Interview with Ryan Stier of Extravision

Interview with Ryan Stier of Extravision

Since the band’s inception nearly two years ago, Des Moines’ Extravision has gone on to tour both of the United States coasts, waded in the festival rounds, and completed a Daytrotter session. Anchored by Ryan Stier, the band’s cast has transformed from show to show, allowing opportunity for the audience to witness the way a song can continue to transform after it has been written. Extravision will play a string of shows throughout May in celebration of the band’s new EP, “Nothing Will Remain”, alongside Iowa City’s, Brooks Strause.

Thank you for taking some time to discuss the upcoming Extravision happenings with us. Firstly, tell us about the tour you are about to embark on.

Very excited for this trip. Iowa legend Brooks Strause and I will embark on a three week tour out to the northeast and back through the Midwest in May. We traveled a similar route in October 2015 – a route we threw together very last minute – but the world showed us a lot of kindness and we couldn’t resist returning to see all the beauty of the northeast and the amazing people we met along the way.

Our tour will include a healthy mix of house/living room shows, venues, and DIY spaces. It always amazes me how many people out there are willing to work so hard to find a venue and local musicians or an existing show to hop on, or put together an event in a home and invite friends out. If you’ve lost your faith in humanity because you spend too much time reading politically related articles on Facebook like I often do, I recommend booking a DIY tour.

So, your penchant for booking tours yourself seems to have its own reward. Why do you choose to do all your booking yourself? What benefits have you seen from that more personal approach?

I used to dread booking tours, but I’m beginning to enjoy it very much. I used to look at the world very differently, always relating everything to myself and how I fit into things, which ended up making me pretty pessimistic and egotistical. Lately, I’ve been making an effort to see more outside myself (hence, Extravision) and to be less afraid of opening up to humans and everything else around me.

I look at touring as more of an exciting adventure instead of a daunting task or a means to an end. Touring is the point, not something I do to get to a better place. I would be happy playing in living rooms to intimate crowds for as long as I feel the drive to keep touring. I love the way intimate shows feel. It’s easy to talk to people and learn their stories without the loud bar vibes. And if I’m able to play in bigger places for more people someday, well then I can only see that as a blessing on its own.

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You’ve mentioned some new material. What are you bringing along on the tour as far as music? How important has the invention process been for you lately?

I’ve been writing songs for about 15 years now, and over the last few years, especially with The River Monks, I tended to spend a long time working on individual songs, and being overprotective of them until I felt they were “ready.” This carried over into the first Extravision album, some of which includes songs that are a couple years old, and probably won’t be out until later in 2016.

I’ve been wanting to be a more productive writer and composer lately, and also wanting to share more of what I’ve been working on as it comes out, so I’ve begun recording songs in their early stages – more basic, naked versions – and intending to share them in these early stages.

I just recorded a three song EP with my good pal Phil Young at Wabi Sound. Two of these songs are less than a few weeks old. They sort of spilled out pretty quickly, which I think is due to making songwriting more of a practice lately, learning and being able to recognize what my ear wants to hear. I plan on eventually fleshing those songs out and continuing to let them develop as I play them more live and with a band, but I’m stoked to test out this vastly different approach of sharing early, more intimate versions and then sharing more developed versions down the road to be more transparent as a songwriter. I’m sure there are music business professionals out there that would disagree with this method, but I’m also beginning to think there’s no right or wrong way to be an artist.

There seems to be a delicate balance between knowing something is done and continuing to work on it. How has patience played into your life as a musician at home, in the studio, and on the road? 

In a way, I’m kind of beginning to think that (some) songs are never “done”. Bob Dylan is a great example of this, because he continues to change songs, some very old and well known by his fans. I also love it when a band like Father John Misty updates songs in a live show, just subtle nuances, but it keeps them fresh.

As I mentioned, I used to take a very rigid approach to songwriting, and would just kind of have this semi-vague, semi-solid feeling when a song was complete. But then I’d try something new live and love it, and never go back. Songs, especially when performed live, are a very special form of art because they only exist in the moment, which I think is such a beautiful thing, because that’s all we really have, and it sort of gives you the power to do whatever you want with them, to play around with them.

So, to circle back to your question, when my past self would be very impatient to “finish” a song so I could get it recorded and released, I’m finding a lot more patience now, knowing that some songs are never really “finished,” and that it’s okay to leave the path because you can always come right back to it the next time. Songs “are what they are” until you feel like changing them, tweaking them, recording them. It only ever really matters to the songwriter. I also love being in the studio a great deal, it’s so much fun to add layers to what you already have cooking up in your head and see which directions you can take the music.

In the last few years, you’ve seen a great deal of the United States. What is one of the most memorable locations you’ve visited? 

This country is just one huge playground. Climbing around like a kid in the Redwoods and Palo Duro Canyon (in Amarillo, Texas), marveling at the mountains of Utah and Colorado and the changing colors of Vermont in October, hiking the Seaview trail high above the San Fran/Oakland Bay and being totally speechless watching the sun set, walking under a waterfall on the Horsetail Falls trail near Portland, being mesmerized by Niagara Falls and the endless oceans on both coasts…

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We know that touring and booking shows can be a daunting task. What advice would you give to musicians who are curious about touring and booking shows for themselves? How have you removed some of the mystery associated with the myths of touring and “making it?”

I think “making it” means something much different than it used to. You don’t have to be “discovered” by some Godly record executive anymore, and I’m not even sure that’s something I want or would accept at this point in my music career, depending on the offer. The Internet has changed so much of this world, especially the way music is distributed and consumed, which is no secret to anyone reading this.

But the key to being a touring musician is patience and managing your expectations. I spent five years learning the very basics of booking shows outside my hometown. Working basic but flexible jobs, only spending money on what I need, and persevering when my booking inquiries are ignored. I went into it a bit earlier in this interview, but I used to treat people as a means to an end, a way to achieve some pie in the sky.

It’s taken a lot of practice and meditation, but I’ve come way back down to realize that I’m not better than most opportunities that come my way. It’s okay to have bad shows or question what you’re doing with your life some days. That will come plenty of times with the risks taken as a touring musician or an artist in general. I always remember that most of the bands I listen to (other than many of my close homies who are still at the early stages of their long careers), have been touring and taking their music seriously for 10, 15, 20 years or more. And what’s the rush? What are you going to do when you reach your vague idealistic lifestyle at the age of 27?

We all have a long road ahead, and I’d much rather reach the top of the mountain right before I keel over and die. Better yet, I’d rather expect absolutely nothing of the future and keep letting this amazing wave take me wherever the hell it wants to take me. The more I tell myself “wow, this is amazing” even if I’m playing a smelly basement and I feel lonely, the more I realize that it is amazing. Feeling lonely can be good, if you allow it to make you stronger and more outgoing. Injecting yourself with perspective is key.

Lastly, what does it mean to you to be a full time musician? You’ve taken a great deal of risk along with your dedication to your craft, and although it’s doubtful you dwell on it, what is it that keeps you going?

I still have a hard time considering myself a full-time musician, even though that’s been my main source of income the last eight months. Being your own boss doesn’t ever seem to get easier. Maybe in some parts, but motivation doesn’t just knock on my door when I wake up. What keep me going is staying in the moment. You have to spend a lot of time planning ahead with this lifestyle, often at least six months out, so you risk really living your whole existence in the future, which isn’t healthy. But we always have the moment right there in front of us, and that has been where I try and spend most of my time. And remembering that a lot of the work I do will equate to sharing music in the future means the moment is bliss.

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All photographs by Bruce James Bales at DEFT

Brooks Strause and Extravision Tour the Northeast and Back
Celebrating a new EP “Nothing Will Remain”

May 4: Detroit, MI @ Cafe 1923 Coffeehouse
May 6: Buffalo, NY @ Mohawk Place
May 7: Rochester, NY @ South Wedge Mission
May 8: Albany, NY @ The Low Beat
May 9: Troy, NY @ Superior Merchandise Company
May 10: Burlington, VT @ Radio Bean
May 11: Portland, ME @ FLASK LOUNGE
May 12: Cambridge, MA @ Emily Ledger & David Zabner‘s House
May 13: Hartford, CT @ Brett Maddux‘s House
May 14: New York City @ Rockwood Music Hall (Stage 3)
May 15: Jersey City, NJ @ TBA
May 16: Phoenixville, PA @ Molly Maguire’s Irish Restaurant and Pub (3rd Floor)
May 17: Washington DC @ The Velvet Lounge
May 19: Akron, OH @ Land of Plenty
May 20: Chicago, IL @ Steven Gilpin‘s Place
May 21: Chicago, IL @ Louder House
May 22: Milwaukee, WI @ The Red House
May 23: Eau Claire, WI @ The Gallery
May 24: Minneaolis, MN @ Licorice Beach
May 25: Winona, MN @ Mid West Music Store
May 26: Marshalltown, IA @ Dex Walker‘s House
May 29: Des Moines, IA @ Des Moines Social Club Rooftop (full band)

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