An Interview with Ryan Humbert of The Shootouts

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Image Credit: Jamie Escola

The Shootouts’ deep love of traditional country music forms the bedrock of their signature sound. Lead singer Ryan Humbert grew up surrounded by the genre, listening to its songs with his parents and grandfather. Classic country, bluegrass, and gospel songs were among the first that he learned to play on the guitar.

Similarly, vocalist Emily Bates spent her younger years singing harmony with her dad in their old pickup truck and eventually became a member of a bluegrass band in college. And while lead guitarist Brian Poston had been in a wide array of bands throughout his early days, he was mostly drawn to the flashy guitar styles of western swing.

Despite their steadfast devotion, the band actually formed by accident. When Humbert met Poston, the two bonded over their mutual love for all things classic country. After toying with the idea of starting a traditional country band for nearly a year, they finally played their first show in October of 2015. That first performance hit Humbert like a bolt of lightning. 

Alongside the sweet blend of Humbert and Bates’ voices, Bullseye showcases Poston’s phenomenal guitar work and the airtight rhythm section of bassist Ryan McDermott and drummer Dylan Gomez. Bullseye also features special guest “hired guns” Al Moss on pedal steel guitar and acoustic guitar, Mead on harmony vocals and acoustic guitar, Renae Truex on fiddle, and Micah Hulscher (Margo Price) on Hammond organ and piano.

Most of all, The Shootouts mission with Bullseye was simply to create an album that puts a smile on listeners’ faces — music that helps them escape from the difficult times they’ve recently faced. 

Bio courtesy of www.shootoutsmusic.com

Andrew:
Ryan, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This last year has been rough? How are you holding up?

Ryan:
Boy, in hindsight, “rough” is an understatement when referring to 2020, isn’t it? What a strange time in human history. Those of us in the US have had the added bonus of dealing with a pandemic AND political and social unrest. Strange days indeed.

I also realize that the fact that I’m even doing this interview right now means that I’m fortunate enough to be healthy when so many others haven’t been as lucky. Throughout all this, I’ve found ways to keep myself busy – between working on the new album, renovating my old farmhouse, and turning my radio show into a 24/7 streaming station (americanaroundup.com), I’ve been thankful for the extra time. I just wish it wouldn’t have come at the cost that it has for so many people.

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway?

Ryan:
My musical backstory starts with three people: my grandpa Ron, my late mother Judy, and my dad Mike. My dad’s immense record collection and my mom’s love of country radio in the 90s is really what sparked my interest. I picked up a guitar in high school and never looked back. When I was first learning how to play, I’d sit with my grandpa in his basement and play old country, bluegrass, and gospel tunes while he sang. My love for the traditional forms of Country music runs deep.

Andrew:
As a band, who are some of your earliest and most important influences? How did you develop your signature sound?

Ryan:
The band wouldn’t exist had I not met Brian Poston (The Shootouts guitarist) back in 2013. We were introduced by a friend and ended up bonding over our mutual love of traditional, classic country. While knocking around together with another musical project, we would lament the current state of affairs in bro-country and toss around the idea of going out and performing country music on our own terms. We finally decided to give it a shot, totally as a passion project – a fun side project, even. We recruited our drummer Dylan Gomez and played our first show in October of 2015. From the downbeat of the first song, I felt like I was struck by a bolt of lightning. By the end of that show, I knew there was no looking back.

Since that show, our signature sound has evolved into a big melting pot of the various forms of country music that we’ve always loved – Countrypolitan, Honky-Tonk, Americana, western swing, Bakersfield, and more. On top of that, it’s filtered through our own Ohio “Rustbelt” roots. It’s been refreshing for us to play this music and put ourselves into these classic sounds.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about your 2019 album Quick Draw, which was also the group’s debut. What was the inspiration for the album? Tell us about the recording process.

Ryan:
That record was truly a blast to make. We recorded in Brooklyn, New York, and worked with guitarists Jim Campilongo and Luca Benedetti producing. They were so influential in helping us shape the sound of that first album and solidifying our sound as a band too. They both have a deep knowledge of the genre and really taught us so much about presenting our songs correctly. Even now, when we are working up new songs, we’ll say, “What would Jim and Luca do?” And, of course, a Country band recording in NYC makes total sense, right?

The Shootouts Release Sophomore Album "Bullseye" | Grateful Web
The Shootouts – Bullseye (2021)

Andrew:
You’ve got a new record out in 2021 well. Tell us about Bullseye. How would you compare the recording process this time around to the process of your debut?

Ryan:
Yes! We are so excited about Bullseye. The thing that I’m most excited about is that it shows different sides of The Shootouts sound that we may have missed with Quick Draw. For example, there were no songs in any minor keys on that album. Also, no hard Country shuffles. We looked at songs for this record that would play well with the songs from Quick Draw in a live setting. I think Bullseye finds us a little leaner and meaner than Quick Draw did. Maybe it’s a sign of the times.

Andrew:
Where can we get the album, and what formats will it be on?

Ryan:
We’re releasing the album on all digital platforms, as well as CD and two different colors of limited edition vinyl – translucent aqua and “Rattlesnake Whiskey” brown swirl. That one is named after a song on the album!

Andrew:
Let’s talk about the production of your new record Bullseye. I know that Chuck Mead was your producer, right? What was that like? How did Chuck help you hone your sound? Do you feel you captured the true essence of the band with your newest record?

Ryan:
Working with Chuck was a real honor. We’ve been fans of his for a long time, so we were excited when he was interested in working with us. When we started the Shootouts, BR5-49 was definitely a major influence. Hell, I think we even learned half a dozen of their songs. He was really a great fit for us. He just got it. Much like with Jim and Luca, he brought so much knowledge of the genre to the table. He was honest yet encouraging — a great cheerleader. That enthusiasm can be contagious and so helpful in a studio setting.

Chuck’s longtime friend “Cowboy” Keith Thompson engineered, and we cut live in his studio. I think you can hear that energy in the recordings. It’s a real band playing real instruments together. You just can’t convincingly replicate that feeling any other way.

We started the album on March 8, 2020, and by the time we were done eight days later, the pandemic had set in, and the world was drastically changing for everyone. We were watching it play out on our cell phone screens during the whole making of the record. It was very surreal. When we started the album, had someone told us things would be so different eight days later, I don’t know if I would have believed it. Who knew?

Andrew:
You’ve had the opportunity to share the stage with the likes of Marty Stuart, Jim Lauderdale, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sheryl Crow, and more. What has it been like having the opportunity to share the stage with so many amazing artists?

Ryan:
There is something to be learned from every one of those experiences. It’s like taking a master’s class. It’s really amazing to be able to see them do what they do best from behind the scenes. How can it not inspire you? We’ve been fortunate to open for some of our favorites, and we’re always thankful for their kindness and advice.

Image Credit: Jamie Escola

Andrew:
What is the artistic vision for The Shootouts going forward? How has it changed since you started? How have you evolved?

Ryan:
I don’t think our mission statement of playing true Country music will ever really change. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the types of country music we present won’t change as we grow as a band, but that overall statement will always be at the heart of what we do. I wouldn’t expect a Shootouts MMetal record or anything like that. Ha!

Andrew:
The band was nominated for an Ameripolitan Music Award for “Best Honky-Tonk Group.” How gratifying was that for you as a band?

Ryan:
To get that nomination on the heels of our very first album was really gratifying. The fact that there were folks out there that understood us and felt that we deserved to be recognized made us feel good about the musical path that we’re on. We’re definitely left of center from today’s modern country music, and meeting so many like-minded folks at the Ameripolitan Music Fest and Awards was exciting and gave us another place to call home.

Andrew:
Tell us about your songwriting process. Do your lyrics come from a personal place, or are you merely telling stories, so to speak?

Ryan:
I can’t say I have a set way of writing. Sometimes the lyrics come first, sometimes the music or hook. Inspiration can come from so many places. It’s hard to describe sometimes. There are certainly songs that are just fun country stories, but there are definitely songs on our records that come from an extremely personal place.

On the last album, that song was “California to Ohio,” a song that shares the true story of my Grandpa’s cross-country hitchhiking trek to see my Grandma in 1953. On this album, it’s “Another Mother,” a song I wrote to honor my mother Judy, who passed away suddenly at the age of 64 in November of 2018. I wrote it to remind people not to take that relationship – or any relationship really – for granted.

We all deal with a lot of shit on a daily basis: the good and the bad. Sometimes beautiful art blooms from tragedy. Turning these life-changing memories and moments into a song is just another form of grieving and healing, and in turn, you hope they can help others as well.

Andrew:
Touring is usually a huge part of a working band’s proverbial machine, but as we know, COVID has disallowed it. What do you miss most about touring?

Ryan:
I miss meeting fans after the shows. I miss the van rides with the band, talking about music and movies. I miss soundcheck and getting a feel for what that night’s show might bring. I miss winning over a rough crowd. I miss the onstage smiles when everyone is firing on all cylinders together. There’s so, so many little things to miss about it all. I hope we can get back to it soon.

Image Credit: Jamie Escola

Andrew:
On the subject of touring, indie venues were in trouble before COVID, and they definitely are now. I’ve seen and heard about places shutting down for good all over. With companies like Ticketmaster strangling the market and bands unable to tour and generate revenue for these places, what do you think the post-COVID landscape is going to be like out there?

Ryan:
Well, first and foremost, I don’t think Livestream shows are going away anytime soon. It’s such a different animal, but it’s a great way to connect with people who might not get a chance to see you otherwise. The music industry was really dealt a crushing blow with this pandemic, but I think if any industry will be able to bounce back, it will be the concert industry. When you go see a show, the band is only a small part of the equation. There are so many people involved in making each night a success. I think folks have been using this downtime to learn how to pivot so we can all hit the ground running when it’s safe to do so. There’s just nothing that comes close to that experience of a great in-person, live performance. That will never go away for the musicians or the fans.

Andrew:
Are you into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital? Where do you like to shop for music?

Ryan:
I am still a huge fan of physical media. As somebody who hosts a radio show, and now has his own radio station, I want to be able to dig deep into the liner notes and talk about the behind-the-scenes aspects of an album. That is definitely harder with the digital format. There’s no sense of ownership or pride in purchasing an album that you were excited about and then getting to hold it in your hands. Of course, I’m forced to use digital formats all the time, but as a listener I really prefer vinyl right now.

About two years ago, I really got into colored vinyl. I went to school for graphic design, so everything about it appeals to me — the oversized artwork, the individuality of each colored pressing, listening to music differently – it’s all a part of the vinyl experience. I really enjoy putting on an album and listening straight through. It helps draw you back in. That’s something that often gets lost in the digital world.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you, and why?

Ryan:
I think the three most influential records to me are Wildflowers by Tom Petty, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams, and I Feel Alright by Steve Earle. I discovered all those albums when I was in high school, and they live with me very strongly to this day. They all embody so many different parts of American music – Rock, Country, Blues, Folk. It really set me on a long path into the Americana genre. Which, of course, includes mountains of traditional Country and Roots Rock.

Andrew:
Who are some of your favorite artists? Ones that mean the most to you.

Ryan:
Where to even begin? Outside of the three artists named above, I’m a huge fan of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Nick Lowe, Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, the Mavericks, George Strait, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Bruce Springsteen, Roger Miller, Sheryl Crow, REM, Harry Nilsson, and so on and so forth. So many influences across so many genres. I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m just a big music nerd.

Andrew:
Last question. What advice would you have for young artists just starting? How do they stay afloat in a world that seems to be so abhorrent to creatives?

Ryan:
Life is too short: follow your dreams even when others might try to dissuade you. You’re going to hear “no” ten times more than you’ll hear “yes,” and that’s okay. Dust yourself off and keep moving. Do it because it’s the only thing you know how to do. The old saying is true: find something you love doing, and you’ll never work a day in your life. Not all of us are that lucky, but you’ll never know unless you give it your best shot.

Image Credit: Jamie Escola

Interested in learning more about The Shootouts? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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