Studio Space: Ryan Culwell

STUDIO SPACE: Welcoming Scott Sumner 

We felt like there was one vital magical can’t-live-without-it piece of SPACES missing: MUSIC!  

And Scott Sumner’s just the person to make that magic happen! 

 We’re thrilled and honored to announce that Scott, a talented up-and-coming musician, singer, and songwriter in his own right, will be joining SPACES as an editor/contributor, introducing us to beautiful music, musicians, songwriters, and more in each issue. 

Be sure to also check out Scott’s TAKE FIVE page here at SPACES, running updated listings with recommendations for good listening, and artists you’re going to want to hear! 

 We’re so happy he’s here. Welcome to Studio Space.



(Interviewer: Scott Sumner, SS Editor for SPACES)


Ryan Culwell has tempered his songwriting craft in the isolation of his Texas Panhandle home for years and has only recently brought his Folk/Americana songs to the welcome arms of Nashville. His songs, which dive deep into the barren and rural landscapes of his homeland have been placed on the CWʼs Heart of Dixie and allowed him to share the stage with Need to Breathe, David Allan Coe, and countless Texas troubadours. After his 2012 independent release of Winter Wheat, Ryan found himself with an audience of seasoned Nashville songwriters including producer Neilson Hubbard. 2013 will see a full-length album produced by Hubbard, featuring guest vocals by Kim Richey.

Talking Music and Influences: Ryan Culwell

Scott:  Texas has such a rich musical heritage, especially in the styles of country and blues. There’s Nelson, Kristofferson, Townes, Guy Clark, Mickey Newbury, Lightnin’ Hopkins – so many monumental artists. Texans love their music and share a deep pride for their state. You’re from the small town of Perryton. Tell us what Texas means to you and how the panhandle shaped your views and way of living.

Ryan: It’s around 600 miles from my folks’ house in Perryton down to where all the music is in Austin. The panhandle shaped me by offering me isolation from that and just about everything else. I remember watching a VHS of Stevie Ray at Austin City Limits. It felt like I was watching an alien land in another country. I was intrigued, but it seemed like another world to me. I didn’t go to a concert ’til I was in my twenties. I was really into John Lee Hooker when I was 13 or so. Looking back, that maybe seems strange for a kid, but it makes total sense. I was just rebelling against my dad’s ZZ Top collection. There was no punk scene, no Sixth Street, and no bars. If I had access to whatever was happening in the rest of Texas, I may have been more affected by the trends. To me, Texas is about space.

I should mention that Woody Guthrie lived in Pampa, Texas for some time, and that’s only about an hour from my home.

Scott:  How old were you when you first took a serious interest in music? Who are your musical heroes?

Ryan: I heard Graham Nash sing Simple Man when I was 12 or so and I just about crumbled to the floor. For years I had this melody and this memory that I wasn’t even sure really existed. I searched everywhere for it. I didn’t hear it again ’til a few years ago when I was watching an Adam Sandler film, Reign Over Me. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Early on, I knew I wanted to reach people like that. Vocationally, I didn’t start taking music seriously until I realized that being an author takes too many decades of your life. I like the immediacy of music.

I listen to a ton of Dylan, Petty, the old Wallflowers records, John Lee Hooker, and I am a huge Ryan Adams fan. I just discovered Townes and Guy Clark a few years back. Sounds sacrilegious for a Texas guy, doesn’t it?

Scott:You released an album back in 2006, but it would be six years before you would once again debut new music. Fill in the gaps for us, if you will. What kind of impact did this time have on the songs that you would later pen? How have you grown as an artist between these records?

Ryan: I had two kids, and moved to Nashville. It’s like a nuclear event took place in the fabric of my day-to-day life. My heart changed, my zip code changed and my writing changed. I really envy all these younger writers with their sexy vibey songs, but I really don’t know what the hell they have to write about. I have had the good fortune of failing quite a bit and it has cracked open a much deeper well for me to pull from.

Scott:  Winter Wheat is full of words that cut at the core of the human condition. Your lyrics explore the boundaries of love, loss, desperation, hope, and fear. It seems that wheat, being a hardy crop, is an appropriate metaphor for the themes inhabiting your material. Do you make a conscious effort to strive for honesty in your songwriting? And although the writing process will forever be open to interpretation, do find more of your songs beginning lyrically and conceptually or melodically?

Ryan: Honesty might be all I have. Nobody is giving me awards for my vocal runs and I am not the second coming of Hendrix, so I am forced to tell the truth. I don’t really get the luxury of pulling any punches, and I am thankful for that. I initially wrote the chorus for Walking Away as, “I want to hold you a little bit longer, but you keep walking away.” It sounds like a love song, but it was BS. When I began to sing it, “…. but I keep walking away,” it hurt a lot more, but it was a statement I could live with. Honesty is greater than technical ability.

Scott:  There’s great fingerstyle playing on the record. How long have you had a relationship with the guitar?

Ryan: I grew up in a house full of guitars that I wasn’t supposed to touch, so I touched them all. I don’t remember life pre-guitars.

Scott:  On your Facebook page, you’ve listed Raymond Carver and Cormac McCarthy as two of your influences. Are you a lover of literature and how have these writers and their styles impacted your art?

Ryan: I got really into Carver my freshman year of college. I would read a story and then be thinking about the plot lines and controversies, but when I’d go back and re-read the stories I’d realize that none of that was really in his words. He was leaving out so much and just framing my thoughts. He’d just give you a chair, a fat guy, some blood on his forehead and say, “GO!” The reader would have to fill in the gaps. He could write twenty pages without explicitly touching the narrative and the reader would know exactly what was going on. That is all to say, I hopefully learned a lot about minimalism, save when it comes to interviews. I’d gush on about McCarthy for hours, but the internet is full of his praises already. And they are all true.

Scott: “For Better or Worse (or Worse)” is an excellent song. There’s the subtle brushing of the drums, a lap steel that floats and compliments your phrasing, welcomed harmonies, and just enough strings and bass. Talk about your time creating this music in the studio and the people that helped make it all possible.

Ryan: We cut the tracks at Myrmidon in Nashville and I could have used Nashville players on Winter Wheat, but the theme really called for players who could relate to the words and sounds of the Texas Panhandle. Josh Rogers and Colton Thomas were the rhythm section. They both live about a mile from the East Nashville studio, but are originally from Amarillo, Texas. Natalie and her brother Patrick Schlabs both flew in for the session. The Schlabs were on my first record and I couldn’t imagine making music without them. Josh Rogers called his buddy Justin Saunders in to play cello. Long story short, music is better with friends.

Scott:  You will be releasing a full-length record later this year. What can we expect? Touring? What goals have you set for yourself as you move forward from here?

Ryan: I just finished a full-length record with Neilson Hubbard and we hope to get it out later this year. Leading up to that I will be doing a few rounds of house shows and touring throughout the summer. Lord willing, I am planning on playing music as long as I can walk.

Scott: What is an album that you simply cannot live without?

Ryan: Damn the Torpedoes

Scott:  Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Ryan: There is a war in Mexico.


More from Ryan Culwell

Bluebird Cafe March 20th at 9pm with Amy Speace, Jim Photoglo, and Sally Barris