Calling in from London, Ryan Trey was far from home during our interview, though home is a concept that’s quite blurry in Trey’s case, having moved around quite a bit while growing up. The American artist, whose speciality is splicing, slicing, and reconstructing R&B sounds to match his own, finds intimacy through songwriting, something which has inspired him ever since his childhood days.
The release of his latest album, STREETS SAY YOU MISS ME, closed off the year with timeless records accompanied by the voices of Mariah the Scientist, NoCap, Vory, and Chase Shakur. For Trey, collaboration is a diligent process that’s simply based on a feeling – a feeling of knowing when the time is right. Listening to his latest project, it’s clear to hear that Trey has his finger on that feeling.
We caught up with Ryan Trey to talk about his latest album, his ice, what it was like growing up and moving homes, and his upcoming album.
Where are you at in the world right now? What have you been up to?
I’m in London right now. Last time I was here during this time was probably in 2019. I’ve been here a lot of times in between then. But the last time I’ve been here in December was in 2019. It’s just caught as sh*t.
I’m not on tour right now, but I’m actually just doing a one off with Jordan, where I’m coming to do these two London shows. From there, I go back to the States.
What’s one thing that people would be surprised to hear about what happens on tour behind the scenes?
There’s a lot. I feel touring can make you hate certain cities or love certain cities, depending on how your performance went. Sometimes I could just bleed over into the rest of the day. I performed in Cleveland, and that day, I was opening for Bryson Tiller. I know Cleveland’s a great city, the fans were great. I didn’t like my performance though. Tour can change the whole emotional dynamic towards a location, you know? That’s crazy, I would have never thought that happened on tour.
Do you find that the way you perform is reflective of how the crowd is reacting with you?
Most of the time. Some cities are just harder than others. New York, for example, you know what type of crowd you’re gonna get. LA, you get a super laid back crowd. A lot of people say LA is too cool, but I performed in LA and I felt like I had a great performance. I feel like some cities yeah, it could be affected for sure.
Do you sort of adapt your performance to the city that you’re in?
Yeah. As far as like, setlist, it just depends. You got to know what type of demographic you have. In Atlanta, I’ll play more of my chopped out, R&B records versus somewhere else, I’ll just do straight R&B. It just depends on where your fans are.
I want to talk to you about your latest album, which came out earlier this year. What was your biggest takeaway from the album? Whether it was while you were making it, or once it was released, did you learn anything from that process?
There’s a lot of things I learned. I used to write all my music by myself, just being in my room or in the studio alone. I was living in LA at the time, and I moved to Atlanta to do this project. I used to not understand why artists did it, where they have like 50 different people in the studio. But Atlanta was good, because I had a lot of different people in [the studio]. I think one of the things I liked the most.
I was able to see what records were working and what wasn’t. If I was recording something, and nobody was moving, I knew, it was probably a record I should get off. But if it was something people were vibing with as I was making it, then I was like, ‘damn, there’s something here.’ I think that’s dope.
Do you find that the music scene in Atlanta helped influence the way you went about doing your music for this album?
Yeah, 100%. Studios in LA can get bougie sometimes. They’re very tight knit about who comes in and comes. But in Atlanta, you could be in there with five, six different producers, ten different artists, writers, photographers… Everybody’s just trying to put each other on. So it’s a different vibe for sure.
How do you think this album compares to your past projects?
I think it’s my best body at work. I think it’s my tightest body of work. I always say that whenever I’m making music, the one thing I want to take away that’s a win for me is my fans thinking ‘this is better than your last project.’ With everything I’ve done, those are the responses I’ve gotten. That consistency, emotionally, is what I look for the most. And I feel like with this project, everybody’s like ‘you added to your sound, but it’s still you.’ I think that’s important.
A lot of artists are like, go somewhere and they switch their sound entirely. If your core fans don’t resonate, that can hurt you. My day ones, they really liked this project.
You already touched on this while you were talking about the people coming in and out of your studio, but there are quite a few features on this album, which involves the whole process of collaboration. How important do you think collaboration is within the music industry?
It’s super important. I feel like just knowing when to put somebody on a song. Remove their name, who they are, their status and how much they’ll help you socially, or career wise, and just really focus on the record, and if it makes sense for this person to go on it. I’ve seen a million times where two of the biggest artists get on a song and it sucks. But I’m a fan of music, so it’s [about] knowing when the time is right. That’s why I like these features on this project, they were all very organic and they made sense for that specific record.
Does that usually come about as you and another artist just vibing in the studio, and then you’re like, ‘actually, let’s make this a song,’ or do you create a song on your own and then have someone in mind you want to bring on?
For the record with NoCap, specifically, I flew to Houston and we got in the studio together. He just did it in one take. It took a long time to do it but he’s really passionate about how he was going about it. I like putting my artists out of their element. I hadn’t heard NoCap on an R&B record like that before.
Mariah [the Scientist] was more so word of mouth, just being in Atlanta. I was just telling my manager ‘I’m gonna get her on this record.’ We sent it over and then we built the relationship from there. Someone who writes a lot of their own music, like Mariah, she doesn’t let anyone touch her pen. She writes everything by herself. So I think it was dope that she did on her own time. I don’t think she was in Atlanta at the time, I think she was out of the country.
Chase Shakur and Vory, those are my brother’s. I’ve known them forever, so it was more so just being in the studio. So, it always varies, depending on the artist.
What has been a collaboration that has taught you the most?
I would say right now Mariah. Originally I wrote a verse for her, because I just do it, I’ll just write the idea I have. Usually people take them, and I really liked the verse. She really liked the verse I had too, but she ended up doing an entirely different idea to make the record that much better. So, you know, just trusting the artist specific process they have with themselves. That was the first time I was like, ‘damn, you turned the record up.’
Making music is an art form that really requires you sometimes to dig deep and lay it all on the table. Do you use music as a way of processing emotions and real life events?
Yeah, that’s really all it is. I feel like that’s the only reason I do it. I moved around a lot as a kid, so a lot of my time will be spent in my room. Especially when I moved from house to house because my parents will move around because of their job. I lived in St. Louis. I lived in DC a lot. And I moved back to St. Louis. And then I was in LA. And then I was going from LA to New York, and then now I’m in Atlanta. I’d have to start over in my room. I’d have like four blank walls again. That was always a process mentally, and it kind of just bled over into me writing. That’s what got me into music. That’s where that process came from, as far as me being vulnerable.
I feel like [moving around] is a win-lose, though. Yeah, you gain certain things, like meeting a lot of different people. But I kind of lived through my friends who went to college and had that core friend group they had since day one, since they were little. That’s something I wish I would have had. It’s like, Catch-22.
So what’s the perfect setting for making music for you? Is it still alone in your room?
It’s changing. I used to write everything alone how I was saying. Then when I was in Atlanta, I was in a place of having everybody in there. But now I don’t know. I want to move to New York. I came to Atlanta to do this project and it worked out exactly the way I wanted it to work out, but I really like Manhattan. I keep seeing these videos [of]people spotting Frank Ocean around New York. That’s just dope that people care, because he’s like a legend, but people don’t care, because it’s New York, and he feels comfortable enough moving around. That’s what I like about Manhattan, there’s so many people where I just want to exist. Maybe when I get to New York, I may be in a setting where I have a lot of people around me when I’m recording, but I think I’m leaning more towards just writing by myself again.
Before I leave you, I want to switch over the conversation to your jewellery because, I mean, you’re always just decked out in jewellery. Where did your love for jewellery start?
I got some rings on right now from this artist, Yoko. He’s like a local artist out in New York. He has some pieces in Dover Street [Market]. I really like silver. My grandmother always had different rings and stuff going on, but this is something that I fell in love with over the past couple of years. I like little accessories and hand pieces that are older, refurbished jewellery too. I like giving away jewellery to girls, but I’m done with it.
I got this Riley Freeman chain I just got last year – it’s massive. I think it’s kind of obnoxious, I try not to wear it a lot. It’s too heavy to wear. But yeah, I like jewellery a lot.
And then I’ve got one last question for you. Do you have anything that you’re currently working on that you want to tease for your fans?
Yeah, I feel like this album is part one of two parts. For this album, I feel like I was in a darker space in my love life, but it’s like a segue into my next album, which is really, really, really, apologetic and sweet. I feel like knowing that now, people are going to listen to it with a different perspective.
Main image credit: Aura Arif for Culted ©
More on Culted