Interview: The Shootouts’ Ryan Humbert on delivering roots music from Akron Ohio

Credit: Jamie Escola

Doing their bit to bring fun into the lives of modern-day Americans and keeping classic country alive.

Do you like roots rock which is fun to listen to, the Shootouts do and they are on a mission to bring their own mix of classic country, americana, and British new wave to as many people as possible. They have just released their third album, ‘Stampede’, which they recorded with the help of Asleep At The Wheel’s Ray Benson and which features guest slots from Raul Malo, Marty Stuart, Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller, and The Wheel themselves. All this attention was for a good-time roots music band proclaiming the greatness of classic country and americana from their home base around Akron, Ohio, in America’s Rust Belt rather than the Bible Belt. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with founder member and vocalist Ryan Humbert in his home just south of Akron over Zoom to discuss the new album, ‘Stampede’, and what it was like working with such iconic artists. Ryan Humbert explains that the Shootouts feel it is their mission, and job, to keep classic country alive and to bring a bit of fun to people’s lives. While they are keen to keep the fun level up, Ryan shares the fact that he thinks music is one of the few things that could help heal the currently fractured American society, and while the band may deal in fun they take their music very seriously. Finally, while the Shootouts may be keeping the classic country flag flying, Ryan confirms that the British new wave music of Nick Lowe, Rockpile, and Elvis Costello is also a big influence on the band’s sound.

How are you, and are you in Akron?

I’m good, and I live just south of Akron. If you dropped a pin into the middle of where the whole band members live it would be Akron, and I kind of hold down the southern side of that and I’m just a few minutes outside Akron.

Most music lovers are aware that Akron has produced some legendary bands, with Devo being the most obvious example, but how did it produce a band that mixes all the good bits of country and roots rock?

I’ll tell you, we are doing our best to put Akron on the map for something other than just rock & roll. Here’s the thing, we are influenced by everything, and of course, we are influenced by all the country greats and the americana greats, all that stuff that came before but we filter that through our Rust Belt roots. Look, I’m from North Eastern Ohio, I’m a big Pretenders fan, I like the Black Keys, and I like Devo. You can’t grow up in this area, and whether it is by osmosis or not, you can’t help but be influenced by those folks.

What was the pull of roots music for the band?

I don’t know, when it comes to country music there are a lot of folks who have said they wouldn’t have expected to hear a country band, especially one playing the stuff you guys are doing, to come out of North East Ohio, but I don’t know that country music has a geography necessarily. If you think about where the greats have come from you have Bakersfield, which is West Coast, you have Texas and all the western swing stuff that we love, you have classic Nashville, you have the hills of Appalachia where they did all the bluegrass and the mountain music. If anything, I think there is more of a work ethic or a mindset or just a way of growing up and upbringing that informs the music that you make, and all of these folks were drawn to some form of country music not by the other music made in their areas, but maybe by their upbringings, what their ancestors listened to all that stuff. That’s true for me because I came to country music because of my family.

‘Stampede’ seems to be making a lot of waves, how much of an influence was producer Ray Benson?

I will tell you what, every record we’ve made has been a different experience and we’ve taken something away from that experience. One of the goals of any musician is obviously to make a great record, but I think the real goal should be to walk away from that experience with some knowledge that you can take to your next record and the one after that. Ray is a man who has been working in country music for over fifty years, for well longer than I’ve been alive he’s been literally a country music icon. He had such great stories and he had such great insight and ideas, and we worked with his son, Sam Seifert, and they worked as co-producers for the record which was really cool because they definitely brought something a little different to the table. Ray was very big picture, with songs, and takes, performances, and maybe ideas for instruments and things of that nature, and if we really needed to get into the weeds with something then Sam was good at that. So they made a great team and it was great working with them, and Ray has such a wealth of knowledge and is such the nicest guy.

We had such a great time working with him and we recorded a good portion of the album here in a suburb of Akron called Kent, Ohio, and Asleep At The Wheel came to us. The reason they came to us, as opposed to us going to Austin, is that they had a couple of days in their schedule free when they were already in this neck of the woods, and Sam said rather than us go to Austin they could just come to us. So we had a great studio available to us, and we got to take Ray to some of our favourite lunch spots and stuff of that nature. It was a really special experience. We got to recently do South By Southwest, we played Ray’s annual birthday bash with Asleep at The Wheel, and we’ve done a whole bunch of dates opening for The Wheel. They have really been so kind to us, and I can’t say enough good things not only about Ray and Sam, but everyone in The Wheel camp.

You say Ray is country, but he was originally a hippie boy.

He definitely was an old hippie, and he came from the East Coast. That is a man I think I can relate to because I didn’t immediately jump into country music, I was doing singer-songwriter stuff and other things of that nature. It really wasn’t until I was honest with myself, and I think everyone can relate to this because it doesn’t matter what profession you are in, there comes a certain age or point in your life when you say you know what, I don’t really give a shit about what anybody thinks anymore, I’m going to do what I want to do. I don’t want to be making music with my head anymore, I want to be making it with my heart. That is where the Shootouts came from, we started this band with the intention of this just literally being a side project where we could go out and have fun playing music that we love, music we grew up with, and music you just couldn’t hear that much anymore on a regular basis. That was it, but look at us now, three albums in and working with some of our idols and some country music legends, we are not going to stop now.

You have some legendary musicians on the record, how easy was it working with people of the stature of Marty Stuart, Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller, and Raul Malo?

You know it’s funny, and I don’t think intimidating is the right word per se, only because these folks have been so supportive and generous with their time and talent. We’ve known Raul Malo for years, I used to open for him solo acoustic on his solo shows. He is just a down to earth guy who just happens to have, in my opinion, one of the best singing voices ever. With all these folks, just in general,  it is like you don’t want to meet your heroes thing, you don’t want to meet your idols thing. I will tell you, all these folks on the album are folks we look up to and who have influenced this band, and every one of them has been as nice as could be. I think there could be a learning experience right there too, there is something to be said for helping those who come behind you. We have to help each other, especially with the type of music we are making, our goal is to try and keep it around but in years’ time when we are not around you want to try and play it forward.

What are the songwriting dynamics like within the Shootouts?

We are kind of a collective when it comes to songwriting, which has been really nice for me because before the Shootouts I did solo records and you would be responsible for ten to fifteen songs on a record by yourself. In the Shootouts there is so much talent, I write songs, our guitarist Brian Postan writes the instrumental songs, we have a long-time collaborator who used to play pedal steel with us, but is no longer able to tour, called Al Moss and we still work regularly with him and he is a great pedal steel player and songwriter, we will write together, we will do covers, we’ve even had friends give us songs we have fallen in love with. I’m not precious about that, I think I may have been when I was younger, but now I’m a firm believer in a good song is a good song, and if you’ve got a situation like we have in the band with so many talented songwriters, then if folks bring good songs to the table that deserve to be heard, then the cream of the crop will rise to the top. With this record and ‘Bullseye’ we cut more songs than we needed. We cut about sixteen songs and we let the songs naturally tell us these are the best of the batch, these are the ones that naturally go together. Again, not being precious about who wrote them, we just want to make the best record possible, and I don’t care whether it is my name as the songwriter, another band member, or somebody else’s, we just want to make a damn good record.

How did the Shootouts get together?

Brian Postan and I met through a friend of mine who is a guitarist, and we started playing together and it was about a year later that we started the Shootouts, and we bonded over the fact that we both loved real traditional country music. We kept saying we should go out and play it, we should do it, and we finally did it and when we played that first show and it was like we’d been hit by a bolt of lightning. We recruited some folks we knew who we thought might be interested and they were in the band for a fair amount of time, and about six months after we started the band I went back to my longstanding singing partner, Emily Bates, and this year we are celebrating twenty years of singing together.

When I started the Shootouts as a side project she thought it was great because she could have a night off while the boys are out having fun, and I kept telling her she needed to come to one of the shows because there’s something really special here. So after about six months of us starting the band, she came to a show that we had asked her to sit in on as part of a special event, and when we walked off stage she turned and looked at me and said, “I get it now.”, and that was it, the only conversation we ever had and she was in. Brian, Emily, and I are the longest-running members of the band, we’ve had a few other folks who have come and gone, mainly for logistical reasons around touring, and currently, we have a fantastic rhythm section of Mark Butto on drums and Kevin McManus on bass playing with us, and we are looking forward to what the future holds with them.

What is a Shootouts live gig like?

I’ll tell you what, it is pretty high energy and it is fun. We don’t do a lot of slow songs and like our records, we like the peppy stuff, and the audience also likes the peppy stuff. You don’t really want to do a whole concert of downer stuff, don’t get me wrong, it works for some people and there are a lot of folks who’ve made a lot of money and good careers out of downer songs. We like to have fun, and if we are having fun then I like to think the audience can have some fun, and it is very hard to sit still to our stuff. We get folks coming up to us and telling us they don’t really like country, but they like what we do.

It’s funny, what you hear on country music radio now is so different to how country music started out, and you can say that about any genre because all genres morph and change. I think with country people get a preconceived mindset of what country music is, and what you hear on country music radio today is pop with a fiddle mixed way in the back. It’s fine, I understand the appeal of it and why people like it, while it is not something I regularly listen to there are certainly artists in that genre I like, but if we can help change people’s opinion about country music one song and one show at a time, then I feel like we are doing our job. It is honestly part of our mission statement as a band to show people there is more than what you hear on country radio.

The cover of ‘Stampede’ is great, as is the lettering for the band’s name. Is this a one-off or part of an iconography?

I actually do all of our artwork, I work with different folks and do all of our graphic design, and I like to make sure our artwork and image tie in with what we do on stage. The show is fun, it is not a heavy show, and it is pretty light-hearted in a certain sense because we just want people to come and have a good time, and take their minds off whatever is happening outside that venue. That doesn’t mean we don’t take it seriously, we do take our job very seriously, but it is meant to be something that is slightly fun and I like our artwork to fall in line with it. Also, I’m a big fan of stuff that catches your eye, and if you are in a record store and you walk by ‘Stampede’ on the shelf I would hope it would catch your eye. I’ll tell you, I’ve even had the album covers turned into pillows for the couch in my office. When it comes to the artwork I like things to be fun, bright and bold, and I think that is how you could describe or show too.

Which artists would you say are the core influencers on the band?

A lot of the folks we worked with, we’ve been lucky here, Marty Stuart And His Mighty Superlatives, BR549, Dwight Yoakam. Some of the ‘90s stuff like Patty Lovelace, we love her, and then you go back to Bob Wills, George Jones, and Buck Owens. I’m also hugely influenced by a lot of the rockabilly revival stuff of the ‘80s, the country americana revival stuff, Steve Earle, The Blasters, Nick Lowe, Rockpile, I’m a huge fan of all that stuff and I think you can hear some of that in our music. I’m a huge Lucinda Williams fan, I wouldn’t even be playing guitar if it wasn’t for my love of her music. That’s a longer list than you were probably hoping for, but I think that’s what kind of makes up our sound. We can take all these little bits from all these folks I love, Elvis Costello back here on my wall, Loretta Lynn, it’s hard to narrow it down to a few but that is our job to take all these things we love and filter it down through our stories, upbringing and geography and have it come out like the Shootouts.

You mentioned a couple of English guys there, are there any plans for the Shootouts to come to the UK in the future?

You know what, we’d love to come to the UK, we’ve got our team working on it, and we’ve had a lot of great support in the UK. I would hope that within the next year we will be in the UK. In the month from February to April, we were on the road for 30 days straight. We did Dale Watson’s  Ameripolitan Festival, we went right to Nashville for the album release party and our Grand Ole Opry debut, and then that started another twenty-some shows. We were gone from February 16th to March 16th, then we had another eight or nine shows from March 18th to April 2nd. We were quite busy, I think we did twenty-seven shows in twenty-four cities in thirteen or fourteen states. We have been touring a lot, and we will continue to tour a lot this year, and then our goal will be to hop the pond and go and see you guys. We’d love to go to Australia and tour down there as well.

You’ve got a kind of retro sound and the music industry is very different now. How are you coping with digitalisation, streaming and the fact people are not listening to albums anymore?

That’s a loaded question. We are certainly in a niche, we are in a lane, we are a band that was never started to be everything to everybody, and we are in a niche that has a very loyal audience, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to work hard to reach those folks. I didn’t get into being a musician because I wanted to master the internet or master social media, but you don’t really have a choice about getting your hands dirty in all that. Our streaming numbers have gotten better with every record, our social media numbers are growing, our responses from folks is growing, album sales are growing and that’s all you can hope for. Folks need to remember this is a marathon, not a sprint, if you really want to do this right, and you want to have a career with longevity, you need to put your head down and do the work.

You are not going to get it right with every release, you are inevitably going to screw something up some time along the line on every album and every release. It is no different to any job, there is always a mistake or two to be made, but all you can do is learn from that, here’s how we fix that or here’s how we move forward, here’s how we do better next time. I don’t care if you are opening a bakery, working on Wall Street, or you are a musician, you still need to learn not just from your successes but also your failures and you need to put all that into your plan and keep moving forward. It is really tough to try and be in charge of everything all at once, to say here’s booking, here’s streaming, here’s socials, here’s product, here’s shows, but that is the job of any business owner. I think to be successful in this business, you will benefit from looking at it like a business.

At AUK, we like to share music with our readers, so can you share which artists, albums or tracks are currently top three on your personal playlist?

I’ve got a radio show here on an Akron station called The Americana Roundup, and it is two hours every Sunday morning, 9:00-11:00 ET and I do it even if I’m on the road, and during the pandemic I turned that into a 24 7 streaming channel. It is commercial-free, and it is all americana, country, folk, blues, bluegrass, and it is called Americana Roundup.Com and is free for people to listen to, and it is a passion project of mine. So I’m always, always listening to new music. I love the new album from Brit Taylor called ‘Kentucky Blue’, it is fantastic and it was produced by Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson. The new Band Of Heathens’ album ‘Simple Things’  is unbelievably good, and it has just hit number one on the Americana Chart. I’m a big fan of these two new albums as well, Robbie Fulks’ ‘Bluegrass Vacation’, I didn’t find this as necessarily so much a departure as him finally doubling down on this stuff and finally doing a whole album of it. Tommy Emmanuel’s ‘Accomplice Two’ is just great. I could go on for quite a bit more on what I’ve been listening to, but those four are probably my favourites at the moment. I’m really excited about the new Lucinda Williams album that is coming in June as well.

We live in a pretty wild time in this country, there are a lot of things that are trying to break us apart and divide us, and people aren’t as prepared to give others grace as they used to, but I believe there are only a few things that can bring people together more than the power of music. I believe it can bridge divides and heal hearts, it can help people change their mindsets, and it can save lives, I really believe that. I’m a huge advocate of music as therapy as well, for folks with dementia and what have you, and there are a huge number of studies that show what music can do. That is another part of why we do what we do. Life is too short, so let’s go out and do what we love and brighten someone’s day for a little bit. It should be that simple, all anyone wants is to live a good life and be happy and healthy, but that is a lot to ask for some days, and some folks aren’t that lucky. If we can be a little part of that and help some folks get through a bad day and put a little smile on their face no matter what is going on in their lives, or just give them a break to hang out and see a show and have some fun for a few hours, what more can you ask for. It does the same for us, whatever shit is happening in my life you go do a two-hour workout on stage and walk of feeling a little different than when you walked on.

Finally, do you want to say anything to our readers?

As I’ve said, we haven’t had a chance to come and visit yet, but we are really looking forward to it, we’ve had nothing but great feedback from the folks in the UK. A lot of folks have been supportive of the record in radio and the press. We just want to say thank you and hope you will stay with us, and we are going to keep following our mission statement and play good country-based roots music, and just hope to see everybody when we come over there.

I’m a huge fan of coloured vinyl so we did a couple of fun coloured vinyl variants for ‘Stampede’ which are available exclusively from our website.

The Shootouts’ ‘Stampede’ is out now and is an independent release.

About Martin Johnson 389 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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