Images by Jimmy Fontaine
John Ryan would seem to have something of a charmed life. A kid growing up in Upstate New York during the ’90s, he eventually graduated from the Berklee College of Music in 2010, and headed straight for Los Angeles. By 2013, he had a publishing contract with Big Deal Music, and was hobnobbing with the likes of Pharrell Williams and Sam Smith.
He would go on to pen songs for One Direction, Maroon 5, John Legend, Nick Jonas – and even Harry Styles as a solo artist. But he admits that inside of the songwriter lurked an artist in his own right, waiting to emerge.
And so it is that his debut EP will be released this Friday May 10 by Atlantic, and it shows him to be indeed finding his own voice. Songs like “Hallelujah” and “Sticky” exhibit a visceral yet enigmatic soulfulness, while “Two Months” proves he knows his way around a great groove. But BlackBook premieres here our fave track “Bones and Blood,” a lush, ’80s referencing funk-pop gem, about losing your sense of self within a one-sided relationship.
Can you tell us about the song “Bones and Blood”?
“I really wanted to capture the emotion of feeling like nothing in comparison to someone in a relationship. I wanted to convey the feeling of laying myself down and being almost a puppet to this girl. I felt like it was an emotion that was missing from the EP. ‘Two Months’ and ‘Sticky’ are more about being in my own head, tripping about the relationship, whereas in ‘Bones n Blood’ I literally say ‘I’ll be what you command.’ I like that it shows the angle of the weaker link. I also love the arrangement, it has a really long structure – it’s not a verse, chorus song. It kind of smacks you in the face with the title, concept, and energy right off the bat.”
What were some of your primary influences while writing and recording the EP?
“I was in a relationship about a year ago that had a lot of really good moments and bad moments. It had a lot of pushing and pulling and I felt inspired to write about the rollercoaster ride I was on. I wanted to write about trying to have authentic connections with someone in 2019. The same way the relationship had a lot of different facets, the EP covers influences from a lot of different genres; I was writing the EP in London and got inspired by UK Garage as well as ’90s hip-hop and the classic ’60s and ’70s music I grew up on.”
Why have you chosen to record under the name John The Blind?
“I really wanted a name that was representative of my creative process. The songs on this project, in particular, have all been born after a few hours of me in the studio late night just writing without thinking. I had heard the story of John The Blind who was a Bohemian King from the 1300s. He would have his men drag him out on the battlefield to fight though he was blind. I thought it would be a cool alter ego to represent what the music sounded like to me and how I like to create.”
Were you surprised by your sudden success as a songwriter?
“During my first three years in LA, I was constantly locked in a studio making songs for myself and other artists. Moving here and writing felt natural and I felt like I could be successful in some capacity if I kept working; but I definitely did not think it would happen as fast as it did.”
Was there someone who has been a particular favorite to work with?
“I worked with St. Vincent awhile back and she was pretty magical. She is incredible on guitar. I really got to geek out with her on riffs all day. When it came time to lay vocals I was surprised she asked if I wanted to sing. I’m obviously a huge fan of hers so I was like, Please can you sing?!”