10 Questions with ... Ryan Follese
August 28, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Ryan Follese was born in Nashville to a pair of songwriter parents, Keith and Adrienne Follese. Ryan developed an interest in songwriting and performing at a young age but ventured away from his Country music upbringing with the formation of his first band with friend Nash Overstreet in 2005. Some years later, the duo recruited Ryan's brother, Jamie, to play drums, added bassist Ian Keaggy, and were signed as Hot Chelle Rae. Success in the Pop world followed, with hit singles, album sales, and industry awards. Follese set sail on a solo career earlier this year, returning to the Country music he was raised with, and partnered with his parents and brother to pen what he describes as his most personal work to date. Follese has signed with Big Machine Label Group and will release his self-titled EP on Friday, September 2nd. The lead single from that EP, "Float Your Boat" is at Country radio now.
1. Thank you for taking time to talk to us today, Ryan! We want to really cut to the chase here at the beginning and ask you how all of our friends out in Radioland should pronounce your last name! Here at All Access Nashville, the three of us took educated guesses on how to properly pronounce it, so we need you to set the record straight and declare a winner.
Well, looking at what you guys have written down, I can tell you - one of you is right. For sure. It's Follese, pronounced "FAW-luh-zay." Who guessed that one? Monta? Yep, that's it. "FAW-luh-zay." It has not been fun for my entire life.
2. You are what we like to call "a unicorn." You were born in Nashville! Both of your parents are songwriters and have penned some major Country hits. But you ventured off in to the Pop world. Was that a rebellion against your parents, or did you always know that would be your path? Can you tell us about your childhood and how you discovered that music might be the thing for you?
I never really wanted to rebel, honestly. I mean, I kind of rebelled stylistically, because I was in a Rock band first, and then a Punk band before I went through the Pop stuff. I wasn't really pressured to do music growing up, though. I just always really wanted to be like my dad when I was a kid. I wanted to be a songwriter, even though I really didn't know what that meant. I was writing really crappy little ditties when I was really young - probably around age five or six is when I started trying to write songs. And my dad told me that if I decided to get in to music, I would always love the music part, and the business part would be the hardest part to deal with. And I didn't understand what that meant until I was older, but they were super supportive. They actually let me spend my college money on making demos - even the bad songs! So they were obviously very supportive.
3. You were quite young when you partnered with another son-of-a-songwriter, Nash Overstreet, to form Hot Chelle Rae. Along with your brother, Jamie, on drums, you guys experienced a lot of success as a group. What made you decide to strike out on your own with a solo project? And is Jamie cool with you going solo without him?
Jamie is really cool with it. He co-wrote on this project, also, so that's really cool. He's funny, because - as he says - "I've seen too much." Jamie was so young when it started, and he's been around the world and been a part of this from a really young age. But the dynamic just reached a point where, to me, it didn't feel right anymore. And I felt a tremendous urge to be close to my family. I realized that I'd been out on the road for so long with the band - almost ten years. And something that happened that made me realize it was time for a transition was that I went out on the road, and I came back, and my parents had gotten older. And that sucked - it really hit home. And that made this even more important to me. Thank God they're great writers, but at the same time, I now share this whole experience with them. So I'm going to not miss any more of them being around. And Jamie wants to be a writer - he is a phenomenal drummer, but he has become a great writer - and I think he has more to offer the world, creatively, by writing songs. And my parents are so supportive - maybe almost too supportive sometimes. If you ever meet my dad, just don't tell him you know me - and then watch how much he talks about the project and how excited he is for his kids. He's an overly proud papa! Mom and Dad are both really attached to this project, being writers on it, so they've got opinions. They're not so much fan-mom and fan-dad, which is kind of cool. We really did do the whole thing together, so it's all us. I've had to actually ask my dad to not go play this for every single person he meets. I had to say, "Keep it together, man!"
4. Your background with Hot Chelle Rae was more Pop/Rock. What is it about the Country format that appeals to you, and where do you think your music fits within the format? Why did you elect to take the Country route instead of striking out on a solo venture in the Pop world?
In the process of making this record, I was kind of out - I've been on and off the road for years - I was out in Los Angeles for a few years co-writing and trying to find myself and find my direction. And all the time that I was out there trying to figure it out, I was just collecting these ideas, and all the ideas that kept coming to me just kind of came out Country. And it's not that I was trying to escape it. I didn't choose Country; Country kind of chose me, is what it felt like. So, in the meantime, I got an important phone call from my parents - a family emergency that happened - and I ended up coming home and asking my mom and dad if they wanted to embark on this journey with me and make this record. I was hoping they'd take the journey with me as I was trying to figure out my next life step. The whole time I was trying to figure this stuff out, it just felt like everything was wrong in my life. But the one thing that was right in my life was the person that I'm with currently, and I wrote a song for her called "One Thing Right." And that came out Country.
A lot of creative individuals take the road that your brother, Jamie, seems to be wanting to follow - and the road your parents have traveled. Great songwriters tend to be able to make a living by continuing to write great songs without ever cutting their own album or striking out on tour. So, as you were making this big life transition, did you ever consider just doing "the songwriter thing," or did you know you wanted to continue the artist path, just in a different direction?
I just really love performing. I'm not ready to be solely a songwriter yet. I made a hard decision when I was very young - I haven't even really told many people this - I wrote a song on our very first album called "Bleed." It was our very first single as a band. And before I ever got my first record deal, a huge - big, big name - band offered to buy that song from me for, at that time, an astronomical amount of money. And I told my manager, "I'm not ready to be just known as a songwriter yet." And there's nothing wrong with that - I just want to be an artist. I love playing live, and the connection and energy - I guess it's cheesy - but it's just almost like a drug, it's so addicting. And with Jamie, that's who he has always been, anyway. Even in the band, he was very quiet - he was a big presence, but he was quiet.
5. So, you wrote with your parents for this forthcoming EP. There are several writers in town who are second-generation songwriters, but who rarely - if ever - team with their parents for anything. Was the idea to partner up with your parents for this project a conscious decision on your part, or did it just materialize naturally?
It just felt right. I've written with my parents a ton throughout my life. They had written stuff for my very first record, and I had written with them for other projects. So, I knew I worked really well with my parents. And, it wasn't that I didn't want to do the Nashville songwriting community - but in order for me to get the best record out of the story I've been living and the things that have affected my life recently, I knew it needed to happen this way. Everything recently has been very rooted in them, and it's not only convenient, but incredibly helpful that they are songwriters. I was able to write my feelings with my family as we were experiencing them together during an important time in my life. And we were able to not compromise on ideas. As other families fight, we fight and we get along like family. So, if I had an idea that was bad, someone would tell me it was bad. It really helped me get what I feel is my best stuff - which, I guess, is to be determined - but I feel like there isn't a single line in any song that was compromised on. This is the realest music, and it's the most fun I've ever had doing it. I'm really excited to get out there and meet everyone, because this is where I'm going to be for a long time.
As you were discussing working with your parents to co-write this EP, it sounds like it came from a very real place in your life. Was this a personal project for any particular reason? Or were there just things happening in your life that felt like they needed to be expressed through your music?
This was super-personal. The family emergency phone call I received was that my mom was one of the 1-in-8 women who get breast cancer. I came home, and as she says - and it is kind of corny, but so true for us - we kind of "wrote off" cancer. We wrote through the entire process, and it really helped it to speed by. I think it's even more important to her than it is to me, and I feel like this project is a gift for her at this point. It makes it so that - mostly, I feel pressured that I'm doing this solo - but in reality, I don't feel as much pressure, because I'm so happy with the project.
6. How did your partnership with Big Machine Label Group come to be, and how did you know the label would be the right fit for you as you venture in to this new project?
Good music and golf, I guess! The way it came about, was that my manager works very closely with Jimmy Harnen and Scott Borchetta over there. I had a vision for this project, and once I had it at a place where I felt like it was good enough to share, I brought it to my manager, who was managing me at the time, but we were just kind of in between things. He took it to them, and that was the place I wanted to be. I wanted to be there, because I knew who was running the company, and I knew that with where I'm coming from, it's a really different place. And I knew that in order to do this the way I wanted to, I needed to have people who could see it the way I saw it. It just happened that Big Machine was the first door I knocked on, and it just happened that the things they said to me - and the way that we saw this project unfolding - were freakishly similar. It was comfortable and convenient. I met with them - I've known Scott for a long time - but I met with Jimmy, too, and they were the first company and large-scale industry people who looked at me and said, "Make the record you want to make." And, on top of that, they told me, "No matter what, you have to be a writer on everything on this project, because if you don't, it's not going to sound like you." To me, that's not only a crazy-huge compliment, but it's just such a huge blessing. It doesn't even feel like a real thing.
7. I know there's a bit of a Big Machine connection - via Taylor Swift - with you from your Hot Chelle Rae days. You and HCR band member Nash Overstreet co-wrote Taylor's infamous "Thug Story" parody with Taylor and T-Pain, and the band also opened for Taylor on the road. But, there has long been a story that went around claiming that Taylor Swift is the reason you switched from going by "RK" to going by your full first name, Ryan. Can you share that story with us and put to rest once and for all if that is fact or folk lore?
Sort of true, and sort of false with the whole name thing. It wasn't really that it inspired me, but my actual name was taken on Twitter! So, I had an abbreviation on there. But, that's how I ended up getting connected with Taylor. She really loved that song I told you about earlier, "Bleed" - the one that I wouldn't sell! But think about it, really - if I had sold that song and Hot Chelle Rae had never released it, she wouldn't have tweeted about it, I would have never known her, we would have never toured together, and I likely wouldn't be sitting here with you today. Which is why it's important to me to stick to your guns. But, Taylor was being playful and asked me "Why is your name RK?" And I told her it was because my real name was already taken. Two weeks later - for whatever reason - it became available, and I was able to get my actual name on Twitter. So! That's how it changed, and that's why. I've worked with Taylor in many different ways, and she's awesome. And so, yeah, I guess it does all really come back to Taylor Swift, Big Machine, and Scott Borchetta.
8. Your single, "Float Your Boat," is a very up-tempo, catchy Summer song. Every song on this EP has a uniquely-you feeling to it. Where do you think your sound fits in the wide-open ranges of Country music right now? If you're explaining this entity of your sound to a programmer - or to fans - how do you explain your sound?
I feel like my honest opinion on that is - and I've really only been asked that once or twice, really - is that Country, like most formats, has so many sub-genres. I think that mine is new. It's pushing it a little bit for Country, maybe, but the second I say that I'm a certain kind of Country, I'm going to turn off a whole lot of people. And I feel like that's a negative thing to do, to pigeon hole yourself in to a certain lane. Because, maybe there are traditional Country fans who would like some of the things I do, but I don't know - it just depends, and I hope that it reaches enough people who can decide for themselves, regardless of which sub-genre of Country they may prefer. I like it all; I don't care what it is. You can find Chris Stapleton and Ryan Bingham on my personal playlists, just like you can find Florida Georgia Line. I think it's cool that the Country lifestyle - and especially having grown up Southern - has always been such an inviting way to live, and I think now with the genre being a little bit wider, I say, why not invite people in. It's awesome! I feel like people are coming in that normally wouldn't. It's not scary anymore to say you're a fan of Country music. Or for me to say I'm from Nashville. I was in a Rock band, but I wore cowboy boots! People would look at me strangely and ask where in the world I was from!
9. What was the writing process like for this song, and when did you know this would be the perfect single to launch yourself in to a Country project? Are you at all nervous about how your music will be received at Country radio? We know this is part of a forthcoming self-titled EP coming on Friday, September 2nd, but will there be a full album in the future?
When I first started, I did feel nervous, but just about the project in general. Then, as time went on, I thought - well, the whole point is, if I love it, I guess it doesn't matter. With "Float Your Boat," the whole idea for that song is - yeah, it's upbeat, and summery, and it's fun, and it's about getting a little sideways - but really, the whole point is the flag for the whole project for me. It's about doing what makes you happy and not really caring what people think, because there's just not any time for that. So the single really picked itself, and I thought that it was important to show that this is who I am and where I'm going to be; this is what makes me happy. The EP is coming out on September 2nd, and the full album - well, that's really already done. Which is the other part that was really cool. We actually got to deliver a full record. I worked with the same five people - me included - every day for nine months.
10. You're preparing to embark on radio tour to meet with Country radio for the first time. But this isn't your first radio tour, having been out previously with Hot Chelle Rae. Are you at all nervous about this particular radio tour? What experiences from your previous radio experiences will you bring with you, and what do you think will be most different about this venture?
It's less nerves, but it's fun. I really enjoy playing music like this. This is how we wrote it. You typically hear it with all the tricks on it, but when it's like this and there are no tricks, it has to be good. I'd be lying, though, if I said I didn't feel more vulnerable heading out on this radio tour on my own. That's probably the biggest hurdle, in general, as a solo artist. When you're in a band, you can blame any failure on any other person in the room! If a song doesn't work, well, that's not my fault - it's this guy's fault, or that guy's fault, but never my fault. Haha! But with this, if people don't like it, or if it doesn't work, then it's all on me. But I'm ready for that. I'm really ready to be under the microscope. But I'm excited to get out there and shake hands. I really, honestly hope I meet people who will become lifelong friends.
A big part of Country radio is building relationships. Some of the programmers who are now programming Country stations were previously Pop programmers. Do you still have relationships with some of the Pop programmers, or any of the guys and gals who have transitioned to Country?
I do, actually, still have relationships with a lot of them. It's weird, because I obviously did a radio tour when I was with the band, and I met so many different people and saw so many different faces. But, for whatever reason, a lot of the programmers and on-air personalities who made the jump from Pop to Country were the ones that were my actual friends! Like, for instance, Jeff Hurley, Alabama, TJ. Those people actually became my life-long friends, and they would be people that I'd send music to even when I wasn't currently working on a specific project. I could send them something and ask them to take a listen, because I think they have great ears besides begin great personalities. So, it's kind of awesome. It's just happenstance, but it does make it fun to go back to those places on this radio tour. I'm going to Minnesota next week - which is my dad's hometown - and I'm so excited, because I'm going to get to see my family, but I'm also going to get to see someone I know in radio. I don't have to meet them - I know them and am already familiar with them. And she already knows I can sing, so that's cool! And most programmers seem excited about new music and are excited to meet people. And I'm one of those people who is always excited to meet new people. I feel like if both sides go in with a great attitude - because, we're really all in this for the music at the end of the day - we can go out there and play some good songs, make some good friends, and it'll go a long way for me in my life. Hopefully it goes a long way for them in their lives, too. I know I might get nervous here and there, but I usually never know when the nerves will creep up. It's usually not a particular scenario. And I'm really ready to get out to the towns I've not visited in a long time.
1. Have you had any strange or interesting stories happen on this solo radio tour yet?
Sure! We had one just the other day. We were playing at a station in an open space, and some guy was delivering a package and just walked through. But it was kind of cool, because he stayed! I was hoping everyone was enjoying it, and then he stayed, so I thought, "This guy! This guy, right here! This is awesome!" We won a fan!
2. Your fans from Rock and Pop - your Hot Chelle Rae loyalists - do they know about this project? What has the reaction been as you've introduced this new Country venture to the people who have followed your career in different genres?
Oh, they know. At first, I feel like - we kind of told them simultaneously with releasing the music, because we felt it would make more sense. We didn't want to announce something and then have a waiting period. And I didn't want them to think this is temporary, because it's not. This is permanent for me. And at first, I think there was a little bit of an "Argh!" from the fan base. But, that was followed by, "Oh, I really like this tune." I feel like, with fans of bands, they're fans of the band, but they're also really fans of individuals, too. And I feel like a lot of the Hot Chelle Rae fan base is close to me, and a lot of them are excited about this endeavor. And the ones who aren't excited, I hope they'll get on board, because it's going to be good. I think that a lot of the people I've seen - I've seen people saying that this is how they've discovered Country music. And I think that's really cool, because I can help say, "Come on over." It's awesome. And it's fun to be a second-generation Country writer now, too. That's really special.
3. Being from Nashville is rare, like we previously mentioned. So much here has changed over the years, and we all know the trendy, most-Googled spots to hang out, grab drinks, and dine. But, if someone came to town for the first time to visit and wanted you to take them on a tour of your favorite spots, what local areas would you visit?
I guess I'd take you to the places where I grew up. So, we'd start at Miss Kelli's. We'd go there and do jello shots. I'd go down to Rippy's, because I used to watch a lot of shows there. I used to watch Chris Janson there when we were teenagers and he was playing there. But then, there are a lot of great venues. 12th And Porter, which is an amazing venue - I played a majority of my shows there, and then it closed, but has now re-opened. That's just cool. And we've gotta go to Santa's Pub. Bring the cash! My favorite place is Greenhouse Bar. That's my hideaway, because I feel like a lot of people don't know about it. It's never that crowded, and it's just really chill. I love it.