Ryan MacGrath
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Ryan MacGrath


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"In His Own Company"

Some music merely soundtracks, Ryan MacGrath’s solo collection creates atmosphere, mood and tone. Akin to the theatrical pop melodies of Rufus Wainwright, Hawksley Workman and Beirut, MacGrath opens In My Own Company with the whimsically romantic “Bell Boy.” With flourishes of glockenspiel, percussion and accordion, it’s hard not to be whisked away into this songwriter’s fanciful fiction.

Recorded with Don MacKay at Spaces Between Sound Studio, “Way West” pays a more orchestral homage to the traditional folk odes of Western wealth. More pensive rather than poetic “Cinderella,” is a rewrite of the happy ending myth and accompanies a striking violin and ethereal lap steel. Departing from the fantastical “Featherweight” crashes through the dreamy record with handclaps, banjo, synth and plenty of vocals, while the piano-driven ballad “Run,” is riddled with existential queries. MacGrath questions the meaning of home, loss and love. The heavy-hearted stroll “No More Tears,” wanders through a rainy day (recorded raindrops and all), but builds spirit by the warming notes of a trombone. It’s the final portion of the song that shall raise broken souls and make hearts believe in love again. MacGrath celebrates the release of In My Own Company on Jan 16 at the Seahorse.

By Shannon Webb-Campbell - EP Review - The Coast (Halifax)

"Rennaissance of Ryan"

By Hugo Dann

Into the pale aquatint of midwinter
Halifax, Ryan MacGrath
has injected a blast of warmth
and colour with his exhibition of
new, abstract paintings (on show
in the gallery space at FRED until
January 26). Many of the paintings
employ vivid reds and bursts of orange
and yellow, evoking volcanic
fire or primaeval star bursts. One
mid-size canvas suggests shards of
stained glass lying on a desert floor,
while another flows with a myriad
of seemingly simple amoebas or
other beings, streaming along in the
river of evolution itself. Yet another
mammoth piece, with a waving
brush line suggesting mountains and
another like an underlining slash of
freshly bleeding red, is so textured
and built up, its colours so vibrant,
it seems to be bursting out of its two
dimensional confines and into the
viewer’s three dimensional world.
Wayves had a chance to sit down
with this multi-faceted talent shortly
after the exhibition was unveiled to
chat about his background and his
process in creating these paintings.
Ryan may be known to music
lovers more for his singing and
Renaissance of Ryan
songwriting abilities than for
his artwork. He and his band,
the Wooden House, have been
featured at Halifax Pride the last
couple of years, and Ryan gave a
heartfelt solo performance at the
May 17 Rally Against Homophobia
here in Halifax this past
spring and played at Wayves’
Punoqun launch at the Seahorse
in September. Ryan may have
begun singing while he was in
his foundation year at NSCAD,
but it was art that drew him to
study there, and art was the focus
of our conversation as we had an
afternoon cup of tea in FRED’s
chic yet welcoming gallery and
Ryan was born in Antigonish
and spent most of his early life
either in Antigonish and Guysborough
Counties. When he
was a teenager his family settled
in Lock Harbour and he began
commuting to high school in
Sherbrooke. Despite an interest
in drawing and music, he excelled
in maths and sciences and upon
graduation went to Acadia on
scholarship to study biology
— perhaps these early studies
were the wellspring for some of
the organic imagery in Ryan’s
latest paintings. While at Acadia,
he took an art history course with
local artist Rose Adams. Knowing
she had achieved a successful
career as a painter inspired him to
prepare his own portfolio and apply
to NSCAD, where he was also
accepted on scholarship. Somewhat
cautious initially, he majored in
art history until, in the middle of
his degree - feeling strongly that
he “had to contribute something”
(some might say he ‘’had something
to contribute!’’) he suddenly
switched his major to painting.
Ryan has always been interested
in exploring non-traditional
methods and media for painting
- perhaps another legacy of his
youthful interest in science. Even
while still in high school, he was
mixing his acrylic paints with varnish,
polyurethane and tar from
his father’s workshop. ‘’One day
I thought it would be a good idea
to take a pair of tongs and stick
the paintings in the furnace in the
basement and see what would happen,
if the paint would bubble up.”
He laughs, “It caught on fire! But
it looked good - it looked cool.”
This experimentation continued at
NSCAD. When he began applying
thick layers of plaster to his canvasses,
it was politely suggested that
- in a replay of Leonardo Da Vinci’s
classic put down of
Michelangelo — he might
feel more at home in the
sculpture studios — the
sculptors might not mind
the mess quite so much.
Ryan obliged and found
a more tolerant and even
supportive environment.
This legacy of experimentation can
be seen in his current works.
Ryan walked us around the
exhibit, discussing each picture in
depth. He explained that rather
than start with preconceived ideas,
his intention was to allow the
paintings to reveal themselves. He
often flicked gobs of wet sawdust
on to a picture, altering the contour
and texture, applying more paint or
varnish when it dried. Sometimes
he dribbled varnish on to a blank
canvass, allowing it to collect in
random pools which then provided
the ultimate form of the painting.
He would build up layers and layers
of paint, intensifying colour,
and giving the paint itself a three
dimensional quality. Taking each
picture in turn, exploring them
at our leisure, we were able to see
that each one, while satisfying in its
wholeness, also contained subtleties
and details, as rich in themselves as
the larger painting itself; small, inner
realms that could be glimpsed
only on closer inspection — worlds
within worlds within worlds.
Not one to sit still, Ryan already
has a new series of paintings in
mind.We asked him how he was
able to balance his two worlds of
Deadline is April 4, 2008
Available in the May Wayves and at
select distributors in Atlantic Canada
painting and music. He acknowledged
it was a challenge. “When I
was focused on preparing for this
exhibit, I felt badly because the
band wasn’t getting all the attention
it might have needed. And
it works the other way as well,
when we’re putting some new
songs together, the painting has
to take a back seat.”
However, despite his
own protest, he’s also
deep in rehearsal with
the Wooden House
and putting the finishing
touches on a
new album. Wayves
can only wish him
continued success in all of his
endeavours. Pour vous, gentle
reader, we strongly urge all of you
who can to ‘’Hie thee to FRED!’’
to see these beautiful and evocative
paintings while you still may.
For those of you unable to make
the trip to Halifax, keep reading
Wayves for more information on
Ryan’s upcoming CD. You’ll be glad you did!

Photo Credit for Ryan MacGrath art
show: Scott Blackburn - Wayes Magazine (Atlantic Canada)

"Halifax Singer Offers Valentine's Services to the Highest Bidder"

Earning a living as a full-time musician can be a tough gig, so it’s no wonder Halifax singer Ryan MacGrath can be yours for a song. Literally — MacGrath auctioned off the composition of an original love song for Valentine’s Day.

Bidding was fierce at ryanmacgrath.com and even after the winner was announced, a second would-be Romeo hired MacGrath to write him a birthday gift. MacGrath will now write a song based on the winner’s own love story and create an original painting for the CD case.
He said the idea came when he had some down time before his full-length debut album, Cooper Hatch Paris, drops in May.

“I like the challenge. I like the notion of going outside of myself and ultimately having to write something more universal,” he explained. “When I’m writing my own songs, it tends to be very personal. Something like this, it gets me out of my own head and my own fear and forces me to think in a broader way.”

He’s done commissioned songs in the past and he’s eager to do more. He can be hired via his website.

“I love the idea of having the audience contribute to the music they will ultimately listen to,” he said.

The song was bought for a mere $200 by Halifax businessman Michael Christie. He met with MacGrath early this month to give him the raw materials to turn into tune by Valentine’s Day.

Christie had seen MacGrath perform before and loved his Rufus Wainwright-esque songs.
MacGrath will write about Christie’s romance with Nicholas, his husband of three years. Their first Valentine’s Day eight years ago set the bar low, with Nicholas offering Michael a hotdog-shaped card.

“It was the tackiest Valentine’s card you could possibly find. It looked like something Homer Simpson would buy,” Michael Christie said. “Maybe this year we’ll be inspired to at least listen to the song and have a nice glass of wine.”

Always the businessman, Christie hopes it’ll accrue in value. “Maybe one day when he’s successful, I’ll have a very early song that was commissioned just for me,” he said. If not, it’ll surely appreciate in sentimental value. Christie imagines coming across the CD 40 years from now.

“After we figure out how to play it, we’ll be like, ‘Hey, it’s that song!’”
- METRO (Canada)

"Ryan MacGrath: Street Style"

Ryan MacGrath
Occupation: Musician

Personal style: Dandy chic. I have a thing for old-timey boating and equestrian fashion. I recently chopped the collars off a bunch of my shirts because I saw a period film where some dude was strolling through a meadow with pinstriped pants, a collarless shirt and suspenders. Hot to trot!

Favourite item you're wearing: The herringbone trousers that were made especially for me by local designer, and soon-to-be superstar, Louanna Murphy. They are tailored just right, the fabric is light and cozy, and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside knowing that I'm supporting independent designers.

What's new? Just putting the finishing touches on my new (and first!) full-length album, Cooper Hatch Paris. It features Halifax gypsy-jazz band, Gypsophilia, and a sumptuous duet with Chantal Kreviazuk. It'll be released in July! - The Coast (Halifax)

"MacGrath’s Moment"

Ryan MacGrath is sick. You can see it before you're even close enough to say hi, as he makes his way up the moderate incline of Blowers Street, offering a restrained wave. "My bones hurt," he says, with a hint of real worry in his voice---that voice---as he settles into a chair overlooking a Grafton parking lot baked to fuming in the July sun. A can of mineral water is all that fuels him.

But a bone-rattling illness is just a couch on the tracks in front of the Ryan MacGrath train---stop for a minute, shove it off, move on. He'll make up the time.

MacGrath is 31 and he's been making music as a singer-songwriter since he was 20, when he transferred from Acadia to NSCAD in 1998. "My first week in Halifax I bought a guitar, with my student loan. I thought I'd try writing things---even in high school, when I was younger, I was sort of envisioning myself playing and writing music. I could hear it in my head. My bus ride to school in the morning was an hour and a half, so I would come up with instrumental songs in my head. But I didn't know how to get it out."

He had the voice---a huge, silky, beautifully textured thing practically unimaginable in a town packed to the low ceilings with nasal frontmen---but he didn't know how to play. Well, "I knew G and C and A." He found his way, eventually, with help from a chord chart and copious Joni Mitchell listening. "The first songs were pretty wretched," he says. "My first song I ever wrote with guitar was called 'Bubble Gurgle Bubble.'"

The open mic circuit followed, including a hosting gig at former Barrington venue C'est Si Bon, then a band, thewoodenhouse. MacGrath was going for it now, this music thing, but it wasn't yet right. He's still friends with his former bandmates, but, "I was hearing my songs in a different way, a totally different arrangement, a different way of performing. I didn't want to have to scream all the time. I always felt like I was competing."

Ryan MacGrath grew up the fourth of five children, see-sawing between Guysborough County and Antigonish throughout his adolescence. "We were always looking at houses," he says, a good thing that has developed his current love of touring. "Moving and travelling is very natural to me. When we were kids, we'd get very excited if we were moving again because we got to set up our new house."

MacGrath started developing his voice as many singers do---in his living room, as a child. "We used to have one of those big-ass stereos from the '70s, you know, a piece of furniture with a record player, an 8-track player. I would entertain myself by putting on records and sitting with my ear right up against the stereo, on the speakers, and for hours just sing along and try to copy peoples' voices---Michael Jackson, Dolly Parton. And then I'd wear my sisters' prom dresses and dance around the living room."

In his teen years, parentally obligated to attend the United Church in Antigonish, MacGrath nabbed most of the lead roles in parish productions. "I was Snidely Whiplash in Dudley Do-Right, the evil villain. We did one called Percival the Performing Pig, and I was Percival---that was a musical. My mom made me this pink terrycloth costume, which she still has. I remember the rest of the cast was carrying me through the audience---the character had succeeded at something. My thirst for performance started there."

MacGrath's debut LP is called Cooper Hatch Paris, after the three people who lived in his old Dartmouth house before him, and it's a glorious, genre-stepping pop record that plants itself in the 1970s and time travels decades in either direction. He's backed up by Gypsophilia, with vocal contributions from Erin Costelo, Selah Koile, Katharine Langille and Chantal Kreviazuk.

Jason MacIsaac of The Heavy Blinkers, who has also helmed albums for Jenn Grant and Brent Randall, gets the official producing credit, but, "Ryan has a producer's mind, and sometimes my job was just to say 'I agree with you,' and sometimes my job was to stay out of the way and sometimes my job was to order pizza."

MacIsaac met MacGrath at Music Nova Scotia when MacIsaac was the membership coordinator. "A piece of me would die every time he didn't get funding. I stand by the decision-making," he says, "but I don't know, when I would see the things that were getting funded---it was so painfully obvious to me that Ryan was the next big thing."

Together they demoed between 25 and 40 songs, depending on who you ask. "Jason and I would go out for lunch and make lists of all the songs. I'd be like, 'OK: Write your top 10,'" says MacGrath. "And we'd look at each others' lists, and it just so happened that one day, they all matched up."

"The songs are of a quality that if we weren't trying to make a cohesive record, just a record of singles, there are as many good songs that were left on the cutting room floor," says MacIsaac. "Everybody goes through that weaning, but honestly we could've picked another 12 songs and I would've been happy. His writing is so extremely good."

Gypsophila recorded the music in two days, live off the floor at Codapop Studios on Quinpool Road, with an intensive two-month rehearsal period preceding. "Kind of in the Motown or Phil Spector mindset, we wanted people who played together all the time and had an unspoken rapport and language," says MacIsaac. "There's nothing about it initially that's demonstrative of Gypsophilia's music, however when you just listen to the tracks, there's so many things they're doing, so nuanced they're almost undetectable, but the record would be so different if we'd hired quote-unquote studio cats, or indie kids. ... But we didn't hire them to be Gypsophilia, we hired the members of Gypsophilia to play together on a pop record."

"They all read music and I don't, and I'd be like 'Sageev [Oore], can you give me this piano line?'" says MacGrath, "and I'd be humming it out and he'd have to interpret what I was trying to tell him, which made me embarrassed sometimes."

The rehearsing paid off---the band nailed each song in a couple of takes each. Mike Belyea of Snailhouse came in later to dub drums, which, as the spine of the music, are usually recorded first. "There was always going to de drums, but it wasn't until we laid down the drums that things started sounding like Bowie and Blondie," says MacIsaac. "Up to that point, it sounded like a singer-songwriter record."

Which makes sense, considering that's what MacGrath has always been drawn to. Cooper Hatch Paris has an analog feeling, languid and fluid, which wasn't a stated goal, but "when it started happening and I started recognizing it, I got pretty excited because I find it's crossing this border of not being really recognizable but at the same time being in the '70s," he says. "I like that. The instrumentation isn't '70s at all. A lot of the beats are actually drawn from hip-hop beats."

MacIsaac, who credits Codapop engineer Eric Leclerc with the warm sound of the album, reveals a production secret: "Ryan wanted the record to sound like he was canoeing at night, in a beautiful calm lake, but there were all sorts of scary monsters under the water that may or may not rip him to shreds," he says. "That was one of the things I used...he wants everything to sound floral, very pretty and austere sometimes, but there are some things in the extreme background very low in the mix that we did that are horrible. They're hideous, terrible, scary, scary noises. You don't consciously hear them, and maybe to some degree that make you feel a little unsettled."

Lyrical content varies. "Most of my songs are about being pathetic and lonely," says MacGrath, laughing through the pain. The opener "Gifthorse" worries about opportunities past and squandered, the powerful refrain "We shall inherit what went wrong" pulling the song into anthem. "God Forbid," with response vocals from Erin Costelo, finds MacGrath in the wake of his uncle's death, worrying that suicide is inherited. "State of the Art" is a disco-infused crush song that finds beauty in the mothball-scented air of Value Village. "My Boyfriend" is the centre torch song in a lost gay musical from the '50s, while "Sullivan's Pond" is the climax to one about Dartmouth.

Through the entire record, MacGrath reigns his instrument in, preferring to unleash it at carefully chosen high points. "I was surprised at how much he was undersinging, because it just seemed counter-intuitive," says MacIsaac. "But if he started at 10 and went from there, it would be so over the top. I said this during the recording process: He is 95 pounds, and 85 pounds are octaves."

Now that the record is recorded, pressed and about to be released---in stores July 31, with a release party at The Carleton in September, during the Atlantic Film Festival---MacGrath is trying to navigate his way through the music industry. The local scene is known for embracing new arrivals, but he says he didn't feel that. "There was always a few pockets of people who were interested and pushed me on, but as far as the inner workings of the Halifax music industry---it took a long time."

"I really feel in this city that until recently he's been an underdog," says MacIsaac.

MacGrath has been playing a steady stream for months, all over Nova Scotia and up to Central Canada and back---in the week after we meet he's got four shows, including a Bowie tribute---and feels like he knows what's up in Halifax and Toronto, but now the struggle becomes a global one.

"I often ask people for advice who I think would have it, or should have it. And no one seems to have any answers," he says. "Everyone says, 'This person's doing that, it seems to be working.' Well, I'm not that person. If you ask about marketing or distribution, it's like 'This company does that, these people do that,' but there's no specific formula, there's no book you can read.

"I slowly set this up, trying to figure out where it should go. Especially with this album because it is such an investment, not only on my part but on the part of everyone involved. I really want to make sure it does something. This isn't a hobby anymore, it's a serious product that we've created."

"I don't know what it would take for him to not become a huge star. It is inevitable, if there's any justice in the world," says MacIsaac. "It's such a fully realized record for a debut record."

"You could write one song in your entire life," says MacGrath. "And maybe it connects with everyone. And I'm really interested in that, whatever that is, that makes it work."

- Tara Thorne - The Coast (Halifax)

"Musician Ryan MacGrath's Streak of Good Luck"

Ryan MacGrath has a proverbial horseshoe up his ass.

It's not always comfortable, but it's gotten him where he wants to be: out there, releasing his first feature length album.

MacGrath's luck keeps blossoming, like his career. From his start as a singer-songwriter with just a handful of songs, MacGrath has gone on to open for Gentleman Reg, and most recently got Chantal Kreviazuk to sing with him — for the price of a painting, no less.

MacGrath's album, Cooper Hatch Paris, is due for release this summer. "I was influenced by artists like Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads' approach to world music; to use it as a reference point," he says. "This album has everything from harps to bouzoukis. It feels so good to have the finished product so close to what I hear in my head. I always envisioned something orchestral."

For MacGrath, that translation from thought to note couldn't have happened without the help of his friends. MacGrath and critically-acclaimed jazz band Gypsophila rehearsed for two months, leading to two days of recording live off the floor. The fast pace of the process left MacGrath a little nervous, but — horseshoe firmly in place — everything turned out the way he wanted. "It was scary doing it like that, with such a limited time. I thought, 'Let's get it right and hope that what we've been doing makes sense when we're recording it' and then phew, it did work."

MacGrath not only works as a musician, but as a painter as well. He graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in 2002 which, incidentally, is also around the time when he bought his first guitar. MacGrath's painting skills helped him find a new friend, or rather, a fan in an unlikely place: the aforementioned Chantal Kreviazuk. Just another stroke of luck for him. "We have a mutual friend who runs an art gallery where I sell my paintings. She saw one and liked it, and I said, 'Why don't we do a trade?' This intrigued her, so I sent her the song, and she loved it. I spent two days in a blur wondering, 'What does this mean? How does this happen?' When amazing things happen to you, you wonder if this is real."

But it's not all luck. It's also about being smart in the current music industry. To help fund the recording of his new album, MacGrath held an auction in the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day. The winner would get to sit down with MacGrath, who would then go on to write a song for the winner's valentine. "You have to be creative on the business side as much as on the creative side. You can be as creative as you want, but if you're not getting it out there, it stays within the walls of your bedroom." The auction itself only garnered him a few hundred dollars, but the spinoffs were worth more than the money itself. MacGrath got songwriting commissions, as well as a flurry of publicity in the local media, something which led to more shows, more gigs and more money for the recording of Cooper Hatch Paris.

It's that business savvy edge which may help MacGrath even more than his luck. "You gotta feed the music business machine. A year ago I had just released my first EP, and I was touring but I had no idea of the attention it would bring me. The machine starts to have a mind of it's own, so I'm riding that wave. It's given me more choices, more and more people are wanting to collaborate, and now I find that I have established myself as someone who is not going to disappear."

Not with that horseshoe up his ass, he isn't.

For more on MacGrath — and for a list of his upcoming tour dates in Halifax, Toronto, Montreal and the Ottawa-area — check out myspace.com/ryansmacgrath.

- Xtra! (Canada)

"A night as a fashionista"

St. Patrick’s church in Halifax was the unusual venue for the night and I joined a plethora of attractive models and even more attractive fashionistas in the audience for all the stylish fun.

Lisa Drader-Murphy is the president and owner of Turbine Fashion Design Studio & Cafe in Falmouth and the Turbine Boutique on the Halifax waterfront. Under the Turbine label, Lisa designs and produces seasonal collections of ready-to-wear garments and accessories that had the crowd bursting into excited applause every few moments.

Before the show began I insisted that Victoria Bouchard, Turbine’s in-house beauty consultant give me a thorough working over. Primped, polished and crammed into my best suit, I looked as good as is humanly possible. However, Bouchard’s makeup artist colleague, Candace Knocton, looked exhausted!

My co-host, The Chronicle Herald’s fashion-bunny Eva Hoare, and I had a few minutes alone with the designer, to try and understand the running order of the night and then we were on. Eva had way more to say on the clothes than I did and even got to wear a lovely purple piece from the collection. They wouldn’t let me near the clothes. Or the models, come to think of it!

Hundreds of gorgeous pieces were worn by the models, floating down the aisle of the church and then around the crowd. Fiona Kirkpatrick Parsons, Nancy Regan, Amy Kerr and Joanne David were among the Halifamous strutting the "catwalk." Ryan MacGrath and The Caravan played and sang so well for the show.

The evening wasn’t just about fashion. There was a fundraising element to the show, with Turbine’s charitable giving arm, the Turbine Fund, raising money for the charity Amanda’s Gift this year. To date, over $80,000 has been distributed to charities by The Turbine Fund. - The Chronicle Herald

"He's Got the Look"

Halifax singer/songwriter Ryan MacGrath wanted a fashion statement to complement his new album Cooper Hatch Paris. He wanted a detailed yet classic suit to wear for his album’s photo shoot and future performances. Enter fashion designer of the moment and 2009 Off the Cuff winner Louanna Murphy. - Halifax Magazine

"Halifax based singer gets his big break"

Ryan MacGrath isn't pleased with his first recording. "It's too repetitive, it's too sparse," he tells his co-producer Don MacKay, pulling up a set of bongos and starting to play a beat over top.

MacGrath and MacKay are nestled in the shed-turned-recording-studio called Between Spaces, in Halifax's North End. MacGrath sits on a chair with his guitar and headphones in a room dimly lit by a red-tinted light bulb. MacKay sits at a computer in the back room, fiddling with levels and sound.

"Sounds good to me man," MacKay answers. But MacGrath is already off on a creative tangent, set out to add dimension to the sixth and last song on his solo EP, In My Own Company.

The small-town Nova Scotia native had the typical childhood love affair with music. He remembers being three years old, pressing his ear against his parents' big wooden eight track, listening to Michael Jackson's Thriller and Dolly Parton. MacGrath was always encouraged to go into biology and physics after high school, and left his home outside of Antigonish, NS to take a science degree at Acadia University in Wolfville, NS. After an art history course re-awakened his creativity, he switched after his first year to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) and completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2002.

During his first year at NSCAD, MacGrath used his student loan to buy a guitar. He could hear arrangements in his head, and without any musical training started writing songs and performing at open mics. In 2005, he formed Ryan MacGrath and thewoodenhouse for which he was the primary songwriter and arranger. A couple of name and musician changes later, they settled on The Missing City Starlight, so that MacGrath the solo artist and MacGrath the band man wouldn't get confused.

In My Own Company will be a series of six songs all written by the 29-year-old MacGrath in the last year. Set to be released in September, most of the songs reflect MacGrath's fantasies, whether it be the small town boy trying to escape Nova Scotia in his track Way West and Big City or the hopeless romantic wanting to be swept away by his shining knight in Featherweight.

Though he doesn't label himself as a queer artist, his songs explicitly reference male lovers and he participates in Halifax's gay community. He doesn't label himself as one genre either, describing his voice as folk and the music as pop. MacGrath plays guitar on all the tracks and features friends and band mates singing and playing instruments such as the violin, drums, synth and sitar. He dubs the resulting sound "parlour pop."

Whether MacGrath is painting or making music, his approach is always hands on. In the recording studio, he's either playing the xylophone while listening to his tracks, coming up with another melody, or humming harmonies on top, creating a layered texture to his water-smooth voice. "Ryan sees things most people don't," MacKay says. "He's got this incredible creative energy."

Whatever he's doing, MacGrath exerts a calm control. He speaks like a man who knows what he wants, but has faith things will happen organically. His attitude about the release of his EP, which he hopes will open doors for him as a solo artist in the Halifax music community, is much the same. "It feels like good timing," he says, with one foot against the red door of the shed, smoking a cigarette before a long night of recording. "Even if nothing comes of it, I'll still make music. It's in me."

Check out more on Ryan MacGrath and his music on his Facebook page:
www.facebook.com/pages/The-Art-Music-of-Ryan-MacGrath/17887787371 - Angelina Chapin - Xtra.ca

"Songwriting takes Pride"

Songwriting takes pride
July 24, 2008 01:14

It feels good, said Ryan MacGrath, to have an opportunity to blend both his worlds together.

“A lot of times in the music community, especially in this area, there are not a lot of gay performers,” said the singer-songwriter. “If they are gay, they don’t tend to play it up a lot.

“It’s not like they are singing about gay subject matter all the time.”

MacGrath is producing the Under the Big Top: Songwriters’ Showcase Pride Festival tomorrow evening, and will perform with his band, The Missing City Starlight, following the Saturday’s Pride Parade.

“I tend to write both types of music,” said MacGrath. “Music that reaches to a wider audience and is not exclusive, but I also write about my own experiences in the gay community — with same-sex love and relationships.

“This is a great opportunity to showcase that side of my writing.”

While the post-parade show has been held in past years, this is the first time Halifax Pride will be holding a songwriter event. MacGrath said he was approached to organize the show after the success of Homos in Hell in May.

The Hell’s Kitchen event saw local bands perform as part of a fundraiser for the local pride committee.

“I wanted to focus more on singer-songwriters, because there were some at Homos in Hell, but it ended up being a rock show,” McGrath said.

During tomorrow’s songwriter showcase, five musicians will take their turn on stage, performing and sharing stories. They include Amelia Curran, Tanya Davis, Erin Costelo, Archie Gillis and Ryan Cook.

“This is a chance for the community to come out and see these performers, who aren’t all gay, but are gay friendly,” MacGrath said. “It’s also a chance for their audiences to support pride events.” - Metro - Halifax

"Church Bell Blues: Ryan MacGrath"

Ryan MacGrath doesn’t do anything half-assed.

On the eve of the release of In My Own Company, he transformed The Seahorse into an opera house of sorts. Heavy curtains hugged the lip of the stage, lanterns hung over top of mini-mirror balls like hot air balloons, seasonal white lights twinkled behind a textured backdrop.

The magical surroundings were mere accents, as he pulled out all the stops – an ensemble spanning nearly a dozen musicians clad in all black with pink floral broaches pinned to their chest. But it was the Harmony Barbershop Quartet that nearly stole the show.

“I found them on Kijiji,” says MacGrath, over herbal tea at Coastal Café. “They are incredible, it was the first time they’ve ever backed anyone. It certainly was the first time I’ve ever had a Barbershop Quartet back me up. We were all in it together.

“Putting this CD release show together almost felt like a wedding, it was my wedding in a way. Now I see why brides get so stressed”

Instead of sending out invitations, MacGrath spent four weeks embossing 200 copies of In My Own Company by hand. He even had small bottles of his own fragrance available for purchase at the show. “I like to produce a show that’s more exciting for the audience. Perhaps a touch indulgent, over the top and theatrical,” he says.

At 30 years old, the Guysborough County-native is no stranger to the spotlight. In recent years he’s kicked around town as Ryan MacGrath and thewoodenhouse. A couple of line up and name changes later the project settled on The Missing City Starlight.

Throughout it all, MacGrath was honing his craft and gathering up his confidence to cultivate the more orchestral pop he’s harvested in his solo material. This past June he arrived at Don MacKay’s Spaces Between Studios on North Street with skeletal versions of In My Own Company. The recording process was a voyage in itself.

“We would consciously look for descriptive terms where we thought the song should go from a production and engineering stand point,” says MacKay, co-producer, sound engineer and multi-instrumental session musician. “We both had the skills to be able to find what it was that we were after.

“From our conversations and our prior musical experiences, we both have a dedication for songs, poetry and imagery, and sound. We have a deep love for creation, learning and exploration. This makes for fabulous linguistic and musical conversations.”

Drawing on the theatrical, MacGrath and MacKay created their own narrative to orchestrate their creative ideas. When MacGrath wanted the opening track “Bell Boy,” to sound like a buoy floating in the water, MacKay took that image and built on it. “Cinderella” aptly grew from the original Walt Disney connotation, as MacKay improvised a Disney-feel with a shovel and bucket of dirt for a sharp bass drum.

It’s hard not to relay the parallels between Rufus Wainwright’s cabaret-style and Hawksley Workman’s robust vocal range, but In the Dead of Winter Festival organizer and folk songwriter Amelia Curran nailed it at MacGrath’s CD release. “He sounds like a young Roy Orbison,” she says. Perhaps with more jazz flourishes, heavy-handed romanticism and dramatics akin to Parisian love stories.

“People ask me to come up with my own term for my music,” says MacGrath. “It’s like old parlour music. Imagine a group of old ladies and gentlemen dressed up. There are vases with big flowers. Someone is playing old world music in the parlour.”

MacGrath indulges in his imagination; he’s boldly romantic and highly idealistic. His sexuality comes secondary.

“I don’t sensor myself in my lyrics. I’ve been out for 10 years. I’m really comfortable. I hope the songs are strong enough to translate to anyone,” he says. “Sure, I’m a guy singing about another guy, but I hope that desensitizes. I want my music to transcend. I’m not RuPaul or a club boy.”

Catch MacGrath at In the Dead of Winter performing at the songwriter’s circle with Lynne Hanson and Ana Egge at the Bus Stop January 28 and a showcase show with Andrea Romolo, Alexandra Ribera and Heather Kelday at Eye Level Gallery January 29.
- The Coast, Halifax


In My Own Company, EP, January 2009:

1. Bell Boy
2. Way West
3. Cinderella
4. Featherweight
5. Run
6. No More Tears

COOPER HATCH PARIS, LP, September 2010:

1. Gifthorse
2. Bird & Cage
3. God Forbid
4. Crooked Heart
5. State of the Art
6. Apple Tree
7. My Boyfriend
8. Celebrity Death
9. Straight and Narrow
10. Sullivan's Pond

The Pink Lark, EP, January 2013

1. Kiss Me Tonight
2. The Ticket
3. The Darkside
4. Sahib
5. After All
6. Speechless



Ryan's first full-length album "Cooper Hatch Paris" was awarded Alternative Album of the Year at the 2011 Molson Canadian Nova Scotia Music Week.

This album was also nominated for three 2011 East Coast Music Awards (Canada) in the following categories: Rising Star of the Year, Alternative Album of the Year, and Male Solo Recording of the Year.

Riding high on the success of Cooper Hatch Paris, Ryan relocated to Europe, making Innsbruck, Austria his home. Here, he wrote the beautifully haunting six track EP "The Pink Lark", with collaborator Chris Vano. This EP is a meditation on the loneliness and self discovery that results from packing up everything into two suitcases and moving to a foreign country to follow love.

Ryan MacGrath conjures up old world aesthetic with a contemporary twist, fusing indie rock and cabaret crooning. His debut full-length Cooper Hatch Paris is a romantic, whimsical wander through the orchard of imagination. MacGrath questions the meaning of love, art, history and purpose. With a full-bodied, robust voice unlike no other, MacGrath explores both the light and the shadows it leaves behind. The voice of an acrobat and the musicianship of lion trainer, MacGrath is a ringmaster who was born to sing. Cooper Hatch Paris sets the bar for his unforgettable live performance.

For previous and upcoming gigs, please see http://ryanmacgrath.com/?page_id=34