Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing the talented musician Muddy Ruckus. Please read a bio (from muddyruckus.com) before checking out the subsequent interview:
Muddy Ruckus is led by one man band and songwriter “Muddy Ruckus” (aka Ryan Flaherty) – offering a flavorful stew of eclectic, original music. He parlays his skillful guitar chops and rambling vocals into sating and rebellious compositions, reflecting elements of americana, swing, punk, and New Orleans swamp n’ stomp. Muddy Ruckus also plays drums with his feet, rounding out the acoustic sound with rocking, percussive grooves. The songs tell a story from many cities, many nights, many kisses and many fights. A hand shake here, a trickery there… The music never lies yet always resting double sided in the morning light of meaning and sonority.
Contrary to playing solo, Muddy Ruckus is joined by upright bassist – Brian Durkin who lays down a burning low end and brings an untouchable energy of grass, rockabilly and punk elements that make resistance to crowd surfing nearly impossible. This kind of fiery chemistry that comes from two musicians is rare and ever so desirable in today’s live music galaxy.
Erika Stahl, lover of the blues and rock n roll, sings harmonies with Muddy Ruckus – a classy and provocative voice that brings grace and old time finesse to the “Mud”… a vocal “icing” on the cake if you will.
Muddy Ruckus is always topped off by a virtuosic soloist – violin, mandolin, guitar or accordion. Most active in the solo chair is violinist Phil Bloch and guitarist Mike Arciero. One can never be sure which of these players will be featured with Muddy Ruckus at any specific show. But one can always be sure there will be musical wizardry in each performance, which is something the “Ruckus” pride themselves on.
Please describe your path to becoming a musician.
Well I grew up in average size town called Rock Island, IL. It sits right against the Mississippi River, across from Davenport, Ia. There’s a great deal of music roots culture where I grew up. Especially blues and jazz, from a historic standpoint and still thriving there presently. There was plenty of opportunity to get into the music and art community and I loved music more than anything in the world. I loved singing and I knew at an early age that I wanted to write my own songs. I sang in several rock and punk bands in my teenage years and then decided to learn an instrument. I always loved the guitar. When I first began to play guitar, I studied classical technique and delta blues style finger picking. I listened to everything I could find and eventually stumbled upon a record by Django Reinhardt and The Hot Club of France. I instantly recognized this was the greatest guitar playing I had ever heard. I studied the style of Django Reinhardt for the next 13 years…. to learn how to play the guitar correctly and accurately, with speed and dynamic. Django’s manouche style of swing guitar has definitely influenced my own style as well as my songwriting style. In my 20’s, I played and toured with a few Gypsy Jazz bands on a regular basis. That whole time of my life, I was working on my guitar playing, trying to make it as good as I can, as good as needed, so I could get back to writing my own songs. I finally got good enough on that guitar and put together 3 albums of my own music. I’ve been writing and playing my own tunes ever since and I’m working on a new album now under my artist name “Muddy Ruckus”.
Your music has been stylistically described as an eclectic blend of folks, gypsy, flamenco, Americana, and jazz. What do you make of these designations and how do you describe your style?
Well… I have studied, written and played in all these styles. I love flamenco guitar and I kind of went through a phase where that’s all I played. I love the percussive rhythms and voicings in flamenco… so I have incorporated this into several of my own songs. I don’t really use the word Gypsy, but yes, I am definitely influenced by certain styles from Gitane, Manouche and Sinti descent. Django Reinhardt was after all, a “Gypsy”, hence the dubbing of his music genre, “Gypsy Jazz.” So yes… I myself come from an Americana, jazz, blues and rock background. I can’t escape that… it’s in my blood and it feels good… so I guess I’ve been pulling stylistic inspiration from all of these and creating my own tunes… honestly though, It all seems to swing… hard… and that’s what I’m all about… swinging and singing.
How did you come up with the name Muddy Ruckus?
Once upon a drunken night of too many beers and days prior making lists of potential artist/band names… a slurring voice came gurgling up from within and cried “MUUUUUDDY RUUUUCKUS”. Well that’s kind of true. I had both those words on my list of possible names… I blended them together and presto! Woke up the next day and a huge weight had been lifted off my band naming shoulders. Finally, I had a name I could stick with and be proud of… and not take too seriously! Also, a name I could use for myself as a solo artist from here on out and for any band that I might be writing songs for!!!! So the rest is history.
Your sound has been compared to Ray Lamontagne and Rodrigo y Gabriela. Have these artists been influential? Who and what else have been impactful on your career?
Um, well I love both these artists but no I don’t see the comparison. I think these artists have ultra passion and drive….something I connect with. I think the first person that had said that was really into my vocals and guitar stylings…and was making the comparison from the passion, not necessarily the exact style. But my music should be in no way compared to them. I would say if you could take Bob Dylan, Django Reinhardt and Tom Waits, shake them all up in the same bag… Muddy Ruckus juice would squirt out.
What do you think of the current Americana music scene?
It seems to be thriving in creativity and there’s an overall vibe of “anything is possible.” I don’t really think in genre specific anymore… Americana is a word that does not mean much really. I can’t base what I’m going to listen to or what band I’m going to see on if they are labeled Americana… or rock… etc. We’ve labeled ourselves with this and many others. But it really does not get the message across. But I guess I’m not really answering the question now. The scene itself… seems to be doing very well. Lot’s of venues and festivals that cater to the genre. For Muddy Ruckus… our current band description is “hot damn dirty speak easy punk demon swing”! I think it should be dubbed and listed on Wikipedia in the musical genre section but so far they have not responded to my inquiry.
What was it like performing at the Newport Jazz Festival?
Frightening, humbling, heart bursting, and it required lots of work to get there! We played on stage before Esperanza Spalding! My nerves were boiling. Then after the show I met Chevy Chase back stage sucking down a beer. He was the host. It was surreal. Then we watched Herbie Hancock from the backstage wings. That was the coolest part for me!!!
What have been some other highlights performing live?
So very many crazy times! I remember one in Schroon Lake, NY when we played through a power outage. The venue was packed and the lightning struck. We played the whole show in the dark, with the audience surrounding us, pointing flashlights on our instruments so we could see. IT was truly intimate and unforgettable. Made the show more magical than any fancy light show and production team could ever!
You have played live throughout Maine. How has being in New England shaped your music?
Maine has been so good to me. Obviously we’re all influenced by our surroundings when it comes to expressing ourselves. And there’s always somewhere to play original music. I live in Portland, Maine now… and I must say… I absolutely love it. As a local musician I keep really busy, we are playing somewhere all the time! Portland has been a great place to grow as an artist. I have never had a problem finding a place to play or folks to play with here. As long as I don’t ever get the frost bite again, I’ll probably live here for many years to come!
“Here Comes Everyone” and “Hard Stuff” seem to have a more energetic sound than your 2011 album, “Hungry Moon.” How would you characterize the differences and what was it like making these albums?
I’ve gone through phases. I had to. I actually play several songs off of each of those albums entirely different now. Hungry Moon was an experimental album, and you can hear some of the Latin, flamenco and rock influences there. It was different from most of the music I now play. I got back to the “gypsy swing” style in my writing on the next two albums. I’m becoming more consistent in my songwriting these days. You can hear on Hungry Moon I was all over the place… kind of searching for the door. My next album is going to flow better than any of the others. I’m finally getting comfy in my personal style of song writing. Really though, I tend to forget those days and those songs… I have moved on. “Hard Stuff” was the last, I hope, of my “experimental phase where I’m still trying to find my voice.” I’m feeling pretty consistent and just in time because Muddy Ruckus is what I’m about from here on out.
Two of my favorite songs on “Hard Stuff” are “What’s Ahead” and “Crow.” What inspired these tracks?
Ah yes… they are lovely, dark pieces. I was in a weird mood when I put those together. Frankly, they were both inspired by solitude. Other than that, I can’t quite remember. They are lovely drones. Funny though, I never play them live. Maybe someday.
On “Hungry Moon”, the sequencing of the songs, “Candela Habitum”, “Devilish Tune”, and “Raven Cusp” is quite moving. How did you decide to order the songs this way?
Yes, all those songs have a slight inconsistency with style and flow… so I found a way to sequence that album, in my opinion, to tell a story from song to song and make more sense of these inconsistencies. The album is a story, about me… being born, becoming, and that whole thing of being born and becoming is quite messy I’d say. I will not reveal that though… I let the listener read into it what they will, if at all.
How do you know when a song moves you emotionally?
If I write a song and then listen back to it and it makes me cry… which has happened only a few times… then I know I’m onto something beyond my own typical expression. Those are the timeless tunes. The ones that make your senses reel!
How do your social and personal identities affect your creative process?
They don’t really but since I like to play with words and I write from my emotions, if something is going on out there in that field that bothers me or perhaps gets under my skin, you can bet I’ll probably take a stab here and there in my lyrics. If you listen closely, you will hear those stabs. In the end, I always just try to write from the heart and something that moves me when I listen back… if I can do that more than likely others will be moved as well. I don’t think I answered that one correctly. Ha ha!!! (Sem: to me you did!)
What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP!!!! Don’t listen to anyone who tries to change what you are doing. They don’t get where you are coming from! You might not be in the place you need to be yet! But if you have a vision, then go for it and work at it till the work is done, then keep working on it because it never ends! And for original musicians and artists, don’t ever give up your own creative expression! How many times have people told me I need to learn and play cover songs if I want to play here or there!? Fuck that man! I never listened to them. I’ve lost some connections and mediocre opportunities along the way because I defy these people… menaces of the music industry both on a local and wide-spread level. I busted my ass for years honing my craft and writing my tunes and not making any money and losing lots of great things in my life… and not so some douche bag could persuade me to play cover songs so I can keep my gig at there grimy, flat-screen TV ridden bar where they pay you in peanuts. You are not only doing yourself a service but all other original artists out there when you defy the face of those that tell you to conform. Stick with your heart and your soul!!! Don’t give up something you believe in EVER! Oh and be nice! Be really nice to everyone, even if they won’t help you… say thank you and move on. It’s all about community. If there’s enough original artists out there working together as a team, a community can be flipped over for the better! Right now it’s still hard to be an original artist and it probably always will be. One of my personal goals is to help change that in any way I can. The first step is to swear to never give in. Believe in yourself and work hard. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or how old you are, or whatever. It’s all about dignity in your art. Stick with it and it will work itself out.
On what projects are you working on next?
The debut album of Muddy Ruckus! It’s being recorded this summer and hopefully released in the fall of 2014. Please spread the word… like our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/muddyruckus and keep an eye out! I’m putting everything I got, including every dollar I have to make this thing worthy of not only my own creative standard, but for the people and listeners who support and dig what I do.
We are starting a Kickstarter this week to raise money for the album we are recording this summer. We are trying to raise half our funds for the project… more though a pre-sale rather than asking for contributions. The campaign will last only 30 days. So we have only 30 days to raise these funds and it’s all or nothing with kickstarter. The link is: http://www.kickstarter.com/profile/muddyruckus
Muddy Ruckus here I come!!!