With Yawn, introspective English auteur Bill Ryder-Jones defines triumph by means of challenge
There’s an eternal question asked of most artists: Should music be made for self-gratification or is it better when it’s intended as a means of attracting an audience? In the case of most jazz and classical composers, they’re likely to lean towards the former.
Likewise, Frank Zappa and Tom Waits, to name but two, had no qualms when it came to leading listeners through unfamiliar terrain even at the risk of eschewing commercial credence.
It’s an admirable intent, of course, although the risk involved often means those artists will rarely meander into the mainstream. That, in turn, can lead to a struggle for survival, especially in a world where the public makes fickle choices and immediate gratification dictates who succeeds and who falls by the wayside.
Bill Ryder-Jones is all too aware of the more obvious obstructions that occur when traveling the dual roads of conviction and credence. While the five albums he recorded with his early band The Coral brought them a faithful following in the United Kingdom, the group failed to make much of a mark in the U.S. and the wider world as a whole. After parting ways, it took Ryder-Jones a full three years to regroup, and when he did, his full-length debut, aptly titled If, was entirely instrumental, making it as unlikely a prospect as anyone might imagine for securing a commercial connection.
“I make the kind of music that people listen to when they have an hour to themselves and they’re ready to hear music,” Ryder-Jones suggests. “They’re the kind of people I’d like to have my music heard by. Not that I don’t want other people to hear it as well (chuckles), but it’s not really suited to 16 year-olds or someone who’s ready to go out for the evening. Many people don’t understand instrumental music because it asks the question, ‘What do you think it’s about?’ Indeed, it’s a leading question. You might get a hint from a song title or something, but it asks you to come up with an interpretation.”
Ryder-Jones’ latest album, suggestively titled Yawn, is a perfect case in point. A series of sensual soundscapes, its atmospheric ambiance and unfettered ambiguity frames such songs as “Don’t Be Scared I Love,” “No One’s Trying To Kill You,” “There’s Something On Your Mind,” and “Time Will Be The Only Saviour,” offerings both haunting and harrowing given their ethereal sonic sweep. The music is alluring and elusive all at the same time, a suggestive sound that requires one to lean in and listen in order to appreciate the full effect.
“It’s very important to me not to express everything I’m trying to say lyrically so that maybe people can think a little bit,” Ryder-Jones suggests. “Some of my songs are a bit direct, but mainly they move around lyrically. That was so subliminally we could push it a little bit further and make people listen a little closer.”
Finding that balance between the obtuse and the obscure is the thing that concerns this British bard the most, and while his avant-folk approach can teeter either way, he says he’s determined to find a purposeful path.
“I have an incredible ego and I want to write as well as I can write, and this is the only way I can do that,” he concedes. “There’s so much crap out there that’s quite bad, and yet, the industry is targeting the kids with this shit. In 2018, it ought to be about bringing people together. They’re trying to divide them. So we have to write for ourselves. I write to make myself feel better. That’s the only reason I do it. But you have to hope it’s going to be important to someone somewhere. Maybe help restore someone’s sanity and all that. Allow you to become part of the dialogue. There’s more to it than appealing to 16 year old girls. I certainly don’t live in that world anymore. It’s a real challenge, but it can be really, really enjoyable.”