Interview: Ryan Follese Finds His Home (Again) in Country Music
Ryan Follese's name may not be overly familiar to country music fans just yet, but he is certainly no stranger to the music scene. Born to hit songwriters Keith and Adrienne Follese, the 29-year-old singer formed the poppy punk-rock band Hot Chelle Rae in 2005 and earned a Top 10-charting, multi-platinum hit with "Tonight Tonight" in 2011 -- but now, he's returning to his country roots.
Follese has been earning airplay and gaining fans with his first single, "Float Your Boat," and on Friday (Sept. 2), the artist released his self-titled debut EP on BMLG Records. The six-track project, which comes in advance of a full-length project scheduled for a 2017 release, was written entirely by Follese, along with his parents, brother Jamie Follese and friend Cameron Montgomery; Montgomery and Dann Huff produced the record.
The Boot recently caught up with Follese to discuss his musical roots, his new EP and why he feels at home in country music.
Describe the EP.
It is definitely country. It is a look into my life over the last year, which, in my existence so far, has been the most real-life stuff that’s happened to me in the last year. You won’t get that all from the lyrics necessarily, but the meaning and how much heart and effort I put into this is a result of just coming of age, I guess.
Why did you want to write all of the songs with your family?
I grew up in a songwriting family. I wanted to be a songwriter before I wanted to be anything. I think that’s what I’ve always prided myself on, is being a writer. I just happen to be able to sing because my mom can sing. I love, in country music, that there are so many talented writers that get to pitch the songs and artists that get to cut them and tell their stories.
For me, as an artist, I feel like the heart of what makes me an artist is telling it from my perspective and saying things in a way that I would say them and not the way somebody else would say them. That’s really important to me. I feel like people will know that inherently; they’re going to know that this is me and everything’s that said is from my life, whatever it is.
How do you think growing up in a musical family, with your parents as successful songwriters, affected your own music?
I want to say that I did this on my own, and I decided to be a songwriter, but it affected me greatly. I spent my college tuition on hiring actual top musicians to record my demos and do things like that. Nowhere else would you be able to do that, and my parents didn’t have a choice because they do music, and so I kind of had them there. It totally affected me, and it’s still affecting me.
I was lucky enough to get to work with Dann Huff on some of the record. I’ve been hearing Dann Huff’s name since I could walk. To go in to the studio and have him, and then this steel player comes in and says, "I used to play in your kitchen with your dad when you were five years old," it’s obviously affecting me. There’s no escaping it. I don’t know that I would have been able to do it without it.
You and your brother Jamie were in Hot Chelle Rae before you started pursuing to a solo career in country music. Did you have any apprehensions about being a solo artist instead of part of a group?
I go with my gut and my heart and how I feel, and I follow that. Growing up so rooted in country, I think being in a rock band to start was what any kid would do. If you look at the guys who were in my band -- Nash [Overstreet], the guitar player in my band, his dad is Paul Overstreet, arguably one of the best country songwriters ever. I think Nash wanted to do the same thing: We wanted to go out there and dye our hair blond and purple and see the world, and that’s just not for me [anymore].
So what made you choose country music?
I didn’t. Country chose me. Everything I wrote for the last few years came out this way. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in it; I don’t know if it’s because it comes more natural to me. That and the combination of, this is the way to tell the stories I want to tell. The things that I’m going through that I want to do, and being close to my family and being here in Nashville, this is the way to live for me, and that is something that I want to grow old in.
What's your goal with this music?
I’m in this for the long haul. I want to build a career [in Nashville]. This is where I want to die. I want to be here and make country music. That is the end game for me. Millions of records is whatever. I want to be able to do music and do the music I want to do, and this is what it is.
Where I’m at now and where I want to be, and the person I’m growing into and the man that I’m becoming is one that wants to be here and wants to be in country, where I grew up, and be close to my family.
Hear Ryan Follese's "Float Your Boat"
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