Interview With Ryan Hurtgen

ReneBreton.Headshot.1[1]“I’d like to share with you all the new Rene Breton album Between City and Country.  For those of you that haven’t heard from me in a while, in the last year I moved from Nashville to Los Angeles.  These songs are all impressions of this journey.  In many ways the album is auto-biographical, however I do think it resonates with many young people migrating around between cities, through country, looking for their place, a new adventure, love, and the American Dream.  I’ve chosen to release the album now because I feel it is a summer album and will be good to listen to while traveling and doing summer things.”  – Ryan Hurtgen – Rene Breton

Ryan Hurtgen left Nashville in July 2011, less than a year after the release of Rene Breton’s Asleep In Green for what looked like would be another stepping stone in the album’s success.   

It has been almost two years and on the eve of Rene Breton’s new release, Between City And Country, The Nashville Bridge caught up with Ryan after watching the new videos, “Left Coast” and “Connection” that shows a departure from their first release that kind of showcases an almost M. Ward hangs in Laurel Canyon soaked in a post “OK, Computer” pop environment with a real prog keyboard twist and shiny happy “Eureka, I have found it!” California vocals.

Brad Hardisty / The Nashville Bridge: Why did you head out to California?

Ryan Hurtgen: Originally, the reason was I was in a relationship and she was from L.A. I moved out here to be with her and start a new music career. I had already been in Nashville five years and I was ready for a change. So, we did it.  We arrived here. That was the original reason to just find new adventures, new types of people, cultures, thinking that kind of thing.

TNB: What did you find out in California?

cali postcardRH: All that’s proven to be very true. Some people have a very progressive mindset out on the West Coast. Really, the West Coast is a very spiritual place. Its very open- minded and it’s very, like, about not seeing the rules of things or the borders of things. It’s about a kind of free your mind with no rules attitude. The spirit of the 60’s still does really exist here. I think it’s definitely more of the underbelly of things like the way it was back in the 60’s.  The mentality still does exist here in the art and in the culture.

It’s different than Nashville because Nashville is very traditional. Nashville is very stuck in tradition. You know like in songwriting. There are rules to things and there are ways to doing things; more practical. You know both ways of approaching things are great. I think that Nashville was very good for me in that sense. It taught me a lot of rules, but, I think I reached a point where I needed a change. But, I think it is kind of ironic because this album is more “poppy” than the Nashville project, but, for me as a person, I definitely expanded my world a little bit more out of being about the necessity for my own self and like something more.

TNB: Tell me a little bit about what happened after you got out there.

RH:  I guess I’ll tell you the whole story. I just made a cup of tea. I got up and went surfing at like 5 AM and then I just dozed off on the couch.

TNB: Where do you surf?

topanga canyonRH: I go to Topanga Canyon. I surf there, but, I live in Echo Park; pretty much downtown. I’m going to go outside and find a place to get in thought mode.

Well it’s about 82 degrees. It’s one of the reasons I definitely stayed. Alright, I found a place in the shade here. So, basically I hit a wall in Nashville. Okay in the last interview I said I was going out to California and I didn’t know what I was going to find there. I was finding a new direction and I think I was talking about how in songwriting   I was really into the “surreal” thing there with Asleep In Green. That was the direction and method I was using for that album, but, I wasn’t totally set on keeping that theme with the next record and I then I said in that article that I wanted to go more towards more Pop songwriting which appeared to be very true. I ended up going in more of a pop direction.

I moved out here and just completely lost everything. I lost the band that originally was on tour. We had a record label and a booking agent and I was in a serious relationship and all of my ducks were in a row and it was lining up to be this nice perfect music life. Then the bottom fell out.

It was kind of hard because I felt responsible for everything. I was the main songwriter of course on everything and then it just unwound. I found myself out here and my girlfriend and I just went out in a bad way. It was a ball of fire, crash and burn. I left and I was living out of my car out here. I was determined not to leave. I was determined to stay out here and see what it had to offer and try to use this opportunity to draw on more of a path of solitude and I did that.

I moved into this sailboat and I lived there for two months. I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have phone service there. I couldn’t even talk on my phone from the boat. I could go onshore and get service there, but, where I was actually at I couldn’t get service. I didn’t have internet. I just had a journal. I had an acoustic guitar. I had a little Casio keyboard with some drum samples.  So, I set up a little studio in this boat.

topanga surfI found this broken surfboard on the side of this guy’s house. I was working odd jobs at the time like painting or I was working on people’s yards and just anything I could find and I found this surfboard that was broken in half and I fixed it up and had that with me.

So, every day I could go out and surf with those waves which proved to be really good, like, healthy for my mind and everything I was going through. But, it was a real time of reflection and what are you doing? I didn’t know any one out here.  I just holed up in the boat and read books and did a lot of meditating. Thinking about what direction I was supposed to go as an artist.

At the time it was kind of sweet because I was being played on the radio out here and I didn’t have a band.  I didn’t have a label. I didn’t have anything. Everything we had worked so hard to get to… it was like, we were starting to see the fruits of our labor and I wasn’t really able to act upon it. I was just a witness to it.

So, I was thinking a lot about where I wanted to go and what direction I wanted to go and I thought well, jeez man, look where I’m at? You should just be telling your story as an artist. Especially nowadays, it takes a certain kind of person to say I am going to live the life of an artist; to say I’m going to do that for my life and I might not make a living from it or I might not get anything from it, but, it’s a journey that is important to take on.

Art is not that important, but, at the same time it is the most important thing in a lot of ways.  I was thinking: well, you know, there are all kinds of people just like me that are going through this same situation actually. There are a lot of people that are leaving their homes and leaving town and losing their friends  and they are getting in relationships and they are confused about love and wondering where they need to be and all caught up in between something.

Topanga Road 1930sYou know I grew up in the country. So, like moving from the country to the city was a big change for me. I think a lot young people in this nation are having those kinds of experiences. They are moving around. They are migrating.  So, that’s when I came up with the album title Between City And Country.

topanga above sunsetI was thinking I was living in Nashville, “Country City Capital” of the world and now I’m living out here in the big city, L.A. and wow so that title struck me, that’s a good theme.  That says a lot about our modern day critique of modern technology, cell phone technology, how we connect with one another and rural life and city life and what all that means and how we are changing as a culture.

I kind of wanted to make it an autobiography about myself because I couldn’t really hold back the emotions I was going through and expressing myself as a songwriter that way because that was all that was on my mind. I couldn’t really create any kind of a fictional surrealist thing. It was all very like I got to say this. I got to get this out for myself.  In a way I’m not doing this record for anybody but myself right now.

At times, I thought, isn’t that really a narcissistic kind of thing to do as an artist to be all consuming to yourself and be all about your story? But, in actuality, I think I kind of made peace with that and I think one of the things I learned as a songwriter is that you can’t try to force something. You don’t have control over your own expression. You can say, well, I want to try to write a really happy song. But, if you are not feeling happy or sad, for that matter, than it is probably going to be hard to write something that is that way. You know what I mean.

I think we are just vessels for whatever is coming out of us is actually a pretty good experiment at looking at yourself and seeing yourself in writing a song and then going back and looking at it and see where did these words come from. What do they mean? You can sense a lot about yourself that way. So, that was one of the issues I was going through in writing these songs.

ReneBreton.020.BW[1]Then I met Collin and Jackie out here. Collin knew Jackie and they both knew about the band from before they met me. They already knew Rene Breton and I’m like, I don’t even have a band now and I’m looking.

Collin builds synthesizers. He’s a scientist. He works on a particle accelerator. He’s totally smart, like a Whiz kid and he is a classically trained pianist.  So, we hooked up together and he was bringing all these electronics out and ideas I was never exposed to. I thought, well, wow, this guy is really into the idea of Between City And Country. Not only lyrically, but, emotionally. He was talking about these topics and we connected musically too.

We took electronic instrumentation and meshed it with acoustic instrumentation and that is kind of the theme of the record as well. Musical instrument wise, it ties onto modern technology mixed with traditional acoustic guitar and drums and piano and that kind of thing.

So, then we started playing shows. We have been playing all year. We have been working on this record.  It’s kind of weird for me now because I’ve kind of moved passed it in a lot of ways. But, it still rings true, a lot of the sentiments on the album.

TNB: Have you played shows with the new material?

RH: Oh yeah, we have been playing all year.

TNB: Where do you play at in California?

RH: We play at The Bootleg Theater in Silverlake. We’ve played at The Satellite, at the Echo. We’ve played in Venice Beach. We have been up to San Francisco. We played two shows at The Hotel Utah, a really awesome place. I just want to become, just like an L.A. scene band at this point.

TNB: The new music is available now as a download.

RH: We’ve decided to release this project as a name your own price download.  Please support us with whatever you can, every bit helps.

rene breton new 01

–          Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN