Exclusive: An Interview With Singer-Songwriter Ryan McMahon

By: Kat Harlton
Lead Photo: Ashley Marston


Vancouver Island based singer-songwriter Ryan McMahon is kicking off 2019 with the release of his 6th full-length album In Line For A Smile We had the opportunity to catch up with Ryan to discuss inspiration, musical influences and what’s next.

Kat: Can you share some of the inspiration behind your latest single “In Line For A Smile”?

Ryan: Why yes.  My mood is a volleyball being rocketed from side to side; really up and even manic sometimes, and really low and apathetic at others.  I’ve sometimes felt like I’m waiting for happiness to come find me; I’m in line for a smile.  It’s coming soon – when I get that sweet support slot opening for Dawes or Blitzen Trapper I’ll be happy.  When I can properly balance a career writing and performing songs with fatherhood I’ll be happy.  When I get granite countertops and my yard properly landscaped I’ll be happy.  I’m coming to find that it’s all bullshit, and I can be happy right now if I finally decide to be.  

Kat: Do you have any musical artists, role models or sounds that either inspire your music, or you personally? If so, who? 

Ryan: That list is long and varied.  People of notoriety, and people less so.  Lyrics are of great importance to me, so there you’ll see the usual suspects:  Warren Zevon, Gord Downie, Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing…  But if I’m looking to inspiration that I can be near and gleam from, I’d say lately that my keyboardist I play with – Mr. Joel Spillette – is quite inspirational in his own right.  He battled demons and the bottle for years, and came out clean the other side and has this new sparkle in his eye that is really something.  I’ve known him for years – he was always very instrumental in my early stages of my career – getting me shows and advice – but seeing him these days is something really quite exceptional to behold.  Watching him play music onstage as I did the other night was to watch someone truly awake and in their element.  There are some great teachers in our industry; If they’re willing to offer it, you just have to be open to gather the information from them.  

Kat: Who would you like to do a collaboration with?

Ryan: There’s this great producer – Pete Droge – that lives in WA on Vashon Island.  He has written some great songs and scored a few films over the years.  He makes beautiful music.  I also think that working with Lethbridge’s own Leeroy Stagger would be really cool one day.  I think we could do something amazing together.  And, if T-Bone Burnett is listening, I’m available.  

Kat: What is on your playlist? 

Ryan: I’m listening to old Mark Lanegan as I answer your questions.  Lately Bahamas, Abigail Lapell, and Dan Mangan’s new record all sound so good to me.  

Photo: Ashley Marston

Kat: Do you have any advice for emerging artists?

“Life’s a journey, not a destinaaaatiooooon”  – Steven Tyler.  But really, true that.  I find myself just buckled in for the long game now, especially given the state of the business we’re in.  
I’m trying to enjoy the great moments of being in this racket: The shows that are just perfect from first song to load-out; the good day of vocals in the studio where you seem to be able to hit all the notes, and most of all, the person coming up to you at the end of a show just to tell you how much what you are doing means to them.  Those are reasons to stay in the game, and to try to find the place where financials meet the creative and the art and the fun of it.  If someone just starting out doesn’t mind the thought of still struggling sometimes 20 years down the road, then by all means, welcome to the nuthouse!  

Kat: What’s next for you?

Ryan: I’m off to Folk Alliance in Montreal in a week.  I did it with Lion Bear Fox two years ago when it was in Kansas City, and just had a blast.  It’s great having all those like-minded people all under one roof, showcasing and creating and rubbing elbows with Kris Kristofferson.  After that, I’ll take my full-band up to Fort Nelson to the Northern Lights Festival to open for the Sheepdogs in March, followed by another solo tour of small venues in Western Canada in May.  I’m always going and I like it that way.

For more on Ryan head over to: https://ryanmcmahon.com

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