Detroit tech-house artist Ryan McCray just had a massive May. In addition to releasing his new EP Culture Vol. 1, and making his Movement Electronic Music Festival debut, McCray became a first-time father when he welcomed his daughter Ava to the world.
The 28-year-old DJ and producer has been making his name known throughout the Detroit music community with regular collaborations and appearances at some of the area’s most popular electronic hotspots, including Populux and TV Lounge, but more importantly, nurturing his own style and sound. McCray’s form of tech-house can be described as danceable, bass-driven, and unapologetically Detroit.
Detroit Music Magazine sat down with Ryan McCray just days before his Movement debut and the DMM premiere of his Culture Vol. 1 EP to discuss Detroit’s music community, fatherhood, and the anticipation of playing one of electronic music’s most celebrated events.
Excited for Movement?
You’re going to have to elaborate on that.
[Laughs] Yeah, man. I mean it’s a dream come true. I mean at first I wasn’t sure if I was going to play. I was hoping someone was going to ask me to play and then…
[Laughs] Someone did.
A lot of people probably want to play Movement. How does that happen?
Yeah, man. Basically just from making connections at shows. Getting into the right scene. I play techno and tech-house and that’s kind of what they’re looking for.
So going way back… you started out playing more traditional instruments.
I hate to go “way back,” because I don’t know how important that is to how I play music now, but I started off playing the cello in fourth grade. That shit meant a lot to me. It definitely lit a fire for me at a young age, so I kind of always stuck with music. I moved schools so I didn’t really stick with strings. I wanted to try something else… like playing brass. I liked playing the traditional band stuff, but it wasn’t really in line with my true interests in music. So, naturally, friends and I started bands and I picked up playing bass. And I think starting with playing bass, it really got me into the groove-centric and funky stuff, you know? Like now, I still am always looking for that awesome bass line. The bass line means the most to me. A lot of my songs only have bass lines. You know what I mean? You got drums. Then you got bass line. Then maybe some other cool sounds like that — keep the rhythm going. I still struggle with coming up with some really dope melodies to go with my shit. It screws my bass line up. [Laughs]
You’re attracted to the low-end.
Exactly. Yeah. Which kind of sucks, because if I make a track and someone is playing it on their iPhone, or their iPod headphones, it’s like, ‘this track is like all drums.’ Then you hear that shit at a club and it’s bumpin’ a little bit more. So I kind of struggle with that, because I would like to have my music sound good on anything. But if you play that on your computer speakers it sounds like some clickin’ and clackin’ [Laughs] … some ticks and tacks. That’s why I like DJing bigger venues like TV Lounge — they have a great system. I’ve played Populux — they have a great system. So, Movement… I’m excited to hear what it sounds like on that big ass system. [Laughs] Like the biggest fucking system ever.
Plus, it’s tailored to that type of music.
Exactly. So I’m hoping that shit pounds! [Laughs] So those cello days — that’s the stuff that stays with you. I’m really glad I started there, because I’ll always know how to read music. You know? Like I understand how music works. Music theory. That’s really useful even though you don’t always use all that stuff in making house or techno or tech-house… I kind of have a hard time with the genres, you know? It’s a very fine line. Sometimes you can have a completely atonal song where the song really doesn’t have a key, but most techno does. Even if it’s like two or three chords. The bass line usually has to fall in some key. I just usually go my natural feel nowadays. I’m not checking my notes.
That’s that trained ear though, right? Some people just have that. Others don’t.
Yeah, I mean… it sounds like shit or it doesn’t. [Laughs]
Being in Detroit obviously helps, but it took me a while to understand the depth of electronic music. I always say now that saying ‘electronic music’ is like saying ‘guitar music.’ There are so many different ways to create with electronic instruments.
There are so many different types of electronic music, man. Like, house music, techno, and drum & bass are very focused genres. It’s hard to see that initially if you’re outside of it. If you’re not into that type of music it kind of all looks the same. But if you think of acts like Little Dragon or Crystal Castles — those bands are considered electronic. Even though you would think of their setup as a traditional band, you know? Like they have a drummer, a singer, and a person playing the keyboard and synths. They’re arranging their stuff with some sort of software. But that’s electronic music, which is completely different from house music. But they’re both ‘electronic.’ Then like EDM… group-think is like, ‘EDM? That’s even worse.’ EDM to me.. you know it reminds me of like trance… that big arena stuff that I’m not really into. It has a completely different environment and culture. But people who aren’t into that are going to label or group it all together.
You mentioned playing at TV Lounge and Populux. Tell us about your electronic circuit here in Detroit.
Well, the first bigger shows I did were like a year ago now. I opened for Catz ‘N Dogz at Populux. Then I played the Paxahau anniversary party after that, which was pretty big show. That was a lot of fun. That was an awesome show. Then I did DJ Tennis after that. That was at TV Lounge outside. That was my first time playing out there. I did the indoor stage at Blue Balls… the holiday party with Ataxia, which was pretty sick. It was kind of cool because I got to hit every stage at TV Lounge. And I had played TV Lounge earlier when we were doing Boom-Boom Wednesdays. It was like me, Ryan Thomas [Bale Defoe], and Emily Thornhill, and Sheefy McFly. Yeah, so we were doing Boom Boom Wednesdays. That was a lot of fun because it was actually every Wednesday. It was kind of like a residency a little bit, you know? Gettin’ a little extreme. We did it for a while, though… Before that we were doing the Old Miami shows — The Bevlove Connection. That’s where it really started. I owe a lot to Bevlove and the Americana shows and all that.
There’s a new Americana coming up pretty soon.
Yeah, dude. Americana is getting bigger every year. It’s pretty killer.
What else can you tell us about your work with Bale Defoe?
Ryan Thomas… Bale Defoe — that’s what he goes by. So, we had our Black Bass project and that’s more of what we call deep, dirty… like, we purposefully make it sound like the dustiest fucking record that anyone could possibly find. [Laughs] The goal is to make it sound mastered, but kind of sound… shitty, you know? [Laughs] Like, you don’t want it to sound too crispy, you know what I mean? You drop the highs down. Do kind of like a pre-master of the track. Drop the highs down like seven decibels just so the high-hat is just… it sounds like you’re wailing it, but it’s not like giving you tinitus, you know what I’m saying? [Laughs] But, yeah. It’s just supposed to be groovy, funky… it’s like deep house, but it sounds really organic and natural. We don’t want it to sound like we made it on a computer or using some synths. But we started making music together in the beginning a few years ago. Then we had our EP The Black Bass EP, which came out late last year. We’re still working on stuff. He’s doing a lot of solo stuff and I’m doing a lot of solo stuff, but hopefully we can get some stuff together soon.
What are you going to play at Movement?
Some stuff from my latest release — The Yellow EP. A few of my favorite tracks are from that one. I’m really proud of it. I just posted it on SoundCloud. I didn’t do anything serious. I put it on Bandcamp and some people bought it. I was pretty happy with it and had some good results. But, yeah. A lot of my favorite songs are on that EP. Hopefully I can play some of my new favorites on this new EP. So, I’ll play some of both. I try to do more originals, but there are some songs that I have to play because they’re just so fucking dope. And nobody else is playing them like, ‘how is nobody else playing this song?’ That’s one of my favorite things about the producer/DJ role, you know what I mean? Most entertainment, performers.. bands… playing covers is kind of wack. Unless you do a really good job — then you’re probably going to be playing all original songs. And that’s your performance. That’s your show. You’re going to go to your show and listen to your songs. In the producer/DJ role it’s completely acceptable to play your friend’s shit and shit that you like. Nobody’s going to come after you for playing their song. They’re probably like, ‘Thank you. Thank you for playing my song. I made this for other people to play.’ You produce your tracks, you put your tracks out there, and you hope someone else plays them. Like, I’m hoping someone plays my songs, you know what I mean? If I go in the club and hear someone bumpin’ my shit, you know? Shit, I’d be so pumped. [Laughs] That’d be like the greatest thing ever.
Yeah, I’d fucking freak out. Like ‘Damn, this is unreal!’ You just call your mom.
Who are you excited to see play?
Rebecca Goldberg. She’s going to be dope. I’m excited to check her out. Loren. Dude, Lorin has been hustling. She has the most drive. I just follow her on social media and stuff and she’s just determined to make it happen, which is awesome. Definitely respect that. So I’m excited to see her. She usually kills it. I’ve played a couple of shows with her. Chuck Daniels. He always does a really good job. I’ve just seen a few of his shows around town, you know? He’s really good and he’s been around for a while. I know Alex [significant other] is excited to see Caribou and Matthew Dear. I’m going to go check them out with her. Also, Seth Troxler. Homie is the man. Those are the ones that really stand out to me right now. I’m trying to catch everyone I know that’s playing.
Well, you’ve had a big month. Congratulations on being a new father.
Thanks, bro. Yeah, it’s been a big month. Life-changing month. Had my first baby girl. I say first because we plan on having more eventually, but she’s going to be an only child for a while. It’s literally like a whole new world. When you see your baby, and it looks exactly like you and shit. It’s crazy. But it almost feels natural, too. You kind of get over the… the awe, I guess. Like, the first first couple of days you can’t believe it. Like, ‘I have a baby.’ [Laughs] I’m somebody’s daddy. It’s great.
Well you started out by being a really cool dad.
Yeah. [laughs] She’s going to look back at Movement and be like, ‘Damn, dad.’ [Laughs] I hope she spins and produces, too. That would be great. I can’t seeing her not being into music. She can be into whatever she wants to be into, but I just hope she appreciates music, you know? But, yeah. It’s literally the most amazing thing that can ever happen.
Watch the DMM Facebook Live stream of Ryan McCray’s Movement set below:
DMM is LIVE with Ryan McCray at Movement Electronic Music Festival (OFFICIAL)
Posted by Detroit Music Magazine on Sunday, May 29, 2016