Ryan David Green and Cameron Hood of Ryanhood. Photo by Ehab Tamimi.
Our interview with award-winning Tucson, AZ-based indie-folk duo Ryanhood didn’t start with a bang. After getting Ryan David Green on the phone, we couldn’t get our conference call to connect to his bandmate Cameron Hood despite Ryan’s assurance that, “I just tested this 30 minutes ago and it worked!” We laughingly compared it to the instrument cable that works fine at sound check and fails during the show. Moments later, we could hear both members of this incredibly impressive musical duo who were recently named “Discovery of the Year” by influential New York radio station WFUV, and we launched into the questions.
Ryan, do you recall your earliest impressions of Takamine guitars?
RDG: Cameron was my first impression of them. I got to know Takamine through him when he first moved to Boston to join me to play music together. He had an EF341SC that he played for about 15 years. I had cycled through a few different guitars in that time period, and meanwhile his workhorse Takamine had outlasted all of mine. More recently, I’d been playing a custom dreadnought that was great, but was a fragile instrument to have out on the road, so I made the switch to the P7DC. I got it thinking that it would be mostly my live guitar, but as we started recording, I put it up against my other guitars, and lo and behold, it is now my main recording guitar as well.
Cameron, how about you? What made you choose Takamine in the first place?
CH: I chose it just by sitting at a guitar shop and testing guitars, one by one. We were street performers at the time, and I had the initial acoustic-electric that my mom got me in high school. That guitar got me started, but it was wearing out, and I needed something else. I found the EF341SC just by sitting in the little acoustic room at Guitar Center and A/Bing acoustic-electric guitars. The Takamine was just my favorite.
Ryan, you’re playing the P7DC, which is pretty much the top end of our Pro Series guitars. It has the classic spruce top and rosewood back, plus the CTP-3 CoolTube preamplifer. What’s been your experience in dialing in the right sound for you?
RDG: I like using the tube. I have it set at about 10 o'clock on the dial. It brings in the warmth and some grit. We’re kind somewhere in between a folk duo and a rock duo, and the compression and warmth of the CTP-3 suits that. I should add that it’s a loud guitar, even unplugged, which is what attracted me to it. I think because I’m generally sort of a lead player, I find that in ensembles with other instruments, acoustic guitar tends to be lost. You take a solo and everyone else has to come down and be quiet for the guitar to be heard. That’s not the case with the P7DC. I love the sound of it. I put medium gauge strings on it to get even more punch out of it. It’s a guitar I can dig into. I play pretty hard on it, and it sounds great. I will also say that I use it for fingerstyle too, and it’s excellent.
Ryan David Green on his Pro Series P7DC. Photo by Ehab Tamimi.
Cameron’s EF341SC has been one of Takamine’s most recognizable models for many years, and is the guitar of choice for everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Nils Lofgren and many more. It’s a very different kind of guitar compared to the P7DC, with a cedar top and maple back. Do you guys purposefully play instruments that complement each other, rather than trying to get identical tones?
CH: Attempting to complement each other is a huge part of what we do, how play play together. We purposefully write parts for ourselves on different parts of the neck—usually me low, Ryan high—so that we play in complement rather than in competition. I think playing guitars that sound a little different from each other plays into that philosophy.
You guys are on the road a lot, playing many different kinds of environments in different places, different temperature, different humidity and so on. How do your Takamine guitars hold up on tour?
CH: My only other comparison was a custom guitar that I loved, but it was way more unruly on the road. Issues with tuning and intonation. So for me, I’ve noticed a stability with my Takamine. It’s reliable.
RDG: We live in Arizona, and it’s a brutal climate for acoustic guitars, being so dry. But we often tour through humid parts of the country, so it definitely gets worked in all kinds of environments. But I just keep a humidifier in the case, and that’s all I have to worry about. One thing I want to note is that I am very particular about my guitar setup. Being someone who uses the whole neck, I’m somewhat demanding in that department. Aside from a small tweak to accommodate the change to medium gauge strings the day I got the guitar, I’m still playing on the factory setup, and I’m kind of amazed by that. I keep thinking, “At some point soon I’ll probably need to have a setup done,” but that time has still not come. The factory setup of the Takamine is great.
Cameron, you recently replaced your EF341SC with another EF341SC.
CH: I play very percussively, and over the years I got some cracks in the surface of my old guitar, and some scratches near the hole. I mean, it wasn’t quite Willie Nelson level, but people were like, “Oh, you could get a new guitar!” I was always like, “Why would I want a new guitar? I love this guitar.” So when I finally did get something to replace the Black Bruiser, I got the same exact model. I’m one of the least tech/gear guys I know, so I couldn’t tell you why I love it, just that I do.
Cameron Hood with his Legacy Series EF341SC. Photo by Ehab Tamimi.
Tucson seems to have a vibrant creative scene all around, including art and music and more. Do you find that the place you live has an impact on the music you make?
CH: I think so. I don’t think it’s as much about capturing the sound of the desert. Other artists have done that so much better, like the Sand Rubies or Calexico. For me, it’s the community of artists in Tucson… working on songs together, comparing ideas, being pushed in ways. Your friend in another band is doing great things and you want to do great things too.
RDG: We’re sort of right on the border, and there’s a real celebration of Mexican culture and really a celebration of all kinds of diversity here, whether it’s food or music or ideas. People sometimes say to us, “You should tour in Europe! They’re so openminded musically.” But then I realize that Tucson is one of those places. Now that I think about it, there are a number of bands from Tucson who do well in Europe because of that similarity. There’s a lot of cross pollination that happens here in the Desert Southwest.
I want to ask both of you guys about your respective beginnings as musicians. What made you pick up a guitar?
RDG: I was given a guitar as a Christmas gift from my grandma when I was in sixth grade. As soon as I touched the guitar, it really clicked. Around that same time, a friend of my dad gave me a sealed copy of Joe Satriani’s Time Machine double CD (I think she had received it accidentally through one of those "15 CDs for a penny" music clubs that used to exist in the early '90s). I remember being twelve and sitting with headphones on, listening to that album. There were fireworks going off in my brain and I was trying figuring out what was happening. It was the start of the plunge down a big rabbit hole of music and the possibilities of guitar. You just never get to the bottom of it.
CH: For me, getting into guitar was relational. I grew up with my dad playing guitar, and learning the Buddy Holly and Beatles songs he knew was something we could do together. And then, my brother and cousin who are both older than me also played guitar, and I just wanted to do whatever they were doing, so I started learning the R.E.M. and Green Day they liked so I could be in a band with them. I think it was mostly about spending time doing this activity with people I loved and wanted to be with.
Photo by Ehab Tamimi.
Cliche question time: who are some of the influences who are important to you as a guitarist, Ryan?
RDG: Well, I mentioned Joe Satriani being a big early influence. But as I transitioned towards an interest in acoustic music, I grew attracted to players like Béla Fleck and Chris Thile who were just breaking all kinds of ground. It didn’t matter that they played banjo and mandolin, I would just transcribe their licks for guitar. In fact, there’s something wonderful about finding musicians to learn and borrow from who don’t play guitar, because it forces you to expand your thinking and technique. But there are also plenty of guitarists out there who I absolutely love, including folks like Julian Lage, Chris Eldridge, Molly Tuttle, and Tommy Emmanuel.
Same question to Cameron. Influences as a guitarist?
CH: Lindsey Buckingham. And even though I don’t play anything like him, David Gilmour, in terms of putting your heart into every note. But probably the people I’ve learned the most from are my older brother and from Ryan. Most of the chops I’ve picked up, I’ve sort of overheard from them. From a "band influences" standpoint, I think there’s something about Pink Floyd and the massive scope of what they were doing. There’s also the way U2 crafts something along with the audience at their shows. Like, instead of just performing for an audience, they’re all going somewhere together for 2-1/2 hours. It’s really moving to me. There was something I heard from Livingston Taylor, who is James Taylor’s brother. He’s really big on the idea that you’re inviting the audience into an experience. And so I’ve probably been even more influenced in terms of the show we’re crafting than in how I actually play guitar.
Ryan, I found Berklee to be a rude awakening in terms of realizing how many great guitar players there are in the world. Did you find it to be a competitive situation while you were there, and was that a push for you to develop your skills more than you would have otherwise?
RDG: I went through times where it was overwhelming. I mean, the school is something like 40% guitar players. I had a brief dark spell of realizing, “Wow, there are a lot of players who do things I can’t do.” However, when I kind of came out of that, I began to notice people still wanted to play with me. I had to ask myself, “Why am I getting these gigs when there are so many other guitarists here who are better than me?” I started to realize that as a guitarist, what it really comes down to is your voice on the instrument. What you have to say. Your feel, and your attitude. And that extends beyond the guitar itself. That extends to your attitude interacting with others. Whether you show up to a gig on time. I think it’s possible to spend so much time in a practice room that you lose a little bit of the ability relate with people on a social level.
Final question. A lot of people play guitar but never consider writing original music. What advice do you have for someone who’d like to create their own songs but don’t know how to go about moving ahead on it?
CH: I would steal advice from Anne Lamott, a writer. She’s a big proponent of shitty first drafts. I think there’s a place for "art" and a place for "craft". And I think the art is in the shitty first draft. When you first put the idea out there. The initial feeling, the inspiration, whatever you feel and want to capture. You have to just let that come out and not judge it. Then, later you can and should craft it and edit it. But often you don’t even finish the first draft before you want to crumple it up and run away from it. So my advice would be to not let your own internal critic, your internal editor, have their say too early in the process. Once you develop the ability to write shitty first drafts and withhold the editor, you learn that you can engage in craft later. You can work it and shift it, make the chorus better, or do whatever the song needs to develop. But first you have to just dare to write a bad song.
RDG: I took a songwriting class at Berklee, and as a prerequisite you had to be able to play 50-100 songs by memory. I think it’s important to learn as many songs as you can to get the tools for song creation. To start to understand the chord progressions that tug at your heart. After that, I think it’s a matter of always being ready to capture your ideas. I often get melodic ideas while I’m driving, so I’ll sing the idea into my phone so I don’t lose it. I also get inspired when I go to a new space with my guitar and it sounds totally different. Suddenly I am writing things I’ve never played before. In those situations, the editing is secondary. It’s just a matter of getting it down. It’s getting out of bed when you’re on the verge of falling asleep and a melody comes into your head, because you know that if you wait until morning, you’ll never get it back.
Do you actually get out of bed? I always think I’ll remember it the next day and I never, ever do.
RDG: Haha, yes! I had a series of three or four nights in a row that it happened recently. The first night I could barely summon the strength to get up. By the third night I was practically leaping out of bed to go record. Maybe it was the fact that I honored that creative impulse, more of them came daily. My wife wasn’t thrilled, but I got the songs!
Photo by Ehab Tamimi.
Keep up with Ryanhood via their web site.