11 Questions with… Super 8

Paul “Trip” Ryan of the one man band, Super 8, has been making some of the most melodic psychedelic indie-pop music around! Much of UK-based Trip’s music shimmers and sways into exquisitely crafted ear worms. In addition to his knack for melody, Trip also makes music with a lightness that sometimes hides the melancholy. This back and forth is most welcome in these days of challenge. As a one man band playing all of the instruments, an atmosphere is raised that allows listeners to drop into a musical concoction that does not ever disappoint. Each delicious single and the incredible collaboration with the incredible Lisa Mychols, crackles and glistens with just the right amount of sonic tension. If one were to look up ‘catchy songs’ in an encyclopedia, the entry would simply say ‘Super 8.’

Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing music?

Super 8 (Trip): Well first off, thanks so much for taking the time to formulate these questions and for your interest in this music I make. OK, here goes then … I have always loved music! A very early memory of mine was listening to Simon & Garfunkel played in the family car when I was a kid and really connecting with the harmonies and rhythms. Later in my early teens I found an old, beat up guitar in an attic. In hindsight it was a truly terrible instrument with only four (rusty!) strings but, for a few months at least, I actually thought it was the greatest thing in the world! To encourage my enthusiasm my Folks later bought me a better acoustic guitar and, from there, I saved up pocket money to buy an electric one. I’m still ‘wheeling’n’dealing’ musical instruments to this day and still get that buzz that I had as a kid when I get to play a new instrument. In fact, my latest musical instrument fixation is the birthday present I received from my thoughtful wife at Hogmanay – a small bass harmonica. I’m so taken with it I put it to good use straight away – it’s a feature instrument on the new single (‘Out of My Head’). You can see me getting to grips with it in the video.

As for how I started writing music … it’s something I just fell into naturally. It just feels like the right thing for me to be doing in this life. I’ve had no formal training as such, I just try to capture the sounds I hear in my head as best I can with whatever musical tools I have at my disposal at any given time.

Dr. J: What first led to your recording music as SUPER 8? How do you approach production?

Trip: I trod the musical boards in a few local bands growing up in the North West of England. With Liverpool a short train ride to the west and Manchester another short train ride to the east it was an inspiring place to grow up (Warrington). I moved north to Scotland around the turn of the millennium and, borne of necessity without any band mates around, I tentatively started to make music on my own. (I had never sung one of my own songs prior to coming to Scotland – there must be something in the water here!) There was a brief spell at the beginning of the century where I tried the whole ‘band thing’ again but it didn’t work out… so ever since I’ve just accepted that I’m a solo studio artist (read: ‘hermit’!).

That said over the last couple of years as well as keeping my hand in with solo SUPER 8 stuff  I have been collaborating remotely with the LA-based artist Lisa Mychols (more on that later).  As to how I approach production? I’m not the world’s most technical guy I must admit. I’m not interested in the latest ‘must-have!’ fad gadget nor tweaking software for hours on end, I just use my ears until I find sounds that work well together. I play everything you hear on my solo records. Some instruments I can play better than others but I will give anything a go to try to get a tune out of it, whatever works for the song really. At the end of the day it’s ALL about the song!      

Dr. J: Out of My Head is your most recent music, what led to the making of that song? What was the main influence on your songwriting at that time that you wrote this?

Trip: ‘Out Of My Head’ came together really quickly. I had the embryonic idea for it just before Christmas and threw down a rough musical sketch before heading south to England for the festive period. On my return I realized it would benefit from being faster and ‘quirkier’. As I said, I had been gifted a bass harmonica by this point so, after a quick crash course in bass harmonica technique (and discovering you can only blow into it, there’s no sound if you suck!) I attempted to put it to good use right away. The single came together really quickly after that. The wife and I made a quick (daft!) video for it last Wednesday and it was released (via Bandcamp) over the weekend just gone.  As a composer I like it when inspiration strikes like that! What was just a rough idea can become a fully-formed & finished piece with a quick turnaround. I feel I do my best work when I’m ‘lost in music’ and ‘in the zone’ as it were! It’s inspiring and keeps me on my toes. I’m naturally a pretty impulsive person who needs to keep motivated. I tend to tire and lose interest when projects drag on.

As for the main influence for this particular song. Hmm… I hadn’t really thought about it but, now you ask, MAYBE it’s about a love that has been lost? And/or rejection? Or a feeling of being stuck in a certain situation out of one’s control with no apparent clear plan for the way forward. That and the knock-on doubts, personal frustration and disorientation as a result hence the title ‘Out Of My Head’. Or maybe it’s not about any of that and it’s about what book to read next? (I’m currently reading Brian Wilson’s autobiography). I dunno, some songs are hard to explain. They just ‘are what they are’ – a musical snapshot of a moment in time. I personally don’t write a diary so it all has to come out in some way I guess. As you can see, I’m not that great at explaining my songs – I prefer to just let the songs do the talking.        

Dr. J: ‘Lisa Mychols & SUPER 8 album was the album you released in 2020 with Lisa Mychols. The songs on that record seem almost purposefully lighter hearted. Is that a correct interpretation of the record? If that is correct, did you intend to create an album that was purposefully more fun?

Trip: Ahh yeah, the debut album with Lisa was great fun – an absolute blast from start to finish! It just seemed to come along at the perfect time (for both of us I think!) It all started with a one-off single (‘Time Bomb’). We had such a laugh making that one (including being cast as clay figures in the video by my talented wife Gill!) that we decided to carry on and see where this 5,000 mile remote collaboration might lead. (Lisa lives in LA, I reside in Scotland so the whole album was made via file sharing. Believe it or not we have never actually met in person!)

Before too long we had what we thought was going to make a strong EP but then we did a couple more songs together and just thought: “Hey! What the heck? Let’s try for a full length album!” We were ping-ponging files back and forth across the Atlantic and just vibing off the whole project. It wasn’t our intention to make an entire Summer-themed album, that’s just the way it came out. We just let the songs inform us as to how THEY wanted to go. All very organic and natural sounding, nothing on that album was forced or premeditated, not written to order, we just went with the flow and within the space of just a few very creative months we had our album ‘in the can’. On its release (via the cool Canadian label: ‘The Beautiful Music’) it received numerous rave reviews with many folk referring to it as their ‘Album of the Summer’. I’m still very proud of that album. It definitely bottled a musical moment in time. Happy days & good vibrations! File under: ‘California/Brit Pop!’  

Dr. J: How did the song ‘All My Worries come together musically for you?

Trip: I have to hold my hand up and admit that I was listening to a lot of Beatles around the time this was written. (Who am I trying to kid, I’m ALWAYS listening to The Beatles!) I guess I just soaked up some extra Beatles vibe around this time and it came out in this song. Again, not premeditated, the way this one panned out is the way this song informed me how it wanted to be. (That said, I admit it IS very Beatles-y-sounding …. to my ears anyway!)

Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

Trip: Well, there’s The Beatles (see above – LOL!) but it doesn’t just come from listening to other folk’s music. It’s hard to explain really but I shall at least try …. most of the music I write actually comes to me ‘from within’ … and usually at the most inopportune moments! For example, I’ll be out walking somewhere and “BOOM!” I get a melody or a riff popping into my head and have to scrabble to capture it before it’s gone. (The voice recorder on my phone has helped me remember quite a few songs that would otherwise have been lost!) Another example? I could be mid-shave say and … “AARGGH! Here we go again!” It’s a curse at times but I can’t complain. The most exasperating situation?  At night. I’m a light sleeper and most nights I find it very difficult to get off to sleep – it takes a long time for my mind to shut down! It’s often just when I’m (finally!) in that strange Twilight Zone place between conscious and unconscious thought that “PING!” a new song idea will choose to present itself!  When it does, I either have to: A) wake myself up to capture it somehow or B) just let it slide hoping that, by rights, if it’s good enough then I should be able to just remember it until I wake at a civilized time in the morning, right?

Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey in the last few years?

Trip: Again, quite a difficult question as I find it very hard to describe my music ….. it’s more ‘a feeling’. I try not to pigeon-hole the music I make. There’s plenty of acts out there that play to their strengths and tastes as in: “We’re a Ska band!” or “We’re a Power Pop band!” (Whatever ‘Power Pop’ is – ha!) but, for me, I like to mix it up and keep fans of my music on their toes. I like the fact that I can, for example, write a little jazzy bossanova tune with Lisa (eg: ‘Your Summer Theme’) then go from that to an out ’n’ out Rocker with a medieval baroque section in 6/8 timing just thrown in for good measure (LOL!) There’s actually a lot of humour embedded into these songs I write. How would I sum them all up? It’s all just a big pick’n’mix musical melting pot really! As to how my songwriting process has evolved, I’d like to think I’m getting better as I go along here but, that said, I do not wish to get ‘too good’. I like all the ‘happy accidents’ that happen in the studio …. and the things that don’t seem to make sense. If I actually knew what I was doing and all the theory behind it then perhaps these chance moments would vanish and I’m not prepared to take that risk so I’ll just keep doing this while I can and not think too much about the process. So long as making music continues to be a fun, creative outlet for me then I shall endeavour to keep making it.  

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project?

Trip: Well it’s the start of a new year so we’re supposed to have resolutions, right? Musically speaking I already know I don’t want another year like last year! Looking back on it I got way too distracted with musical commissions and I completely took my eye off the ball (or should that be ‘ear’?) where making NEW music was concerned. So much so that I actually only managed to finish a mere handful of self-penned original songs (which is not like me at all – prior to 2021 I had a reputation for being prolific!) Here now in 2022 I need to turn that around and ‘get back’ to the one thing I feel I’m good at i.e.: being ‘a songwriter’. I hope to have two new albums out in 2022, one SUPER 8 solo and a follow-up with Lisa – watch this space!

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform live? What is your favorite song to perform in general? What makes that song a current favorite in your performances?

Trip: Like I say, I’m more of what you’d call ‘a studio musician’ nowadays. Being a solo ‘one man band’ as it were, I haven’t played a gig in the longest time. I guess my performances these days are on the records I make, what I play into the microphone when I’m multi-tracking a song. I tend to just let the songs do the talking now pretty much! I don’t really tend to have ‘a favourite’. I just go from recording one song to the next really.

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

No real ‘message’ as such more ‘a feeling’. That the music I present makes the listener feel good in themselves. Not one ‘thing’ in particular, just ‘a connection’. I write from the heart I guess and just try to be true to my school as it were – to write music that I like and, if I like it, hopefully others might too. ‘Tis a strange and magical thing ‘music’. It’s all so subjective!   

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

Trip: Like everyone, I wish this thing would just disappear and let us all get back to and on with ‘normal’ life as we knew it – we live in hope! In the meantime we have to just keep our heads up and deal with the cards we’ve been dealt here. Musically speaking the one good thing to come out of all of this I guess is that us musicians have realised the potential of making music via file-sharing. I can’t really think of anything else positive to say on the whole ‘Corona’ front! Anyway, stay safe and thanks for reading!

We want to extend our sincere gratitude to Trip for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music as Super 8! Click on the links throughout the article to visit his social media or to listen to various songs that were discussed! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions with…’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Trip.

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