Ryan Kinder Chases Risky Business With Soulful Single 'Close'
The new country artist draws on Hootie, Kenny Wayne Shepherd in unique single.
Most successful people can point to at least one or two moments in their lives that led to their winning stature, and invariably, those moments required them to jump off a proverbial cliff, not knowing how their future would unfold.
Taking risks is one of the most important actions in a life well lived, particularly for creative people. Those who complain their life has grown stale often admit that they have stopped taking chances.
“Now,” says Warner Bros. recording artist Ryan Kinder, “is the best time to start.”
Risk is central to “Close,” a new Kinder single that shipped to radio via PlayMPE on Nov. 11, 2016. In this instance, it’s about taking a shot at the next level in a potential romance. There’s only way to find out if it will result in a relationship, and that’s for one of the parties to suggest moving forward.
“I didn’t want it to sound like a hookup song, because it’s not,” says Kinder. “It’s more about enjoying the moment and enjoying each other. We don’t have to put a label on it — let’s just have a good time together.”
Chasing the unknown is how “Close” became a song in the first place. Kinder and songwriter-producers Jeremy Stover (Justin Moore, Drake White) and Lindsay Rimes (LoCash) had never written as a trio before meeting up on May 31, 2016, in Room 2 at the Sony ATV Fire Hall in Nashville. None of them walked into the room with a specific idea about what they might create, but there was a possibility something might emerge if they gave it a chance.
“Close” began from an alternating two-chord progression — a one-major and two-minor, as they’re known in Nashville studio parlance — that mixed a little Memphis soul with a Hootie & The Blowfish, ’90s pop/rock guitar tone.
“I get a very distinct Rob Thomas character from Ryan’s vocal, so I thought a guitar-driven, rock/country song in the vein of Matchbox Twenty would suit him really well,” says Rimes. “I think that’s where he can place himself, vocally and stylistically, in country, because I don’t think anyone else is really doing that.”
Kinder and Stover had a conversation going against that sonic backdrop that bred both the hook line and the crucial setup phrase “We might not fall in love, but we can sure come close.”
“Once we had that, and we had the guitar-hooky thing, the song wrote itself pretty fast,” notes Stover.
They attacked the chorus first, establishing the risk/reward theme with an Olympic sports analogy: “Baby, we can chance it/First kiss, land it/Diving off the edge/Baby, going all in.”
After that section was completed, they returned to the starting line, knowing where the verse was headed. They established the one-word title, “Close,” as Kinder sang the opening word, leading to a series of descriptions that supported it: “Close, like a little strap to your shoulder/Close, like you’ve been since you slid over.”
“We kind of played with the word ‘close,’ going back and forth with every iteration of the word,” says Kinder. “It wasn’t necessarily about word play, but just having some fun with the word.”
In the process, they found the sweet spot in Kinder’s voice. The key points in the chorus all coincided with the best part of his range, and words that he sang with a bite — such as “fly,” “might,” “now” and “down” — came at the ends of phrases, emphasizing his uniqueness.
“I’ve learned in the past couple of years that people gravitate toward certain words that I happen to sing, probably because of my lack of enunciation,” says Kinder with a laugh. “I don’t know what it is, but I’ve kind of tailored and gravitated toward the vowels in certain words that really sit in the pocket at the right time in a song.”
That unique enunciation is a potential asset. Jason Aldean, Elton John, Reba McEntire and REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin are but a handful of the vocalists who owe some of their identifiability to their unusual phrasing. Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” was a hit, in part, because of the way Tyler Hubbard sings “Baby, you a sowng.”
During the writing session, Kinder came up with a guitar solo for the demo that Rimes produced, leading with a sort of shriek, followed by a revolving melody.
“It’s got a real stylized kind of vibe to it,” says Rimes. “It’s not just a standard kind of Nashville solo. It’s got a little pitch-shifting on it. It’s very Ryan.”
And Kinder perfected that solo for the final product, using an Electro-Harmonix POG2 guitar effect that he associated with Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
“I’ve always wanted to use that on a record,” says Kinder, “so I put that on there and stacked some weird reverb on it, and it came up with that sound.”
Copperman dropped the tempo down just a hair for the tracking session at Black River Studios and pared back on some of the intricacy of Rimes’ demo, giving one rhythm guitar particular prominence in the mix. The two-chord format also provided a minor stumbling block.
“We had to really make sure when we were mixing that each section has its own little deal and keep changing it,” says Copperman.
Some of the changes were built in during the writing session. The phrasing morphs from drawn-out, airy lines in the verses to more wordiness in the chorus, which also hits a higher part of Kinder’s range. But they also changed the chord progression a bit in the middle and end of the song, altering the original chords by one note each after the first verse. It helped advance the sound, even if it’s imperceptible to most ears.
“It made it feel bigger than sitting on the same two chords the whole time,” says Kinder.
Between its groove, the unorthodox guitar solo and Kinder’s singular vocal sound, “Close” stood out as a song worth betting on as a single. And if its embrace of risk inspires listeners to take some chances in their own lives, so much the better, though there are some limits. The writers are not, for example, necessarily advocating for people to quit their jobs without a plan.
“Just chase the girl,” deadpans Rimes. “That might be the simpler option.”
They are, however, supporting taking a risk on Kinder himself.
“It’s exciting being on something that could help me move Ryan forward,” says Stover. “He’s such a talented guy. I’m looking forward to hearing it on the radio.”