Ryan Tennis: “Keep The Energy Up. The Crowds Just Wanna Dance!”
Ryan Tennis has traveled the world and brought back bits and pieces of things he encountered along the way. He’s incorporated various sounds and styles into a new album, The Easier Mile, which will officially be released Friday at his show at Milkboy.
We caught up with the globetrotting musician from South Philly and talked to him about his latest project.
Where you been? Haven’t seen new music from you in minute.
I’ve been on the road! One of my goals when I started playing was to be touring internationally, sharing my music with other cultures and learning from theirs. In the last couple years, that’s become a reality. I just returned from a six-city tour in Colombia, and on March 14th I’ll head out on tour again for a month in Argentina and six weeks in Europe.
Tell us about the tours in South America.
The energy of the people is incredible – the rhythm, the language, the dancing. There’s a warmth and a zest for life that rubs off on you, literally and figuratively. Colombians specifically are a lot more comfortable with physical contact, and personal space is not particularly important. The hospitality is also amazing. We’ve always felt so welcomed there, both by crowds and by the friends and families who have put us up and fed us while we’re traveling. The key with the shows is to keep the energy up. The crowds just wanna dance!
How did the relationship with El Caribefunk begin?
Three years ago I went to Colombia to visit my brother, Bronson, who was playing bass with El Caribefunk. I’d been hearing about this amazing group of guys for a long time, and the day after I arrived in their city of Cartagena, I had the opportunity to open for them.
The show went great, so they invited me to go on tour with them as the opener. For three weeks, we were sleeping two-to-a-bed in tiny rooms, cramming onto packed buses, putting together last-minute shows, busking on the streets, and figuring everything out as we went, but it was such an expansive time for me. I was totally immersed in Spanish and picking it up as I went. Even more, I was immersed in Latin music all day and night.
With the Caribefunk guys, every free moment was a moment to jam or write. I’d never experienced that kind of flow before, and from that first time I saw them perform, wheels were turning in my head about how to get them to the states.
Fast-forward three years and I’ve organized tours and hosted them at my house (the Clubhouse) for the last two summers, and with their help have toured three more times in Colombia and once in Argentina, with another tour their coming up in March. At this point we’re like brothers.
Are you still doing your house shows?
I am! In the 8 years since moving to South Philly we’ve hosted more than 70 Clubhouse Concerts with groups like El Caribefunk, Swift Technique, The West Philly Orchestra, Hezekiah Jones, De Tierra Caliente, Chris Kasper, Mieka Pauley, Devon Sproule and too many other great acts to name.
The crowds and shows have changed over the years – we’ve shifted towards more of a dancey, funky, world music vibe recently – but we’ve always had a foundation of warmth, openness and great music. We want people of all ages and backgrounds to feel welcome and comfortable being themselves when they’re here. My mom has helped a lot with this. Whenever she can, she works the door. She’s great at making people feel comfortable and welcome right when they walk in.
Who did you work with to create The Easier Mile?
I recorded The Easier Mile with Pete Donnelly (the Figgs, Soul Asylum, NRBQ) who I had worked with on a previous album. My group, The Clubhouse Band, and I have been busting our asses over the last few years playing clubs, tours, parties, even weddings and we’re really comfortable together. Pete is great at capturing the authentic, raw energy of music, so the recording process happened quickly and easily (which fits the title of the album I suppose).
This is also my most diverse album to date. Our live shows touch on a lot of styles and rhythms, and this album reflects that. We’ve got an Afro-Caribbean song, a cover of “Harlem” (a soul song by Bill Withers), some reggae, some folk. It’s the kind of album that’s going to keep you on your toes.
What can people expect from the release show on Friday?
You can expect all that variety but also you can expect to dance! We’ve got two great opening acts – Looseleaf and Chickabiddy. Then, we’ll play the album through. Afterwards, I’ll invite some friends and bandmates to sing some tunes. Then we’ll mix the closing set with some older originals and covers by our favorite artists (some Stevie, a little Bill Withers, maybe even some 90’s hip-hop), and we’ll play til we can’t play anymore.
Oh, and you can also expect to walk out The Easier Mile in your hands – everyone who comes will get a free copy!