After releasing three solo albums and five under the name astroPuppees, Kelley Ryan says her most recent solo album, Telescope, is the “most consistent” one.
“I think every record is a logical extension of the one before it,” she says. “Telescope sort of sums up everything I've tried to do up to this point. I worked again with the wonderful Don Dixon, Marti Jones, and Jim Brock, and there’s some gorgeous horn playing by Jon Thornton. So I think there is a certain jazzy kind of vibe coming through with this one. I'm very proud of the way it turned out.”
Yes, there’s some jazzy vibe, but it’s not a jazz album. Maybe a pop-folk album?
“I am always stumped when it comes to labeling music, especially my own,” Ryan says. “One recent reviewer called it ‘sheer folk soul,’ and another described it as ‘sensuous pop for these troubled times.’ I think both are appropriate.”
Ryan’s work with Dixon, Jones, and Marshall Crenshaw — who co-wrote “Passing Through” on Telescope and recorded it on his Jaggedland album — dates back to her astroPuppees days. For many years, she has also known Kimm Rogers, who co-wrote “Save Me” on Telescope.
“I've known and respected all of them for years as musicians, and I am pleased to say they are friends,” Ryan says. “I met them through a publishing company in L.A. called Bug Music. I've co-written and covered a few of Marshall's songs over the years. Dixon has been involved with all my records, mixing, mastering, writing, playing, and singing. In many ways, he is a true Renaissance man. He has been my musical recording captain, and I would hook my rope to his boat any day.
“Marti, besides her freaking gorgeous musical talents, has become my closest friend. At this point, I practically make records for the express reason that it would mean we'd have to get together. Ha ha! I laugh, but it's true. I hooked up with Kimm mostly because of her newest record, Where The Pavement Grows. I love — love! — her writing, and we corresponded via the internet bouncing ideas back and forth as ‘Save Me’ took shape.”
Why name the album Telescope?
“The dictionary describes a telescope as ‘an optical instrument designed to make distant objects appear nearer, containing an arrangement of lenses or curved mirrors, by which rays of light are collected and focused and the resulting image magnified.’ I think that's a pretty good metaphor for the songs. They are all very simple and very concentrated. I really tried to home in on a specific feeling for each song and illuminate it. Also, I just like the way the word sounds.”
The primary reasons behind the mood throughout the record, Ryan says, are “the endless, windy skies looming over the mountains of the California desert and the remote, crushing beauty of sea and land that is Ireland.”
Ryan, who grew up in Portland, Oregon, spent much of her life in Los Angeles and now lives half of the year in Palm Springs, California, and half in Cork, Ireland.
“I have been making music since I was 12 years old, and, as I look back through the years, I totally see how my records were influenced by my location. My astroPuppees stuff was way more rock/pop and electric, reflecting bustling L.A., where I lived at the time. When I was a kid in rural Oregon, my stuff sounded exactly like a song made up by an innocent kid. I actually used to climb trees with my guitar in tow and play from there — one of the coolest places to be.”
Of course, it’s not just geographic surroundings that have influenced the mood of her albums. Two songs on Twist, her debut solo album in 2010, were influenced by a notable friend, Van Dyke Parks. Many consider Parks a musical genius for his work as a session musician, composer, arranger, lyricist, singer and solo recording artist.
“I met Van Dyke through Bug Music, and my husband has known him for years,” Ryan explains. “We were friends of him and his wife, Sally, and one day I got up the courage to ask him if he would consider arranging some strings for a song of mine called ‘The Beautiful Child’ on Twist. He ended up doing two songs, and they are both lush with his work. I relished working on those songs. It was like the room filled with angels. I would sometimes mute all the instruments and vocals except the strings, and it was heaven. So good.”
Ryan recalls a birthday party for Parks’ wife with Ringo Starr in attendance.
“There was a great live band, and, at the end of the night, there was kind of a conga line celebratory dance thing, Someone tapped me on the shoulder to join the dance. I turned around, and it was Ringo with his wife, Barbara Bach, on his arm. I said, ‘I would, but I don't know how to dance.’ He said, ‘Oh yes, you can — just follow the drummer!’ “
Ryan says the best concert she attended was a performance by Ella Fitzgerald at the Hollywood Bowl on July 20, 1992. “It was the best ever — her, the Hollywood Bowl, and summer in California.”
Speaking of following, what’s next for Ryan in the studio after Telescope?
“Just climbing back in there and seeing what shakes loose,” she says. “Marti and I are thinking of doing a record together that is neither hers nor mine. It will be ours — a record of originals with both of us trading hats. Upward and onward — a chance to hang out and laugh our heads off in between takes.”