William Ryan Fritch: Over the last 18 years I’ve accrued a large collection of about 50 distinct musical instruments
William Ryan Fritch is a film composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer currently based in Oakland, California. His compositions are characterized by his unique range as a multi-instrumentalist and audio engineer, which allows him to realize large ensemble arrangements as a solo endeavor. He has scored or contributed music to narrative and documentary films that have been featured in film festivals such as Cannes, SXSW, Tribeca, Sundance etc. William has a surprising number of instruments and he is not afraid to use all of them. Also, he was not afraid to talk to us about his ever-expanding passion for creating music and to compile a guest mix for your pleasure. His newest LP entitled ‘Revisionist‘ is being released on Lost Tribe Sound while you are reading these words, make sure you grab it while it’s hot. You can start with listening to the full-album stream HERE.
How did you get in touch with music? When did you start experimenting with your own music for the first time? In the video interview made by Lost Tribe Sounds you’ve mentioned that when you’ve started recording music you’ve been isolated from other musicians… Tell us more about this.
I think I have always had a compulsory obsession with sounds and the way that things resonate, but I became truly fixated on music around the age of 13 when I began to experiment with recording and overdubbing. I began playing guitar and piano when I was 12, but it was when I started experimenting with a series of dictaphones, karaoke machines and old mono reel to reels to crudely record layers that music really moved from a curiosity to an obsession that took over my life.
It is true that growing up in Weirsdale, Florida there were very few musicians to learn from, play with or observe, and in many ways this was crucial to me developing my own ideals and preferences independent of my peers or community. This factor certainly slowed some of my technical development and left some gaping holes in my standard music comprehension, but honestly I don’t think I would be a composer or even a musician had I come to music through playing in bands or in grade school.
You’re a multi-instrumentalist, what are your tools of trade more specifically? Which instrument is the closest to your heart?
Over the last 18 years I’ve accrued a large collection of about 50 distinct musical instruments and have spent tens of thousands of hours trying to develop my own voice and technique for each of them. Granted, I will likely never be able to play trumpet or French horn the way I play instruments with strings or skins, but my attempts to learn so many instruments have never been with the intention of being prodigious on any of them. The desire to learn all I can about instruments I love is fueled by the desire to be as self-sufficient as possible within my modest means. For example: buying a pawnshop flute or oboe and struggling to learn how to make a pleasant sound with it was far more economical and in keeping with my creative process than perpetually needing to rely upon hiring and communicating with a flautist etc. to realize an idea I wanted to track. I work exclusively with acoustic and analog instrumentation (besides a few cheap Casio keyboards that may be digital); playing, recording, and constructing my songs/compositions/pieces layer by layer through both analog and digital multi-tracking. I think this approach is quite normal, but the fact that I tend to utilize more orchestral or eclectic instrumentation makes it seem a bit more outlandish or ill-advised than it would if my predominant instrumentation was guitar, bass, keyboards, and drum kit etc.
As far as a favorite instrument; that is an ever changing distinction. I am definitely most expressive with stringed instruments and percussion, but right now it is a 3 way tie between my Cuatro (a ten string Puerto Rican mandola), my viola de gamba, and my univox 610 organ. They are all instruments I am planning on using to play live for shows for the songs from ‘Revisionist’, and I have fallen totally in love with their peculiarities over the last few weeks.
You hope it’s not world music and you hope it’s not new age… What is it then?
Ha… I was mostly saying that in jest, but it brings up an interesting idea of how intention and its resultant artifact are not always in sync with one another, and how that really isn’t for the artist to say.
I don’t create music with the hope that it is anything other than an honest rendering of what sound I had bouncing around in my head when I hit record. I am honestly so ignorant of various genres and their respective histories that anything I make is just a crude bastardization of musical ideas I am obsessing over at the moment. I definitely attach myself to sounds that have weight and heft to them and that inclination pushes me to create fairly dramatic pieces; but whatever drama I conjure is purely physical impulse to me and it often comes without any intellectualization or pre-concept. I’ve heard some people describe my music as ‘experimental romanticism’ or ‘garage classical’ and those both seem to be in the right ballpark. Ultimately, my primary concern is finding ways to sustain the process of making records as an outlet to explore and hopefully if I do it long enough and well enough it will continue to warrant new descriptors of its own.
You’re interested in textures and experimenting with sounds, you want to ‘experience the failure’ within composing music. You basically find sound and see connections everywhere, while you focus less on the classical side of composing…
I think that is true to a certain extent. The melodies, counterpoint, rhythm and dynamics are still the backbone of the vast majority of my work; but these elements are almost always born from the textural nuances that I am experimenting with.
Rarely do any of my songs come from just sitting and writing a progression at the piano. The most satisfying work I create tends to take shape from honing in on a timbral quality or texture (e.g. tuning to the overtones of a bowed cymbal, using percussion instruments to determine pedal points etc.) and writing the more central or universally identifiable characteristics of the piece around these idiosyncrasies.
Since 2004 you were part of groups such as Skyrider, Sole And The Skyrider Band and Tokyo Bloodworm, then later in 2010 you began to focus on your solo projects, started to release music under your own name and the Vieo Abiungo moniker. How do you feel about the difference between working in groups and composing individually? What were the biggest challenges for you personally?
Honestly, playing in groups was always way more of challenge. I am quite stubborn and have always prided myself in being self-reliant creatively; so while I sorely miss the comradery and collective mentality I had with my dear friends in Skyrider and Sole and the Skyrider Band, I desperately needed to follow my creative intuition and develop my own voice as a producer and bandleader. Those guys are still some of my dearest friends and allies, and I still frequently collaborate with them all, but I don’t think I could ever go back to being in a true ‘band’ now.
I had an amazing time working with Jon Mueller on our collaboration for the final Death Blues record, but that wasn’t as compartmentalized as most band dynamics are and that really suited both of our personalities and skill sets well. Jon seems to do his best work when he is able to internalize things and begin from a conceptual framework and I definitely do my best work when I am given the space to experiment and tinker.
Last year you involved your listeners in the ‘Leave Me Sessions’ series, which is an extremely ambitious project, consisting of 110+ songs over 10 albums, being released month by month throughout a year. Could you talk about the idea behind this subscription series? Must have been an immense work to complete…
It has been an immense undertaking, especially for Ryan Keane who runs Lost Tribe Sound. I am so fortunate that he was willing to spearhead this effort and that I have his counsel, support and artistic eye to handle the presentation of all this material. I think we both will be relieved to be finished with this Subscription package, but honestly it has been a life-altering catalyst to improve our respective crafts and to refuse to let the rather bleak current state of the record industry stymie our vision.
We knew we had a large mass of music that ideally should be presented in an interrelated manner or at least come out within the same time period, but obvious conventional wisdom would suggest we space this music out and drastically limit our output to avoid over-saturation or listener fatigue. We decided to ignore this risk and present this material as we saw fit. It seemed illogical to withhold music that was relevant to us in the NOW, just for the sake of getting a few extra reviews should we release it in a year. As soon as we accepted the absurdity of this idea, we were both all in trying to make each release better than the last and doing everything in our power to let those that supported this subscription know their money and trust will be reciprocated in spades.
Many of your songs have both a vocal and instrumental version. Why do you feel the need to make two versions and do you have a preference when it comes to your personal favourites?
That is a good question. The only album that I presented vocal and instrumental versions on was ‘Emptied Animal‘, an album which was made during one of the more intense and trying times of my life and I felt that those songs had radically different effects on me when I heard them as instrumentals. Though it was initially intended as just a 5 song EP, we decided that presenting both versions of the song sequenced in an order that felt like the album was just starting over was interesting. The instrumental versions stripped of their superimposed narrative are different and it mirrored a lot of the concepts running through the album. This approach is definitely not something I would do again though.
I personally love both instrumental and lyrical vocal music equally. They both challenge me in different ways that I feel is very necessary for me as an artist. I have always loved singing and in just about every instrumental song I have recorded there is a strong presence of wordless voice, but I went through a time during the release of my albums as Vieo Abiungo where it didn’t feel right strong-arming the imagery of a piece with words. I wanted to let the orchestration do the talking. However, during the recording of ‘Emptied Animal’ I was recovering from having my ankle surgically rebuilt and my capacities as a musician were limited from the injury (especially with percussion) and the music I was recording, with its hyper-simplified rhythms, suddenly opened up a space for the voice to take a more prominent role. This stylistic transition was the beginning of the distinct sound aesthetic that defined that record and the subsequent albums in this series.
You’ve been working a lot with film scores lately. How did you get in touch with the visual side of the industry? What do you find the most fascinating about composing music for moving images?
I wanted to do music for film before I even knew what that job would require. As a teen, it seemed like such an impenetrably elite career path that I could never find a way in, so I let those aspirations fall by the way side for a number of years as I built up my body of recorded work. The lifestyle of a perpetually touring musician was not one that suited me, and quickly I realized that I needed to find my way into composing for film if I was to be able to make it as a musician. I began in 2008 composing for videos, student films, short films etc. getting my hands on whatever I could to build up my reel, and now for the last few years things have finally started to come together.
What I love most about composing for film is that it is a constantly evolving challenge that, with each project’s distinct tone and personality, creates new scenarios for you to refine your creative and editorial voice. Before I dedicated myself to composing for film I had a very difficult time letting go of a project or knowing when something was finished and because of the insanely quick turnarounds you have to deal with day in and day out you learn to streamline your creative process and rid yourself of unhealthy attachment to ideas that just aren’t working.
You’ve been mostly composing music for short films and documentaries. Is that something you’d like to pursue further? Would you like the idea to contribute to feature films as well?
In the Bay area there are so many gifted documentary film makers and since I’ve been living here over the last few years most of the opportunities that have presented themselves have been for doing documentaries, but surprisingly over the last 8 or 9 months I’ve done about 5 or 6 new independent feature films along with a few other documentaries, and I must say I really love working with narrative fiction. However, it is really quite a bit more difficult and often exorbitantly more expensive to make a great narrative feature film and often this discourages me from taking on a number of feature films I am offered, and luckily I am in a place in my career where my top priority for a project can be for it to resonate with me and offers a chance to make music that I would be proud of.
If you would get a phone call one day from a film director you admire, who would you like that person to be?
Werner Herzog. I love his work and I love how he utilizes music in his films.
You and your dog seem to be really close to each other. Who is he and what do we have to know about him?
Verde is my dog and my teacher. We spend most every hour of every day together so we definitely are very close. He embodies much of what I love in the world, and on many days when the world feels oppressively fast, disingenuous or complicated his inherent simplicity, trust and transparency give me strength. That sounds crazy I am sure, but it is the truth.
Whose music do you enjoy these days? Which artists would you mention as a great source of inspiration for you?
Recently I really fell in love with Jessica Pratt’s voice and songwriting and was pretty shocked at how amazing the new Mount Eerie record sounded. They have been the two artists that have just bowled me over with both style and substance recently, but I am constantly finding songs that really distill the moment beautifully. Some artists that really inspire me with both their work and their spirit are Nina Simone, Arvo Pärt, Jorge Ben, Lee Hazelwood, Elvin Jones, and Charles Mingus.
Do you have a favourite album cover?
That is a really, really difficult question. In the last decade there has been some truly stunning cover art and packaging, but 2 LP’s that I bought and felt that the album cover perfectly represented the music within were DM Stith’s ‘Heavy Ghost’ and Fleet Foxes ‘Helplessness Blues’.
As a side note to this question I have to mention how much I love the work of João Ruas and the fact that we were able to use his artwork for three of the main albums for this subscription series blows my mind.
What are your future plans, what are you working on right now?
Currently I am finishing three feature length narrative films. Even though this year is already going to be pretty damn crazy just doing soundtrack work, I will still be putting together a live set for the support of my new LP ‘Revisionist’ and planning some shows and recordings around that release for this year. I have been accumulating ideas, sketches and rough demos for several new records, but I plan on taking some time with them and giving everyone a breather after I finish this subscription series.
Who would you like to read an interview with on Sounds Of A Tired City?
I would love more insight into Matthew Collings‘ work. I think he creates some stunning, stunning sonic worlds.
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