“Ryan McGiver’s debut album, ‘Troubled in Mind’, is a Indie-folk record of imaginative musical interpretations of old Appalachian ballads. Co-produced by Shahzad Ismaily (Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Marc Ribot), the collaboration results in a spiritual, often meditative music, with a haunting quality that draws from sources as diverse as Buell Kazee, Washington Phillips and Randy Newman.”
3. The ballads here are hypnotic. What’s the concept behind this album?
I wanted to create a sort of sonic soundscape of my mind and surroundings through the lens of traditional song. And to create a record that – in part- represents the beauty, desolation and sadness of growing up in Schoharie County, NY.
I’m drawn to music that is meditative and melancholic, whether traditional or contemporary in form. There’s something about a sad song that makes me happy. And I love music that is rich in texture, subtle layers and has lots of space. Points where you can insert your imagination and fill in the blanks. I always return to art – whether music, poetry, film – whatever it may be – that has space and allows my mind, ideas to grow.
The songs come from all over - Texas gospel, Old-time, Irish/English ballads, even a Randy Newman cover for good measure. “I Wouldn’t Mind Dying”, comes from a Washington Philips record that I got at a garage sale when I fifteen; “Farewell Dearest Nancy” comes from a Mick Haley cassette tape I wore out (who doesn’t love Moving Hearts?), “The Dying Soldier” came from a dear friend, Paul Strother, a clawhammer banjo player I labor with in the summers back home; “Tazewell Girl” was written by my uncle, Neil Driscoll – one of my big influences in music. Others songs came directly from pages in local libraries, one specifically, “I’m Troubled, I’m Troubled”, from a collection called ‘Folk Songs of the Catskills’. All have been important to me for various reasons over the years and I wanted to find interesting ways of recreating and retelling some of the more common ones.
4. You worked on the recording of this album for 13 months! A lot of effort must have been placed on each track. How was the whole experience?
While working on ‘Singing In the Dark’ with the great Irish singer, Susan McKeown, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Shahzad Ismaily – a wonderful multi-instrumentalist and composer. We became fast friends and he agreed to co-produce the album after I had been working on it for several months. Honestly, I wasn’t very familiar with his music outside of our studio sessions, but felt overwhelmingly drawn to his personality and musical contributions in a studio setting. And the way we could make each other roar with laughter! Ismaily is an extraordinary talent. And an inspiration to work with.
The album took over a year to complete, because as you could imagine, there were many schedules to coordinate. Including my own, in and out of tours. I worked on it as if I was building a stone wall: slow and steady, taking moments to reflect and breathe – often standing back to take a look at the greater whole while working. I made the album for myself, so was under no time constraints.