Ryat on its improvisational roots, its collaborations and Avant Gold
Philadelphia's Ryat (due tonight at Rhinoceropolis) started as a solo project for multi-instrumentalist avant-garde songwriter Christina Ryat before Tim Conley joined the sonic adventure that is making music in this unit. With both Ryat and Conley benefiting from backgrounds in improvisational and experimental music, their collaboration has produced a richly detailed sound that successfully bridges the gap between outsider electronic music and something more accessible. The band's latest album, Avant Gold, finds Ryat and Conley stretching themselves into pop territory -- but in their able hands, that pop is a panoramic, layered affair comprising sound ideas sculpted into playful passages. Because of the duo's varied background (separately and as a band), it's been able to play unique shows of pure improvisation and work with other artists in a more open-ended fashion. We caught up with Ryat and Conley en route from Bozeman, Montana, to their next adventure, and talked about their creative process as performers as well as Christina's involvement with the Annenberg Foundation and Tim's previous work with Bernie Worrell and Mike Watt.
Westword: What was that Flying Lotus song you covered? Why that song and that band, and how did you approach covering that sort of thing?
Christina Ryat: I think Flying Lotus is one of the most cutting-edge electronic artists and instrumentalists right now. I was really drawn to that track, and I was hearing how you could chop it up and have a lot of fun with it. We like to pull out a cover here and there -- an obscure cover most of the time. One reason is that I like to promote independent artists that not a lot of people have heard of yet. A lot of people have heard of Flying Lotus and a lot of people haven't. I was happy when people were like, "What was that song?" -- or just to mention it every night to check that out -- to promote experimental music and keep bringing it to the surface and the forefront.
The song is called "Nose Art." I think I started calling it "Noise Art," because that's what I felt it was for a minute. I think I wrote it when I was chopping up the track. I named the track that, and I forgot the title was "Nose Art," so now we're changing it back.
How did you get interested in playing so many instruments, and how did you come to integrate them in your current project?
Christina: It started off little by little. I started playing guitar because I wanted to write my own songs. Honestly, that's when I was eighteen. Then I went to school for music, and you had to play piano, so I had to learn piano, which I love for improvising and making songs. So I ended up studying jazz, because I like improvisation. I played in a lot of different bands where, if I was hearing sound, I wanted to use that instrument -- or if I heard a synthesizer. I'm the type of person whose ears perk up when I hear a new sound or a sound that I like -- "Oh, how can I play, what can I do?"
That kind of happened when I was introduced to Reason software. When I moved to Philly and met electronic musicians like King Britt and Jneiro Jarel, they were like, "Oh, if you like to do all this, you should play with Reason." Then I really got into production, modifying and tweaking sounds. I've always used a lot of pedals, and my ear just gravitates to different things, and I get bored really quickly. I think it's more about getting bored really quickly and getting stuff out of my head.
How do you approach doing improv in general?
Christina: Last night was really exciting, because we happened to be in Bozeman, Montana, playing the university. We were asked to do an improv session with some really awesome players in town. Tim and I had a really good time, because we really loved that space. It's sort of a zen space, where your ears open up and you're bouncing off everybody. I hate when people play too much. Sometimes there's a moment where everybody's playing crazy at once -- that's really fun. But it's all about listening and reaching into that part of your soul that's really raw and organic -- almost that songwriting space where you're creating a new tune and it's so exciting and so fresh. That's why I love improv, because you're in almost this, like, meditative zen space of complete openness, and you're letting everything out.