Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Ryan O’Donovan, is a Sussex-based musician who has built up a solid reputation through the learning disabled music scene. Whether it’s providing backing vocals and guitar for Beat Express, vocals and lead guitar for Zombie Crash (both bands of which are managed by Brighton-based charity Carousel that facilitate learning disabled people in the arts), lead vocals for Lost Asylum or venturing place to place solo, as his favourite saying goes, he is always out to rock out.
During the past year or so through lockdown, Ryan has attracted a significant following through a variety of online events, hosted by the likes of Carousel, Gig Buddies and, most recently, Electric Umbrella – as well as his own regular ‘Rockin at Home With Ryan’ online gigs.
I caught up with Ryan recently to discuss his musical background, influences and what inspires his song-writing.
How I got into music:
The way I got into music was rather extraordinary. I did terribly at it in school and college, I’ve never done a good job of reading musical notation or scores, yet I always seemed to be able to pick up sounds, pitches and keys by ear and identify them that way, which made me a very projective type when using my voice. I can still remember one or two examples of feedback from teachers highlighting how I put the most effort in to singing during nativity plays (I was in a Church of England primary school). According to my mum, as a baby I was even able to sing back (or more so hum at that age) a tune on the radio in perfect key with it! I grew up seeing my dad’s guitars on the walls here and there and hearing him practice; around the time I was born, he had a short-lived stint as the lead vocalist of a band called Blue Parish, though he only got as far as one gig with them where he was plagued by stage fright and never performed in another gig. Still, it would later be an influence, as well as my mum’s brothers being guitar players in their own time. I even later on heard that my great-grandmother (mother to my paternal grandma) was involved in theatre.
As well as those influences, the music of Busted made me want to pick up a guitar all the more, as well as seeing the cast of Rock School get going as a group (albeit temporary) under the coaching and guidance of Kiss’s Gene Simmons. With a few pointers on the tuning of whatever guitar I could borrow from my dad, I started playing songs I knew when I was 15; not by looking up any tabs or scores, but by remembering what key the songs were in and played the notes from there. Anything else I learned in pointers here and there over the years to come.
My musical influences:
My influences as they are now depend on which band, or any kind of group capacity, that I’m active with. As a solo artist, my influences (in alphabetical order so that I don’t miss anyone significant) include the likes of Alanis Morrisette, Alter Bridge, Avril Lavigne, Black Stone Cherry, Busted, Def Leppard, Fightstar, Fozzy, Godsmack, Guns N’ Roses, Kid Rock, Linkin Park, Nickelback, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Puddle of Mudd, Saliva and Queen. It was music I grew to love that typically involved heavy guitar playing to varying degrees – and made me want to be more and more of the sort myself.
What inspires me to write:
Aside from the musical influences of artists I’ve talked about as well as my family’s influence, there are varying inspirations for me to write songs. I started by writing an abstract collection of songs that had more fun with whatever was on my mind at the time. Then I wrote songs reflecting my insecurity with being a single man, in varying tones of looking at where I was both in a positive and negative light. Now I write about my own personal acknowledgements towards seasonal traditions, when not writing about my main life experiences in hindsight. But most of all, my main inspiration is how far I’ve come along, especially now that I’ve been playing guitar for half my life and only developed along the way as a musician, performer and individual. This IS my life’s main worth, as nothing else has stood the test of time with me like my way as a musician. And I have nothing else in mind other than to live this lifestyle to the full and make the most of it all. That’s why my saying is “Always out to rock out”.