by Benham Jones
My first interview at Bonnaroo was with Madi Diaz and Kyle Ryan. I was so cracked out from my arrival and kind of jittery at the thought of doing an interview on three hours of sleep, but these two were the best. Such sweet people. They play under Madi’s name and have an EP called Ten Gun Salute out now. To Madi and Kyle, especially after moving to Nashville, it all comes back to the energy one gets from writing a song. For some reason, I did the first bit of the interview in a weird, radio host voice and I was so exhausted that I used the word “turd” freely. This is how our visit went:
Ben Jones: Test. Test, test, test. TEST. You wanna check this?
Kyle Ryan: CHECKAROO… bonnaroo….
Madi Diaz: Wanh wanh wanh…
BJ: Excellent. Ready?
BJ: Here with Madi Diaz and Kyle Ryan at Bonnaroo. Say heyo?
Madi: Ummm… yeah!
Kyle: What’s up?
BJ: So what’s up with your collaboration? I was told I was interviewing Madi Diaz, the website is MadiDiaz.com, but you’re, like, inseparable from the project, Kyle Ryan.
Madi: There’s the man behind the curtain, so it seems.
Kyle: Something like that.
Madi: Kyle and I met back in Boston. Something about four years ago. We played together for a while, we did my first record that I wrote solo Skin & Bones. Just started writing together after that. We’ve been running around together ever since.
Kyle: But you’re the face.
Madi: Sure, I mean, I feel like at this point we are almost both “the Face.” But we still use my name so its kinda…
BJ: [to Kyle] You ever feel funny about that?
Kyle: Nah, she’s the face. That’s fine.
BJ: What’s the songwriting dynamic between you two like?
Kyle: I mean, its different every time, and we both work on all parts of a song. It’s not like one person is writing lyrics and the other person is doing this or that. Depending on the song, one of us will come in with a melody or an idea or whatever. And then kind of put it together.
Madi: We both love writing and we have a lot of friends who are also writers. Sometimes we’ll be hanging out with different people individually and write songs with them, then those or parts of those can be brought in. I mean, Kyle wrote “Heavy Heart” with Sarah Siskind, and I basically told him that I’d punch him if we couldn’t play the song ourselves. There’s another song we’ve got that I wrote, “A Little Bit”, with our friend Larissa Maestro and we love that song and want to play that song too. We just want to make sure the songs are good, that’s always the goal. As long as the songs are good, everybody is safe.
BJ: But do you guys actually write, like, TOGETHER? Like do you sit in a room and then just go?
Madi: Oh, yeah. Hell yeah.
BJ: That’s far out. I feel like a lot of people can’t do that in pairs. Seems like a tough way to write.
Kyle: Yeah, especially because we will just start things from scratch…
[Muffled mic sound]
BJ: Ok, I’m just gonna pass this off. I don’t like pushing it in your face; I feel like I’ve got a turd on the end of the mic.
Kyle: Alright, so we’ll just pass it off.
BJ: Yeah, I will lean in to the turd.
Kyle: I will put the turd in your face. Quote me on that.
BJ: Sure will.
Kyle: Front of the blog. Big letters.
BJ: Yes, excellent idea… So it sounds like, apart from just small sessions together, you are writing in a whole community?
Kyle: Yeah, that’s Nashville, just surrounded by all different writers and musicians all the time. Quite a bit of co-writing, whether it’s the two of us with a third person, or us separate.
Madi: There is such a community, a community that we are just starting to dive into in Nashville. I mean, obviously, Kyle is my number one…yeah, number one… so we like to be a team. But a good song is a good song wherever its coming from.
BJ: Have you done any records solo, Kyle?
Kyle: No I haven’t.
BJ: Is it just a desire to be set back from the front? A fear, maybe?
Kyle: Eh, not so much. It’s just been so long since I’ve finished a song by myself that I guess maybe I thought it was something like that, but my good friend and our long-time bassist told me once, “Some people just don’t do, don’t stand out front.”
Madi: I guess its kind of a process to find yourself in the write place, the write element in the music, where you can really be honest with yourself and just go. I have a problem of just editing myself far too much when I write alone. Like over thinking what I should change about that word, or why doesn’t a chorus stand out.
BJ: Do you guys demo a lot while writing, or is it just like, you write the song and hit it while its hot? Especially curious on this new record, since its a lot more based in the studio than Skin & Bone, lots more blips and bleeps.
Kyle: Well, Skin & Bone really was a while ago, so we didn’t do any recording for about a year and a half. And things were really evolving then, we were writing a lot and we moved. And then the EP came about because we met these two guys Justin Loucks and Ian Fitchuck.
BJ: Mister Fishhook?
Madi: Mista Fish Hooook.
Kyle: I’ll call him that when I get home. So then it was just the four of us in a studio, throwing shit at the walls and seeing what sticks. So that kind of developed a different sound.
Madi: Also, I think coming down to Nashville and just writing and writing and writing, it just… you know, you can only tap a resource so many times in a row, and then all of a sudden your fishing through things that inspire you and great records and different parts of your background. And then in a community like Nashville, I guess it was like tapping into a totally new pool. And then we got into the studio and we were excited and then we started to make new noises…
Kyle: [buzzing his tongue]
BJ: Bleep blop bloop.
Madi: Exactly, bleep blop bloops.
BJ: And you think a lot of that was the move to Nashvhille? What was Boston like? Needed change?
Madi: It was time. I mean, I was really happy for a period there, but by the end it just felt kind of draining emotional. Something about New England is a lot, man. I mean, in the Northeast it is cold and people are not super psyched about it.
BJ: You both seem like sunshine people.
BJ: And moving towards the sun, and Music City, do you think that gave the sound a new brightness?
Madi: Personally, moving and changing just allowed me to open up and be a little more honest and flexible with what I was hearing. In Nashville, I’m not preoccupied with the cold. Its freedom in all sorts of ways and there’s all these…
Madi: Oh man…
Kyle: Yeah, we hear a lot about vibes. And I have fully fully embraced it. I am all about the vibe.
BJ: I wish New York vibed like Nasvhille vibes.
Kyle: I don’t think they listen to the vibes up there.
BJ: No, they listen to Wu-Tang. Different sort of vibe. But this is the ultimate vibe, here at Bonnaroo. Maybe the biggest gig you guys have done?
Kyle: Oh yeah.
Madi: I’d say so, just a hair. We’re lucky, we work with a great group of people at Cherry Lane and this is huge for the new record. Everyone’s been so sweet and our friends, our families, word of mouth… every little bit contributes to the buzz. So this is another step. And all we can do is just keep writing, touring around, keeping our fingers crossed.
BJ: Are you guys writing on the road? Moving towards more recording?
Kyle: Eh, some people can do that. But since we hit it so hard at home it doesn’t feel like there is a need to. We do want to get some more serious studio time when we get to sit down and take a breather for a second.
Madi: The road is kind of a nice break from the focused writing, and we both soak things in like spongies, and I’ll get ideas and work on them on my phone…
Kyle: Because she is from the future. If I have an idea, I spell it out on my abacus in an intricate logarithm.
BJ: Is it tough to be keep up with big buzz, like here at Bonnaroo, at a time when its so important for you to tour heavily? Is it tough to need to be so tour-centric in such a shit economy?
Kyle: Yeah, we basically don’t make any money. Its like there is just enough to feed our child, this project, and not quite enough to feed ourselves. But each time, more and more people come and they something new that they like, and then it keeps going.
Madi: Yeah, sometimes its hard to stay psyched all the time, but it always comes back to the song. Like you write something that’s exciting and that’s what turns a page. Or a trip into the studio. Sometimes even just a really great show happens and I feel like we’ve moved forward. Its just where the energy emerges from, and that’s all different places but mostly the song. We’re lucky.
BJ: Lucky to have one another.
Madi: It’s good to have a buddy.