By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
In 2019, Ryan Hoffman and the Pioneers released their debut record, In the Alps. It was a return to playing in a band, Hoffman was previously a guitarist in the Roadrunners, after a stint as a solo artist. Everything about Alps was a band collaboration. Hoffman and the quartet wrote as a group and by all reviews, it was a standout.
The band even started working on music for a second record. But on Friday, June 13, a new record, rue country, will be released, but instead of a Pioneers follow-up it’s surprisingly a solo record. ‘rue country’ features a new complement of musicians, except for saxophonist and backup vocalist and Pioneers holdover Amy Linette. With the new record due in just a couple of days, Hoffman took time to talk about rue country.
Did you have a particular theme in mind when you started writing?
I think there was a lot of room for experimentation. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a whole album or EP or a couple of singles. But during the initial quarantine, I was playing a lot of music and just writing whatever came to mind. I went with the album title ‘rue country’ because it felt like all of the songs had these characters who live in this little world, ‘rue country’ and the songs are written from different points of view – some mine, and some others.
What was the genesis for the record?
We were unsure if the band was going to continue, so I needed something to write songs for. I had about six songs that didn’t quite fit with the band that I wanted to do. I contacted a few studios around here and went with Nate Campisi at Mr. Smalls. My plan was to record a couple of songs and see how it went. We worked really well together and ended up recording 13 songs, 10 of which made it on the record.
Was it one idea that grew?
It was. I initially recorded an EP before COVID. ‘London Time’ was the first one we did after the initial quarantine. After doing that one, Nate and I thought that this new style was stronger than the first 5 that we did – so we kept playing off of that. Since London Time was about a character and not about me – it opened the doors for much of the writing on the album.
Is there a significance to using different musicians other than the pioneers?
I think back in February, I really wanted to do something different than the folky stuff the Pioneers were doing. So I had to take a different writing approach as well. Initially, this album was just me and Nate playing everything. He brought in his friends, including drummer Pat Coyle, and that changed the sound completely. We decided to keep working with other musicians that Nate regularly played with — so it’s kind of a mashup of different people. I think the resulting sound is very different from what the Pioneers were doing.
Is this signaling a return to Solo performing?
Possibly. It was certainly a return to solo writing. I really enjoy being able to leave space to build the songs in the studio, so all of this writing had that in mind. I’ll still play these songs with the band, hopefully with some new additions, as soon as we can safely play shows again. But yes I think this album is more reminiscent of my previous solo EP ‘The Pines’ than anything the band was doing. So yes, except more solo performances with these ones and some future songs. I am currently working on new stuff for another project.
What has the Covid situation been like for you as a musician?
Before we knew what was going on with COVID (was it an apocalyptic pandemic? How much did we need to worry? How did it spread?), I put most of my energy into music. It gave me something to focus on and be excited about. I’m grateful that I was able to play, write, and record this year. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise – it kept me optimistic and forward-thinking. I think it helped me to be grateful again for what I get to do. It’s easy to fall into rhythms and routines, and although I wish none of this happened, I was able to reflect on my music career thus far and remember why I liked playing in the first place. It wasn’t that I had to do it – it was that I was lucky enough to be able to do it – and that made me fall in love with the process all over again. My hours were cut at my job, and I missed seeing my friends and family and playing with my band – but the fact that I could continue to write and record really means a lot to me.