Ryan MacGrath has a proverbial horseshoe up his ass.
It’s not always comfortable, but it’s gotten him where he wants to be: out there, releasing his first feature length album.
MacGrath’s luck keeps blossoming, like his career. From his start as a singer-songwriter with just a handful of songs, MacGrath has gone on to open for Gentleman Reg, and most recently got Chantal Kreviazuk to sing with him — for the price of a painting, no less.
MacGrath’s album, Cooper Hatch Paris, is due for release this summer. “I was influenced by artists like Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads’ approach to world music; to use it as a reference point,” he says. “This album has everything from harps to bouzoukis. It feels so good to have the finished product so close to what I hear in my head. I always envisioned something orchestral.”
For MacGrath, that translation from thought to note couldn’t have happened without the help of his friends. MacGrath and critically-acclaimed jazz band Gypsophila rehearsed for two months, leading to two days of recording live off the floor. The fast pace of the process left MacGrath a little nervous, but — horseshoe firmly in place — everything turned out the way he wanted. “It was scary doing it like that, with such a limited time. I thought, ‘Let’s get it right and hope that what we’ve been doing makes sense when we’re recording it’ and then phew, it did work.”
MacGrath not only works as a musician, but as a painter as well. He graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in 2002 which, incidentally, is also around the time when he bought his first guitar. MacGrath’s painting skills helped him find a new friend, or rather, a fan in an unlikely place: the aforementioned Chantal Kreviazuk. Just another stroke of luck for him. “We have a mutual friend who runs an art gallery where I sell my paintings. She saw one and liked it, and I said, ‘Why don’t we do a trade?’ This intrigued her, so I sent her the song, and she loved it. I spent two days in a blur wondering, ‘What does this mean? How does this happen?’ When amazing things happen to you, you wonder if this is real.”
But it’s not all luck. It’s also about being smart in the current music industry. To help fund the recording of his new album, MacGrath held an auction in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. The winner would get to sit down with MacGrath, who would then go on to write a song for the winner’s valentine. “You have to be creative on the business side as much as on the creative side. You can be as creative as you want, but if you’re not getting it out there, it stays within the walls of your bedroom.” The auction itself only garnered him a few hundred dollars, but the spinoffs were worth more than the money itself. MacGrath got songwriting commissions, as well as a flurry of publicity in the local media, something which led to more shows, more gigs and more money for the recording of Cooper Hatch Paris.
It’s that business savvy edge which may help MacGrath even more than his luck. “You gotta feed the music business machine. A year ago I had just released my first EP, and I was touring but I had no idea of the attention it would bring me. The machine starts to have a mind of it’s own, so I’m riding that wave. It’s given me more choices, more and more people are wanting to collaborate, and now I find that I have established myself as someone who is not going to disappear.”
Not with that horseshoe up his ass, he isn’t.
For more on MacGrath — and for a list of his upcoming tour dates in Halifax, Toronto, Montreal and the Ottawa-area — check out myspace.com/ryansmacgrath.