turned his back on a promising career near¬ly a decade ago, frustrated with a collapsingmusic industry that overvalued trendy, youth-oriented pop. For eight years his guitars col¬lected dust as Ryan refocused his creative energy into other areas. Then through a ser¬endipitous business venture two years ago, his passion for music was reignited, thanks in part to Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music.
Music had always been a part of Ryan’s life. He cut his teeth busking the downtown Halifax streets, bellowing out Van Morrison and Dylan tunes for wobbly late-night club-hoppers. A stint as a bass player in Little Min¬isters, a mid-’80s pop duo, gave him his first brush with the music industry. “That band got a sniff of the big time,” he says. “Chrys¬alis Records, Warner, and Island Records in the U.S. were interested in signing us.” But as the pressure mounted, so did tensions in the band and just as Little Ministers was on the cusp of a deal, the band soured and split up.
Taking what he learned from that experi¬ence, Ryan taught himself to sing and write songs, and began to pursue a pop-rock solo career. Three albums, a couple of East Coast Music Awards, and some decent radio play across the country brought him some at¬tention. He then released the lush Escaping Gravity in 1998 to favourable critical reviews. “After that last record, the arse fell out of the music industry,” he says. “I had to think of a way to make a living—evidently music wasn’t going to do it anymore.”
With some advice from real estate agent Peter Large (who also played drums in his band), Ryan bought a small building as a rental investment. As Halifax’s real estatemarket began to heat up, he renovated the building and sold it, pocketing a tidyprofit. Another building bought, renovated, and flipped at a profit provided some finan¬cial security that the music industry could never provide.
Ryan deftly began to acquire fixer-upper Victorian homes and small apartment build¬ings, accumulating equity along the way.“It was a fluke that I stumbled into it at the right time,” he says. Several buildings later, Ryan considered himself “semi-retired.” Then came the stirrings to get back to the music. “My philosophy was that the build¬ings fed my family and my music fed my soul. Evidently, my soul was pretty hungry.”
Enter Saint Cecilia with a little divine inspiration.
Nestled in a grove ofspindly pine trees above a narrow winding road that runs into Purcell’s Cove, sits St. Cecilia’s Church. The modest cinderblock building was raised in the 1940s as a small community-outreach church. By the mid-’70s, facing a dwindling congregation, the diocese de-sanctified the church and sold the property—a sort ofecclesiastical going-out-of-business sale. For a while, it housed a pottery studio, then a carpet warehouse, and finally sat empty and near-abandoned. But maybe Cecilia wasn’t ready to give up on the soulful little church among the pines.
Ryan already owned some nearby rental properties in the rustic community over¬
Not your average studio: The control room looks out over the main recording space from where the pulpit once stood. Brett Ryan handled the woodwork himself but recruited his father to create the stained-glass windows. The spiral staircase was a lucky find in the Bargain Hunter.
23 JULY/AUGUST 2007 halifaxmag.com
looking the mouth of the Northwest Arm, just minutes from the Armdale Rotary. He had an easement across the church prop¬erty, and when the building came up for sale in 2005, he decided to buy it—without any grand plan. Then the fire of inspirationstarted to crackle to life.
“I literally went about eight years with¬out picking up a guitar,” says Ryan. “And then something happened overnight when Iacquired this building. I was getting flashes of songs in the middle of the night, and I’d run to write down ideas. It was like taking dictation. Within a two-month period, I had about 15 songs written.”
Ryan began to toy with the idea ofrecording a new album, his first since Escap¬ing Gravity. “So I called [producer] Hayward Parrott to help out with the record and asked him what he was up to.” Parrott and Ryan had worked together in the past, including on Gravity, and it turned out that Parrott him¬self was at a crossroads.
The renowned engineer and producer had been in Halifax for over a dozen years, spending most of them running Solar Audiorecording studios. More recently he operated Sandbox, a scaled-down recording and post-production studio with Bob Quinn, work¬ing mostly in film and television sound. But when that arrangement ended, Parrottstarted looking for another space in down¬town Halifax. “Then Brett asked me to recordand produce his new album,” says Parrott.“I said that’s great, except I don’t have astudio anymore.”
When Ryan told him about the church building he’d just bought, Parrott’s interest was piqued. “Hayward said, ‘I’ll be there in 15 minutes.’ ” The pair soon saw the poten¬tial of the space. After several weeks of talk¬ing and planning, they struck up a business deal to open a recording studio in the church,collaborating on a design that met both the aesthetic and acoustic needs of the studios. “We knew we’d hit on something special,” says Ryan. “The place has a great vibe to it.”
With all the skills that he developed reno¬vating properties throughout the city over the past decade, Ryan started to lovinglyrebuild the little church in December of 2005. The interior was gutted, new heated floors were laid, and oak-sheathed walls and a mag¬nificent vaulted ceiling were raised, all with an eye—and ear—toward creating a music¬ally sympathetic environment. “We wanted to make a really unique boutique studio that catered to higher-end clients,” says Ryan.
The original church windows were long gone so Ryan convinced his father, Don, to create unique coloured panes to bring the Halifax:422-6290Moncton:855-0855TollFree:1-800-667-8468email:mrtint@cooltint.com
24 halifaxmag.com JULY/AUGUST 2007
Top: The secondary control room and voice-re¬cording studio open up to the main space. NSCAD student Sasha Nelson created the Michelangelo-esque wall frescoes andceiling.
Bottom:
Brett Ryan (left) and Hayward Parrott with a lot of nifty-looking toys in the main control room. From where the priests once preached, Ryan and Parrott now deal with a different sort of soul.
25 JULY/AUGUST 2007 halifaxmag.com
natural glow back into the space. The elder Ryan designed and handcrafted over 20 stained-glass panels, employing tulips, doves, and musical motifs in each window. A spec¬tacular wrought-iron spiral staircase (that Ryan found in the Bargain Hunter for a quar¬ter of the going price) rises heavenward to the loft above the main control room, the heart and brains of the recording studio.
On the pulpit where the priest once prayed for the souls of the congregation, Parrott now sits at the master control in his dream studio. Like Captain Kirk on the Enterprise bridge, Parrott bellies up to his mixing console, sur¬rounded by racks of blinking lights, banks of computerized recording gear, and a pair of monitors—the windows into his digitized world.
During the past 35 years Parrott sat at some of the world’s most famous million-dollarrecording consoles, including Toronto’s Manta Sound, engineering albums by such artists as Bryan Adams, Rush, and the Lon¬don Symphony. Parrott also engineered the ground-breaking “Tears Are Not Enough” session that brought Canada’s top musicians together in 1985. But the new environment at St. Cecilia suits him just fine. His meticu¬lously designed control room looks out over the main recording room, which has recently played host to such local musicians as Scott Macmillan, Linda Brooks, and Lynda Ros¬borough, and is roomy enough to accom¬modate a full band, a string quartet, or more commonly, a single voice actor. With hourly rates at about $175, St. Cecilia Studios is not for the entry-level musician looking to put out a first effort—more than 80% of thestudio time is booked with agency work,recording voiceovers and music for commer¬cials and post-production work for various film and TV projects.
Sitting in a huge leather couch in the main studio space, one can’t help but tip back to admire the overarching flourish above.A giant mural covers the vaulted ceiling, hand painted Michelangelo-style by Sasha Nelson, a graduate student at NSCAD. “We built a huge staging, and Sasha was on his back with a tree branch and a paint brush taped to the end of it,” says Ryan, laughing at the memory. “It’s a little whimsical.” Nelsondepicted several classical Italian scenes,including images of Saint Cecilia strumming a lute, staring down with an approving look at the new life of the old church. Maybe she’s winking an eye at bringing another lost soul back into the musical fold.



- Halifax Magazine


Discography

St. Cecilia Soul (2007) Bratt Productions
Escaping Gravity (1998) Bratt Productions
A Place At the Table (1995) Bratt Productions
The Babylon Mask (1993) Bratt Productions
The Answer's Electric (1991) Attic A&M

Photos

Bio

After a few years of redirecting his creative energy to the restoration of old Victorian buildings and staying home to help raise a young family Brett Ryan releases St. Cecilia Soul, a fresh, passionate and authentic album from one of the East Coast’s best singer-songwriters.

From his early days busking the late-night streets of Halifax, Brett Ryan has always been a soulful singer. With the passionate intensity of Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen, he has always worked hard to find the perfect setting for his songs.

Through the mid-‘80s, he played bass in the pop-rock outfit Little Ministers. With its polished pop sheen and some promising songwriting, the band grabbed the attention of several international record labels.

Brett found his focus as a solo artist, releasing his debut album The Answer’s Electric in 1991. Released on the Attic/A&M label, the title single went Top 20 in Canada and Top 10 in Belgium, Holland, Australia and Japan. The album also netted him a coveted East Coast Music Award as male artist of the year.

Brett followed up with the critically-acclaimed releases The Babylon Mask, A Place at the Table, and the Top 10 charting Escaping Gravity.

FEEDBACK ON ST. CECILIA SOUL
QUOTES

"Brett Ryan is an important figure on the east coast music scene whose presence has been missed over the last few years. He's an extremely talented songwriter. I've heard the new stuff, and so should you!"
~ Lennie Gallant

"What a great singer and songwriter! Brett is the real deal and he epitomizes the industry expression "the total package." Awesome stuff!"
~ Doug Riley
(Ray Charles, Blood Sweat & Tears, Bob Seger etc.)

“Ryan effortlessly mines the rich mother lode of gospel, pop, R&B, and soul to create songs that percolate with energy, passion and the sheer joy of making music.”
~ Sandy MacDonald, Halifax Magazine

"St. Cecilia Soul is absolutely outstanding! Brett Ryan’s most honest and powerful recording to date!"
~ Glenn Meisner, Producer, CBC Atlantic Airwaves

“Killer CD! A triumphant return!”
~ Matt Northorp - C100

A killer album! If Van Morrison recorded these songs, he’d have his biggest hit album in thirty years.
~ JC Douglas, - Music Director Q104