The Dead Tongues: Appalachian Fiddle Music and ‘Unsung Passage’
>> Asheville-based folk artist Ryan Gustafson mixes influences of old-time fiddle music and gritty Americana in his solo-project The Dead Tongues. In October, we interviewed Gustafson and had the chance to discuss his interests in yoga, hiking, and the theme of transitions on his recent release ‘Unsung Passage.’
How did The Dead Tongues come to be? Why did you decide on this name for yourself? I’ve been playing music since I can remember, and after many bands and years, I started doing solo material. At first, it was just under my name, but I wanted a separate name I could focus my energy on, and settled on The Dead Tongues. It felt less wrapped up in my own ego and like something new that could I grow into and grow with. Something to maybe provide some internal creative direction as well.
Your latest album ‘Unsung Passage’ has been described by yourself, and others, as your best. What makes it your best? I think it’s the most complete record I’ve made so far. By that I mean the strongest front to end. As I grow as a musician and singer, I’m able to focus less on the actual performance end and really just try and sink into the vibe of the song and lyrics rather than have a bunch of my energy going into some technical side of it. So hopefully that will only continue. I’m excited to keep the ball rolling and see what comes next. Why was it important for the music and vocals on ‘Unsung Passage’ to be recorded live? Over the years I’ve found I prefer to track as much live as possible. It helps me stay within the simplicity and spirit of the song rather than getting too caught up with the little details. It can feel more high stakes in some ways, since if one thing goes wrong at the end of a take you have to start over, but really I think there's something freeing in losing the idea of the “perfect” take and just going for as much feeling as possible. It's also something that's so familiar to me, just sitting playing guitar and singing, they’ve become one thing, and I can’t really separate them and get the same feel in performance. The ten songs for ‘Unsung Passage’ were written over the course of two years, both on and off tour. At what point did you decide you wanted to compile an album based on what you saw, heard, and felt while on the road? I don't choose what my albums are or are not about outside of choosing what songs I include on them that I’ve written. My songs have always been really personal, so if I’m on the road, that theme will work its way in. Though I don’t really think of 'Unsung Passage' as an album with songs about being on tour, since I don’t really think any of them are, it certainly is an album about transitions, whether that be from one belief to another, life to death, whether that's the little deaths or big, one place to the next, aloneness to love.
In the past, you’ve cited “Appalachian old-time music” as being one of your biggest influences. Why are you drawn to this particular sound and place in time? I love rhythm and melody, and old-time fiddle really crams as much rhythm into a melody as you can. I don’t get too caught up in the historic end of it, and feel like its only becoming more and more alive. I don’t think there are many things more fun than playing in an old-time circle. What is the strangest thing you have ever been inspired by? Puberty Outside of music, what else do you enjoy doing? Is there anything in particular that keeps your creativity flowing? I do yoga almost every day. So that's become a big part of my life that's pretty instrumental in my creative process. I travel a good bit, outside of touring, go on hikes, stay up super late and burn some cedar, wander the nightlife. What are you listening to currently? I’ve been really into Ben Howard's new song “Hot Heavy Summer” which features Sylvan Esso on it. Also been listening to a lot of Dion. If you were to describe yourself in three songs, your own or others, what would they be and why? Aphex Twin's “#3.” Very watery. Bob Dylan's “Like a Rolling Stone” It's just a part of my DNA at this point. Television Personalities' “Diary of a Young Man" Just a person sitting alone writing, looking for something that they wouldn’t know what to do with if they found.
Besides touring with Mountain Man, do you have any other plans for the fall/winter?
Not a lot of touring plans. I’ve been writing a lot and will keep that going after the tour as well. <<
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