Written by Luke Bailey
Ryan McMey has been forging his own musical path for just over a year now, after ending his seven-year run with the Fidgets: “It’s very difficult to talk about anything controversial, I felt there was a bunch of stuff you’re not allowed to write about if you’re a straight down the line pop artist.”
He wanted to be able to talk more honestly in his songs and not have to constantly struggle between accessibility and creative freedom.
With his floppy blond hair and engaging responses, Ryan has the hallmarks of a pop star of the future. He has an almost infectious cheeriness, if marred by occasional cynicism, as he answers my questions across the internet and on the other side of the country.
Ryan remarks how different writing music on his own has been. The positives of being able to write whatever he likes contending with an absence of external checks: “Sometimes you don’t realise something is really bad until somebody tells you.”
Setting off on his own in a period of global catastrophe, Ryan has managed to find positives in the year from hell. The introduction of a national lockdown meant Ryan only had a few months to play to an audience as a solo act. He describes how he “probably did the densest period of song writing in my life, in the first part of lockdown.”
Despite not being able to perform live, Ryan has been steadily building an audience across the country. “A lot of my audience are at school or college and then all of a sudden, they weren’t, and they had nothing better to do than listen to my songs,” he explains. “The beginning of 2020 was hugely beneficial for writing and being able to sit on Instagram entertaining people all day.”
However, 2020 has been a double-edged sword. Ryan is open and more than willing to talk about how the year has not all been positive. As Covid restrictions have continued, Ryan has found the second half of the year to be much more difficult: “It sapped the feeling of living in the world and things to be inspired by. I’m just sort of sick of it, everybody is, so I think the inspiration has gone a bit.”
Ryan’s biggest influence is The Beatles: “I can never get away from them. Even the fact I probably don’t sound like them anymore. The song writing, the way they did stuff, and the legacy is a massive influence upon me.”
With elements of rock, hip-hop, jazz and alternative all held together by a strong pop sensibility, Ryan’s music is a strong blend of styles. When forced to give his style a label, neither Ryan nor myself can find anything closer than bedroom pop (think Cavetown, beabadoobee, boy pablo, Girl in Red).
“I don’t think I’d ever heard the term bedroom pop before this year. I was painted as bedroom pop by other people and I’m like: I literally make it in my bedroom, so I guess that’s true.”
Ryan bases much of his music in jazz theory and makes liberal use of diminished chords – at the beginning of the year he was toying with the term jazz pop. “It’s an endless battle trying to figure out what it is, bedroom pop is actually closest, because a lot of those guys are doing that Jazz aesthetic as well.”
Almost all of Ryan’s songs have a tinge of the political. He blames this upon his family, joking how his Dad is the last communist left in the country and explaining how “politics has always been around.”
For Ryan, whether in celebration or commiseration, elections have always been events.
He finds it difficult not to think about what is going on and believes that it’s inevitable he would end up writing about it. This is most apparent in I told you so. “It’s about everything: the fact that Boris won the election, the fact that they held Brexit over us at the time and about how I felt there was a generational divide in why that happened.
“But simultaneously there were these memes: Huawei and the Chinese watching you through your phone and everyone has their own personal CIA agent watching them. And at the same time, it’s about Trump, it was about the fact we accidentally almost went to war with Iran. It’s about everything.”
Ryan’s most recent release, I’m Sorry, is his first in 2020 not to be overtly political, even if he couldn’t help having a dig at Tinder culture. However, it is still inspired by current events. Ryan explains how the song is an exploration of how lockdown could aggravate issues for a struggling couple. Not a typical love song, it has a much more melancholic approach. The theme of Ryan’s vocals contrasts nicely with their dark, but still very pop, backing. The more I listen to I’m Sorry the more it embeds itself into my brain, almost like an ear worm, in a good way.
As 2021 begins, I wait to see what this year will bring for Ryan. I enjoy his refreshing combination of politics and pop. I hope this next year will bring more of the same, if not bigger and better.
“I’ve never been in a world where lockdown hasn’t been a thing and people also want to come and see my shows,” he said. Looking forwards, in hope, Ryan is excited to play shows for his growing audience and contemplates his future releases: “I’d love to do an album, but it’ll be singles for quite a while.”
Luke Bailey is a final year History student, usually found struggling to fit playing around with guitars, writing and uni work into the day. You can find him on Instagram here