Updated: Oct 16, 2018
Dark Matter discusses vulnerability, crowd-surfing, clichés, Iceland, and Wes Anderson vibes with Ryan Scott Graham of Speak Low if You Speak Love.
We all have those songs on our playlists that make you feel like there’s a time machine in your brain and it unconsciously takes you back to a distinct moment where you remember every minuscule detail down to the noise of a fan spinning in the room. Or those songs that are so well metaphorically written that it knocks the air out of your lungs? Those types of songs are Speak Low if You Speak Love‘s specialty (and we love it).
We had the opportunity to catch up with Speak Low’s founder, Ryan Scott Graham while he was on the road for Neck Deep’s The Peace and The Panic Tour. Somewhere between Houston and Atlanta in a van, Graham discussed his writing process.
“If something affects me in the moment, I will definitely take a note on my phone and make sure I remember it and then reflect on it later. I’ll write about stuff that’s happened to me in the past that maybe I haven’t dealt with, or I think was important step or moment,” he said. “I really do love when a song comes together about something that was happening to me now or very recently. There were a couple of songs on the record that are older with things that happened years ago, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s still pretty fresh.”
Fans around the world have been waiting patiently as it’s been a three year gap between “Everything but What You Want” and “Nearsighted.” However, after listening to the highly anticipated album, it’s easy to see why. We have producer Aaron Marsh and thorough studio sessions to thank for this piece of art. Although, the all-encompassing sound is new, the vulnerable and raw lyrics are delivered in true Speak Low style. These records are basically Graham’s diary, so does he have any reservations?
“It’s not reservations. It’s how can I get my point across in a way that makes sense to somebody else even though they haven’t experienced verbatim what I was going through but never showing my hands completely,” he said. “I’m never nervous about being vulnerable. I want it to come across in a way that’s not necessarily pandering, and it’s still poetic and still special enough to make someone want to dive in and really kind of figure it out or interpret on their own. That’s always been the goal with Speak Low, put myself out there because I know other people have been there as well.”
Being in a space with contrasting individuals because of music is pretty spectacular. Graham reflected on how shows provided an escape from everyday life with like-minded people and drew him more into the music scene.
“It was the one place where I always felt I belonged. As cliché as that sounds, I’m happy that our shows can provide that kind of space for somebody else as well.”
Curious and wanting to know what song was extra special to Graham, I asked him to pick one from “Nearsighted.”
“I’ve been really loving, ‘Cannot Have It All.’ I think that’s been one of my favorite ones to play as well. We are doing a lot of rotating so we can play as many songs from the record that we can, even though we only have 30 minutes a night. That one’s really important to me because it was one of the first ones that we did for the record, and it just came together so perfectly,” he recalled.
“We went down to Florida to record the record, and we spent about a week there. That was the only song we finished, and I was kind of nervous about that. We didn’t have a lot of time to make the record, but we spent a week on one song. It was two to three months before we went back to Florida to record some more songs; we just had been listening to that song nonstop. That was one of the songs that stayed with me that I was so proud of. I was like if this is the only song I have right now for the record, I’m so happy because this is going to be a really great indication of what’s to come.”
A lot of Speak Low’s fan-base came about after hearing through the grapevine at a State Champs show that the long haired guitar player/back-up vocalist had his own solo project. If you’re not familiar with State Champs, there’s a large divergence from Speak Low’s music. Going from a high-spirited, pop-punk show where moshing and crowd-surfing is a regular occurrence to a chill indie-rock set is quite the dynamic, showing just how versatile and eclectic of a musician Graham has become. In case you were wondering, there hasn’t been any crowd-surfing during a Speak Low set (...yet).
If you follow Graham on Twitter or Instagram then you know that he travels often when he’s not touring. More recent trips include Greece and Hawai’i. But, his favorite trip might shock you. “The beginning of last year, I went to Iceland by myself. It was one of my favorite trips that I’ve taken. It was so fun to not have an itinerary and not have to cater to anybody,” he said. “I just did what I wanted, rented a car and drove around the island. It was super peaceful. I needed to clear my head and think of a lot of stuff that had been going on just before I left. It was really perfect for that.” If you don’t follow him on Instagram, I strongly suggest you do. His photography, "hobby," has escalated into works of ART that you would want to hang on your walls.
"It challenges me in a different way that music does to really set the scene. That’s what I try to do with music as well. I want people to have that visceral image of what’s happening when they’re listening to my music. When I post a photo, I want people to have that same feeling, but it’s visual. It’s been really fun to find my eye and decide what’s worth taking a picture and what’s worth remembering. It pushes you to go outside and explore more, and not be lazy. That was the main reason I started on tour. I was like I’m at all of these cool places, why am I not exploring or if I am exploring, why am I not remembering certain things. I want to show somebody where I went and what to do if they ever go there.”
So, it’s only natural that he played a part in creating the cover for “Nearsighted.” We ended the conversation talking about the idiosyncratic art. “I worked very closely with the guy that designed it—We branded it together, but I have to give Trey Holz credit. He did the artwork for the record and absolutely crushed it. I took the photos on the back, but we collabed on it. We had so many different visions for it, and I’m happy with the way it turned out because the original vision was just not as aesthetically pleasing and cohesive as what we stumbled upon. I wanted it to be kind of cinematic in a way and different. We put the track-listing on the front, and I kind of wanted it to be like an image that was attention grabbing. I didn’t necessarily want a logo. A lot of bands are doing that now. They have a symbol where you see it, you think about that band. I didn’t think Speak Low was ready for that or if it fit what I was going for. When it came to the record, the main thing I want was just an image that when they see it, they know it’s the record, ‘Nearsighted’ by Speak Low. I looked into some of my favorite directors. I wanted to have some Wes Anderson vibes and have some David Lynch vibes. I think we really nailed that. It was fun.” You can catch Speak Low on tour with Neck Deep, Seaway and Creeper until the end of February.