Tyler Ramsey: Singing the Simple Sadness
By Alli Marshall
There’s a delicious shiver of loneliness to Tyler Ramsey’s new album, The Valley Wind. From the grayscale artwork to the echoes of reverb; from the lingering late-night waltz of “Angel Band” to the plaintive lilt of the title track: The Asheville-based singer/songwriter and Band of Horses guitarist has always had a knack for setting melancholy to music.
“All I can hope for is that yours goes with mine,” he sings on the starlit, Beach Boys-tinged “Time Is A Changing Line.” But here’s where the unlucky-in-love story takes a turn: Ramsey recently married the one to whom that song was likely directed, and the newlyweds paired Ramsey’s solo tour in support of Valley with their honeymoon.
It’s a happy punctuation to what’s been a happy handful of years for Ramsey. After spending most of a decade playing in various Asheville bands (his own Tyler Ramsey Trio, rock outfit Drug Money, and Aaron “Woody” Wood’s Hollywood Red), he met Band of Horses through friend/BoH bassist Bill Reynolds and signed on as the group’s guitarist. But even with BoH’s extensive touring schedule, he’s stayed focused on his own writing.
Released on Fat Possum this Fall, Valley is Ramsey’s third solo outing. The label also re-released his 2008 record, A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea, but there are no plans to reissue 2004 Ramsey’s self-titled debut. “It still holds up,” Ramsey says of his earliest solo releases. “It’s a little awkward because I know what the songs were about. But, it’s the same for the new record, he says, whether he thinks the songs are good or could have been improved.
He can probably rest easy, because Valley is Ramsey’s most thematically consistent album to date, juxtaposing images from nature against palpable emotions. It’s the poignancy of the songs, especially “The Nightbird,” that attracted Fat Possum to Ramsey’s project. He’d recorded a demo with acoustic guitar and drum machine, and shared it with BoH members. Singer Ben Bridwell took it to one of the heads of Fat Possum, which is also home to Bridwell’s Brown Records imprint.
“He was like, ‘Was that okay that I did that?’” Ramsey says. “Totally fine. Maybe I would have done a different version, but it turned out that the emotion of the song was there.”
Valley’s polished final version is culled from songs either written in a cabin in Hot Springs, N.C., or while Ramsey was on tour. “It used to be I had to write the whole song right there,” he says. “As my everyday life changed into constantly traveling and staying in hotels, I’ve learned it’s okay to write part of a song and pick it back up again when there’s opportunity to do so.”
When the time came to record, he tapped long-time collaborators Seth Kauffman (Floating Action) and BoH’s Reynolds. An early vision for the album involved a full band and “an awesome old pedal steel player from Nashville.” But in the end it was just the unadorned talents of the three Asheville musicians who captured what Ramsey wanted.
Recorded at Alex The Great studio in Nashville, Valley resonates with reverb and cathedral acoustics — clear influences from the BoH sound. “I’ve figured out more about the electric guitar and effects,” says Ramsey, most of whose previous solo work was acoustic. “There’s a whole new range of stuff I can use to give the songs whatever they need.” His wistful tenor and lithe harmonies attest to an expanded vocal range, one that’s earned him comparisons to Neil Young in early reviews.
Ramsey’s expanded comfort zone was apparent, at his Asheville CD release show, where he joked with the audience before performing deftly-arranged selections from throughout his catalog. The evening was a triumph of finger-picked guitar, mellow beats and lush lyrics. Simple, like Ramsey’s current direction.
“At least for now,” he says, “I’m in the mode of trying to do things quickly and honesty.”