Have you ever found yourself stopped at a red light, blasting the SNC (which gets you funny looks from all around), and kind of daydreaming? Yeah me too. Have you ever found yourself saying “I wonder if….” and then some crazy question about Straight No Chaser gets stuck in your mind? Yup, Guilty as charged. Well Megan and I couldn’t hold all these questions in our brains anymore (mainly because we needed room for the Earth Science info), so we wrote them down one day. I vaguely recall one of us mentioning “wouldn’t it be great if we could get these answered?” Well why couldn’t we? I asked permission and for a little help from Ryan to get the questions answers and he so graciously took some of his precious down time to answer these questions for us. While admittedly the idea to keep these all to myself has crossed my mind on several occasions, the teacher in me knows that I need to practice what I preach and share them. (Besides what kind of chaser would I be if I didn’t! Not one that would be welcomed to ChaserCon LDW 2011 that’s for sure! BTW, LOVE that group, it’s amazing.) Ryan did mention that he sent the list of questions we sent him over to the other guys, but he hasn’t received any answers back (We completely understand, and totally think the guys deserve this time at home to be with their families and friends without Chasers hassling them and if they don’t want to be bothered by us, no offense taken!)
So without further adieu, I would like you to enjoy a little Q&A with the one and only Ryan Ahlwardt :)
Why did you choose to audition for Straight No Chaser at IU?
My Mom and sister were/are members of the same sorority and the original SNC sang at a Mom's Weekend dinner at IU that they both attended. Knowing that I was into music and singing in high school, my Mom bought the original SNC's album (the "purple" one for anyone lucky to have it out there!) and I was hooked. Mike and I sang in a trio with a friend of ours (National Anthems at football/basketball games, the occasional serenade at a dance, etc.) and we reached out to SNC to borrow some arrangements. Randy (who received my posting) was in charge of the website at the time and got me in touch with Walt, who encouraged me to not only enjoy the arrangements but come down and audition for the group. I knew I was going to IU, as did Mike, so we auditioned (along with two friends from our choir who were more on the fence about where they were attending college). That was the early part of 1999 as I recall (Jan/Feb maybe) and Mike and I spent the good part of our last semester of our senior year driving 2-3x/week back and forth from Indy to Bloomington to rehearse with the original guys. Our first concert (their last, as it turned out) was in April of 1999 and is the concert that is featured on the original group's "Live at Alumni Hall" album.
What did you actually major in at Indiana University?
Per my sister's encouragement, I pursued a marketing degree in the business school (that was her major and she thought I'd do well in it). I liked being in the business school and really learned a lot. On one hand, I'm glad that I wasn't a music major because I saw a lot of my friends get burned out in the program (which is ranked one of the best in the world). A lot of them lost their passion for performing the more they had to study it on an academic level. SNC was a great outlet for me and I felt well-balanced in that regard. On the other hand, however, I sometimes wish I took all the theory, composition, and music history classes then; in many regards I learned how to arrange for a cappella just by being in SNC. Much of the theory I've learned since college has been through teaching, writing, and arranging; it was kind of B then A for me in that regard, for lack of a better term.
Where is your favorite place you’ve traveled to so far?
My favorite place that I've visited - touring with SNC, at least - is probably Portland, Oregon or London. Really anything in the Pacific Northwest gets me excited when I see it on our tour routing. We made a stop at Crater Lake in Oregon a couple tours ago and it was one of the most beautiful places I've seen in my life. Portland has such a cool vibe to its downtown area and everyone there is laid-back. London has the history that our country simply doesn't have because we're so young; all the old churches and side-streets are cool to wander around in, too. Going to New York is always an experience, too; there's always something to do and it's really easy to get around.
Do you have any pet peeves while you are on tour?
Pet peeves...hmmm. We're around each other so often that you just get used to people always being around. That's the blessing and curse or constantly being surrounded; you're always with your close friends but you're also rarely ever alone to just breathe and get away from it all. We - especially those of us who are married - have to carve out time to get away and focus on staying connected back home, even more so when we're on tour for so long. Everyone respects each other's personal space, though, which helps. I guess my main pet peeve is when the cap on the bottle of honey backstage or on the bus is unscrewed and loosened (guilty parties shall remain nameless...) and the whole thing is just a sticky, gross mess to have to handle when all I want is a delicious peanut butter and honey sangwich.
If you had to listen to one song on repeat for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
I simply can't narrow down all the music I like into one song, but I'll name a handful that I can always listen to, how about that? Copperline (James Taylor), Not For Me (Chet Baker), Reminiscing (Little River Band), all of Rubber Soul or Revolver (Beatles), Shape of My Heart (Sting), Wouldn't It Be Nice or God Only Knows (Beach Boys), Restless (Allison Krause & Union Station), So Cool (Take 6), Wildflowers (Tom Petty), Sir Duke (Stevie Wonder)...the list goes on. Right now I'm really into Brandon Heath's new album (Leaving Eden).
If you could meet any musical influence you’ve had (living or non-living), who would it be?
Meet in passing: I bet Sting would be a cool guy to meet on the street. In-depth conversation (perhaps complete with genuine freak-out moments, maybe some weeping): Paul McCartney, James Taylor. I'd say John Mayer, too, but I'd be afraid that my wife would spontaneously combust from excitement.
What was is like the first time someone asked you for your autograph?
The coolest time I got asked for my autograph was after the month I spent playing music at a Young Life summer camp called Malibu in British Columbia. I was on the ferry back with a bunch of the kids and one of them pulled out their journal that they wanted me to sign. Their friends then followed suit and I signed probably 20 notebooks of kids I may never meet again who shared in that really amazing experience at Malibu. I think I even signed one kid's forehead - ha! It's always humbling to be asked for your signature; none of us in SNC ever mind signing stuff, although it's weird when it entails body parts...
Is it hard to get back into “normal” life when you get breaks from touring, and what’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge, for me at least, of settling back in at home is balancing the time that I just want to do nothing all day and chill at home with my wife and the time of catching up with everyone else. Seriously, most of the time all I want to do is cook my own dinner, put on a movie, and relax with her. It may not seem like hard work to some people (putting on a show for 2 hours every night on tour), but it really taxes your energy - physically, emotionally, spiritually - to be away from home for that long. Sometimes doing nothing - or having the option, rather, to do whatever you want to do (or not do what you don't want to do) - is the best thing about being off the road.
Do you miss each other when you’re not touring together?
We miss each other in the sense that we know it will be good to see each other again and get onstage again (or in the studio to record), but I don't think we sit at home and pine for each other's company. We see each other more than we see our own families, so it's nice to just text or chat every once in awhile, but most of the time at home is just spent reconnecting with our families and friends as much as we can.
Do you consider yourself a celebrity?
Heck no. None of us do, nor do I think we ever will. OK, I take that back. If we're putting on a U2-sized arena show one day and we all pull up to the gig in our own individual limos, with personal assistants carrying our Prada and Gucci shopping bags for us, and one of us is dating Cameron Diaz, then I'll think we've tasted celebrity status. Someone said once that celebrities are famous for being famous. I know for a fact that none of us are "in this" for the fame; I think we just want to be able to support our families and ourselves and enjoy our work. Call it naive, but sometimes we step back and ask out loud "How do all these people know about us?" Seriously, today I found out that nearly 4000 tickets have moved for a show we're having this summer. I'm just happy that people enjoy what we do, because that's what makes it the most fun for us onstage: when we see people singing along, whether it's the first time they've seen us or the thirtieth. That we have fans who have seen us that many times is amazing in and of itself.
Did you promptly go home after NYE and hang those fabulous SNC shirt magnets “someone” gave you on your refrigerator lol? (This one was our attempt at being funny)
My SNC shirt magnet that you and Megan made for us is in my music room/study alongside many of the buttons, artwork, and other gifts that I've been given over the past three years. One of my favorite things in the room is the stained glass of the "With a Twist" artwork that Kim (Chaser of the Month) made each of us awhile ago. I look at some of the stuff people create and I tell them they should go into a side-business for themselves...there's an enormous amount of creative talent within our Chaserdom.
(This one was specifically for Ryan) If you had to rewrite the song “Windows Down”, how would you change the lyrics so it reflects your life as it is now?
Haha! I always feel like I'm lying whenever I perform that song (which, granted, hasn't been for awhile) because I've since been to Texas, South Carolina, and Montana. I'm still holding out for Hawaii! I used to throw in an occasional altered lyric when I sang the line "...but I would love to go...(*again*)" which I guess only made sense to me while performing it. I'd love to visit more of New England like Maine or New Hampshire. I lived in Rhode Island as a kid for a bit, which is probably why I enjoy tour stops in Boston as much as I do. I've written a song recently called "Granary" from the perspective of Paul Revere (who is buried in the Granary Burial Ground near Boston Common downtown). Don's been a really good sounding board for that song since I really started working on it the last time we walked around town before the show. It's about how everyone has this preconceived notion of Paul Revere because of a poem that was written about his famous ride nearly 100 years after the fact and my musings on his corrective interpretation of that "history." "Frozen Man" by James Taylor has been an inspiration behind that song, too...sort of the same theme. I hope to record a new album of my own material when we have some down-time. I'd like to have my wife sing on it and collaborate with Mike on some songs for it...I think he's tossing around the same idea of releasing some more material soon, too, which I'd love to be a part of (Jerome, too, I think). It would be cool to have Seggie lay down some trumpet parts for some songs, too; he's classically trained and would be a cool addition to some of the arrangements I'm working on in my head.
(Just so you know, being Bostonians ourselves, we LOVED this answer! Go Red Sox!)
Hope you enjoyed. If we get any replies from any of the other guys, they’ll be posted here for you to read.
-Amanda & Megan