Ryan Law has dabbled in music for the last 20 years. Here he talks to Americana’s Gordon Sharpe about the recording of his new album ‘Just A Stranger’ with his band, The Shelter, and working with Cardinal Jon Graboff. Oh, and by the way, Ryan Law did all this while living in Qatar as a university administrator.
Tell us something about yourself, what is your back-story?
Well, we’ve all dabbled in recording some over the years. I was the lead singer of a rock band in Texas called TwoSpy in the early 2000s. Russell Wedelich, our bass player, was in the band too. We recorded a full album then and enjoyed a limited amount of success around central Texas, opening for some national bands.
Given the distance between the three of you recording sounds quite a feat?
Home recording has come a long way since we recorded ours in 2002.
With Pro Tools and good quality microphones, you can get some great sounds. Sending the files back and forth to each over the internet was tedious though; so yes, you are right! We would love to do our next album together in a studio. Thankfully, Russell is somewhat in the music business, engineer for Eventide, hardware and plugin company. That’s how we were able to snag James Frazee, mixing and mastering. He’s worked with Patti Smith, The Hold Steady, and several other great artists. We’re thrilled with how he was able to do to make our home recordings sound incredible.
Tell me a little about the songs on the album.
Some of these songs are 15-20 years old and some were actually played with TwoSpy, but never recorded, ‘All I Ever Wanted‘ and ‘Waste of Time‘. ‘I Guess It’s Over’, ‘Picture of Me Dead’, and, ‘Just a Stranger’ are songs from right when TwoSpy broke up, along with a long term relationship I was in. Those songs are truly break up songs with people, and music. Others are much newer that I wrote with the guitar player, Eric Smith. We wrote, ‘Move Along’, ‘Firelight’, ‘In a Moment’ and ‘Never Question’ together more recently.
So how did you come to be based in Qatar?
You asked about me living in Qatar. Eventually, after university, we all got day jobs and the band, TwoSpy, broke up. I wasn’t able to get another band going, and honestly, I was burned out on music, so I went to graduate school and then became a university administrator. I worked for a university in Texas for several years and then had an opportunity to transfer to our university’s international campus in Qatar. It’s been a great ride and we enjoy being able to travel to so many amazing countries just a few hours away.
Tell me a little more about how this album came together.
These songs have been tugging at me for so many years and Eric and I have been best friends and musical kindred spirits now for a while. We’ve been talking about recording for years; COVID gave us a chance to dive in. I reached out to Russell, to see how his bass chops had held up over the years. Turns out, the dude can still flat-out lay it down. It helps that he had a kick-ass drummer, Dominic Geralds to vibe with. Of course, in addition to the drummer and producer, the huge snag for us was adding Jon Graboff on pedal steel.
Obviously, we’re huge fans of the Cardinals. I reached out to Jon on Instagram and he gave me his email address. I sent him some early demos of the album, (‘Just a Stranger’ and ‘All I Ever Wanted’) and his exact words were, “I gave the two songs you sent a spin and yeah, I think I could bring something to the party!” After I got this email, I ran into the other room, with goose-bumps all over my body, and told my wife. She was excited for me, but didn’t quite grasp how big of a deal it was to have one of my heroes validate my songs and agree to play on the record! Graboff’s willingness to play with us really elevated our confidence in completing this album and validated our belief that these songs were worthy of putting out there. His tracks are sick and he was an absolute gem to work with.
What plans for the future?
This whole project has ignited such a creative energy in the three of us (Ryan, Eric, and Russell). I almost have the whole second record, all new songs, written!
Ryan Law And The Shelter’s ‘Just A Stranger’ is out now and is an independent release.