Justin Ryan
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Justin Ryan

Dover, Delaware, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014

Dover, Delaware, United States
Established on Jan, 2014
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"Ryful Kills It"

Ryful Kills It

by D.E. Ferraris

April 19, 2012

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The men of Ryful—Jon Fuller (drums, backup vocals) and Justin Pokrywka (guitar, lead vocals)—are doing something quite special. Incorporating an original sound with influences who currently reign as heavyweights in the land of raw rock ‘n roll (see: Black Keys), the power duo effortlessly create a thick wall of crunchy rock goodness, with Pokrywka’s golden voice soaring right alongside, cutting through the music when needed.

A small group of us had the pleasure of catching their live show a month or so back at Easton’s NightCat, where the band graciously performed for a non-partisan voter registration event. While the room only had a dozen or so of us scattered about by the time the guys played, you never would have known it from the amount of energy put forth on stage. Justin bouncing around, head bopping wildly while ripping into his Fender Strat; Jon furiously pounding his open-tuned acoustic Gretsch drum kit while laying pitch-perfect background vocals. They made me want to register to vote again and again. Most of us sat there not moving, while inside we were slamming into one another mosh pit-style.

I sat down with Justin and Jon at Easton’s Brasserie Brightwell over a couple of beers on a cool, Spring evening.

So I know that you two were members of the popular local band All Together Spent. When and how exactly did Ryful emerge from that?

Jon: All Together Spent began in early 2001 and was active until mid-2010. We played locally but also traveled the east coast a bit, going as far south as Culpepper, VA. We played State College, PA, West Virginia, Delaware, a record showcase in New York...we played all over the place.

Justin: And in 2003 we were actually chosen by an Armed Forces committee for a two-month tour of military bases in the South Pacific; places like Hawaii, Singapore, etc. We were flying commercial to Air Force bases scattered all over these islands with 20 pieces of equipment. It was really cool to give all of those people a little taste of home.

Wow, so that was sort of All Together Spent’s World Tour? (everyone laughs) What was the reaction like from the troops?

Justin: Awesome. One of the first shows we played over there was for a group who had been out to sea for six months, so they were just so starved for entertainment. They were like little kids who hadn’t gone outside in a while.

So after an amicable end to ATS in 2010, you and Jon started playing together, eventually forming Ryful. How did that come about?

Justin: It was just one of those things where I was going to play a solo acoustic set (at Martinis), and I just called up Jon and was like, “Do you just want to come out and play drums with me?” It was fun, so a couple weeks later I drove up to his place in Baltimore...except this time with my electric guitar. About a month later we were asked to play a Christmas gig at the Avalon with Kentavius Jones and Bling, which was our first official show together.

I think music fans often become a bit fascinated with how bands come up with their names. Your’s is obviously a combination of your names ["Ry" is from Justin's middle name, Ryan, and the "ful" comes from Jon's last name.] Did you guys come up with that quickly or no?

Justin: I had already written two or three orginal tunes, so I think it just came out of struggling to come up with a name.

Jon: Yeah, it made sense because it’s a kind of a simple two-syllable name, utilitarian with a double meaning...but I still remember texting ideas back and forth with Justin, sometimes after many beers. I’d read it the next day and think, “Wow, this is the most pretentious, idiotic name. People would see it on a marquee and think ‘who are these assholes?’”

So I know that you’ve got 26 or so originals in the Ryful arsenal—all written in about a year and a half. Sounds like there’s no shortage of songwriting chemistry between the two of you. How does a Ryful song typically get crafted?

Jon: From the first time Justin and I played together, we’ve had a chemistry, and its only gotten better since then. When we write songs now, our whole songwriting process is kind of abstract. He’ll come to me with a riff or I’ll go to him with a drum idea, and we will build off of each other’s ideas. But a lot of times he’ll come to the table with a melody, and I won’t even listen to it. We’ll play 10-15 seconds of it, and I’ll start playing along to it, and I’ll just read him. Four or five minutes later we’re looking around at each other like, “Wow, that’s pretty good. Now let’s make that better.” Or, “Hey, I have an idea!” Ten minutes later there’s a song.

Justin: I feel like the way we write music these days, the way I write music, is so different than how it used to be, because I used to write music to have it be very pleasing to the ear...have it be so structured. And I think when you write music like that, it’s not completely genuine because it’s like you’re following a [puzzle], connecting the dots.

You’re trying to please others rather than yourself.

Justin: Right. I think when you write music how it just, naturally, and you do it a little more abstractly than how I may be used to writing, but - who cares. Because it comes across way more genuinely. It’s weird. I mean, the most obscure song on our album, a song called “Somethin Comin”, there’s a lot of different parts and it’s just very obscure, and I’ve had many people tell me it’s their favorite song. And that’s one of the songs on the album that we were like, “We’re going to put it on there because it’s kick ass, but it’s probably like a B-side or something.” Is it a bar song? No. But people really like it. That just goes to show you songs don’t have to have that structure.

Jon: I think the songwriting approach that we used to have, and I was just as guilty of it as anybody, was more like, “This song needs to have a bridge. There’s no bridge, where’s the bridge.” Now we’re more along the lines of “This doesn’t have a bridge. Oh well.”

Are there bands that you can point to that helped you feel that you didn’t necessarily have to subscribe to this songwriting formula? And what are you listening to now?

Justin: Nirvana has. I’m a big Nirvana fan. And it’s funny because until I’ve played in this band I don’t think I realized how influential they’ve been. It’s like it went dormant for ten years or something. We wrote a song recently called “Coming of the Age” and it’s so grungy. I’m like, “Where the hell did that come from?!” Lately though I listen to a lot of Sirius XM-U. I’ve gotten really into a band called Grizzly Bear and that kind of music. It’s hard to describe, but kind of Shins meets Ryan Adams?

Jon: Yeah, Nirvana’s a big influence of mine. I still remember where I was the first time I saw “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on TV, that sort of thing. But my parents and older brother were big music fans...classic rock, 80’s. Nowadays I’m into Soul music, Blues, and favorite modern band is The Black Keys. The Killers are great.

If someone who’s never listened to your music were to ask each of you to choose one song that most accurately represents the Ryful sound, what would you give them?

Jon: That’s a really good question. Believe it or not, off the first album, a song that I think represents the color and the shape—“Gone”. It starts and builds, and its got the melodic elements which I think separate us and make us different than other bands with just guitar and drums.

Justin: I would say the song that would probably make someone sit back and appreciate our music is “Prisoner”. It starts out very chill and by the end of it we’re just rollin’. It’s written from the point of view of a soldier coming home from war and he doesn’t know how to deal with what he experienced.

Ok, one question purely for entertainment purposes: First concert attended?

Jon: Clarence Carter opening up for B.B. King.

Justin: There’s a band called Kula Shaker, led by the nephew of George Harrison. They were pretty much straight up rock with a little bit of Indian influence. It was an awesome show, and I was 14 at the 9:30 Club. That’s when you could still get into a show without having to be 21.

Standout tracks from Ryful's debut album High Caliber: Woman of the Night, Prisoner, Three Or Four, Gone, Truth. Find them on the web at: ReverbNation, Facebook, Amazon, iTunes.
- Easton Savvy Online Magazine. Written by David Ferraris


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"High Caliber" released February 11, 2012

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