Ryan Balthrop has been rocking the Bay area since 1994. He calls his musical style “Southern neo-folk with an island flavor” and credits local greats, such as Wet Willie, as profound influences. The 37-year-old Mobilian has played with many bands along the Gulf Coast, including the newly formed Ryan B.’s Bowling Buddies. His self-titled debut solo album is also scheduled for release this month. The project features an impressive laundry list of local and regional guests.
How did you become interested in playing the guitar?
When I was 17, my dad bought an old nylon-string guitar for me. I played around with it, but with my first band, Slow Moses, I just sang vocals. Then, I took guitar lessons from Hank Becker to learn chord progressions so I could write songs. After Slow Moses disbanded, I moved to Orange Beach, and later to the Virgin Islands where I played with a band, Hatch. We toured the Eastern Caribbean, mostly in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, performing at regattas and full moon parties.
Why did you decide to go to the Virgin Islands?
I wanted to just get away and focus on songwriting. Originally, I was going to sail on a charter around the Caribbean for about six months. But, while planning the trip, I was most attracted to St. John. I ended up moving there and stayed for three years.
What drew you back to Mobile?
I wanted to be close to my family and old friends and reconnect with the musicians in the local scene. Mobile should get a lot more credit as a music town. I left to get a new perspective on life and meet other artists. When I returned, I was reminded of how many phenomenal players and singers we have in our backyard. The talent level here is world-class.
What is the concept behind your album?
The album creates a theme — from the day-to-day happenings to the otherworldly ones. The first two tracks are about maintaining relationships. “Way Down Low, ” is about sifting through personal struggles. Then, there are four more island-inspired songs.
A couple of tunes are about mortality. I have a deep fascination with the hereafter and tend to write about it often. “Rest Your Eyes” was written the day Bo Roberts passed away in 2008. He played piano, organ, sang with a bunch of different groups and wrote a ton of original material. The song is a tribute to Bo and features Donna Hall and Kristy Lee. “Rest Your Eyes” is, by far, the most personal song on the album.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m rehearsing with the new group so we can do some short tours, and on July 26, we are playing 92ZEW’s Live from Avalon with Catt Sirten.
ryanbalthrop.com or mekastudios.com
text and photo by Dean Harrison