Last month we had the great privilege of interviewing Ryan O'Neal. You may know him better as Sleeping At Last, the name he makes music under. Ryan is a wonderful guy and we are so thankful to him for taking time out of his busy recording schedule to do this interview with us.
Can you explain what your songwriting process is like, and where your inspiration comes from?
I learned a long time ago that sincere creativity never happens on command. But, I’ve found that there are practices that can help me be more ready for it when it comes. I cannot for the life of me remember who said it, but there’s a great analogy for creativity that I always remember as I’m attempting to write a song: Writing is like catching a bus. You have no control over when it will arrive, but you can make certain that you’re there at the bus stop, ready and waiting. So my process is first and foremost a lot of waiting. But a practice I’ve found really helpful for me is to collect all day. Meaning, I sit down to write words and just free write. Maybe it’s a word I like that day, or maybe it’s an idea that isn’t very lyrical, but could be, or often it’s just a random thought or two. I build up collections of these “journal” entries and I do the same for music - I sit down at my piano or guitar and just mess around. If there’s a few chords I like, or series of notes that resonate that day, I record them into my recorder. Eventually, an idea or a piece of music will stand out enough that will inspire me to go back through my collections of ideas and see what fits together. Often, when I go back into my collections, I hear something or see something that all of a sudden stands out and sometimes that turns into a song.
What can we expect from Atlas: Year 2?
Thematically, I am writing all about life. Each song will have a different theme (an example is I’ll be writing a song for each of our five senses). So that will be super fun to write, inspired by the 25 mapped-out life themes. Musically, I hope to explore a lot of new sounds and arrangements, while hopefully sharpening my writing as I go! I’m really excited about what I’ve written so far and can’t wait to dive in deeper!
What inspired you to take on these massive projects like Yearbook and Atlas?
Yearbook started as a creative challenge for myself - I was a slow writer before Yearbook, so writing three songs every month for a year felt like a mountain I should try to climb. In doing so, I fell in love with so many aspects of writing and releasing music so quickly. When given unlimited time to get a song “right” I feel like it’s easy to lose the thread of what you loved about it in the first place. Writing and recording, then having to let go so quickly proved to make songs that were somehow more personal to me and more inspired. Yearbook also taught me about writer's block being something you just have to constantly push through. I used to just walk away and wait it out, but because of the deadlines for Yearbook, I had to constantly push back and that lead to more inspired writing and confidence in my writing. So the idea of Atlas, my ongoing series of music, was hugely inspired by how much I enjoyed the process of Yearbook. I love concept albums, so Atlas is my long-form concept album which will span over several years time, inspired by the origins of all things. It’s been incredibly fun to write so much and with such huge themes!
How did you get so involved in doing songs for movies and TV? How has this affected your career?
Since I was little, I’ve been obsessed with movies and TV shows. The music was always inspiring to me as I began to make my own music. So I’m sure some of the “soundtrack” sound rubbed off on me a bit in my writing. A few years ago a few TV shows found my music and were kind enough to put a song or two in an episode. Eventually, a few more did. It was always a dream of mine to have my music be a part of movies and TV shows, so it’s been such an honor and so much fun to hear my songs coming through the TV from time to time. Why did you start making covers? RYAN: Each of the covers I’ve recorded were commissioned by TV shows. Oddly enough, from an early age I never liked the idea of covering other people’s songs, but to my surprise, I’ve had so much fun reimagining each of the songs Grey’s Anatomy and other shows have invited me to cover.
With so much religious imagery in your music, is it safe to assume you're a Christian? What effect does that have on your music?
Yes! My faith is a part of who I am. Since I first started writing songs, I had one rule: never force my faith into my music and never force my faith out of my music.
Who are you currently listening to?
Lately, I love new music from Other Lives and Violents. I’ve also loved a track (the only one available, actually) from Junius Meyvant, called “Color Decay”... but I mostly listen to stuff I’ve loved for a while: Billie Holiday, Bjork, Nick Drake, Nat King Cole, Joanna Newsom, etc.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring artists, what would it be?
Write all the time. Music, especially nowadays, can spread like wildfire. It’s so much more important to write and focus on the art and craft of what you’re doing than the “business” of what you’re doing. I have to remind myself of that nearly every day. I love the business aspect of being an independent musician - I love getting my hands dirty with every aspect of my career… and I think that’s a good thing in general, but in terms of priority: Write. Always. Carve out time for it consistently. Everything else should be secondary.
After Atlas: Year 2, what is next for Sleeping At Last?
I’m continuing on with Atlas: Year Three, which is already mapped out! But in addition to Atlas continuing on, I’ve been enjoying some new music adventures as well! I just completed scoring my first feature-length film. It’s a documentary called Many Beautiful Things that will release this year. My original soundtrack will be available later this month! Also, I recently started a company called “Emphasis” which is a merch co./website where music listeners can handpick their favorite lyrics from their favorite artists and make one of a kind t-shirts. The idea there is to make “merch” more personal! So that’s been incredibly fun, expanding our artist roster and seeing what people create! The website is: www.emphasis.is