Exclusive Song: Ryan Star's "Breathe"
There are any number of paths to stardom, each with its own quirks, frustrations and potential. No one knows this better than Ryan Star, whose rise kicked off when he competed in the 2006 CBS reality show "Rockstar: Supernova." But this breakthrough came after years of hard work in the business, first as a member of Maverick Records-signed band Stage, then as an independent solo artist playing the downtown NYC club circuit. A former Billboard Underground artist, Star has had his music featured prominently across network television, toured with "American Idol" champ David Cook and released the Billboard Heatseekers-charting EP "Last Train Home" in June. Here, Billboard.com exclusively debuts "Breathe," from Star's upcoming full-length album "11:59," due later this year from Atlantic.
We're debuting "Breathe" on the new Billboard.com - what inspired you when writing this song?
For me the beautiful thing about music, even songs I grew up listening to versus listening to them now, is that they change. It's like your fifth grade teacher telling you "read Animal Farm again when you're older, it will mean more." And that's what music does to me. I recall having a moment, and it was probably pretty literal to the idea of what the song says in its lyrics, but now it has a new meaning for me every night because people come up to me and share some intense things that are going on with their life and how the song has touched them... The song has had its own meaning for me. I played it at a friend's funeral when I first wrote it, so it's been this really intense song for me since the beginning. But it's more exciting when I get to share it with people, and the meaning is far gone from where it started.
Why did you decide to release the "Last Train Home" EP in advance of the album, instead of giving fans everything at once?
I was working on the full album while finishing the tour [with David Cook], but all these songs happened to get out there -- I wrote this song "Brand New Day" for the show "Lie To Me" on Fox, "Right Now" got picked up for promos for "The Philanthropist" [on NBC], and then ESPN used it a lot, and then "This Could Be the Year" got picked up for the Super Bowl. So I have all these fans I'm making, and these fans have stuck with me a long time, and it felt like, "Why are you giving your music to TV people in suits, and we can't get a hold of it?" I got to the point where I'd heard it so much, I thought let's put all these songs that have gotten out there to the world, let's put them on an EP so people can get full versions of the things they had been getting teasers of. But the good news is the album has plenty more songs... It ranges from me on the piano alone to songs with a full-out rock band. Where does the album title 11:59 come from, and what are some of the main themes that connect the songs?
The album is kind of made up of moments, they're all these snapshots of life-there's a song called "Wake Up," one called "This Could Be the Year," one called "Right Now," even "Brand New Day," -- all these ideas that were time-oriented in the sense that there was an urgency to them. I have a song called "11:59," and that number, whatever it stands for, the time of day, the year, that moment in life when people do take notice, and they breathe and say, "Ok, where am I?" and they kind of assess.
Just a few years ago you were one of our Billboard Underground artists, then you went on "Rock Star: Supernova" and everything took off. Are there any really stand-out lessons you've learned from gaining national exposure so quickly?
[The show] scared the hell out of me. But it also made me think, my goal here is to get in front of as many people as possible, so if I take all the stereotypes out, if I take all the fear out of what would happen if I did such a show, at the end of the day I'm just getting in front of people. So somehow, I don't know how, I came out of that experience well intact. I think it's because I had a lot to live up to. Being from New York and having all my hipster friends, I knew I had to come home and play the clubs that I'd always played downtown. I think that kept me on the level of, "You gotta be yourself here, you can't play the game too much, because if you go home tomorrow you have to be yourself." It turned out that I was the only guy from the show to get a record deal and I think it was because of that and all the hustle that I'd done beforehand. Now I get to make the record that I wanted to make, take the time, and it's great to get what I feel is a real shot.