Editor's note: Throughout the summer, Sentinel reporter Dusty W. Sipes will write a weekly feature on local artists who perform various genres of music. This week's feature reviews the haunting, cerebral music of Lewistown musician Ryan Merry.
Ryan Merry has been digging up bones. Like Marcel Proust's madeline cookies, Merry's memories have been pulled from his subconscious by a series of sights, smells and other stimuli. Over a morning coffee or tea, he sits with his acoustic guitar and channels feelings of regret, loss and battles with Mephistopheles into placid and cerebral music, illustrating the hauntings of the past.
Merry and his wife moved to Lewistown more than a year ago. Both of them attended Penn State together a number of years ago and had been living in Philadelphia ever since. During a time-consuming corporate job, Merry had to place his career in music on the back burner. After returning to Lewistown, he was able to regain his focus.
Photo submitted by Ryan Merry
Ryan Merry poses for a promotional photograph for his album ‘Several Headaches Ago...,’ which was released earlier this year.
"I did the corporate thing for as long as I could stand it. The stars aligned and I was able to take some time off and work on my music," Merry said.
Merry started playing guitar when he was 12, and like many musicians, had a band with a friend before they had instruments or even knew how to play. During the Palaeozoic era of his musical evolution, Merry embraced the rebellious attitudes of the likes of Nirvana and punk. Merry remembers coming home from school one day to find a package at his neighbors' house: a brand-new Stratocaster.
"My initial playing was rooted in punk rock. That's how a lot of people start out, I think. At least guys, anyway. I was also into 90s grunge," Merry said.
Pleasant memories are embedded in Merry's sensibility and he reflects an enormous nostalgia for the moments that sculpted his appreciation of aesthetics.
"Music has always been in my gut since I was a kid. I was raised on oldies, 50s and 60s stuff. I have flashes in my music history where my brother handed me a Twisted Sister cassette tape in the late 80s. I can also remember listening to Jane's Addiction, Violent Femmes and stuff like that, anything I could get my hands on. County music and a little bit of rap here and there, too, sort of experiment and find what I liked and didn't like" Merry said.
On April 2, Merry released his debut album "Several Headaches Ago..." a lush, dreamy series of songs that bridge the gap between the subconscious and reality. He performed and recorded the album by himself, aside his wife serving on harmony on a few tracks and mastered in Philadelphia by Benjamin Haines. Merry says that his writing process for the album was to serve as a form of therapy.
"I think that all artists experience depression or anxiety to some degree. I've been writing about flashes, feelings of regret, from the past and it has been working," Merry said.
The cover of the album, featuring original artwork by Merry's brother, Jason Merry, depicts a young man shrouded by an incubus. Merry says that it represents himself dealing with the demons of the past.
Merry describes the album as "a contemplative, and at times, haunting exploration of life and death. The style of the album is truly unique, featuring warm, vintage guitar riffs and poignant, soul-searching lyrics."
The album is a beautiful look at the human condition and, at times, feels painfully close to home.
Merry has been working on a follow-up EP titled "Take the Long Way Home" and plans to release the album digitally in September. Merry will then release it in a digital format in the months to follow and has considered releasing the recording on vinyl.
Merry's album, "Several Headaches Ago..." can be found on iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby. It is also available for streaming on Spotify and soon will be found on Pandora. Live video footage of Merry's new songs (slated to appear on "Take the Long Way Home") can be found on YouTube.
Dusty W. Sipes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org