Montana native Ryan Acker, a long-time member of The Last Revel, a Minnesota-based bluegrass outfit, had a busy touring plan on the calendar for support of his debut self-released solo album, Winter Where You’re From. But with the global coronavirus pandemic, those plans have been put on the backburner. Montana Press spoke with Acker about how he’s adapting to the new reality, the contents of his new album, and his admiration for Bob Dylan.
MONTANA PRESS: How have you been coping with the current Coronavirus situation?
RYAN ACKER: It was initially a huge shock to the system, to have so much planning and preparation for 2020 go out the window. There were so many gigs I was looking forward to this summer that now are not happening. I’m investing a lot of time and energy into home-recording techniques. On the other side of that, it’s been nice to have a bit of a break. For the first time in my adult life I will be home for a summer.
MP: Have you done many of the live-stream shows?
ACKER: I’ve done a couple and I enjoy it. There’s an initial awkward element to playing and performing when nobody is really there. That’s a strange little hurdle to get over. I realized how much I missed it, how much it was a weekly part of my life that I hadn’t visited in a while. I think people are realizing how much live music means to them when they don’t have it.
MP: Have you thought about how shows can be staged after this situation?
ACKER: I’m just holding my breath and just wanting to see what happens. I have some local in-person events that I feel fortunate to have. It’s limited-capacity events, smaller venues, bars and breweries. But as far as touring outside Montana, I’m not personally counting on that happening this fall. Not sure about some of these venues that I have played before; will their doors even be open again?
MP: Did you have a vision for your new album before starting it?
ACKER: It’s been an idea I’ve had for a long time. I’ve been part of this bluegrass band (The Last Revel) based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota for about a decade or so. But there’s something to be said for having complete creative control. Just going through the process of writing, recording and releasing music on your own. I recorded most of it on my own. Some home recordings and some studio work in Minneapolis to finish it up. It was a really eye-opening process.
MP: Was it difficult paring down the material for the album?
ACKER: I was fortunate enough to have a lot of solo gigs in 2019 to try new tunes out. I think that’s always a decent judge of a song’s character. If it doesn’t feel good to play live, it probably doesn’t feel good to listen to on a record.
MP: How did the song “The Night Before Us” come together?
ACKER: I’ve been working on that song since probably 2016. I wrote different versions of it. That feeling of a relationship ending and drifting apart and that emotional process after a long-term relationship. Just where that fits into the healing process.
MP: Do you have a hard time letting go of a song?
ACKER: Absolutely. I do have a problem with that. I like to take that liberty as an artist in that maybe something isn’t ever done. I got to see Bob Dylan play in 2017 in St. Paul, and it was an incredible concert. I knew going in that Bob Dylan’s live shows are off the wall. I went into that and there wasn’t one song I recognized. He had changed these songs to something completely different. Something about that was inspiring to me. Bob Dylan can do whatever he wants because they are his songs, and he’s not done evolving and changing who he is and what his music is.
MP: How have you evolved as an artist from when you started to where you are today?
ACKER: When I first started out, I was always a band guy. That collaborative effort was my bread and butter for a long time. But I never really thought I’d been releasing solo music. That’s the biggest step I’ve taken personally in the last few years -- just going from a band guy who wrote songs for somebody else to sing, to singing my songs on my record.
MP: What can fans expect from The Montana Happy Hour show in July?
ACKER: I will be playing tunes off my new record, for sure. I also love covering some of my heroes -- Bob Dylan, Neil Young, John Prine -- that’s where a lot of my influences come from. I will likely be bringing along friends to play with me. I’ll talk a bit about the songs. One thing I liked about live streaming is I have all the liberty in the world to tell the stories that I want. E
page on July 9 at 5 p.m. The show will be available for listening after the live performance on the Facebook page.