RPM 14: Ryan McCray
Whether it was school band practice, basement jam sessions or beat-matching at the club, music has always been an integral part of life for Detroit-based DJ & producer, Ryan McCray. As one of the most buzzed-about names in the Motor City, Ryan is preparing for his debut performance at Movement Electronic Music Festival, bound to be full of original booty-bumping basslines, crafty samples and lively melodies. In anticipation for his gig at Movement, we asked the rising star to mix our next installment in our RPM (Robotic Peacock Mix) series. Enjoy the delectable RPM 14 along with our interview below!
Robotic Peacock: You’ve been playing music since a really young age. Tell us about your musical background.
Ryan McCray: Yeah, I started with cello in the 4th grade back in the day…I actually walked to school back then so I had to carry the cello back and forth from school and home. Now that I look back, it was strange that they let a 4th grader carry a cello home…I’m sure I had to sign something.
Around middle school I started playing bass. It all started when I was staying the night at my friend’s house and Nirvana Unplugged came on and I had never heard Nirvana before. It kind of struck a chord with me and I told all of my best friends, “We need to start a band.” So for Christmas, my friends got instruments (one got a drum set, the other got a guitar) and I got a bass so we started a band. We were jamming mostly in the beginning and eventually that lead us into discovering bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan and we started playing more technical/harder music. I began playing guitar right after I started high school and started doing acoustic/solo stuff in early college. Also, I produced hip hop beats in high school and got into making house/techno in college.
Was that a natural progression for you? You jumped around to a lot of different genres.
I kinda got bored easily and would get into different genres out of boredom. In high school I moved to Grand Blanc and on the bus I ran into a kid who was reading a Nirvana magazine and turned out he lived right down the block. His older brother ended up becoming one of my best friends. He made hip hop beats using Fruity Loops and I found that very interesting so I got the program from him and started producing hip hop as well. There was a circle of rappers and we would make some beats for them. This is when I got into the production side of music.
When did the DJ aspect come into it? Was there a significant experience or event that made you realize I want to DJ, too?
No, that was also sort of a natural progression. In college I literally didn’t have any band mates anymore and finding people to play with was difficult because everyone was so busy, so I got used to playing by myself. I had a couple of friends who exposed me to electronic music like Boys Noize etc. and I found it really interesting. We would jam out to that stuff and then I started producing it. As you dive into any genre of music you start appreciating different sounds so I started getting into house and techno. DJing came with the territory and I just felt like, “why produce this if I’m not gonna play it out for everyone?” I figured the best way to perform it was to get some shows and spin my shit, so that’s what I did.
Do you have a favorite instrument to play?
No not really, I’ve actually been playing real instruments lately. I’ve been working with samplers and sequencers trying to make my music sound better.
Let’s talk about your side project with producer Bale Defoe, called Black Bass. How did that start? Was there a certain sound you guys were trying to create? And what’s the collaboration process like between you guys?
I knew of him back in college (both went to CMU) and ended up meeting him through a friend. I had recently moved to Detroit after college and our mutual friend told me he was living downtown. So I just hit him up and he came over one day and we were just hanging out playing songs. There was this one song he played that was really interesting and I was like, “oh, who’s this?” and he’s like, “this is me,” and I said, “What?! Damn this is exactly the kind of music I’m trying to make myself.” So we basically just started trading ideas and sharing some of our processes that we use for making tracks and we became better friends. We actually hung out more than we produced together, ha. It was very random how it happened.
As far as the process, we never planned a sound, we just started out making music. After we made some tracks we were thinking, “Ok what is this music and how can we define it?” We didn’t really hear anything consistent and it just sounded like our styles blended. Looking back on it now, our music sort of does have a distinct sound but when we were making it, it was difficult to hear that.
Is there one person who focuses more on making the melody or the bassline? Or are you guys just kind of winging it based on whatever you’re feeling?
There are things that each of us are better at, and it really depends on the track and the process. Sometimes I’ll have a partial track already made and I’ll send it to him and he will throw down some ideas and add to it. We would keep going back and forth like that. A lot of the more recent stuff we actually just sat down together and ended up with a track in a couple days. So usually one of us starts and then the other one adds to it, and it ends up sounding a little bit more like one of us. For example, if he started a track and I added to it, it still had his sound and vice versa, when I start a track and he adds to it, it’s got more of my sound.
I want to ask you about the way you organize your music, specifically for DJing. Is there a certain way you organize your music Library in preparation for gigs?
I used to mix songs based on key. Some songs will sounds pretty good together and some songs really nail it. I remember which songs really blend together and I try to play those. Depending on how things are going, I’ll pick 4-5 songs that really hit it hard together and I’ll play those. I probably should label them with the key but I kind of remember them. More recently, I’m not always mixing in key. If a song has a heavy melody at the end I try not to mix with a song that has a heavy melody in the beginning and I’ll find one with more percussion. So I’ll think of stuff like that, just things to consider.
This year will be your first time playing Movement (on Sunday, May 29 from 4:30 – 5:45 PM on the Opportunity Detroit Stage) . What does it mean to you to be playing this festival?
It’s a huge honor. It means a lot to me and I’m hoping this will be the first of many times I get to play.
Anything that festival goers can anticipate from your set? Any teasers?
I’m going to try to play more original tracks, which is always the plan. Lately I’ve been working on making sure my originals are Movement-ready and that they’re mixed and mastered correctly. If people are wondering what I’ll play, they can check out my Soundcloud. Any track I’m posting- the more recent stuff- is what is going to get played.
Any upcoming releases or tour dates that our readers should know about?
As far as gigs, I’m just getting ready for Movement.
I just released “Southwest.” It’s called that because I used to live in SW Detroit- in Corktown/Mexicantown area. It’s a historical area/pretty cultural so that’s where the name came from.
Tell us about the mix you made for us.
It’s a sample platter of my favorite songs.
Ryan McCray – Southwest
Metodi Hristov – Don’t You Know
Alberto Ruiz, Caden – Sustain (Anti-Slam & W.E.A.P.O.N. Remix)
Raffaele Rizzi – New School
Itamar Sagi – Hipster
Lowboys – Rought Lovers
Ryan McCray – Chunk and Funk
Joss – Solely (David Keno Remix)
Scuba – Drift (Mr Tophat & Art Alfie Remix)
Ryan McCray – After Anything
Bale Defoe – Closed
BlackBass – Foolin’