Singer/songwriter Ryan Hiller returns to play hometown gig
July 15, 2011
Singer/songwriter Ryan Hiller just released his third CD, "How It Works."
The musician worked with Andrew Williams, a Hollywood producer who has collaborated with T-Bone Burnett, Peter Chase, the Wailers and Jessica Simpson.
The album is filled with songs Hiller wrote throughout his life and includes a remake of one of his earlier tunes called "Ride the Wave," which he wrote while a student at Park City High School.
That’s right, Hiller, who calls San Diego his home, is a Miner.
"I graduated PCHS in 2001," Hiller said during a phone call from Calif. "I also attended Treasure Mountain Middle School.
"It will be my 10-year reunion in August, but not going to be able to attend, because I’ll be on tour out East," he said. "I can’t believe how fast the years have gone by."
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Within that "short" decade, Hiller moved to Louisiana, graduated the University of New Orleans with a degree in music and ventured to the West Coast, where he’s been recording CDs and playing music for the past five years.
He’ll come home to Park City on July 21 to play a show at the Newpark Plaza at 6 p.m. and one later at the Sidecar at 10 p.m.
"I’ve never quit playing Park City even though I’ve lived all over the place," Hiller said. "When I come home to play, I use the same Utah musicians Steve Bauman on bass, Jeremy Abernathy on the Hammond B3 and Brian Thurber on drums. This time around, Brian wasn’t able to make the gigs, so I’ve asked Parkite John Olsen who works at the Sidecar to join us."
Throughout the years, Hiller and the band have played up and down Main Street and Deer Valley.
"I tried to come back every four months," he said. "It’s always great coming back and playing for friends and family."
Hiller left Park City the first time because he wanted to study jazz in New Orleans.
"I realized if I wanted to study music academically, I had to get into classical or jazz," he said. "So I chose jazz."
The decision was a natural one because Hiller immersed himself in the jazz band at PCHS, under the baton of Bill Huhnke.
"Mr. Huhnke, who has since passed away, was a great teacher," Hiller said. "We won awards year after year, because there were a lot of great players."
While jazz was the focus, Hiller, who grew up listening to folk, rock and the Great American Songbook, was drawn to the blues at an early age.
"I was infatuated with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton," he said.
While taking classes in New Orleans, his love of blues conflicted with his jazz studies.
"The University of New Orleans is super traditional and was all be-bop and jazz," he said. "My teacher actually told me that I had to stop listening to Stevie Ray because I was bending my notes in class."
Hiller kept his rebellious spirit in check and took things in stride.
"I didn’t like that at first, but as I looked back after I graduated, I realized they wanted me to learn jazz the correct way," he said. "I can appreciate that now, even though I don’t play a lot of jazz these days. I mean if you can play be-bop correctly, you can play anything."
Hiller’s present style is rock and soul, although he listens to everything.
"As an artist, I think it’s important to have a style and a brand, but a good musician knows all different kinds of music," he said. "Through the process, I’ve gotten into everything. There is not a single music style I don’t like. Yes, there are some kinds of music that I’m better at than others, but I try to keep my ears open, because I can pull from different styles and incorporate them into my own songs. Music is a universal language, and the only way to speak it is to listen to it."
Hiller moved to San Diego right after Hurricane Katrina did her devastating song and dance oin New Orleans.
"I chose San Diego, because when I was touring the country with a local New Orleans band, I thought the city was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen," he said. "The day I got my degree, I jumped in my car and drove out. I didn’t know anyone. I just showed up."
His music did the talking and Hiller found himself making a decent living playing gigs around the city, which helped him finance his recording sessions.
"Music, unlike it was back in the day, is becoming cheap, meaning people can get it for free, and that has had a big impact on the music industry," he said. "It’s taking out the major labels, which used to make people into stars, and giving the power back to the individual and independent musicians."
The paradigm shift has forced musicians to hone their business sensibilities.
"Not only do you have to a good musician, but you have to be good at marketing, and branding," Hiller said. "You also have to be responsible for your music and actions. Long gone are the days when musicians partied all the time and the management team took care of things."
Responsibility is why Hiller hired Williams to work the knobs on the new CD.
"He had a pretty big résumé, but when I arrived at his studio, I was shocked," Hiller said. "The place was no bigger than a bedroom."
Still, the musician found it wasn’t the toys that made the music sound good. It was the way Williams utilized what he had.
"For instance, I wanted to rerecord ‘Ride the Wave,’ and I had this feel for the song, but didn’t want to write it all out," Hiller said. "I told Andrew that I was going to slap a beat on my knees to show him what I was thinking."
After the demonstration, Williams placed a microphone up against Hiller’s leg and told him to do it again.
"You can hear it the beat of the song and not know it’s just me slapping my leg," Hiller said. "It was amazing."
Ryan Hiller will play the Newpark Plaza, 1456 Newpark Blvd., at Kimball Junction on Thursday, July 21 at 6 p.m. He will also play the Sidecar, 333 Main St., that same day at 10 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.ryanhillermusic.com .