Photo Credit: Ora Walker Photography
This Manitoba Country Music Association (MCMA) award-winning artist calls Roblin, Manitoba, his home; one that he shares with his wife and three boys. Ryan Keown (pronounced Cowan) began his journey early on in his life and by 14 years old he had started to play his music in local bars. His sound has been compared to a modern-day Travis Tritt but with grit and attitude. Keown’s had the pleasure of opening for such great talent as Dallas Smith, Aaron Pritchett, Chad Brownlee, Charlie Major, Prairie Oyster and Beverley Mahood.
The year 1996 was a very good one for Keown. Dauphin’s Countryfest held their first Talent Search Contest and Keown proudly holds the title of “first-ever” champion. He was also crowned the Bud Country Talent Search winner. These wins opened doors for Keown. He recorded his first album and had the honour to perform on the Main Stage at Dauphin’s Countryfest the following year. It has been non-stop for this talented man ever since.
At the 2015 MCMA Awards, held in November, Keown garnered five nominations: Music Video of the Year for “Nothin’,”Emerging Artist Award, Single of the Year for “Amen,” Single of the Year for “Nothin’,” Male Artist of the Year.
He brought home the award for Single of the Year for “Amen.”
Summer 2016 is a very busy one for Ryan Keown. He is once again performing at Canada’s longest-running country music festival – Dauphin’s Countryfest, Craven Country Jamboree, as well as many rodeos and smaller fairs and festivals. He was the opening act for Chad Brownlee in May.
Canadian Beats was fortunate enough to chat with Ryan Keown about his music, upcoming plans and more.
First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself, what made you decide to pursue music as a career?
Music is a funny thing. I started with piano lessons and quit after a few months. Then, I decided I wanted to try out the guitar. I couldn’t put it once I started! I remember following my parents around the house playing them one-note melodies of songs that I had figured out; torturing them with everything from “Love Me Tender” to “Jingle Bells”! Then I start jamming with friends in the garage, got the courage up to take on a few songs vocally and the next thing you know … I’m doing it and getting gigs! I’ve never really considered music a career because it all started as my passion then slowly developed into more and more opportunities. I work full time as a Realtor and the branch manager of an insurance office in my hometown, so music is what I look forward to on my holidays and the weekends. I’ve been doing this for quite a while and I have met a lot of super talented people that live close by. Everyone thinks you have to travel far away to exotic destinations to find talented people. But that’s not the case. I have been very fortunate to surround myself with talented people that push me to the next level. Having studio musicians from Winnipeg and Edmonton that meet to record with one of the best studio producers in Saskatoon … that’s really cool.
If someone hasn’t listened to your music before, how would you describe it?
You know every song I sing really takes on its own existence and personality. I interpret the story and perform it with the way I feel. I guess ultimately it’s a “feeling” rather than a style. My single “Guilty As Charged” pulls absolutely no punches and sort of kicks down the front door rather than waits to ring the doorbell. My second single “Nothin’” really is a self-reflective story of a dad on his way home from work and a true country song. I enjoy all the different aspects and the challenges of presenting these songs in a real and believable manner. My next two singles haven’t been released yet but are also different from anything I’ve done before. “Best Thing” is a real fun party anthem and is super modern. I am really hoping for big things with this song! “A Lie I Can Live With” is a lonely, cold and desperate song of despair and struggle. I really dove head first into these two songs as well and look forward to sharing them with everyone this year.
Who or what are some of your biggest musical influences and inspirations?
I grew up listening to Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks. I mean I went through my rebellious age listening to Van Halen, Ratt and Guns ’n’
Roses but ultimately the stories of country music resonated with me the most and pulled me in. After following the country artists for a while, I started hearing them talking about their influences like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and George Jones, so that got me listening and learning their songs too.
Tell us about your two latest hit singles “Nothin’” and “Amen.”
I lead a very busy life working full time PLUS and being a dad (and a coach) so it’s difficult for me to find down time to write routinely. I do write my own material and hope to start recording it at some point. As for now, I am very fortunate to have multiple publishers, songwriters and my producer sending me a lot of songs so I can be very selective. I can tell if a song is for me within ten seconds of hearing it. There’s just a feeling and it’s always a very clear yes or no answer from me. I’m not really too worked up about who writes the song or if I get co-writing credits. I try and make EVERY song I sing my own by changing melodies / song structure and the odd verse. If I think I can make a song feel like my own or it gives me that feeling, then I consider it mine regardless!!
Do you have any upcoming releases in the near future? Tell us about it.
I’m really excited to release my next single “Best Thing.” It is probably the most fun song that I’ve recorded so far. We are hoping to release it in late July so be sure to watch for it and request it at your local station.
You are in the midst of producing a new video with Ora and Dean Walker. Tell us about that.
I’ve recently shot a video for one of my newest songs that will likely be released this fall. It’s called “A Lie I Can Live Without” and it’s on my self-titled EP. It’s the most powerful, heartfelt song I’ve ever recorded. When I played it for Ora she immediately started plans for the video. It was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse! Because it’s a very powerful song I really had to dig deep to do this song justice. Dean and Ora both convinced me to be totally fearless and I really took on a more dramatic acting role in the video. It was a lot of fun and scary as hell all at the same time. The video we shot (although its still in its production stage) is equally as powerful and captivating. Some footage was shot in a hotel room and some performance shots were captured in the studio and I really feel like we have something special. Considering this song came to me with a single vocal track and only an acoustic guitar, I’m very proud of what is has become in the studio and on screen. I can’t wait to share it with everyone!
Ora and Dean Walker are really coming into their own with videos. What is like working with them?
I’ve had the pleasure of previously recording two videos with Ora Walker Photography in Winnipeg. Ora and her husband Dean are extremely talented and are so great to work with. We did a full video for “Nothin’” and a performance video for my single “Amen.” Both of the tunes are also on my self-titled album. I am extremely proud of these two videos as they showcase more of my personal side.
Every time we do another video together, I’m always amazed what the three of us can pull off. The videos just keep getting better and I think I’m learning more about how to communicate better on camera. It’s a lot different than being on stage that’s for sure but it is an important part of my entire growth as an artist. I am really embracing the visual side of my music and the creativity that can bring thanks to working with them.
What role do you think social media plays in an artist’s success these days?
Social media is extremely important. If you are not on it then you are missing out on opportunities and free advertising. If you want to reach large audiences fast, there is nothing like it. My favourite part is sharing pictures and posts of the behind the scenes stuff because I think that is what people really want to see.
You garnered five nominations in four different categories at the MCMA Awards. What was your initial reaction to these nominations?
It was amazing to be recognized by the association and my peers with five nominations. I always tell myself to just enjoy it and not get all caught up in the hype of awards. Ultimately, if I can use these accolades to gain fans and become more visible, then it’s a win-win. I try and not get too high on the “highs” or too low on the “lows” as this business can take away momentum even quicker than it’s willing to hand it out. Steady as she goes has worked for me this far, so I’m not about to change my path anytime soon. I enjoy the creative control I have right now where I pick the songs, I pick the video concepts and design all my own marketing. It allows me to be ME.
You won the MCMA Single of the Year for “Amen.” How did you feel when your name was announced?
Disbelief. In fact I looked at my wife to make sure I heard Leanne Cater correctly! Yes that was a pretty cool night. My wife, three boys, my brother and my parents were all there making it extra special. I still look at that award at times and smile. I grew up watching incredible Manitoba bands like Doc Walker win these types of awards and never imagined that I could ever have the Single of the Year with my name beside it.
Your family was in the audience. Tell us about how you felt, being able to share this moment with them.
Being able to have them with me was really cool. We made sure to not take it for granted and rented a limo that night for everyone (including my boys who had never rode in a limo before). They were so excited! And it was nice to fist pump all three of them when they called my name. They work really hard helping to sell merchandise at my shows so it was nice for them to be there when I was recognized.
What are you looking forward to most in 2016?
I’m really looking forward to playing the summer festivals. I love meeting new people that have maybe heard my name but have never seen me perform before. That’s the true test. No preconceived notions … just me and the crowd and what I do will determine what they think. That’s the ultimate challenge. I start some of these shows with the “me vs. them” mentality and push myself to reach out and win them over with my performance. That is my idea of fun!
Here at Canadian Beats, we like to include a portion of questions that may help your fans learn something new about you, so here we go:
Canadian Beats is all about Canadian music, who is your current favourite Canadian artist?
Brett Kissel. He is such a talented songwriter, dynamic performer and just a great person. He spent some time with my family and me before one of his shows and he really left a lasting impression on me. And I know his little dog Charlie left a lasting impression on my boys!
If you had the chance to interview someone you looked up to, who would it be and what would be your first question?
I had the chance to meet Ronnie Dunn and few years ago and would love to have the opportunity interview him. To have some questions actually wrote down to ask him would be great! This time I would have it a little more structured, as I’m not sure what I even said to him when we met. I was so star struck in his presence. My first question of the interview with Ronnie would be, “What do you feel is your most lasting impression / legacy on country music?” Would love to hear his answer to that one!
What was the last concert you attended as a fan?
Johnny Reid. What a performer! Loved the Vegas style of the show and back up singers / dancers
What is your go-to cover song to perform live?
“Anything Goes” by Randy Houser or “Somebody Like You” by Keith Urban
What is your favourite past time?
Snowmobiling and dirt biking. We live in such a beautiful province so I love to get out and enjoy it!
What is a pre-show show ritual for you?
No real rituals. I always try and eat a few hours before the show and we kind of just go over our plan for the crowd that night. You can feel the excitement just before we hit the stage as a band but once the music starts, it just takes over like second nature. I’ve really been blessed to have the same core guys in my band for 16 years! We’ve all grown and worked really hard at our show to get it to the level that it is at today.
What was the first venue you performed at?
I used to play a lot of Christmas parties and community talent shows. I really appreciate my local area supporting me and giving me these early opportunities to develop. Every gig you do you learn something and gain valuable experience. I still get anxious before hitting the stage and I hope I never lose that edge, but fortunately I don’t really get nervous anymore like I used to at some of my first shows!
What is one thing that your fans would be surprised to learn about you?
Probably that I am just a small town guy who is raising his family like they are. I know some people that see my videos or see me perform on some bigger stages and wonder how exciting my life really is. I kind of laugh when people see me coaching my boys in the hockey rinks and don’t recognize me without my cowboy hat on. It’s sort of my dream weekend job … but Monday to Friday it’s a day job and helping around the house!
Last but not least, is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?
THANK YOU. I appreciate your support at my shows and know that you are spending your hard-earned money to be in attendance. Thank you to the organizers for trusting me to perform at their events and for everyone I’ve met over the years for being so kind to me. I’ve made a lot of great friends and met some amazing people by being involved in music. Every Facebook “like” and “share” helps me promote my music. I don’t take this opportunity for granted. Take care and I look forward to meeting you in person!
We, at Canadianbeats.ca, thank you so much for this awesome interview and we wish you continuous and lasting success.
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Hi all. I’m Nanci Dagg. I am from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and have lived my entire life here. There is nothing I like better than supporting local artists followed by supporting Canadian artists. Although I was a classic rock gal, my go to genre is country. Something about this music that just makes me feel great. I can be found at most country music concerts and shows (from someone’s house to really large venues) taking lots of pictures. Music and photography are two of my passions. Add to this mix, writing about artists, well let’s say, life doesn’t get better than this.