For far too many artists the idea of “D.I.Y” means they made their own tee shirts. For others, sadly, doing it yourself doesn’t even extend that far.
Ryan Schmidt is not one of those artists.
Nearing graduation from Northeastern University’s renowned Music Industry program, Schmidt’s career is coming into full bloom. His full-length debut, “Black Sheep, Run,” a hook-laden gem has received local acclaim and for the first time the singer-songwriter has toured outside of New England, including appearing at the 2011 South By Southwest Music Festival.
These achievements have been fueled by a refreshingly back-to-basics recipe of undeniable talent, unrelenting innovation and boundless desire, along with a healthy portion of good ole fashioned drive.
As a mere teenager the New Hampshire native first began digging into the fertile Boston music scene. He took on office jobs within the music industry, making connections and hustling to establish the contacts that would eventually first introduce him to Q Division Studios (where such world class artists as James Taylor, Aimee Mann and Morphine have recorded). It was there Schmidt recorded his first EP, “Burning Bitter Years,” and released it before even receiving his high school diploma, and where he realized his vision for “Black Sheep, Run”.
It did not take long for the ears of the Boston music cognoscenti to perk up at Schmidt’s first full-length effort. Ryan Spaulding, of the influential Hub-based music blog, “Ryan’s Smashing Life,” gushed, “Schmidt’s focus on his art and his exceptional vocalizations make me think he could soon to prove to be Boston’s finest export.” Northeast Performer Magazine is similarly enthusiastic, reporting that “Like a student abroad absorbing the surplus of tastes and experiences, Ryan Schmidt captures this exploration with a confidence atypical of someone in (his) age group.”
His musical peers have also embraced Schmidt’s songwriting gift. Boston scene veterans Ed Valauskas (Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Juliana Hatfield, Graham Parker) who and produced the record and played bass
Steve Scully (Juliana Hatfield) on drums, Aaron Tap (Matt Nathanson) and Peter Parcek on guitars, Phi
Aiken (Buffalo Tom) on keyboards, and Chad Perrone on background vocals, all contribute to th
In Tap’s cases, playing a part in the recording of, “Black Sheep, Run” was a true labor of love
“One of the great pleasures of my last big Matt Nathanson tour was sneaking off the bus in the early morning to record guitars in Boston with Ryan Schmidt,” he recalls. “Ryan is a gifted, natural songwriter and the resulting record has a sound all its own – a fact that is especially refreshing if you choose to lump him into the singer-songwriter genre. ‘Black Sheep, Run’ is one of those rare records with which I was involved that I still listen to regularly just to enjoy the music.”
As if those talented guests were not enough, Juliana Hatfield, a singer who knows a thing or two about capturing the magic in male/female vocal interplay, also duets on the gorgeously plaintive, “Night The Bells Rang.”
With a healthy respect for the folk-inspired work of such predecessors as Bob Dylan and Nick Drake, as well as inspiration from more contemporary artists like Clem Snide and The Shins, Schmidt has a defined vision of where he is taking his music.
“I aim at finding a way to combine the song structure and heart and meaning behind some of these older folk songs with an interesting and unique sonic texture,” he states with an understated confidence. “I have a bunch of different ideas past what I have already started that I’d like to do in the next few years. I just want to keep evolving and progressing, to keep lining projects up and staying open to different avenues for my music.”
And that time on the road heading to and from SXSW, the most extended touring of his young career, also has him ready to deliver his music live.
“I sing pretty hard and I sing with everything I have,” he says matter-of-factly. “A lot of people take notice of that.”
-Tom Kielty has written for the Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, Rolling Stone, Spin and Hollywood Reporter, among other publications. He lives in Cambridge, MA.