Ryan Driver: Finding His Voice

Music Features Ryan Driver

Hometown: Toronto
Album: Who’s Breathing?
For Fans Of: John Martyn, Brett Dennen, JJ Cale

Before singer/songwriter Ryan Driver could release his own albums, he first had to learn to like the sound of his own voice.

The performer initially avoided sharing his dulcet tones, citing insecurity about his vocals, but those vocals are what Driver has become best known for. He put a dozen years of classical piano and seven year of classical flute training on the backburner and began focusing on guitar, an instrument he’s played since 13.

“It’s harder and harder to find pianos in performance spaces and I don’t like playing electric or electronic pianos very much,” Driver says. “And flute, well I like it in short bursts. I get tired of hearing it after a while. For some reason it’s easier for me to write a song when I’m playing guitar.”

Driver started performing when he first moved to Toronto in 1996, improvising music with his friends at a local café. Shortly afterwards, he began lending his skills to many bands in the scene including folk-rock group, The Silt. Driver would play guitar, piano, analog synthesizers, flute and drums for the three-piece for 12 years. He sang in the Ryan Driver Quartet, the jazz group featured on the second half of Who’s Breathing. He also performed as a member of Deep Dark United, experimental group The Reveries and alongside ambient producer Sandro Perri, among many other diverse groups of musicians.

Now 38, Driver’s latest release Who’s Breathing? shows off his newfound skills as a solo artist. The record was recorded over a two-day period with a bevy of musicians and co-producer Jean Martin. With lyrics that occasionally dip into the melancholy, Driver’s clear and crisp vocals rise above deceptively complex guitar choruses and twangy riffs. It’s breakneck bluegrass and soul music with Driver’s own little twists. The record features the artist on not only the strings but also on synthesizer, piano and flute. “Everything Must Spin,” the third, exceptionally catchy track on the record is an anthemic ditty about the cyclical nature of life.

“It’s sort of a reflection on spinning in the drunken sense and the sense that everything has cycles,” Driver says. “[It’s about] how everything is alright even when it’s not.”

Wanting distinctive sounds for each side of the LP, Driver flips to piano-driven songs for the second half of the album. The Ryan Driver Quartet, the group he’s been playing “weird versions of jazz ballads” with, accompanies him. It transforms Who’s Breathing into a totally different record, hearkening back to a cool jazz sound and then delving into an almost electronic realm on “Don’t Want to Leave You Without You.” Instrumental tracks like “When Now Turns To Never” show off Driver’s talent as an arranger sampling an array of sounds.

This experimental second release is only the beginning for Driver. He’ll release a 7-inch with friend and vocalist Thom Gill in the fall, and then it’s back to the studio to write more songs for his next album.

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