Interview: Soulful singer/songwriter, David Ryan Harris

Just last week, waiting in my inbox was an email from someone who had a musical suggestion for me. These are the best types of email. She had seen the posts and interview with Tyler Lyle from a while back and it just so happened this artist she was suggesting, David Ryan Harris, co-wrote a song with Tyler Lyle on his newest record, Lightyears, AND is about begin a 15 stop tour with Tyler Lyle. This was the song that was attached to the email. It’s the track from Lightyears with Tyler Lyle:



MFL: After reading through a brief bio, it’s clear you’ve had quite the musical journey with ups and downs. You’ve built an incredible music network from these experiences. Did you ever doubt your choice for a career path? 

In terms of basic job security I still question my decision everyday! I still feel like I sort of fell into making music as a career. I’ve always known that music would always be a huge part of my life no matter what I ended doing for a living, but fortunately for me I was able to find the sweet spot where my love for music intersects with my ability to make money doing it.


DRH4 _ Photo by Shervin Lainez

MFL: How did your family and city surroundings shape your musical style?

My mother and father were both huge music fans. They met (and I was born) in Chicago. My mom had a love for Chicago blues and things like the Doobie Brothers and other AM radio staples of the 70’s while my father loved bebop. Between the two of them there was always music around the house. 

We later moved to Atlanta and that’s where I got my musical start. Atlanta is a great city for mixing genres of music. I think a lot of it has to do with the cost of living. I really think that the reasonable cost of living allows musicians to take musical and career chances because you’re not as worried about your “experiments” paying your rent. In a lot of ways Atlanta was/is the intersection of music that came out of Macon and Augusta, the music that transplants from the Midwest brought like the blues, the music coming out of Nashville and all and a southern spin on hip hop. Because that was the climate I started in, I never question mixing up the genres and styles. It was all just “music” and I think that has really helped to shape my music and career.


MFL: When and how did music become a major part of your life?

Music has always been a huge part of my life but the biggest sea change moment happened while listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” and reading through the lyrics and the credits of that record. I felt really privileged to be let into someone else’s world so completely just by hearing their songs.


DRH3_Photo by Shervin Lainez

MFL: You’ve played with a couple bands and now YOU are your band. Do you miss being in a band? Describe some of the pros and cons of being a solo singer/songwriter vs being a part of a band. 

I absolutely love being a part of a band. A lot of my being a solo artist right now is born out of necessity. I go back and forth between loving being solo and missing the comraderie of playing in a band. In terms of live performance I love the freedom of playing solo. I can play a section longer if I want to. I can slow songs down in the middle of a verse if I want to. I can take any twists and turns that I want. With a band I wouldn’t have that kind of freedom. The trade off is the fact that you have other musical elements to react to with a band and hopefully those inspire great moments onstage (and off). Even from a personal (and personnel) standpoint I go back and forth between loving my solitary time playing solo and loving the “musical street gang” comraderie of rolling into a new city like pirates with a band.


MFL: I’ve been listening through Lightyears and it’s a beautiful collection of uplifting songs. Even in tracks like “Shelter” and “Sunshine” that seem to be about trying times, the core and heart of the song is warm and hopeful. How does Lightyears reflect your life? And, in “Shelter” and “Sunshine”, who are you singing about? 

I’m glad that the album struck you that way because that is exactly the thing that I wanted people to feel. I really wanted to make a record that reflected the feeling of coming out of the dark and then standing in the light. Not that I’ve been living through a particularly dark period of time, but I did sense a cultural  or societal feeling of being in a place that certainly wasn’t very hopeful. I wanted to make something that was hopeful but still acknowledged the dark. Life is far more nuanced than only dark and light. “Shelter” could be for anyone really. It could be a song you sing to your best friend. It could be a song you sing to your parents. It could be a song you sing to your significant other. It’s really an “us against them” kind of song. “Sunshine” isn’t about anyone or any relationship in particular. I think it comes from the space we’ve all felt when we find ourself on the dark side of the moon of a relationship. That itchy feeling of “I would do anything to just be back with you.”


DRH1 _ Photo by Shervin Lainez

MFL: Lightyears has some wonderful guests! How did you get the pleasure of working with Derek TrucksSusan TedeschiandTyler Lyle and what did their contributions add to the record? 

I’ve known Derek since he was probably 12 or 13 and our paths crossed a lot over the years. “Shelter” we actually wrote for Derek and Susan’s first record. I loved the sentiment of it so much that I wanted to put it on my record. Tyler and I met in LA probably two years ago and wrote a few songs together for no one in particular. I was actually stuck creatively on “The One You Love” and I knew Tyler would be the perfect person to help conjure up a little Southern Gothic images. John Mayer obviously I knew from playing with John Mayer! I think his soloing on the end of “Our Day” really gives the song a big lift emotionally. India Arie, I’ve known and wanted to sing with since 2001. I think she is one of the most soulful human beings on the planet and was thrilled to finally get her to sing on something.


MFL: What are the driving forces behind your songwriting process? 

If there is any driving force at all it is that I try to, in the simplest way possible, put melody and lyrics to emotions. It’s like trying to describe a color. There’s a line in a song by this band called Prefab Sprout that says “words are trains for moving past what really has no name” and that’s really what I try to do with situational emotions.


MFL: Finally, let’s talk about your 2015 tour. The second half of your tour is with Tyler Lyle (wish I could make it to a show! Maybe someday you’ll make it to Montana!) What are you looking forward to the most? Any destinations you’re particularly excited about? 

I’m really looking forward to the drives with Tyler. We always have such great conversations but we never seem to have enough time.  I’m equally excited and anxious about a few of the markets that I’ve never played in before. I’ve never played in Ames, IA or Wichita, KS so I don’t really know what to expect in terms of attendance, but I’m looking forward to playing those places and making new friends. For the final three shows of the tour that are all in Southern California I’m going to play with a band so that’ll be a welcome departure to playing by myself.

Big thanks to David Ryan Harris for taking the time to answer my questions with such thoughtful answers and to his team for setting the interview up. The tour kicks off today so see if Tyler Lyle and David Ryan Harris are coming anywhere near you! Photo credit: Shervin Lainez


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