Today’s Feature: August 1st and 2nd

August 1, 2007 at 11:46 am (Archive)

A friend of mine in Florida whose taste in music is quite exceptional and rather picky as well, sent me an email with which had a subject that read, “Get this guy!!!!” (with that many exclamation points). After seeing “this guy”-Hiram Ring live, he told Ring he was going to contact me and that Ring should be expecting a call rather soon.

He was right…not only on the fact that I should feature Hiram Ring on PensEyeView.com but that I would be calling quickly. After an email search, Hiram and I connected and luckily for me I am able to present this artist to the PensEyeView.com audience. His four-song EP “Go From Here” which is currently being worked into a full length album, unleashes a rare talent, hidden in suburban outskirts of Pennsylvania (USA). If “Go From Here,” the song, is anything like the future (full length) album, then I think Ring’s will have to face the fact he well be in very high demand. Everyone has an “introduction” that lets the world know they are here and to listen up; I believe “Go From Here” is it for Ring. Hiram?s sound is laid back-acoustic, with adventurous lyrics. His songs lead you into his world of self doubt or questioning, yet scream of one man?s confidence behind the journey of understanding one?s passion. A journey and life that took him from the country of Ghana to America. Inspired by his Ghanaian culture and early exposure to various forms of music (the country of Ghana has over sixty languages), Ring infuses those unique sounds into a fascinating blend of American folk rock. Ring admits, he is used to traveling and enjoys meeting great people but I just hope that Ring realizes when you are in high demand (which is looking like his future), sometimes even the most comfortable traveler can start to feel the toll. However, when have the opportunity to make a living doing what you love, bumps in the road, the journeys, the adventures and the troubles, when overcome, only make for a better story. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for Hiram Ring, he’s been waiting. Check out his XXQs to find out more.

XXQs: Hiram Ring

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How and when did you first get involved in music?

Hiram Ring (HR): I think I’ve always been involved in music in some way. Growing up, my family always sang together, whether we were in Ghana or the US. My parents were hippies and loved to sing, my dad played the guitar and we would sing grace at the dinner table, or songs in the car as we traveled, or scripture songs when we visited friends and family. I have five older brothers and two younger brothers, as well as two younger sisters, so we never lacked for good voices, and the tenor section was always pretty killer. Each of us would pick a different part and stick to it – that’s how i learned to sing and hear melodies and harmonies. I just found an old tape of us boys singing, actually – pretty neat stuff. My Dad made me take some drum lessons from the drummer’s clan when I was twelve, and it really got rhythms into my head and hands. Then my dad taught me some guitar chords and I picked up the guitar when I was sixteen, learning to play by listening to Simon and Garfunkel and picking out the individual notes by ear. It was a pretty natural instrument to play, and I started writing music and lyrics almost immediately. It wasn’t until six years later that I felt any of them were really worth playing for other people, and that’s when I began playing around Lancaster (Pennsylvania).

PEV: Born in the country of Ghana to missionary parents, what was it like growing up there and how has that helped shape your musical style?

HR: Growing up in Ghana was an incredibly rich experience! As little kids we would play sports with our neighbor friends, but also ride bikes, climb trees, swim in the river, catch and cook little animals (including grasshoppers – hey, it was protein), and make up games. I think I pretty much lived every little boy’s dream. We did have schoolwork to do too, and we had a store of books to read. I remember reading JRR Tolkein’s “The Hobbit” when I was five (I read it in one day and had a splitting headache by the time I was done), and I read his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy twice by the time I was twelve.

So we had the strange fortune of western literature and language on the one hand, and local West African culture and music on the other. I remember church was always great! What we loved most was the music – the rhythms and the words in the local language, and the exuberance with which people expressed themselves!

I adopted a lot of the rhythmic and expressive nature of Ghanaian culture. If you saw any of the televised news from Ghana during this past World Cup (soccer), you know how expressive Ghanaians can be, and growing up there has really made me able to give expression to emotion and feeling through song in a way that not everyone can.

PEV: What was it like the first time you came to the US and was it what you had expected?

HR: I first came to the US when I was one year old or so, and at that point i didn’t have many expectations. Then we went back after I had turned two, and I was still pretty much learning about life. I think when you’re a kid life is just normal, no matter what it is, and it’s only as you grow older that you have expectations. When I was older and we returned to the US, I think I expected people to be more welcoming and interested in me, as they were in Ghana. I think moving is tough for anyone – it’s always lonely when you first get to a new place. But growing up always venturing to new places and into new experiences has made me a learner. The thing with crossing cultures is that you learn not to have expectations, but just to adjust to what is there and accept things at face value, at least initially, and then to learn how things are done and follow along. It’s a humbling experience. There are still things about American culture that I don’t understand, and every once in awhile I’ll have a eureka moment that answers a subconscious question.

PEV: Describe to us the difference in music styles from your experiences in Ghana versus what people in the US listen to.

HR: In Ghana growing up, the favorite popular music was “Highlife”. It uses specific rhythmic patterns (based on the off-beat – lots of syncopation) for a bouncy dance groove, and the trademark sound is actually big band horns. The Germans and British brought brass to Ghana in the early 20th century, and that sound has stuck around ever since. I could never understand what the singers were saying, since they sang in one of the 68 languages of Ghana, but it was always a fun sound and I’d learn the words anyway.

Whenever we were in the US (I missed most of the 80’s, unfortunately – or fortunately, as the case may be) what was up and coming was grunge rock and alternative sounds. Rap was just beginning as a genre as well, and so it was a unique melding of sounds. Rap is actually huge in Ghana right now, and there’s a new version of rap there that combines it with Highlife beats. Interesting how music changes and melds. More recently in America people are beginning to re-discover great folk music, which has always been the American music I liked. I’ve always preferred jazz and blues and folk, especially great singers and storytellers.

PEV: Was there a certain time or event that you realized want to make a living playing music? (Even if you are not now but when did the concept hit you that this is what you wanted to do)

HR: When I was twelve I was singing along to the first tape I bought with my own money (yes, it was still tapes in 1995), and I imagined singing my heart out for thousands of people and I thought – ‘wow, I would love to do this’.

PEV: What was it like the first time you stepped into a studio to record your own music?

HR: I don’t think I’ve ever been in a “studio” – if by that you mean soundproofed and glass window. The first time I recorded with decent equipment was my buddy’s home studio and we set the mics up in his bathroom, which has decent acoustics. The phrase ‘singing before “the throne”‘ took on a whole new meaning…ha ha! It was a learning experience. Kind of cool to hear myself through the headphones. I think it takes time to get used to performing to a microphone. There’s technique to it.

PEV: Is there a certain atmosphere you surround yourself in when you write music?

HR: I try to be in a peaceful place. Usually my bedroom works best, just sitting on my bed, but I’ve written other places. And in many different bedrooms in my travels. I guess with so many siblings growing up, we had an unspoken pact that the bedroom was somewhat off limits, so that’s what I gravitate towards when I need peace and quiet. It’s also usually where my guitar is, and I find it hard to write without a guitar in hand.

PEV: Is there a certain theme or concept you find yourself leaning towards when you write music?

HR: In general? Not really, though I do strive for truth and honesty. I just try to express my experiences, or express how I imagine other people’s experiences to be. I usually write music and chords first, and then find a melody and let words build themselves up in my mind and on my tongue. I try to express what I’ve been thinking about, knowingly or unknowingly, and then build a song with the themes I find myself expressing. I think every song is part self-expression and part imagination – the best songs I write are personal but express a deeper truth that other people can connect with.

PEV: Tell us about the creation and what can people expect from your EP, “Go From Here”.

HR: The EP was kind of a last-minute thing. I was working on a full-length album with my friend Tony Guyer (it was his bathroom), and we’d pulled together some other cool cats (John Teeter, John Haughery, and Cliff Lewis) to help with that. We’d been getting requests for music from people we knew after we played a couple live shows to flesh out the songs a bit, and so we decided to release the four song EP. I had about twenty songs I had written, and these were songs that we figured would probably not make it onto the full-length album, but they were still good and worth releasing. So we finished them up and got them out in March.

People can expect a great, classic sound from this EP. It is well-mixed, but not mastered, so you might have to turn the volume up a bit (it was originally meant for local release only, but we figured we’d put it on itunes as well). What that means, though, is that the original dynamic feel is there – like a good concerto. It has a moody tone, and gives you something to think about and also to groove to. The feedback I’ve gotten so far is that every song is well -liked, and that it grows on you.

PEV: What do all your friends and family think about your music career?

HR: Well, it has yet to be a “career” – it doesn’t pay the bills, so i work a day gig. BUT, my family and friends really like my music and are encouraging me to pursue it as far as it goes. I think growing up in Ghana has given me a pragmatic bent. I tend to prefer things that are functional, and do things that work. So if I’m not succesful in music it just means I move on and try something else. My mom has been saying “try it out for a couple years full time, and if it doesn’t work out, get on with your life.” I think I will always play music, and hopefully it will begin to pay the bills before too long.

PEV: How has traveling on the road as a musician been for you?

HR: I’ve really been blessed to play shows where I knew at least one other person, so a lot of time at the show is spent catching up with old friends, and I’ve never had to stay at a hotel…yet. It’s also been really neat to meet new people and hear their stories. I’m pretty used to traveling, so I don’t get bent out of shape very easily by mishaps, and I’m happy on stage or before I play with just a bottle of water and somewhere to sit.

PEV: If I were to walk into your house/and studio right now, what is one thing I would be surprised to find?

HR: Um…my Mom? Ha,ha! Actually, I do live at home with my parents, younger brother and two younger sisters. I live in the basement “apartment” and my siblings are all involved in something, so there’s a bunch of activity – and they’re all pretty good at what they do. My brother plays a lot of tennis, my one sister plays violin, and my other sister does ballet. So you might find one or the other of them practicing. It’s a pretty normal house. You might notice the “dambura” (two-stringed sitar) that I brought back from central Asia, but that hides down in my room until I record it on the upcoming album.

My studio at the moment is my parent’s church. There’s a little room off the sanctuary that I use as the “control room” and is where I store equipment. When I record I take the mics and such out into the sanctuary and run a snake back to the computer and the protools rack. So I guess if you walk into the studio you might be struck by the large cross in the sanctuary.

PEV: When you are not working, what do you like to do?

HR: You mean, besides play music or work on music-related stuff? Or are you assuming my music IS my work?…Honestly, with a 40-hour a week job (closer to 50 when you add in the drive time), it’s pretty difficult to fit anything in besides playing music and recording. But I do help out at church with music, and I really enjoy hanging out with friends and going to a local pub for a drink and conversation. We check out the movies (have you seen Transformers? pretty killer, man!) or go out to eat and just talk and catch up with each other.

PEV: What can someone expect from a live Hiram Ring show?

HR: Some good music! I really put my heart into performances, and I share a bit about my own life. Not much though – I can’t stand it when the musician talks more than they play, almost like they’re preaching to you! I’m there for the music, not for the talk, even as a performer. It does help to have some background though, so I might talk for thirty seconds or a minute to introduce the song and then go right into it. I like to throw in a cover or two, maybe one you haven’t heard in awhile, done a little differently. People tell me they really feel like I connect with them during a show.

PEV: What is the best part about playing live?

HR: Man, the best part…I love the whole thing. I get a rush just from being up there and responding to the crowd’s energy. It’s like a great feedback loop – the crowd responds to you and you respond to the crowd, and there’s just something about that live experience that continues to grow and is spellbinding for each and every participant. I have yet to play a show where I haven’t felt that at some level. And then afterwards, when people come up to me and tell me how much a certain song meant to them, and ‘what were those words you sang?’ and ‘can I have a copy of those lyrics?’. That is incredibly meaningful to me. I think for every artist, when you create you are putting yourself onto canvas of some kind and letting people respond to it, and so to have the positive response that I have had is really affirming, and makes me want to be better at my craft.

PEV: What other artist right now should people be watching out for?

HR: Ooh. Can I say three? Third Lobby is a local band that is absolutely stellar live. I played a show with them a few weeks back and their songwriting and musical craft is pretty great, as well as their overall sound. They go to school down at Covenant College and are developing a solid following there. The other two are Cliff Lewis and Katie Becker – both unique sounding musicians and songwriters in the Lancaster area, still developing their songs, but with an interesting Sufjan Stevens-type vibe in terms of orchestration. They’re also good friends of mine – Cliff plays bass with me on the EP and at shows, and Katie and I play together at church.

PEV: In all your travels, which city – outside of the US, do you think offers the best music scene?

HR: Dang, I haven’t traveled enough to say with great certainty, but Liverpool, England seems like a pretty happening place. Although I’ve had reports that Dublin, Ireland is much more musically active at night in pubs. The Irish are pretty passionate about their music. Really, any place you go will have its own music scene. In the developing world a lot of that music happens when you’re just hanging out and jamming, and then there’s a lot of really great traditional music that happens at special events. So if you want a great music scene, go where the most people are and you’re bound to have a lot of it. Japan, maybe, or India… it all depends what you’re looking for. It’s there if you want to see it.

PEV: What’s the hardest part you about breaking into the music scene right now?

HR: Lack of time and energy. Just getting my butt in gear to book solid shows and expanding my net to places farther away than my hometown. I have really been exhausted with working a full-time job (I’m usually up at 4AM and work very hard physically) and recording and playing on the side, so I need to try to find someone else (maybe an agent?) who can help me by booking the shows and just telling me where to show up. I’m hoping to pay off my college loans by the end of the summer, and then I’ll be free-er to do that kind of thing.

PEV: What is one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Hiram Ring?

HR: So now that i’ve told you my life story you want to hear my deepest darkest secrets as well? Ha,ha! Actually, I do fail a lot in my personal life, but I’m full of hope for the future – you’ll probably get that from the songs. Don’t mistake confidence for arrogance…You might be surprised to hear that I haven’t had any formal training in music. I pick up bits and pieces here and there. I started to learn the piano but couldn’t stand more than a couple weeks of scales. I was in a kids chorus and was supposed to know how to read music to be allowed in but they liked my voice and I just picked up my part by ear from the kids around me. I did take a jazz improv class for two weeks in college, where I learned some nifty chords and a basic technical understanding of chords and scales and how to improvise (which I had already been doing by ear). I have a friend who’s a jazz pianist and classical composer, so I’m hoping to pick up some good knowledge from him, and we sing hymns at church, so I’m getting better at reading pitches on paper.

PEV: So, what is next for Hiram Ring?

HR: I’ve got a few shows coming up, but really next is to quit my job at the end of August and visit some friends in Spain for a month. They do media services for a non-profit faith-based NGO in Granada, and so I’ll go to help with that and learn some more Spanish and maybe soak in the music scene there and contribute a little myself. Maybe I’ll bring my recording equipment along too. Then when I get back I’m going to finish up the album and hopefully release it in the Spring. I’m also talking with Don Peris of “The Innocence Mission” to possibly help produce it, so we’ll see how that works out. He seems interested so far…

To find out more on Hiram Ring, check out http://www.HiramRing.com

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