Hanging out on the edges of country just enough to say he isn’t, Ryan McMahon is both a whisper and a scream — a storytelling hustler.
His third independent album, Put the Past in a Flask and Drink It, is the culmination of a decade of big highs and big lows, and McMahon is coming to Joe’s Garage in Courtenay this Saturday in support of the release. He’ll be joined by special guest Sid Johnson.
For the past decade, McMahon has been writing and performing his music in relative obscurity while splitting time between Vancouver and his hometown of Ladysmith.
Over that time, he has toured Canada 10 times, released two full-length albums, two EPs and a live record, seen his music licensed both nationally and abroad and heard his music on both commercial and college radio Canada-wide.
Despite positive reviews of both his live show and his writing abilities, mainstream success has proved elusive for McMahon.
“I think that while the live performances have been fairly consistent, I haven’t yet been in a situation where the record we’ve put out matches the intensity or the magic of the live show,” says McMahon.
In 2011, with the help of a small army of friends, McMahon hopes to expand on a mission he’s been on for the past 10 years.
McMahon and his small management company, Mission Management Group — which is run by his fiancée Cathleen Lundgren — released two full albums this year.
The first, titled All Good Stories, was recorded in the summer of 2010 at legendary guitar technician Richard Leighton’s home studio in Lantzville.
“All Good Stories is exactly that: a collection of stripped-down material that I needed to record in a very open and organic environment,” said McMahon. “Richard’s house, man … It’s located right on the water — big vaulted ceilings, huge fireplace and a view that looks like a Rockwell painting. To me, it meant not having to cut my vocals in an isolation booth like a machine.
“It’s so beautiful there, no matter what time of day, what kind of weather, or what kind of mood you’re in. The experience went so well, it was immediately apparent to me that we needed to do a full-band, full-scale production of the next record in the same setting.”
Enter producer Andre Wahl (Hawksley Workman, Luke Doucet, Mudvayne).
For the months of November and December of 2010, Wahl, Leighton and the four members who make up the Company Damn holed up in the log house on the beach in Lantzville, building songs up, tearing songs down and constructing a new product that would sound “timeless.”
“Being that Ryan already had some experience working with Richard Leighton, who I’ve known for eons, I was definitely intrigued by the project but still came in with usual apprehension, in that I didn’t entirely know what to expect,” said Wahl. “After spending time on the songs themselves and getting to know the guys, I knew it was gonna be a blast. Ryan sings to someone and everyone who has ever got drunk, smoked, cried, loved or been loved.
“With his childhood friends in his band, the conviction is effortless, the emotions are shared, and the times are treasured. Most fun I had in the studio that I can remember. With Ryan, it’s a given ‘The Songs Matter.’ Ryan is one great, timeless artist!”
The album that has been nicknamed The Flask was released digitally Nov. 11.
In support of the release, McMahon is gathering some friends to run around the Island for a few days and start giving it away to people who come out to see the live performance.
“Well, now that the albums are completed, those industry wheels begin to turn,” he said. “We’ve got various tours in the works, which is the most exciting part for me, next to the actual creation of the work. The thing for me is, I’m compelled to write. I’m not happy, and I don’t feel useful unless I’m creating … The notion that we might be able to do this to put food on the table for our families, plus support causes that we care about, is also very intriguing. I just hope the public cares about these songs like we all do … that’s all you can hope for.”
Advance tickets to this show — McMahon’s first visit to Courtenay in two years — are $15 and come with a free copy of Put the Past in a Flask and Drink It. They are available at Bop City Records in Courtenay.
The kitchen at Joe’s Garage opens for the night at 6:30 p.m., and the music starts at 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.joeson5th.ca or call 250-702-6456.
To find out more about McMahon, visit www.ryanmcmahon.com.