1. Do you have a favorite quote, lyric, or credo that you live by?
My credo is real simple: be kind and be thankful. I do my very best to treat people the way I want to be treated and to show kindness and generosity whenever I can. I suppose the thing I try hardest to do is be thankful for what I have. I’ve seen the worst parts of the world and been to war five times. I know what real suffering looks like and I know how good I have it every day. I try never to forget that.
As a songwriter, I have a simple goal for every song–something I learned when I attended a Songwriting Seminar last summer with the legendary Songwriter Steve Earle. One of the things Steve said was “your goal as a Songwriter should be to make the listener feel the emotion you felt when you wrote the song.” He explained that when a listener shares an emotion with the Songwriter (who is a total stranger) it reminds the listener that they not alone in the world. Making that connection is something I hope to do in every song I write.
2. How would you describe your songwriting style?
I try hard to write authentic songs about the emotions and experiences of everyday people. I think the old fiction writer’s adage “write what you know best” is true for Songwriting. I grew up around hard-working people many of whom had to struggle to get by. I tend to leave politics, war and peace and topics on a grand scale to other Songwriters.
What interests me most as a Songwriter are the struggles that regular people, like the ones I grew up with, face every day. Things like trying to earn a living in hard times; trying to make relationships work; falling in and out of love; dealing with hardship and loneliness, trying to make sense out of loss and heartbreak. Those are the themes I tend to focus on and the ideas always to return to. From a structural standpoint, I try hard to avoid clichés and formulas when writing. I do my best to paint vivid pictures with my words. I try to describe things in ways that make the listener see them or feel them the way I do. More than anything else I try to write songs that will touch peoples’ emotions in some way to make them feel the way I did when I wrote the song.
3. Which branch of the military did you serve and how long? (and we personally want to thank you for your service.)
I served 27 years in the U.S. Army to include five combat tours. Whatever thanks due, are due to my wife and family. They made the real sacrifice.
4. What does it mean to be selected a finalist?
Being selected as a finalist in such a prestigious competition is incredibly humbling. I’ve listened to the other finalists and it’s no secret how gifted they all are. Included in a group with so much talent is real honor and being chosen for this event also gives me an incredible feeling of validation as a Songwriter. It means my songs were chosen from hundreds of other songs by judges who don’t know me and who have nothing to gain by selecting me as a finalist. I like to think that means my songs touched the judges’ emotions in some way—and in the end, that’s the highest compliment anyone can pay a Songwriter.
5. How did you select the songs for the Wildflower contest and are they based on any memories or experiences?
I selected two songs that I felt were evocative and unique. Both songs are based to some extent on real life experiences.
The first song is called “Fais Do Do” (pronounced Faye Doe Doe). Fais Do Do is a Cajun French expression—something a Cajun would say to a child. It loosely translates to “go to sleep.” The song tells the story of a young Cajun girl who lives in a Louisiana bayou. She’s trapped in a bad marriage with an alcoholic husband and when she is overwhelmed by her sadness she sings a Cajun lullaby to her baby boy. Her song—sung in Cajun French goes: Fais Do Do mon sha bebe (which means: go to sleep my sweet baby boy). I lived in South Louisiana for a few years and am familiar with certain aspects of Cajun culture. I heard the phrase “Fais Do Do” last summer and for whatever reason it struck me as an interesting phrase to build a song around. I grew up with an alcoholic father and know what alcoholism can do to a marriage, so certain aspects of the lyrics are things I saw as a child. I was very close to my mother and I have always felt like there was something moving about the purity of the mother/child relationship. I used some of my own background, and some of the things I saw my mother go through, as a basis for the story.
The second song is called “These Two Hands.” I was raised around working men and I have written a lot of songs over the years about men who work with their hands. At some point the phrase “These Two Hands” came to me and I thought it would be a good title for my next CD since a lot of my songs focus on working people. Once I had the phrase in mind, I built the song around it. In the song, the main character is a man who has made a mistake that has hurt the woman he loves. He vows to “fix what he’s broken” and rebuild the relationship with “these two hands.” As men, we tend to want to “fix things” when they go wrong so I used that idea to create the song’s theme.
6. Do you have any pre-show superstitious habits, calming techniques, or plain old good luck charms?
I enjoy playing music for people and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid so I don’t get too nervous. Still, I picked up some great advice a few years ago in an interview with Singer/Songwriter Jason Isbell. Jason said if you want to avoid being nervous on stage, “entertain yourself.” By that he meant when you perform you should play and sing with abandon—the same way you would if you were at home alone on the couch with your guitar just making music for the fun of it. That simple thought has worked well for me since I read it.
7. Will you play your guitar during the performance? Can you tell us the “make and model?”
Yes. I will be playing my favorite guitar during the performance. It is a Taylor 410 CE with an L.R. Baggs “Anthem” pickup.
8. Other than Songwriter’s Association of Washington, where is the best place to experience songwriting utopia?
The most satisfying experience I’ve had to date as a Singer/Songwriter was this past year when I was chosen to perform as part of the Dripping Springs Songwriters Festival near Austin, Texas. The Festival features 20 or so Songwriters from around the country. Songwriters get to perform in different groups during the three-day festival. The audiences were incredible—to a person they were all there to hear Songwriters play original songs. Every venue was what Songwriters refer to as a “listening room” setting. The fans were attentive and appreciative. It was just a joy to play for them. I also had the privilege of meeting and listening to a number of amazing Songwriters from all over the country. Getting a chance to hear so many great songs and having the chance to talk to my fellow-Songwriters about the craft we all love so much was a dream come true.
9. What do hope the judges feel when you perform?
Going back to what I said earlier, more than anything I hope they feel the emotions I felt when I wrote the songs I’ll be playing for them. I also hope they can tell that what I’m singing is not just something I thought was catchy or clever; that my lyrics and my music come from real life emotions and experiences. From a stylistic standpoint, I hope they appreciate how hard I worked to try to make the songs they selected unique. There are a million songs that say “baby I love you” and “please don’t go.” I tried hard with these songs to do something more than that—to take the ideas I had to the next level. Most of all I hope they come away with a sense that I am a regular guy—an everyman who is singing from the heart—not someone who is putting on an act or a persona or pretending to be something he’s not.
10. What does the “P” stand for your name?
The “P” stands for Patrick. I use my middle initial when I perform because there are so many Mike Ryans in the music business. It’s a pale attempt to try to distinguish myself from the other Mike Ryans—some of whom are very well known. If I had it to do over again Instead of using the “P” I would have picked a corny nickname to use instead of my real first name—one that would really distinguish me from the others–maybe something like “Buck” or “Skip.” Hmmm…maybe I should start that at Wildflower.
Mike P. Ryan will compete in the 2017 Wildflower! Performing Songwriter Contest Finals on Saturday, May 20th at 11:30 a.m. on the UnitedHealthcare Singer Songwriter Stage located inside the Eisemann Center. Mike is also booked to perform on Friday, May 19th at 8:30 p.m. on the CityLine Stage. Additional information about the Wildflower! Performing Songwriter Contest, and the full list of Top 10 Finalists, may be found on the website: http://www.wildflowerfestival.com/songwriter-contest/. The full schedule for the 25th Wildflower! Arts & Music Festival is available www.wildflowerfestival.com #WAMFest2017