Music

Shiny Joe Ryan on democratic oddities and creative mateship

Shiny Joe Ryan is a happy enigma among Australia’s musical landscape.

One part psychedelic rock, one part folk (kinda, maybe?) – wrapped together with a keen sense of humour. Oddities that form together perfectly, when in theory, they really shouldn’t.

On his latest album, Shiny’s Democracy, Joe takes these contradictions to new extremes – resulting in an album that leans into its inherent corniness, to find the beauty within.

In light of his upcoming release, Happy got the chance to chat with Shiny Joe Ryan himself, to discuss ketty community collaborations, and what it means to live under Shiny’s brand of Democracy.

SHINY JOE: lemme just grab a beer!

HAPPY: Ayyee perfect! Let’s do it! What kind of beer is it?

SHINY JOE: Have you tried Green Beacon before?

HAPPY: Yes! It’s a gay drink in Sydney – it slaps! Alrighty shall we get into it?

SHINY JOE: Let’s!

HAPPY: Alrighty! I just wanted to say that I love Shiny’s Democracy. There’s so many amazing moving parts to this album and I’ve been obsessed with it. It’s psychedelic and intimate, and I’m just wondering how you knitted it together? It’s so intricate!

SHINY JOE: Yeah! We actually recorded it – a friend of mine he’s got a studio called ‘Tuna Fish Recording Company’, and we went up there. I’ve got a five-piece band, and I somehow managed to get Jay Watson and James Ireland from Pond to come with me. They’re super proficient at many, many instruments, and we tracked everything live basically. All the instrumentation, and all the basic songs, and we only had like two days in the studio and I had to bail and go on the Tame Impala tour across the states and the idea was during the year we’d come back to finish it off.

But then after our third show, which was at the forum in LA, COVID kinda hit, and all of the tour was cancelled and we got flown out the next day – evac ya know, go home quick. So, I just had a lot of time on my hands, and when I got home we had a four-week lockdown, and as it started to lift you were allowed to have one person over, so get one person over at a time… do some overdubs ya know? Then two people, so it’s like ‘alright, let’s get some harmonies going’ and then finally you’re allowed like five people, and you’re like ‘ok everyone come over’ we’ll grab a carton. We’re gonna knock out the harmonies and do all the bits and stuff’ so it was a lot of fun and definitely had a lot of time to pine over it – all the bits and bobs’.

But, I’d say it’s so awesome sounding pretty much because Jay Watson and James Ireland both are incredible at mixing songs and stuff. They sorta went ‘A, B’ and took turns mixing the albums for a bottle of wine each

HAPPY: (Laughs)

SHINY JOE: It was a nice bottle of wine! But I guess they were kinda just helping a mate out, but man, it sound so good, I’m really one happy man!

HAPPY: Yeah! It’s absolutely terrific, I’ve been listening to it on repeat!

SHINY JOE: I’m just glad you’re listening to it!

HAPPY: I think it’s interesting, I played Ketamine to my housemate and she wondered if there was a political element to the album? Is there something political binding this album together? Or am I projecting?

SHINY JOE: I don’t know if there’s one overall certain thing. Sorry I’m not really saying things! I find writing lyrics the hardest part of writing songs. I put it off to the end, and then usually I’ll have to have a few beers and possibly some whisky, and then it starts flowing out a little bit easier. I guess, I don’t really remember writing anything that was meant to be directly political, but I guess maybe just in my brain there’s a few phrases that pop out. And maybe because they sounded nice, and I was like, on a roll and going with it. But, I didn’t set out to write anything too political or anything, it’s more just like the name is so hilarious. Mainly because it took like seven long years to come out since my last album. And the old Guns N Roses man, they take the cake in 20 years, but it was just getting too long – it was getting ridiculous.

Jay Watson said ‘I’m sick of listening to you talk about it, just record it for Christ’s sake’, so that was good, I’m glad he did that!

HAPPY: Why did it take you so long?

SHINY JOE: I’ve been super busy! Not only with Pond, but also because Tame have become super active and touring all the time! And I road with Tame Impala for like the last seven years, so when you get like four weeks off in your home, and the first few weeks is like ‘see you everyone,’ and you just party!

And then, you’ve got like two weeks to maybe try get some musical creativity in. I’ve been taking guitar with me on tour, so it’s nice when you get a moment to strum away a few songs on the back of a semi-trailer! (laughs)

I don’t know, it’s just been very busy with Pond as well. I’ve been writing stuff, but I’ve never had the time to go and make an album! But yeah! Definitely got some time on my hands now! Maybe we can even start a third album, who knows!

HAPPY: Fuck, going in hot!

SHINY JOE: Are you excited for the Pond album? That’s gonna be out in October I think!

HAPPY: Yeah I’m really excited! I think we’re starting to get the pieces together for that! But, I’ve only been introduced to Pond recently, so I feel like a bit of a fake fan…

SHINY JOE: Nah that’s good man! It means you get to go deep diving in the back catalogue! At your leisure, of course.

HAPPY: Yeah, I love when you discover a new artist and there’s just a bunch of shit of out that you get to explore and you don’t have to wait for other stuff to come out!

SHINY JOE: I actually love that too! And I love when you introduce something to someone and they’re just like ‘oh! I wish I knew this before’ and you’re just like ‘go home! Go home right now and listen to this!’

HAPPY: (laughs) On that note, and I know this is a basic question but I always find it interesting, but were there any artists that you were listening to that sorta inspired or shaped Shiny’s Democracy?

SHINY JOE: Gosh! Speaking of just discovered – I just discovered Nick Cave. I heard the name for so long, and I’d seen Grinderman at Coachella and that was awesome, and sorta The Black Seeds – it was all a little theatrical for me for a while, but then Ghost team came out, and then my friend showed me Abattoir Blues and The Lyre of Orpheus, and I was just like ‘Oh man!’. It’s great because your tastes change, and I was like ‘I’m in now’ and now I’ve got so many records to go back and listen to! But I was definitely listening to a lot of Ghost team, and Abattoir Blues by Nick Cave.

I’d also been listening to a lot of Talking Heads as well, and that’s another band where you’ve heard their songs on popular radio, and you’d always hear that water song on your commercial radio, I’d never listened to the actual album, and the actual album is bloody amazing hey!

HAPPY: I’ve haven’t listened to the whole album either so I should get onto that.

SHINY JOE: Oh my god! It’s awesome, it’s so upbeat and just boogie around – it’s amazing! What else? I was getting back into Bank as well actually, after a long hiatus, back into Sea Change and The Information as well. So, a healthy kind of triangle there!

HAPPY: (laughs) I just wanted to ask, and you’ve touched upon this, but this album is so intricate and there’s so many gorgeous moving parts. I’m just wondering what the most challenging part of this album was, and what was something you pushed through with that eventually paid off?

SHINY JOE: The hardest part was starting, to be honest. I’d been putting it off for so long, and I finally booked time in the recording studio to do all the basic tracks, and I remember right up to the eve of going in, I was still trying to finalise like, structures, and rock up day two and be like ‘alright, we’re changing this song so everyone get out your pen and paper, cause I’ve added another forty chords!’ And also my band at the moment, they’re all my mates – and they’re all talented as heck – and they’ve recorded with people but never in that kind of situation.

They have like, myself, and Jay, and James Ireland, who are like, well not ‘old hands’, but we’ve been at the studio quite a bit with Pond and whatever else, ya know? So, they were just really excited, it was just a really exciting atmosphere because everyone was just happy and interested – it almost felt like we were doing something new. It feels strange and exciting for me because the buck kinda stopped with me.

Usually in Pond, as a group, you make decisions and it’s kinda safety in numbers. You’re a bit like ‘awwwww hopefully this works!’. I know there’s forty chords, but every chord is as important as the chord before it!

It was rewarding because it was, not stressful, and there wasn’t pressure either, but it was interesting that it was all kinda down to me, it was all happening because of me. It was lovely to have all my mates there, and just playing and having the best time ever.

Yeah! There was a lot of fear and stress, and then a lot of reward after that!

HAPPY: Yeah, I guess going from a group project to your own solo project must be a bit scary.

SHINY JOE: Yeah! Because my band members are just wonderful close friends of mine, unlike Pond, they’re not gonna be like ‘Joe that’s a shit idea! Save it for your solo project!’

HAPPY: (laughs)

SHINY JOE: But now they’re playing in my solo project, they would make suggestions and what not, and we’d explore every avenue, but it was just hilarious. An interesting experience for sure!

HAPPY: Yeah. So while I love Ketamine, I’ve also become obsessed Dad’s Hat – it just hits something good!  Can you maybe give some context on how it was created, just because it’s just so good.

SHINY JOE: Oh Absolutely! Well, it’s written about my old man, his name’s Gerrard, he was born in Brooklyn, and then some family tragedy happened and he had to go back to Ireland when he was in his teens. It’s kinda just… last time I was in Brooklyn I went to see his old place up in Prospect Park, was sorta walking around the neighbourhood. It was the first time I’d been in New York, it was just like a lot of families. You know how you see those big staircases in films, and there’s always families hanging out on those steps.

It kinda felt like for the first time in New York, because I’m always in the hustle and bustle of downtown, and it was kinda nice because I’d never experienced that part of a humungous city like New York before, it was cool!

I just pretty much wrote it about him. Following his roots back and talking about his morals. When we immigrated to Australia, he’d always give other Irish people who came out to Australia a start. Be like ‘oh this guy, I know him from Ireland, he’s a bricklayer. Now, this is how you lay bricks’ ya know? It’s pretyy much about him.

I said to mum, ‘I’ll write one about you on the next one’ but it all came quite naturally, and it was nice too, I love Irish music being from Ireland myself – so I got to play a bunch of tin whistles, and that kinda stuff on there so it was lovely to go into that. Do you ever listen to The Pogues? 

HAPPY: Yeah yeah!

SHINY JOE: Yeah! So I got drunk one night, and gave it a fucking Shane MacGowan.

And then I drew the line between that being too far, and then me singing timidly, so I found somewhere in the middle. But there’s a take where I’ve definitely had some whisky and I was like ‘and a FUCKING…’

HAPPY: (laughs) 

SHINY JOE: So it’s a kind of mixture of a Pogues song, with some Irish instruments, and then being about my dad. So, for the first time – I was telling you before how lyrics are the hardest part for me to write because I pine over them, thinking they’re too basic or whatever – but that one was easy, not easy, but it came out quite well and I really enjoy it too!

HAPPY: Thank you, that’s beautiful! That sorta wraps all the questions I had, is there anything you wanna add in there, or anything I haven’t touched upon that you think is important?

SHINY JOE: Gosh no! You’ve had wonderful questions, thank you!

HAPPY: Stop it! Thank you so much! Have a good day Joe and be safe!

SHINY JOE: You too!

Shiny’s Democracy is on July 23, pre-order the album here!

Interview by Mike Hitch

Photos Supplied