Montréal native Ryan McNally has loved the blues since he was nine years old … although if you grew up in his hometown you might not know it.
With a background playing in bands dedicated to hip hop, metal and rockabilly music (all the while he was playing blues on his own) it’s only recently he’s allowed his bluesy side to show.
“If I played blues back home, everybody would think it was weird,” says McNally.
“I always wrote music I never really shared with anyone else. It just never fit or suited the projects I was working on.
“I didn’t really need to perform it, but blues is the truest thing, the most natural thing for me to play.”
With an album written, plans to record it and dreams of travel, McNally has been rocking the Yukon festival circuit, playing Frostbite, Sunstroke, Canada Day and now the Atlin Arts and Music Festival July 11 to 13.
Growing up in an artsy household littered with various musical instruments, it’s no wonder that McNally started his music career early, playing drums at 11 years old and then guitar at 12.
Sipping his double espresso, it’s clear the 22-year-old McNally is new to Whitehorse. Looking like he stepped out of the ’50s, his unique style reflects his music, too.
McNally moved to Whitehorse in September ’07 when he hitched a ride with a family friend.
Seeing all the support for musicians and creators, his decision to move here proved to be a good one. “As soon as I showed up, they were like, ‘Get on stage’. In Montréal, you might get cab fare. You play for free just to be able to play,” he says.
McNally has been playing with local musicians since arriving in town. “It’s nice to collaborate; that’s one thing that’s special about Whitehorse. I don’t know if it’s to get through the winter or just something to do, but it’s pretty special,” he says, smiling.
Influenced by the likes of Taj Mahal, Guy Davis, John Lee Hooker, Carl Perkins and Hank Williams, just to name a few, McNally’s blues are all his own: “I write about things that matter to me. The songs are about me; they’re about real stories and experiences I’ve had,” he says.
“When I heard his songs [Guy Davis] and his writing, I was inspired. His song writing pushed me in new directions, in the direction I was looking for. It just clicked something in my brain,” he says.
“I connected with the blues.”
Watching McNally perform is watching someone born to play. Tapping both feet at different tempos, playing guitar and singing his heart out, often with his eyes closed, it’s hard to avert your eyes from his performance.
Recently at the Sunstroke festival here in Whitehorse, McNally headed back (briefly) to his days of rockabilly. Exuding the energy of a full band, McNally played guitar, sang, rocked a bass drum and high-hat, all at the same time.
So, it’s surprising to know that rockabilly music isn’t as much his thing anymore.
“I was sick of greasing my hair, screaming my head off and trying to impress people. It was good music and I liked what we were doing, but it was all theatrics.
“Rockabilly is something I want to do for fun, though; it’s not something I want to focus on. Blues is about the writing. Rockabilly is about the show, the dancing,” he says.
Currently, McNally is looking at recording a full-length disc. Learning that you can rely more on yourself than others, he has 10 songs already written.
“I realized how fast things can go if I stop relying on everyone else. If it’s all on my own, there’s no weight on you,” he says.
With Brandon and Chris Isaak in talks to produce, this dream is becoming a reality. “This album is about how you feel when you’re moving, how you feel lighter.
“You learn things about yourself when you’re travelling.
“I’m inspired by new places and by the people I meet. I’m excited to hear what it’s going to be like. It’s been a long time since I’ve been working on these songs,” he says.
With an album in the making, another festival circuit to play in and hopefully a bright future ahead, McNally seems focused … for now anyways: “I still don’t know if I want to be a musician, I want to know how to fix cars, I want to study linguistics. But mainly the things I want to do revolve around travelling. I want to make an album and then tour,” he says.
“I’m really looking forward to touring to new places and to what I might find there. I love music, it’s what I’ve been doing since I was a kid.
“It’s a big part of me.”
You can catch McNally playing at the Atlin Arts and Music Festival July 11 to 13. For more information, and to listen, check out www.myspace.com/ryanmcnallymtl.