By Brittany Maroney
Photos by Mark Morgan
Passion or ambition?
That was the one question that seemed to stump hometown musician Ryan Sims. The question asked Sims which trait is most important for a musician to have in order to make it to the big time – because so few do and so many dream of that rise to fame.
You may recognize Sims for his gigs at Harold’s Corral, Wasted Grain and Copper Blues. But long before those, Sims, like many musicians, has been navigating the tough industry that is a career in music. The hours are late, the pay is low, and the hard work is often thankless. Musicians must battle the vices that seem to come with late nights in bars and sacrifice the most basic of comforts when they tour on the road. The evenings are filled with heart-pounding live sets, and nights are spent dreaming of that one moment when the right label makes the perfect offer. That journey is one Sims has been on for some time, and it seems like he may be nearing his destination.
In April, Sims made an announcement that left his fans eagerly anticipating October. On Facebook, he posted a poignant letter thanking his supporters for their encouragement during his early days in the band EastonAshe and, most recently, with the Ryan Sims Band. He noted that the band would be on temporary hiatus, but there were plans to regroup in October, with exciting news.
“I couldn’t be prouder of what the Ryan Sims Band has accomplished,” Sims says. “But this was a dream come true.”
At the start of 2017, Sims was approached by Chart Attack/Universal Music Group to record what would be his second record deal. It was an exciting opportunity for the Cave Creek-based singer who had just recently rebounded from a tough year of personal challenges.
Even more exciting was the new league of talent this deal would put in place to support Sims’ portfolio of incredible soundtracks. Darryl Jones of the Rolling Stones was being approached to lay the bass track on the record, and Kenny Aronoff (the former drummer for John Mellencamp) was being scouted to lay the rhythm. Even more incredible, Canadian-born Justin Gray, who has collaborated with Mariah Carey, John Legend, Amy Winehouse, David Bisbal and James Bay, would produce the soundtrack.
With this announcement, Sims packed up his guitar and set course for Los Angeles, where he has spent the summer recording. Sims admits he finally feels like this may be his year. He’s ready for this album and ready for the next evolution of his career.
Sims’ forthcoming album, which is set to debut in October, is heavily influenced by his rock ‘n’ roll roots, but with the unique lyrical emotion of his previous country soundtrack. The singer-songwriter has long had a reputation for his unique blend of styles and genres, as well as for his captivating on-stage presence. With a voice that’s powerful yet emotional, Sims is excited to prove he is at the top of his game.
A Musical Journey
At an early age, Sims was influenced by a vast array of musical legends, from punk rock group Offspring to folk singer-songwriter James Taylor. Music spoke to him and he soon found a passion for performing. A self-taught guitarist, he began composing his own songs while at Cactus Shadows High School in Cave Creek. It was upon graduation that he started pursuing his future in music. In 2007, he founded Phoenix-based band EastonAshe and began touring nationally.
“EastonAshe really solidified my love for live music,” Sims says. “Every single show, we walked on stage and gave all of ourselves. We delivered energy and commanded attention. Every time we played, it was about honoring the cover song and listener. It was about making a deep connection and having people walk away with a truly exciting experience.”
EastonAshe quickly gained national recognition. Famous for their blend of original songs and cover music, they sold more than 10,000 copies of their debut album Can I Drive It. A year later, they won Independent Rock Album of the Year and back-to-back Performer of the Year at the LA Music/Hollywood F.A.M.E. Awards. Back home, Phoenix was not about to ignore its own local talent, and, in 2009, Sims received Singer/Songwriter of the Year at the Phoenix Music Awards.
His star seemed to be on the rise, when Poison frontman Bret Michaels phoned about a chance to appear on The X Factor. Sims vied at the chance to become a household name and made it all the way to the final 32 contestants.
Sims’ time on The X Factor landed him his next opportunity at The Song Factory in Nashville. The independent music publishing company – which has published the catalogs of numerous musicians including Lady Antebellum, Trisha Yearwood and Jon Pardi – recognized Sims’ musical talent but even more so, appreciated his tremendous songwriting abilities. He took a position as a writer, an opportunity to showcase his ability to bring songs to life while connecting with some of the best cowriters and artists in the industry. It was at this time he made the shift from rock ‘n’ roll to country.
“Transitioning to country music was a natural thing for me. Country music as a genre had been changing for a while; the narratives were becoming more meaningful and you started seeing more crossover in the composition,” Sims says. “There was now a natural fluidity and complexity that fit my style.”
This new sound landed Sims his first record deal with Nashville’s iconic House of Blues. There, he worked with some of the best in the industry, including the producer that launched the careers of Matchbox 20 and Collective Soul. A blend of rock-infused country, Sims wrote all but one of the songs on his self-titled debut album, and played alongside lead guitarist Jay Poole, bassist Ethan Newman and drummer Perry Sean. It was to be one of the best and hardest times of his life.
“I was facing a lot of personal demons, health issues and private heartbreak during those years,” Sims says. “My girlfriend had left me, and I had a serious surgery that left me in incredible pain and with an intense craving for painkillers. It was such a tough time. I tried not to let my mindset impact the music, but as a musician, those lines often get blurred. Sometimes I look back at those songs and I relive those experiences all over again.”
Sims took some physical and emotional recovery time to dive deeper into his songwriting than ever before. He wrote about pain, joy, realizations, heartbreak and the past. And for the first time in a long time, he started looking toward the future.
Past the rough times of earlier years and in the studio making music again, Sims has truly experienced the ups and downs of his profession, the heart wrenching feeling of personal defeat, and the rollercoaster of being on the verge of success. He has battled and defeated a tough addiction, healed after heartbreak, and now uses that pain to inspire audiences through his music. Through it all, he has stayed humble and passionate about his music and ambitious about his goals.
So, in regards to passion or ambition, Sims says, “I think you need both to survive this crazy industry. You need to balance them to get the best out of your career, and I think that neither guarantees that you get to the top. There are so many amazing musicians out there who never get the chances that I’ve gotten, and for those moments, I’m thankful. I really can’t wait to see what the rest of 2017 will bring.”
Sims’ album release party is scheduled for Oct. 14 at Harold’s Corral. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the show will include an EastonAshe reunion. Get the latest updates at www.ryansimsmusic.com.