First, his smile is slight, beginning at the corners of his eyes. A secret chuckle could be trapped beneath his eyelids. He seems almost mysterious, almost shy. Mischievous.
Brian Lovely, Ramsey's friend and album producer, describes him best: "A dark troubadour." Like the European romantics, Ramsey delivers poetic songs, but his approach attacks both the courtly and the shady sides of love.
Ramsey speaks slowly, letting syllables settle. With soft blue eyes, he squints, saying, "I was definitely the weird kid. I read Shakespeare for fun in high school. I never had guitar or piano lessons. I guess I play by ear."
Young Ramsey sneaked up to his grandmother's piano bench and borrowed his brother's guitar, discovering chord basics.
After joining various Rock groups, he says, "I got tired of different bands. Four of us would create music, then someone dropped out and we were back to square one again.
I decided I could do this on my own. In every band I was in, I was one of the predominant songwriters. I guess that's why it started to take this shape."
Soon, Ramsey met Phil Holt, a well-rounded drummer who studied World percussive instruments and Jazz.
"We did the acoustic thing for a while, and I was playing out every chance I could get," Ramsey says. He soon added bassist Benj Clarke (currently of Corday) until Clarke moved to California.
In 2006, Ramsey and guitarist/producer Lovely joined forces, recording Heaven's Dark Corners, Ramsey's debut solo CD. Studio musicians included Lovely (guitars), Chris Arduser (drums), Teddy Wilburn (drums) and Ricky Nye (keys). Lovely added a Gypsy Jazz undercurrent with layers of guitar riffs.
"When I listened to the early recordings and compared them to the finished CD, I could see that Brian definitely took the whole thing to a different level," Ramsey says.
Scouting for live musicians, Ramsey met Geoff Buckingham (bass), who he calls "the master of the low end." Holt handles percussion and Ryan Thompson plays guitar. Thompson has an extensive Jazz background and the delicate, precise skill needed for Ramsey's live sound.
Rather than bust out with a release party, Ramsey waited a year.
"I'm a perfectionist," he says. "I wanted the band members, everybody, to be on the same page. A lot of it was pulling off the guitar licks that Brian put in there and finding someone who could do it well and do it consistently and I found that in Ryan. I'm still thinking along the lines of having a full four-piece band again, one where everybody's writing."
Track one, "I Can't Get Enough of You Baby," begins with a slow-rolling, bluesy sound, then moves forward, gaining gritty momentum. With a hearty workup to intensity, by the time Ramsey calls out, "Lover!" the emotion feels hungrily out of control -- a surprising cry, an odd hope, an unexpected dawn. Here, Ramsey shines, starting with smoothness, then abandoning the ease, embracing the full release of crescendo play with cranked-up heart.
Influenced by bands such as Muse, Radiohead and Spoon, Ramsey says, "Shapeless Lover' reads like a traditional Irish poem. Many of the songs that come off as being dark are actually lyrically about uplifting things. Lyrics can make or break a song. One of my biggest influences is the band U2. The old stuff. But I go in spells. 'Wrecking Ball' was written when I was on a Hendrix kick."
"Wrecking Ball" is dark and raspy with muscle. Here, Ramsey's throaty voice resonates, giving a sense of sexy elusiveness.
"The majority of the songs on the album are about love relationships," he says. "Heaven's supposed to be this wonderful place ... but there are the dark corners that nobody talks about."
As for his future, Ramsey says, "I'd like to go as far as I can. The biggest thing right now is trying to do bookings, practicing and always writing new material. I'm pretty much a workaholic anymore, but I love what I do."
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