Ryan Knott
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Ryan Knott

Band Folk Acoustic


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Lansing-based musician Ryan Knott came grudgingly at first to the world of solo-acoustic music. A 17-year veteran of the Michigan music community, Ryan played venues from Detroit to Mackinac Island and Muskegon to Saginaw as vocalist/guitarist with Midwestern guitar-rock band Satin Jones before taking the plunge and venturing out on his own.

But it wasn’t any need to express his softer side that pulled him into the world of acoustic music, it was the challenge of stripping away the extras and getting down to the essence of the songs themselves.

“I never wanted to be that cliché of the aging rocker who suddenly finds his sensitive side and becomes a singer-songwriter,” he said. “But I did want to get back to the basics of it all. And I think that’s probably something a little different that I bring to my solo stuff. I never lost that ‘rock’ sensibility.”

That said, Ryan is enjoying his new direction. While some artists may find the idea of a single acoustic guitar and a single voice restrictive, Ryan said he’s been amazed at the freedom he’s gained, along with a new appreciation for the importance of every chord, word and note.

“It’s easy to sound good when you’re loud and the drums are crashing and the gnarly electric guitars are backing you up,” he said. “People tend to get lost in the noise of a full-band club-type situation. But when it’s just you and a guitar, it’s all out there for everyone to hear. If your songs can’t pass the stripped-down acoustic test, they’re probably not very good songs in the first place.”

Hailing originally from Stockbridge, Michigan, Ryan moved to Lansing at age 18 to attend Michigan State University. Being in a band allowed him early access to local bars, which gave him the chance to see a lot of great local acts in their heyday. Many of those artists have come and gone, but Ryan takes serious issue with the myth that Lansing doesn’t have a vibrant music scene.

“I think there’s this idea that the best music in Michigan has to come from Detroit or even Grand Rapids, but that just isn’t true,” Ryan said. “Don’t get me wrong, some of my favorite Michigan artists are from Detroit, but the Lansing area has its share of great musicians, too, and I’m proud to be a part of that community.”

Ryan counts his influences from a wide range of sources, from 80s punk, synth-pop and post-punk to 90s alternative, grunge and millennial indie music, with a healthy dose of alternative country thrown in for good measure. Ask him who his favorite artists are and you’ll hear a litany ranging from The Smiths, Tom Waits, REM, The Cure, The Clash and the Ramones to The Pogues, Social Distortion, Bruce Springsteen, Neko Case, Son Volt and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, but that doesn’t mean that he can pigeonhole his music.

A typical show includes original songs backed by a selection of covers that reflects Ryan’s eclectic tastes. In fact, he said that one of his favorite things about playing solo-acoustic shows is that audiences are typically more tolerant of hearing songs they may not have heard before. On any given night, listeners might hear songs originally written by Cat Stevens, The Verve, Buffalo Tom, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John or The Church — but usually with a twist.

“I love that I can play songs that are important to me, regardless of whether they’re well-known,” he said. “Typically, though, I try to make them a little bit my own, as well.”

But, while he enjoys playing covers from time to time, his real motivation is the excitement of creating new music and playing those songs for others.

“One of the first things people ask when they find out I’m a musician is what kind of music I play,” he noted. “But for me it’s not really about this genre or that genre, it’s about writing songs that speak to people on a personal level. There’s no greater thrill than looking out in the audience and seeing that you’re reaching people.”

Website: ryanknott.com

Twitter: @ryanknott

MySpace Music: myspace.com/ryanknottmusic