It's the statement uttered perhaps more than any other when a band is discussing its goals: "We want to be able to make a living from playing music."
By that measure, Ryanhood is living the dream.
The acoustic duo—lead singer and guitarist Cameron Hood and lead guitarist and singer Ryan Green—has eschewed the normal route to success (i.e., slogging it out in a touring van, driving from bar gig to bar gig) by largely touring college campuses, playing mostly for what they call "listening audiences"—people there specifically to hear live music, rather than chatty bar patrons who are there to get loaded.
Green and Hood both attended University High School, but they weren't friends in those days. Instead, their respective bands—Green was in Swivelfish, and Hood was in Fallout, which later became Easyco—competed against each other in battles of the bands.
"I was kind of the shredding guitar player," explains Green, "and he was the soulful singer-songwriter."
"The crooner," says Hood.
Green: "We were playing Joe Satriani covers and he was doing ..."
Hood: "Goo Goo Dolls and Gin Blossoms covers."
At the end of one school year, Hood wrote a generous entry in Green's yearbook about how much he admired his guitar-playing, which warmed up Green to the idea of working together. However, Hood stayed in Tucson to study art at the UA, while Green headed off to Boston to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music.
During one summer break, both worked at Beaver's Band Box, where they played the guitars that they were supposed to be selling. Hood had amassed some songs that didn't fit with his band, and he enlisted Green to help him record them. They hit it off so well that, once Green graduated from Berklee, he invited Hood to move to Boston for a spell, where the two made ends meet by playing on the street.
One fateful day while busking, they were approached by a representative of Tea Party Concerts, a now-defunct arm of Clear Channel Communications that specialized in booking acts into college campuses, who offered to represent them. They accepted. While the two do their own booking these days, they've used the connections they made during that period to continue touring colleges.
Green and Hood say there's another benefit to touring colleges. "On that circuit," explains Green, "you're essentially doing free shows for students, and the activities department will hire you to do it. So you get a (guaranteed fee) to go out there; they'll generally put you up for the night somewhere, and you hopefully have an audience." It certainly doesn't hurt that the music that Ryanhood plays seems tailor-made for the kind of soul-searching in which college students regularly engage.
The group's music is earnest and hopeful, carrying with it an uplifting message. There's a spiritual aspect there, too, but they are quick to point out that they're not a "Christian band," per se. "I've never liked mixing faith and commerce, really," says Green. "It feels kind of icky to me, and I also don't discover music in that channel myself—I discover music on KFMA or 92.9 or MTV—so I like being a part of the bigger thing."
Says Hood, "I think there is a lot of spirituality in this record, and a lot of it has to do with the relationship between people and with yourself—which I think is very spiritual. You won't usually find us singing praise songs."
The record to which Hood refers is The World Awaits, the new, self-released album that will be celebrated with a show at the Rialto Theatre on Saturday, April 4, and which represents a great leap forward for the duo.
Ryanhood released either a full-length album or EP every year between 2003 and 2006, but the new album ended up taking about three years to complete. ("Not as long as Chinese Democracy," jokes Hood.) The reasons why are plentiful.
"We had self-produced our last couple of records," says Green, "and it had been advised to us by program directors at (radio) stations that we should take it up a notch production-wise, and just give it a world-class treatment."
With the help of then-manager Gina Rossi—"She was the first person to pay attention and believe in us and help us get off our training wheels ... I wouldn't want to understate what she did for us," says Hood—they began sending out e-mails to producers. They eventually settled on Ross Hogarth, who has produced or engineered albums for Ziggy Marley, Jewel and Melissa Etheridge, among many others.
Hogarth was juggling a number of projects; meanwhile, Ryanhood continued to tour—even while finishing up the album last year, the duo still managed to play 135 live shows.
"One of us would get free, and then the other one wasn't," explains Green.
Additionally, Hogarth—who engineered, produced and mixed the album—didn't hit it off with the band as well as they would have liked.
"He had a really high standard that he held us to musically," says Hood, "which we didn't like, but ultimately led to a better product. Our bedside manners didn't mesh very well, so it took us a while to work through that. But, musically, the product that we ended up with was worth the wear. He has an incredible ear and brought in incredible musicians to complement what we do."
The World Awaits demonstrates a lot of the band's strengths—their effortless way with a hook, Green's proficiency as a guitarist, their appealing vocal harmonies—and sounds fantastic. As long as the album ends up in the right hands, it's difficult to imagine that it wouldn't end up making a dent at AAA radio stations such as Tucson's KWMT FM 92.9 The Mountain.
While Green and Hood are proud of the album and want people to hear it, they're opposed to the notion of cramming it down people's throats.
"We're really hoping this record catches on in a very organic way," explains Hood, "that people go, 'Listen to this record; it's good.' ... Our hope is that there's just something intangibly good about it—that it leaves people maybe disarmed, or a little more hopeful than before they pressed play."