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Zach Ryan and The Renegades

From Las Vegas City Life
By Max Plenke

There's a directly correlative relationship between Zach Ryan's music and his clothing. We've seen him in Beatles/Bowie buttoned-up suits and a shaven face during his tenure with The Rooks. We watched as '70s power pop started sinking its teeth in, turning him ragged-faced and wife-beater-donned. And on a recent Thursday morning, as he tries to fit his Jolly Pale Giant body onto a couch at The Beat coffeehouse, we catch him in all black Western wear, an outfit you'd expect of a posse member in a Clint Eastwood flick. It marks a noticeably twangier, southern rock sound as Zach Ryan, until recently known as Zach Ryan and the Renegades, brings Americana to his set lists and closet.

"I got tired of trying to write straight pop songs," Ryan says, trying to shake his eye bags with a small coffee. "I wanted to write something that mattered more to me. I found myself explaining songs as being written from a hypothetical standpoint. But I don't want to write from a hypothetical standpoint anymore. These songs directly correlate with my life or past."

The progression to a more honest, Springsteenian sound was almost inevitable. The dude already had the cowboy boots and a love of Bob Dylan, and the '70s rock of The Rooks made his style too heavy to be some tambourine man. At his Bunkhouse show two days after the coffeeshop chat, he's practically undergoing a Springsteen possession onstage, his song "Wake Up Call" fitting The Boss' "I'm Going Down" vibe, just with Rhodes keyboard riff complements. It feels like Americana, the kind of music found on the stereo of someone you'd call a ramblin' man (Ryan's song "Terrible Town," especially).

In fact, the band's E.P., Terrible Town, follows the ramblin' theme, however subtly. There are three songs about Ryan's former home, Las Vegas, in a literal sense. Another is about his childhood home in small-town Oregon. He closes with a love song -- a sort of emotional home (whether or not he'd phrase it that way). "I've always stayed single and always have friends who are busy, so I'm alone a lot," he says about the album's concept. "I think I was focusing on that more, noticing it more when I wrote these songs. It's about the past and where my life is going."
At the Bunkhouse, he's wearing that same posse ensemble, but without the sleepy eyes. Now he's grinning, spitting up pieces of his heart onto the microphone with every strumming chorus. He's optimistic. [+]