With a wide range of interest and influences, spanning from bluegrass to high-energy rock-and-roll and jazz, his solo path has become his new focus.
Married and living with his wife just outside Montclair, New Jersey, Hobler is continuing to work his way into the music scene.
Hobler met with me for coffee at the Starbucks in Union Square last week to talk about his past bands, roots and his new focus on a solo career.
When did you first start playing music?
I originally played in a bunch of bands over the last 16 or so years. I started playing in bands in high school basically, but I essentially started singing for a weird reason that was not even remotely musical. I just wanted to hang out with a couple of friends that started a band. I said that I could sing, but I really couldn’t sing.
But it turned out that your could, I’m assuming?
I could. I didn’t know it, but I learned how to sing.
When did the guitar come into play?
With the band, I started as a singer. We kicked out our rhythm guitarist and then I became a guitar player as well. As soon as I started playing guitar too, I just got into writing and performing.
How did you meet these guys?
I was best friends with the drummer and he was going to a different school than me in high school and I was worried that we wouldn’t be friends anymore, so I joined the band so we would hang out more.
How important has it been for you to be in groups with friends over the years?
In college, I was in a jazz ensemble, and we had this very egotistical piano player who thought he was better than everybody and just basically thought he was above it all. My band leader at the time said nobody wants to play with jerks. All the people I play with now, I would rather play with a C+ bass player who is an awesome dude, than an A+ jerk.
Did you ever take guitar lessons?
I started taking guitar lessons in college. I joined a jazz ensemble at NYU and my guitar teacher was actually a huge influence. He pushed me to be a band leader and to write out music and to be really prepared with a band and then I eventually took some voice lessons after that.
Were you in a band at that time, or were you just playing with the school?
I was in a band all throughout high school and into college. We had a decent run. We won a battle of the bands and we got to open for Wyclef Jean. It was very bizarre.
Did you feel like you made your break when you got to open for Wyclef?
It felt pretty cool. At the time we were stunned because we got to play for the college. I went to Fairfield University before I went to NYU, and there we got to play for the whole school, like thousands of people. And people didn’t really know who we were, so they thought we were probably more magical than we actually were. It was fantastic, but it was all downhill from there.
But I’m still friends with them. I don’t see them that often, but I like those guys a lot. They all kind of found a little bit of direction after that. But once we started learning and communicating, we all just went our separate ways.
What was your next step?
I got more focused on learning more. I felt like I was stabbing around in the dark in our first band – our name was Blue Collar Heroes – and anytime I wanted to do something I didn’t feel like I was skilled enough. I started getting into more of the lessons and the theory. My guitar teacher in college really pushed me to get on top of all that stuff.
What do you do now?
Today I’m an audio engineer. I work as a post-audio engineer. My intention was to work as a music engineer, but now I work on commercials and sound effects and stuff like that. It was just what I gravitated towards.
Where did you find the band you’re paying with now?
Well, my brother I’ve known all my life. He’s always been involved and as soon as he got to college age we started collaborating. I had another band from like 2007 to 2011 called Sunroom, and that group is where I found the majority of my group now.
What happened to them?
Well we started off as this reclusive trio, pretty much in the style of The Lumineers and a lot of the popular bands like Mumford and Sons. Really stripped down acoustic bass, acoustic guitar and acoustic piano. We had a really naturalistic sound. We did an EP with six or seven songs that we recorded live in two days, with no editing involved – on one track we added tambourine. It was all performance.
That group just started going their separate ways. We had a couple of interviews here and there but we never got used to things. One of our members left, the piano player left and it was just me and the bass player. We continued and he wanted to move back to California and we just called it quits.
What was it like going out on your own?
It was really scary at first because I’ve always had that group support. There’s no net, so it’s all on me. I can’t quit my own act. Well, I guess I could, but I wouldn’t want to.
Did you start from scratch or did you have stuff to play when you went solo?
I wrote a bunch of songs with that group that I have since rerecorded a couple of those. I have like 16 or 17 songs that I’ve been screwing around with for a while.
So have you started working on an album?
Well what I think I’m going to do, I have enough material for an album, but I think we’re going to do at least one song per month for like 12 months; all leading up to the album, and then the album would include some extra songs on that too.
Why release songs over the course of the year versus just putting out an album?
I think because the group of songs I’m working from runs the gamut, like thematically and stylistically, from different angles. The first four songs we’re going to release, “Between You and Me,” is this very ethereal, ambient rock tune. Then we have “She Came Along,” and that song is just straight up, exuberant bluegrass.
Then we have an apocalyptic pop tune called “Got a Ways To Go.” I think that is the first one we’re going to release. That one’s funny. It’s just very indie rock but with this juxtaposed, happy major melody with these ominous lyrics.
Then there’s this other one that’s just very sweet endearing and compassionate love song called “Near You.” That has this Ray LaMontagne kind of vibe. Each of them has this different feel so I wanted to release them in their own kind of environment, absent of an album and later pull them together.
Since nobody wants to pay for music anymore, do you think this might be the way to crack the code in the music industry right now?
Yeah, nobody wants to pay for it, but in a way I understand because it’s all cloud-based now. I remember when I was a kid, I used to go to Sam Goody and I’d get a CD, or I would even buy a CD because I would just look at the cover. I’m sure my parents before me, going into a record store was even more meaningful. Now it’s not even real, it’s just a digital thing.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to make a living doing it, but the real reason I do it is not to make money, it’s because I can’t do anything else. I always felt compelled to write songs and craft my thought into some sort of song form.
Check our Ryan Hobler with his band and the Paper Swan, a Brooklyn-based production collective, at the Jalopy Theater, located at 315 Columbia St. in Brooklyn, on Thursday, December 5. Tickets are $5 and available on Ryan’s website at www.ryanhobler.com.