As a member of celebrated Orange County Americana string band the Moonsville Collective, singer/banjo player/guitarist Ryan Welch has received his fair share of accolades. Within these very pages, the band was named “Best Live Band” in 2012, and at the 2013 OC Music Awards, it was named “Best Country/Americana Band.”
The band has released a string of spectacular albums, most recently last year’s Heavy Howl, and they’ve spent the time since then recording and releasing four EPs (20 songs), a project that is approaching its end. So you would think that, as a member of a band that busy, Welch would take any downtime opportunities to have a rest. Maybe catch up on Game of Thrones. Not so. Rather, Welch is about to release his debut solo album (billed as R. Welch), 2 AM (out Nov. 11).
“Even before we started the band, I had always had a batch of tunes that I was working on,” Welch says. “The songs I just recorded, some of them I’ve had for five or six years but I never got around to finishing.”
Welch says that, when writing a song, he’s not quite sure what differentiates what will become a Moonsville Collective track, and what will be saved for his solo work – it simply comes down to a feeling he gets.His solo work certainly has a more “blues” vibe when compared to the dusty Americana of the band. The real differences came with the process, particularly when in the studio.
“[Making a solo album], it’s a obviously a lot more on you,” Welch says. “When I’m in a band with six dudes, the weight of it all gets spread out. I like that too, but I had a lot of fun with this. I brought in some different players that play in other bands too, so that was kind of fun, to be able to stretch the songs and bring a bunch of different brains into it.”
Of course, Welch still included some of the Moonsville Collective guys on a few tracks. His comrades Seth Richardson and Corey Adams make cameos on the album on uprights bass and banjo respectively.
Welch recorded 2 AM at Jazzcats, the Long beach studio owned by Jonny Bell, formerly of the Crystal Antlers. Welch says that he loved working with Bell, and his extensive collection of retro equipment.
“He has a lot of old microphones from the 1950s and ‘60s, and that was really important to me – trying to get certain tones out of my voice, guitars and piano,” Welch says. “I listen to a lot of vinyl and tape, so that kind of sound is really locked into my brain.”
Welch points out that, while there isn’t an overriding concept to the album, each song certainly has its own story, with the songwriter chasing a dreamlike, faraway feeling of nostalgia.
“I have a song on there, the second song, about the poet Charles Bukowski [unsurprisingly called ‘Bukowski’],” Welch says. “I was a literary major in college, so I’ve always jotted things down and written little stories and little vignettes. Even one of the choruses from one of the songs is something I wrote on this little piece of post-it note from like five years ago, and then when I was working on the tune, I was like, ‘That would be perfect for the chorus.’”
There’s also a bunch of Moonsville Collective work coming up, just to keep him on his toes. But this is a guy who’s never happier than when he’s creating. As long as there’s not too much overlap.
“I don’t like that,” he says. “My brain can’t really handle it. It’s too much. In-between doing the Moonsville stuff, that’s when I recorded this thing. It was a busy year for me, but I like operating at a speed like that.”