During his radio promotional stint and just days before his sold-out homecoming album release show on August 3 in New York City, Ryan Star squeezed Music Vice writer Laura Antonelli into his hectic schedule. On Wednesday (July 28) they discussed over the phone the joy and excitement in Star’s record finally being released and how learning to live in the moment is what truly matters and defines his new album, 11:59, which releases today, 3 August.
Laura, what’s up? How you doing?
Hey Ryan. Good, how are you?
I’m very good. I’m in Memphis, Tennessee. Where are you?
I’m in Toronto. But I heard I only have 15 minutes with you.
So you wanna jump right in and skip all the pillow talk?
Yeah, that’s a waste of time.
[Laughs] That’s cool. Let’s do it. Let’s do it.
So 11:59 has been a long journey. You began recording this album in 2006. Now four years later it’s finally being released on Tuesday [August 3, 2010]. How are you feeling right now, Ryan?
I’m feeling great. There’s exhaustion that goes into this process and a lot of emotion attached to it because you’ve been making a record for so long, the ups and downs, everything is attached to it. Now I’m finding myself saying for the first time that this Tuesday it’s coming out. It’s a trip. This is the dream. 11:59 is really something I’m so proud of and it’s the album I’ve always wanted to make, so here it is finally. There’s not much more to say than yeah, it’s a totally exciting time.
Why was the release date pushed back so many times?
I guess it depends who you ask. If you’re asking me, I would say I wanted to really tour and get in there. I didn’t want to just come out with a record and see what happens. I wanted to get out there and build it the right way. Build it the old fashioned way. Be an artist that gets out on the road and builds his fan base, so part of it was that. I was continuing to tour while I was finishing the album for so long. Then a lot of it just comes down to the right timing. When you’re dealing with a bigger machine than just my little independent record label I used to do, there’s more people involved and more at stake. So I think we were just waiting for the right time. Now that “Breathe” has been getting out to the world in a big way, it’s the time, so here we go.
That leads perfectly into my next question. You made Songs from the Eye of an Elephant independently, so what made you decide to sign to a major label [Atlantic Records] again?
Good question. When I was younger, my band Stage was signed to Maverick Records and we went through the whole major label ordeal. I experienced what can go wrong and the heartbreak involved with it. Then I experienced the joy of doing it on your own [with Songs from the Eye of an Elephant] and the autonomy of every little thing from the artwork, the recordings, you name it. I was able to build that up in New York which was a tough time to do it in, but I had this following for this independent thing. For the first time in my life I was actually making a living doing music. I was still living on NYU dorm floors, but I was at least making music and having people come to my shows.
Then I felt there was still something else missing on this whole other level. I hooked up with the right people. I don’t think I would have signed with any other record label. It was just the right people who had the right passion. They shared the passion that I had for what I was doing, so it made sense to me. It didn’t feel like I was signing anything away or going to a big, bad company. I felt like I was just getting some help in my independent process. Obviously, as you can see, I was able to take my time and make the record I wanted, so it’s proven to be true.
There is a “Carpe Diem” (“seize the day”) theme with songs like “Brand New Day”, “Right Now”, “Breathe”, “This Could Be the Year”, and the title track, “11:59”. I found a foreshadowing in the insert of Songs from the Eye of an Elephant when you wrote, “…but you only wonder what would have been if you had captured the moment when you had it.” So tell me about the idea of –
Wow. Laura, you just gave me chills, man. That’s intense. You did your research.
Thank you, Ryan.
Wait, so what was the actual question?
[Laughs] Can you tell me about the idea of living in the moment being present in your songs so frequently?
[Pause] I don’t think it was a conscious thing as I was writing it. I was living on the beach making this album and had some real big exposure from a television show and started creating these new songs. I started realizing what I thought went wrong, not with what went wrong with my career with my band Stage, but what went wrong with the way I lived with my band Stage. We were best friends since we were kids, we were touring around the country, had a record come out, we should have really been enjoying every second of it, because whatever at the end of the day happened, happened and we couldn’t change it. I feel like looking back if I could talk to myself then I would have said, “Man, just enjoy it! This is a great time! Think about what you’re doing and who you’re with.” Really, just smile every day which I didn’t. I think that affected me and I figured regardless what happens now, I’m going to enjoy the process. That is powerful, I think. That’s empowered me a great deal to get through a lot of days and enjoy the moment, enjoy the process, because the process is life. Life isn’t the summary at the end of the story. Life is actually turning the pages. So 11:59 is basically just enjoying the journey. Just know who you are and where you are right now. If you want to be something, be it right now, don’t say it’s coming, just be it today.
Yeah, that was trippy.
Because during the flight you wrote a journal entry that was later posted on your website that seemed like you thought you were going to die. Did you feel like you were in an episode of LOST?
[Laughs] You mean maybe I’m dead already, right?
Laura, are you real? Can you concur that this is happening?
This is happening right now, Ryan.
You are real? Okay, well, that’s good to hear. But, yeah, after seeing Inception you never know.
[Laughs] That’s true.
But that flight was very real. I was writing in my journal I always carry. It’s a funny thing because that journal entry has kind of grown into a life of its own because people don’t know if I was writing a play, story, script, or a movie scene, but it was real. It was mostly truly inspiring. It was one of those trippy moments. People were screaming and it was getting crazy, and in that moment I thought I was going to name it 11:59. That’s where the inspiration came.
But everything ended up being Okay.
Thankfully. I got off and it kind of changed me a little bit. I mean, I don’t want to be over-dramatic. It was real and it was intense, but, thankfully, false alarm.
I just want to focus on “Losing Your Memory” because in past interviews you said you wrote it about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But in recent interviews you’ve said the song has taken on new meaning. So can you explain the evolution of it?
It wasn’t so much about the film. I use movies to inspire ideas, colours, and emotions. I call myself a lazy filmmaker sometimes because I write three minute songs and not two and a half hour movies. So it was inspired, I sat with a pen and paper and wrote the words. But I was getting tired and exhausted emotionally, so I was determined to write a song not so much about me. I wanted to do something a little more secular. And then, sure enough, when I finished writing that song, I looked at the lyrics, and it felt like I was looking in a mirror. It was so real to my life and evident that it was from my heart and soul. It’s very in-tune with the cover artwork of 11:59, actually.
Because it’s at Montauk and you say “I wake in Montauk with you near”?
Yeah, so really, if there’s an image for “Losing Your Memory” it’s the album cover and the insert stuff when you get to see it.
And “Losing Your Memory” is from Songs from the Eye of an Elephant that you re-worked which you also did with “We Might Fall” that you included on the new album. Why did you pick those songs?
In a weird, fantasy way I, at some point, want to get them all out. Maybe two every record and by the end of 10 records we’ll have them all done.
You’re going to go back to those songs?
I don’t know, I don’t know. There’s something about them. Songs from the Eye of an Elephant was just a stream of consciousness record, so there’s a lot of unfinished work there. “Losing Your Memory” and “We Might Fall” for me were ones I wanted to attack right now because I always had a dream of them sounding a certain way. I didn’t know exactly what that was, but now that I’ve heard them this way I’m so happy and gratified. They’re just beautiful, beautiful pieces on the album and I wouldn’t have been able to do it on my own. They’re good examples of the collaboration involved with making this music. They wouldn’t have happened with just me. These are real collaborative song productions that I’m just so floored by.
Speaking of collaborations, a bonus track on the iTunes Deluxe edition is “You and Me” that you wrote with Raine Maida from Our Lady Peace, right?
Yeah, we sat in a room and we were messing around with that song together.
How did that come about?
Um, about! [Laughs while mimicking Laura’s Canadian accent] Uh, eh!
For one thing, I’m a huge Our Lady Peace fan. I actually knew Raine over the years. I met him when I was 15 years old. He was opening for Van Halen and nobody knew Our Lady Peace. Over the years we kind of kept in touch through different friends of people. When I was writing my record, I was like, “Hey, man, can we sit down for a few hours” so I went to his house. Chantal was there and his kids were running around. It was a great moment. We didn’t write the whole song in its entirety together, but we started jamming and that’s what it turned into. You can hear his influence in it, though.
Last minute you added a song you wrote just three weeks ago with Ido [Zmishlany] from Lion of Ido called “Start a Fire”. Tell me about this song and why you’re so passionate about it being on the album.
It’s kind of like the miracle song. It’s last minute, the record is being pressed. I mean, we’re talking about an album that has been in the works for four years. Then last minute it’s being pressed and basically we stopped the pressing. It was like, “Stop the press! We wanna put this song on it!” It just felt important to me because from one angle it was fresh and so many things were happening. I’m a believer when the world gives you little miracles, you gotta accept them and you can’t turn them down. So it was the little things like having the time to write it – staying up two nights in a row, not sleeping, doing a demo for it. Then finding out I could get to L.A. to finish it. All these things kept saying that I needed to get this song recorded and it just made the cut off. So because of the fact I was even able to get it done, it became my mission to get the song on the album.
That being said, it’s so fun to have something fresh on the record that I haven’t heard in the last few years. It really infused a breath of fresh air into the album. It’s an exciting song. It’s unlike any other tune I’ve ever done and definitely not like any of the songs on 11:59. I think it’s important that it’s there because if 11:59 is the blueprint for the rest of my career and the albums I’ll ever make, I think it’s good that we have a touch of each thing. You have me on the piano alone and then you have this rock kind of pop song, so I’m really excited because to me it made the album more complete.
With that track being added another one was taken off that you’ve been saying all this time is your favourite song which is “Somebody’s Son”. Why was it cut and will it be on a future album?
Wow. [Pause] “Somebody’s Son” was cut simply because we had too many songs. I recorded 17 songs for this record and counting the iTunes deluxe version there will be 13 released all together. To be honest, two of my favourite songs didn’t make the album. One was called “Orphans”.
That was my next question.
Yeah, and the other is “Somebody’s Son”. I couldn’t keep one on without the other. I knew they both couldn’t make it. The original idea was that “Orphans” was going to start off the album. But at this point I realized I needed to keep them together. Now I have a vision of releasing an E.P. called America.
Is that the song [“America”] you did with Ido [Zmishlany] as well?
Ido produced that song, but I actually wrote it with my friend, Max. I look forward to putting out that E.P. at some point. I feel like those songs will make it complete. Those songs belong together as bookends. I don’t want to split them up. Again, it’s crazy that my favourite song’s not on my album, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. [Laughs]
I know. But I’m glad they are going to see the light of day.
They will, they will. I just needed to keep them together. It will be fun for everyone to hear maybe a year or a few months from now when we can get it out.
Which song did Juliana Hatfield sing backing vocals?
She actually sang background vocals on “So Ordinary” which is another track from Songs from the Eye of an Elephant, but it won’t be making this album. It didn’t make the cut. I felt like people already have it. I wanted to get the new songs out to everybody first. As much as I selfishly want to have Juliana and my voice together out there in the world, it’s just not happening yet.
[Laura is told by an Atlantic Records representative to make this her last question for Ryan.]
I’m sorry. I wish we had more time.
No, that’s Okay. Because this interview is for MusicVice.com I actually have to ask this question. If you don’t mind sharing, besides music, what are your other vices?
Hmmm, vices. [Pause] I would say New York pizza for sure. Actually, I was telling someone I thank my favourite pizza place in the liner notes, but unfortunately it says “pissa” and not “pizza” because my ‘z’ button on my computer was reading as an ‘s’ and I didn’t know it. So that’s a little fun fact for the fans. My biggest vice is probably not sharing my skeletons with you today. [Laughs] That will be my vice for the moment because what are vices if you’re going to tell everybody about them? Some people know them, I guess? Part of who I am is that I always feel like there’s a secret life and then there’s the life I know. It’s an interesting process being a musician with your head being in one place with so many thoughts happening, but nothing too terrible, don’t worry about me.
Oh, I’m not. I’m sure your future is very bright, Ryan.
[Laughs] Thank you.
Thanks for taking the time to do this with your crazy schedule.
No, thank you. Thank you so much. I’m sure I’ll talk to you again soon.
© Laura Antonelli, Music Vice
11:59 is available now on Atlantic Records.