Based on his last two records, you’d swear that Ryan Hoffman has been lost in a forest for the past couple years.
In February 2017, after a few satisfying years playing guitar in the band Roadrunner, Hoffman released his first solo record, The Pines. He’d been in a string of bands and when Roadrunner broke up he decided to go it alone. It didn’t last long though, before he hooked up with drummer Mike Smales, vocalist/saxophonist Amy Linette and Brad Collins on guitar, bass and synth and formed Ryan Hoffman and the Pioneers. The indie-folk group’s debut record, In the Alps, was released in November.
So, when he mentions that the band is already writing music for the next record, one question comes to mind. What forest imagery will the next record be named after?
“That’s the great thing about writing with people as opposed to writing alone,” Hoffman says over beer and coffee at The Abbey in Lawrenceville. “We want this new record to be about topics. Brad, Amy and I write in a circle; someone comes in with an idea and we fine tune it. They do a good job of not letting me run wild with my bullshit. We made a soft rule that I’m not allowed to write about birds, trees or the color blue, all of my default imagery.
“So, don’t hold me to it, but the next record likely won’t have a tree-like title or be about the mountains.”
While he liked taking a break to do personal, solo music, Hoffman seems more comfortable in a band setting. He likes the collaboration and being surrounded by musicians that gel together. That’s probably why they’re already working on new material.
“The process has been great so far, very collaborative,” Hoffman says of the music they’ve been recording in Smales’ basement recording studio.. “It’s a much more dynamic experience this time than before. We’re utilizing Amy’s voice differently than we have in the past and I’ve been working on my vocals as well. Musically and lyrically, we’re taking more risks. Rather than hiding what we’re trying to express behind these dense metaphor, we’re just saying it.”
Hoffman says a lot of the themes revolve around growing and moving on. “But moving on at a time in your life when it really means something because of time,” Hoffman says. “My favorite song is one called “Bigger than the Now,” about how the decisions you make today are way bigger than the moment your making them in.”
Hoffman gave the Current a chance to listen to a rough cut of “Bigger than the Now.” In the first 40 seconds you notice the changes the band was trying to make. Vocally, it’s a straight-ahead number that is less “sing-songy” as Hoffman describes, and is instead delivered with a tension in Hoffman’s and Linette’s voices that gives the song almost an instant sense of gravitas.
But while there is something raw and stripped down about The Pioneers’ modern indie rock sound, Hoffman says the band is starting to incorporate more digital elements, although they’ve been trying to introduce it thoughtfully.
“The rule of thumb we go by is that if I can’t sit down and play the song by myself, then we need to take a look at it and see what went wrong,” Hoffman says. “Because at the core of everything there’s this song and you dress it up, but if the song is good at the core, it’s probably going to be solid.”
Electronically, the band has been working an analog synth, an electron sampler and other pedals to “texturize the song with some sawtooth bass or high-pitch synth sounds. We’re also starting to see what kind of sound we can get by mixing electronic beats with our natural beats.
“I never liked that stuff growing up but I think we’re doing some really cool stuff with it,” Hoffman says. “We still want to keep that singer/songwriter vibe, but I like the idea of mixing old school and new school. Now, we’re never going to go as far as EDM, but I think adding a little drop here and there is a good thing.”