Yarmouth’s Ryan Cook finds his way back to country

With so many of today’s pop and country music stars chasing dreams of stardom rather than staying true to what they were raised upon, Yarmouth, N.S. singer-songwriter Ryan Cook is a treat for the ears. Not only does the humble singer have an excellent new record out, Peaks & Valleys, Cook has chosen to embrace his past rather than running from it.

Cook will be celebrating the release of his new record with a show tonight at Plan B Lounge on St. George St. starting at 10 p.m. Cook will also be performing a 7 p.m. show at the Moncton Press Club on Assomption Boulevard. Both shows are restricted to those 19 years of age and older.

A 2008 Music Nova Scotia winner for the Country/Bluegrass Recording of the Year, it may surprise you to know that Cook was a veteran of punk and heavy metal bands from the time he was 14 until the time he turned 23. As a teen, the fact that his family had heartily endorsed country music was one big reason for Cook’s initial pushback against wanting anything to do with the genre. It would take Cook’s part-time job at a nursing home while he was in college to turn him back towards country music.

“There were kids in high school that liked country music but the big reason why I hated it so much back then was because of the fact I grew up around it. It’s like if your parents listened to it, it is a natural thing as a teen to want to rebel against that. I never would have predicted in a million years that I would have listened to country music let alone travel around writing and performing it,” he says.

“At our show in Montreal, we played at this rockabilly club and in attendance were a lot of the same types of people that I would have hung around in high school. The fact that those people bothered to show up made it a really interesting, full-circle kind of moment for me.”

And yet Cook’s unexpected pursuit of country music has allowed him to share the concert stage with the likes of Taylor Swift, Sammy Kershaw and Brandi Carlile over the past four years. Not bad for a guy who could have just as easily gone down a different musical path.

“Honestly, none of the events of the past four years have really sunk in yet,” Cook says. “I’m so wrapped up in everything, I haven’t really had the chance to look up and take everything in.”

“From an outside perspective though, I wish I had the ability to see my career progression from my grandparents’ view; they were the ones who introduced me to country music and are really the reason I know about country music. They gave me my first guitar, which I have on the road with me now. When they were alive, I sang in a hardcore heavy-metal band and they didn’t live long enough to see me get into country music. I think it would have been an incredible thing for them to see me open for someone like Sammy Kershaw.”

Cook says that performing live is virtually second nature to him, having taken on more than 150 shows per year over the past four years, all without the benefit of a booking agent or manager securing his opportunities.

“I’m kind of taking the long way around, I guess. I am constantly going. I would rather do that than to sit around and wait for the phone to ring.

“But because of all of the traveling I have done, even though the distances aren’t always far, it lends a lot to the most amazing geographical and story-based beginnings to a lot of my songs. A lot of the songs on Peaks and Valleys are very literal; most of the stories on my record aren’t true but the characters are made of people that I have met along the way. That’s kind of fun for me.”

Asked for his thoughts on the Canadian country music scene, Cook admits that he doesn’t yet feel safe considering himself to be a part of it and doesn’t quite know where he belongs within the context of that scene.

“I believe that my music can definitely appeal to the people who enjoy Canadian country music; I can work those crowds. They seem to be into what I am doing but it is not where I am; my material will always be a little left field in that respect.”

Regardless of where Cook does or doesn’t fit in within Canada’s country music scene, he brings to light the fact that many Canadian country music artists are big in Canada and Canada alone. But even with bringing such a fact to light, Cook is still looking forward to the day that he may be accepted as a country music artist by his Canadian peers.

“I think that I would like to be a part of that circle some day although I don’t know if I would be accepted nor do I really know if it is the best place for me. I think that a lot of this stuff has yet to happen so perhaps it is just a matter of patience until we all find out where I am going to settle.”

Given country radio’s penchant for polished sounds, the format typically shuns traditional leaning artists, meaning Cook could be in for a prolonged fight yet.

“If there is even the slightest chance that a radio listener tunes into a country radio station, hears my song and thinks ‘This isn’t like everything else I hear,’ there is a very good chance that listener will change the dial and not come back. Country radio doesn’t want to risk alienating anyone; any station’s biggest fear is that they will lose advertising dollars. It isn’t about the music at all.”

Article published in December 3, 2010 edition of the Times & Transcript