By: Alex Spindler ~Arts and Entertainment Editor~
Xavier Newswire: Who are the members of your band? How did you all start?
Ryan O’Toole: Basically it started with us saying: who wants to be in a band? It was like hey, I wrote an album. Now I need to pick people who can help me make that album. I picked a band with friends that I’ve known for a long time, that I went to high school with. Danny is a majestic creature. He is my partner-in-crime and helps me write a lot of the music. There was a group of people I had just on vocals. We are all from the Chicago area.
XN: So, you explained a little of how it all started: writing, composing and then saying let’s try and get a band together.
RO: A lot of the music I wrote my junior and senior years of high school. Then senior year going into summer before my first semester of college, I had a lot of the songs written but I didn’t have very good equipment. So the quality of what I recorded was very much lesser than expected.
Then about halfway through first semester here, I thought, “I have some really good music, I want to find a way to do this with a really good quality to show to a lot of people.” That’s sort of how the idea started. So I spent second semester of last year rewriting, reworking, so starting in the summer we could get to teaching people the music and recording. I also reached out to everyone around that time. I talked to Danny and sent out an email that said, “You’ve been selected for this experiment, kind-of project.” We called it band camp. We had a Facebook group and everything.
XN: What music do you find that the band usually produces? Do you not try to limit yourself to a specific type of music?
RO: I definitely don’t try to. There are types that I will write more towards. I’m not going to try to make a reggae or rap album because that’s not where my talents lie.
For this album, it was very centered on folk elements and acoustic sounds. Our violinist has an excellent sound, a lot like a fiddle. Also, we have a lot more rock moments on the album and also vocal music is a huge thing.
I was in choir with a lot of them in high school. Being in choir, I came to enjoy the beauty of choral music. I thought, “How can I put that into a more contemporary kind of feel?” A lot of the songs sound like what I would sing in choir.
One of our Scottish songs is a direct inspiration from one of the a capella songs that we sung. There are definitely things from my choir or “sophisticated” music that I brought into my music.
In June, it should be all done and ready to go. The vocal harmonies are turned-up very nicely. The album creates this sense of continuation. I was very inspired by “Spring Awakening.” I remember listening to the soundtrack and loving the use of strings, and that’s what inspired me to reach out and find a violinist. I like how these musicals use many vocalists to create many sounds. I don’t want to be the only one singing on every song.
XN: In your love of music and exploration of music – who inspired you to sing? Who inspired you to write? And, who inspired you to perform?
RO: Singing came from my mom. She’s one of the most beautiful singers I’ve ever heard. It wasn’t until sophomore year that I tried to use my voice for something. She was the one who got me to sing. I’ve loved performing for a long time.
I remember in third grade they would always have skits that they would perform. I was always very comfortable being onstage. Around the same time, I started singing when I started performing. People saw that I had fire and passion. I was always exposed to really good music as a kid. My dad used to play Johnny Cash and Elvis.
I’d always been a good writer, and there have been people since I’ve started writing that have pushed me. My (favorite) old artist is not a very “hipster-y” pick, but it’s the Beatles. I really got into their crazy albums and they’ve inspired me.
A new writer that really inspires me is Frank Ocean. He says stuff that is so personal. He speaks of universal things in words that really speak to me. It’s contemporary language mixed with very abstract thoughts and colors.
XN: When people purchase music they expect certain things from certain artists. What do you hope people get from Hydrangea Benison’s music?
RO: I expect for some people to not like my music because they might not give it the full time of day. I hope I don’t sound pretentious. I open the album with something that will immediately grab people.
I really don’t write verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge then chorus. I find that a lot of people nowadays don’t give their full attention to music. After the first 30 seconds, they decide if it’s good or not and then move on. The album is truly a full body of work. The songs are arranged in a way that they connect between every song.
* Members Not Pictured; Mike Resch (Drums), Jimmy Hogan (Vocals), Lena Volpe (Vocals)*