Musician Ryan Heinlein returns to Wichita this weekend with his band The Project H to celebrate the release of Everyday, Forever, the group's first album in four years.
The Project H performs at Central Standard Brewing on Saturday, April 7.
Jedd Beaudoin: Are you always writing or do you come to a place where you say, "It's been a couple of years, it's time to get some new stuff into the repertoire"?
Ryan Heinlein: Normally I am. Like, I've always got something. I've usually got a bank of ideas, stuff that I come up with on the piano or stuff that I've sung and I'll throw it on a file as a voice memo in my phone and save it. After the last one, I was empty as far as that was concerned. I'd just had my second kid and so I knew that there was a lot of time that was going to be taken up with that, having two kids. I was teaching as an adjunct three days a week in Ottawa, Kansas, and one day a week down in Wichita while living in Kansas City. I was driving a ton, family time was a premium, so I really didn't write a whole lot.
Then, in 2016, I won a residency grant to go down to a beach community in Florida. It's called Seaside, Florida. It's where they filmed The Truman Show. For the entire month of February, I lived in this amazing house, two blocks away from the beach. They said, "Here's a piano, we're going to leave you completely alone for 25 days except to come give you your per diem. We just want you to write."
So, that's what I did. I completely restocked my bank of ideas. All of the songs on the new record have at least one little thing in there from my time in Florida.
What's it like when you have maybe an inkling of an idea for a piece, then you slowly see it form, you bring it to the band and then one day it comes together and you're playing it in front of an audience. What's that feeling like when you go, "This is it! It's no longer this idea in my head! It's actually music"?
It's a lot of fun to see. Not all of them are successes. I'm not the world's best piano player, but I can play. A lot of ideas I'll come up with on piano. I'll record that idea, then I'll sing lines over that and figure it out — just kind of layer it. Then I'll put it into a computer program so that I can create the sheet music for everyone. Those computer MIDI files just sound horrible. They sound like bad video games. A lot of times it's, like, "Man, I can't wait to see what an actual guitar or an actual saxophone is going to sound like on this tune."
When you bring it into the bad, that's usually a big relief. You can kind of tell when something's going to be alright and what's not. But even on the early returns from the record, there have been a lot of people commenting on songs that I didn't think they'd comment about. It wasn't that I didn't think they would enjoy them, I just didn't think that those were going to be songs that stuck out.
So, that's always interesting to see. There are songs where you're really confident and think, "Oh yeah, I think people are really going to dig this," and then people are sort of ho-hum on it and then there are other ones where you think, "OK, it's a cool tune where does it fit?" That ends up being the one where people are really into it.
Can you point to one of those tunes that surprised you when people latched onto it?
"Pander Bear." It's a little bit of a darker sounding tune than some of our others. We're pretty good at having a couple of danceable funk tunes, and then there are some more artistic ones. I've got a buddy who's playing vibraphone on it and my saxophone player's playing bass clarinet on it, so we brought in another tenor saxophone player. There are nine people on that song.
It's in an odd meter so that the time and meter shift. And there's a lot of dissonance in the melody. If someone has a checklist on what they expect when they hear a Project H tune, I'm not sure that [Pander Bear] really fits with anything else on the record, but it's one that stands out because of that. There have been a lot of people who have said, "Man, I love that ‘Pander Bear' tune." Cool! I did not expect that, but I will gladly take it.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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