AGL Sounds owner, recording engineer and session drummer, Sleepy Rye is focusing on his own music for a change, releasing their debut EP, A Bit of Non-Person. This week Stef from The MIC was able to chat with Ryan Hillsinger, also known as Sleepy Rye, to break down the
SJ: Welcome, Sleepy Rye! As any good songwriter does, you began making music for crushes (guilty myself) and school assignments. Now creating music for over fifteen years and being the owner of a recording studio, AGL Sounds, you're finally releasing your debut EP, A Bit of A Non-Person, congrats!
SR: Thanks so much! I'm excited to finally have these tracks out in the world!
SJ: As this is your debut EP, tell us a little bit about your background in music, your journey, and as Sleepy Rye, the artist.
SR: So, I started playing guitar and drums when I was seven, but my drum teacher was mean, so I stopped taking drum lessons. I started playing in bands when I was 15, right around when I first started making my own music, and never stopped.
SJ: So music has really always been in your life. How did you come up with the name 'Sleepy Rye'?
SR:"Sleepy Rye" actually came about when I first started AGL Sounds with Doug Gallo and was taking a lot of sad naps (I still take a lot of sad naps). Since I could fall asleep pretty much anytime or anywhere, Doug started calling me Sleepy Rye, and it stuck with all my friends!
SJ: Usually, you're the one who is working on other artists' music. How has this experience of creating and releasing music yourself been?
SR: It was a TON of fun recording original music. I was able to pick from the thousands of hours I've spent in the studio with other artists and make it a suuuuper smooth process. It actually went so fast I forgot to take any progress pictures or videos!
SJ: Did you allow collaborators in on the writing process?
SR: I actually didn't let anyone else in on the process until the very end, when I got it mastered by my good buddy and absolute audio wizard Alberto De Icaza. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE writing music with other people, but since all the parts were already written, I just forged ahead recording on my own.
SJ: You've said that this EP was "accidentally" written. Can you elaborate on how that happened? When did you know you were writing more of a body of work than just a one-off song or poetry?
SR: Well, "Nameless," "SIN2LB," and "Never" have been written for years, but I had only ever recorded demos of them. Then one day late last year, I was making beats when I suddenly got the inspiration for "Look Up." Since I was in a ripe recording mood, I figured I might as well record some other songs. A few weeks later, everything was done, and it was time to start mixing!
SJ: Let's dig into the music! This is a really well-written, produced, and executed EP. First up is, "Look Up." You describe this track as describing the "cycle of external and internal turmoil feeding one another endlessly, begging the question: where does it end?" that the changing time signatures achieve. Which came first for this track, the lyrics and the message, or the music?
SR: First off, thank you for the kind words; I really appreciate it. For this song, the music came first. The guitar part for the melody line just hit me like a truck while I was working on something else (that I was going to call "Look Up"). Then the lyrics also came suddenly while having a particularly annoying conversation, and the phrase "Look Up" just happened to fit the message of the whole song.
SJ: Next up, "Nameless" is a dark, vibey rock song where your vocals really shine. Your lyrics are also quite poetic; one of my favorite lines in the track is, "Up in the air/like a two-tailed head/trying to find its head day after day." Can you talk about what inspired this track?
SR: I wrote the first half of this song after a rough, long night of tripping on mushrooms at a friend's house. I woke up and immediately started panic-questioning everything about me and all the decisions I've ever made up to that point, but I journaled and wrote this song and calmed myself down. The second half of the song actually didn't get written until I was recording the first half; I realized that it took me MUCH longer and MUCH more to get my head straight than just a quick journal and some lyrics.
SJ: Well the silver lining in that story is that you were able to get a great track out of it!
"Shit I Need to Leave Behind" ("SIN2LB") is completed with atmospheric harmonies and incredible tonality that really puts the listener in their feels. I actually got chills from this one. I love how you've described it as the "beginning–or perhaps the end–of an uncomfortable conversation that needs to be had." Did you always anticipate there to be a sparse arrangement, or how did that fall into place? What was the recording process like for this one?
SR: The arrangement was always going to be this way; it's just how the song fell together. I had the most fun writing this song (despite its very NOT fun subject matter) because of the way it just kind of.. happened. I had taken a birthday vacation to a cabin in the middle of the woods in New York and wrote this and another song within 24 hours of getting there. Recording the demo was very cool because I just played and sang it in one go. Actually, two years later, I went back to the same cabin and recorded all the vocals for this EP there.
SJ: Must be a magic cabin. The final track, "Never," is a full-bodied track juxtaposed with the previous track but encompasses everything that Sleepy Rye does best throughout the four-track EP. Great vocals and guitar, spacey, and lyrics with a message. What has been your favorite aspect of recording this project?
SR: Thank you so much; writing and recording "Never" really pushed me. I think the whole thing took a week, and it was grueling. I didn't know I had it in me to make something like that. Which brings me to what I think was my favorite part of this whole thing, which was seeing what I was capable of. I struggle with (read: have crippling) self-doubt and anxiety, so every time that I nailed a take was a treat.
SJ: Well it sounds to me like you nailed every take, and your hard work really paid off.What's up next for Sleepy Rye?!
SR: Well, for now, I'm turning my focus back to working with artists at AGL Sounds, but I've definitely caught the writing bug, so new material CAN'T be too far away.
SJ: That is amazing news. Thank you so much for chatting and for A Bit of A Non-Person. Seriously, this record rocks.
SR: YOU rock; thanks so much for having me!
LONG STORY SHORT: “A Bit of a Non-Person” is one of the best well-rounded, and well-written EPs we’ve heard in a while. A relatable tape for anyone who has ever felt down, in their own head, or just ~a bit of a non-person.
Stream A Bit of a Non-Person below!
Writing, Production, Performance, Recording, Mixing - Sleepy Rye
Mastering - Alberto De Icaza
Cover Art Roses by Emily Zimmerman