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Interview: Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors

Ryan Hamilton and The TraitorsBefore Ryan Hamilton and his merry men, The Traitors, played an incredible gig in Bristol, I was dispatched to find out what makes them tick. As well as Ryan himself, drummer Mickey Richards was also on hand to fill in the blanks…

Hi guys! Thanks for taking some time out to talk to me today. The first, and by far the most important question I have for you is… how are you, and how has tour been so far?! I’ve heard the most awesome things!

Ryan: “Well, that’s because…”

Mickey: “…We’re very awesome!”

Ryan: “We are awesome! We feel awesome, the tour’s been incredible, and I would say it’s 90% new people. The rooms are full, and you see a handful right at the front, and you recognize them – ‘Oh, I know you! I remember you!’, but it’s also rooms full of new faces, and that’s the best thing ever, because those people are there because they heard the music. They’re there for the music, not because of any other reason, and that really does feel good.”

Yeah, it must be great to be filling these bigger rooms with new people! Speaking of tour… is there a particular song that has got a really big reaction from crowds so far on this tour? And is there a song that you particularly like to play live?

Ryan: “Mickey what song do you like to play live?”

Mickey: “My favourite’s ‘We Never Should Have Moved to L.A.”

Ryan: “Yeah?”

Mickey: “Yeah, because it’s really standard drumming, but it just makes you smile and you see everyone singing it back at you.”

Ryan: “Yeah, people are singing the crap out of the new songs too. You expect them, because we’ve been over here two or three times now, like we knew that they were going to sing a few of the older ones, but they’re singing the new ones, that one in particular – and loud! So yeah, I’d actually have to say that one too. That one or ‘Smarter’ to play live.”

Having said that, if you met somebody who had never heard of Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors, and you could only play them one song, which one would it be, and why? Is it the same?

Ryan: “Umm… I would say ‘Smarter’, just because its got a little bit of country, a little bit of rock, and then there’s some pop there too – so it’s kind of every element of this band in one song.”

Mickey: “I’d say the same.”

Having mentioned ‘Smarter’, it’s the song on everyone’s lips at the moment. It’s been really successful – and rightly so! What do you think it is about the song specifically that helped it to take off so well?

Ryan: “I think that the sound of it, the way the song is put together, grabs you really quick, but also it’s very relatable, lyrically. And in the most humble way possible, its got that cool thing where, what do you guys say – cheeky? It’s a little bit cheeky, right? Yeah, tongue in cheek, but I still mean it! Like, I still mean what I’m singing, but it’s also a very smiley… kind of happy one.”

Mickey: “For a British person, I think it’s got the ‘Ye-Ha!’ of Ryan and his twangy-ness, and then there’s a bit of rock thrown in, y’know? And then it goes back into the swing of it. There’s just something. People don’t expect that, you know? You write a song and it’s normally like that, with just one peak, they don’t expect a song to have that many stages. I think that’s what makes it a fun song, and why it’s popular, I hope!”

So, your debut album with The Traitors, ‘The Devil’s In The Detail’ seems as though it was the result of an organic creation process. Is there anything that you do differently recording now, or is the process pretty much the same? How do you deal with the obstacles of being a transatlantic band in that respect?

Ryan: “The process is still the same, but we’re working with Dave Draper now, who’s an incredible producer, so he’s kind of steering the ship on a production level. So, even though the process is the same, it’s new because of who we’re working with and the way he kind of directs us. What was the second half of the question?”

How do you deal with the obstacles of being in a transatlantic band?

Ryan: “Just with the internet. If there wasn’t the internet I don’t think it would work!”

Mickey: “We speak every day.”

Ryan: “Me and Mickey are like teenage girls pretty much, like ‘What are you doing?”

‘XOXO’ hmm? 

Ryan: “It’s true!”

What is it that you like most about the music that you create, specifically?

Ryan: “I think that it feels like me. You know how sometimes you hear someone sing, and then you hear them speak, and you go, ‘Oh wow’. It’s like, no offense to him, but Scott Stapp of Creed, or somebody like that. It’s like, why are you putting on this voice? Like that just doesn’t seem like you, this seems like you’re pretending to be whatever this is on stage. And I like that we sound like us! The music feels like us, it’s very true to the people that we are.”

Yeah, it seems really genuine!

Ryan: “Genuine Is the word I was looking for that I could not find – thank you very much.”

The impression that I get, having met and chatted with you a few times after shows, is that you are a very emotionally open individual. Whether it’s on social media, via your mailing list, or even by means of songs like ‘Fuck You Brain’, you seem to be very open with emotional struggles. Why do you think that that emotional openness, or that conversation with the people who listen to your music, is so important? And how to you manage to push through and stay positive?

Ryan: “I think that it’s important for people to see that there’s not necessarily the detachment in the music business that a lot of people want there to be. They want there to be this sense of celebrity, or like with backstage like it’s a big deal to actually get back there and talk to someone. You’re still just talking to a person that has a job that they’re seemingly good at, it’s just that it’s a little bit of a strange career. I think that it’s important for people to just be able to talk to you. Like, if I go see someone that I’m a fan of, whether it’s an art show or a concert, I get excited to speak to them – but it’s even better when they’re just a real person, you know what I mean? And you just talk to them, and that’s the way it should be! You’re just having a conversation with someone. As far as being positive within the emotional struggle of mental health and all of those things… I think that there’s enough negativity on the internet, and it actually benefits me just as much as it benefits others to try and stay positive. I mean, not everyone is perfect, I’ve definitely had my moments on the internet where I’ve lost the control I try and have all the time, but I do try most of the time to dose it with positivity. And not just for all of the people who are paying attention, hopefully it brightens their day! It also brightens my day, and helps me stay focused on the positive. Especially in today’s world, there’s so much terrible, negative – and not just on a political level – just like with day to day bullying and people being awful to each other…”

Mickey: “We’ve had our fair share of that, and if we can make anything positive, we’ll do it. There’s nothing worse than being the kid that’s picked on.”

Yeah, absolutely. So, you collaborated with Ginger Wildheart on ‘Fuck You Brain’, which is a favourite of mine! I was just wondering if there was anyone else you would really like to work with one day? I’m sure a lot of people see you with the likes of Tom Petty, but I really want to hear your perspective!

Ryan: “Well, of course Tom Petty is one of my heroes, so that would be the dream scenario – I think I’d just quit! If I ever worked with Tom Petty I’d be like, ‘Well, it’s never going to get any better than this, I’m out!’, but, in a more realistic world, it looks like we’re going to get to work with (we’ve already started) Tony from Terrorvision. Then, of course, the stuff with Ginger and… there are some people in the 90s UK music scene that were heroes of mine that I feel like we could, and I would love to, work with.”

Awesome. How about you Mickey?

Mickey: “Me? We come from musically very different backgrounds, with the odd exception. I’m very rock orientated, so I would give my left leg to play with Van Halen, y’know? Somebody along those lines. Having said that, on the flip side, I love Stevie Ray Vaughan, bless him. If he was around today, I would be the first one to be like, ‘Hey, I can play drums, Mr Vaughan’. And John Mellencamp, y’know, we share that interest.”

So does the relationship between rock and country that manifests in your music comes from that as well as your musical influences then? Is it difficult, or does it just come naturally?

Ryan: “It comes naturally. It just kind of happens, and I say it a bunch, but it shouldn’t work! You shouldn’t be able to put my country/pop rock, and then Mickey’s rock, Van Halen-esque loving self, and then bring it all together and it work. But we found a way!”

Mickey: “Ryan’s song writing is, to my ears, from a Leicestershire lad, very, very countryfied. He’ll send a song in demo form, and it’ll just be him and his guitar, maybe one of these little drum machines (that wants throwing out of the window, by the way!). But he’ll put this idea down, then I’ll take it and go to my rehearsal room and just listen to it and then work out something, and then Rob will get involved. Next thing we’ve got this rock orientated country song! And he comes over and we record it, and then we just do some pulling and stretching and shuffling around and…!

Ryan: “Whoa! Whoa! Doing some pulling and some stretching?”

Mickey: “Before we do the recording!

Best to stretch before you work out, eh? 

Mickey: “Absolutely!”

And finally, what’s next in the pipeline for you guys? Anything exciting planned, or are you going to finally take that well-earned break?

Ryan: “I think this is really as far as we planned! There are a few more shows back home when I get back, but I feel like we’ve been pushing for two years straight. Just non-stop trying to establish ourselves, and this tour is… what’s the saying? The proof is in the pudding! Now we know it’s okay, we’re actually going to be okay now. We’ve done it. And we’re not huge, we’re still getting there, but now we’re in a place where we know we’re going to be okay. The people are interested in the band, and in the music, and want to come and see the shows. We’re in! Our audience is in. So, I’m actually really looking forward to a little bit of a break! Because it’s been such a struggle at times, but more of an adventure just to get to here, and to have the satisfaction of going ‘We did it! We re-established ourselves, and we’re going to be all right.”

Well guys, I hope you enjoy that break, you deserve it! And thanks for talking to me for a little bit.

Ryan: “Yeah of course. Thank you!”

Interview: Amy Jefferies

Live images – Becky O’Grady

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