By Jason Sendaula
Photos by Justin Adams & Dallas Raines for Silvertower Studios
Ryan Tennis is a Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter and is one of the winners of this year’s Philadelphia Songwriter Project. He was recently a featured performer at the Songwriter’s Project showcase during the Kimmel Center Summer Solstice 2010. He will be opening for Shawn Colvin in July of 2010 and will be performing at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in August. Origivation caught up with Ryan just before his Kimmel Center performance.
O: On your web page you touched on the fact that you were very focused on football before you turned to music. When exactly did you first start learning music?
RT: I played a little bit. I took lessons for a little bit when I was a kid and I wasn’t very good at it. And then when I was in high school I had some friends who played and they taught me. I was in an acapella group in high school so I did do some singing. But by the time I really picked up the guitar again at the end of college I could barely play. Some of it came back and I had kind of a half start.
O: So you didn’t really play in college?
RT: Yeah, which is really too bad because I had a ton of time and I was just screwing around, I guess.
O: Well, sometimes it is better that way because you pick it up when you are ready for it.
RT: I feel that I come at music from a real listener perspective. When people have been playing their whole lives it’s awesome because they have crazy chops and they just understand so much. For song writing, I think that sometimes it’s nice to come at it from a layman’s perspective. I’m more into what feels good and sounds good.
O: You started out with a band in San Diego. When did you decide you would rather perform as a solo artist?
RT: It was about 2006 or 2007. I had been in that band for about a year and I kind of all of a sudden decided, ‘I really want to get more serious about this.’ Before I would play but only when I felt like it which was cool because it kept the love of music alive. But I wasn’t putting as much seriousness into it and one day I was like, ‘Whoever I am today, that is who I am’ and if want to be a musician then I have to be a serious musician.
O: Are you doing wrap up work on your upcoming second album or will you be will you be adding more travel dates this summer?
RT: I have more shows that just aren’t on my schedule yet. But this album that I am working on is definitely the main focus right now. It’s going to be the most polished, most radio-ready EP yet. A lot of things have been happening and I just feel like I am starting to get a lot more recognition around Philly so this album is coming at the right time I think.
O: When you were traveling around the world did you pick places that you wanted to tour or was it more that you were traveling around and try to find gigs in the places that you were?
RT: Most of the places I’ve been weren’t the type of places you would set up a tour necessarily because a lot of them are in Asia so mostly I would go and hussle gigs. But since I’ve done a bunch of travel I have gotten pretty good at figuring that stuff out. If I showed up in a town that looked like it had bars that would have music I would just walk around during the day with my guitar and try to get in front of a manager. Having a professional card really made a difference because I could hand them this card and they would be like “okay” and I would play them a song. And if I played them a song then they would be hire me because traveling there are a lot of musicians but not that many good musicians. There are a lot of people doing poor Bob Dylan covers.
O: You have been compared to James Taylor and Paul Simon. Is your sound something that you set out to create or is it more of something that just a happened as you were learning?
RT: I don’t know, I have just always felt really comfortable playing an acoustic guitar. I play a very percussive style and as an English major, lyrics have always been important to me. That’s a genre where lyrics really important and I just like the way it sounds because it is a lot of the music I listen to.
O: When you first came back to the states why did decide on settling back in Philadelphia as opposed to New York or back in California?
RT: Because Philly’s great. There are just so many talented musicians and there is a true sense of community. The downside is there aren’t a lot of people breaking out of Philly compared to how many great artists there are. I do feel that is a really good place to develop. It’s just a place that really cares about art and developing your creative side and there are a lot of people related to that.