Sounds of Somerville – Audrey Ryan: The Need to be Heard

By Jourdan Abel

The sounds of Somervillian Audrey Ryan meld the storytelling stylings of Joni Mitchell with a very contemporary self-awareness that is not always easy to listen to – but is often rewarding to hear. In songs like “Make tackles challenging subjects.

Somerville Musician Audrey Ryan with her accordian.

When read on the page, her lyrics sometimes come across as slightly simplistic: “Whatever you do don’t live your life with a cancer heart. Cause cancer may kill you but don’t live with a cancer heart. Don’t lose your will.” When performed, though, these lines leave you bopping your head and singing along and smiling. Her bittersweet voice and use of unexpected instruments distract the listener from the lyrics’ blow. Her solo performances include an electric Japanese axe, a vintage guitar, an accordion, and a Casio keyboard which found itself in this world during the first Reagan administration.

Ryan’s music skates the edge of being just tonal and twangy enough to make one sit up and pay attention, but still manages to be quite listenable, a quality not easy to master. It is difficult to let her music fade into the background. “I like to write songs,” Ryan states, simply, in her book The Need to be Heard – A book for DIY musicians. Ryan is surrounded by and drawn to the do-it-yourself musician community, from her roots in Maine to her current home in Somerville. In the book, she interviews industry professionals and musicians such as Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi and Dana Colley of Morphine.

More than just a musician who happens to live in Somerville, Ryan has become part of the city’s musical fabric. Already in 2009, she has played at Bull McCabe’s (366 A Somerville Ave), P.A.’s Lounge (345 Somerville Ave), The Burren (247 Elm Street) and Johnny D’s (17 Holland Street). She organizes The Loft Series, in which she hosts visiting bands at her rehearsal space; she participates in ARTSomerville events; and she is the founder (and organizer) of the annual Viva la Vinal Festival at the Somerville Community Growing Center (22 Vinal Avenue).

At the second day of this year’s Viva la Vinal on Sunday, August 30, the Growing Center was full of people of all ages, picnicking on blankets and standing in the shadows of the trees. Ryan performed songs off of her forthcoming album, I Know, I Know, which Ryan calls “the most solo, personal material I’m doing.” The new work is a departure from her previous albums, in that it is strictly one-person-band songs, a la Andrew Bird.

Ryan played every instrument on I Know, I Know, which was recorded on a four-track device without the assistance of a computer. “I just played everything in a room at the same time,” she says. “I played the guitar and then looped it, then played drums alongside it. Most of it’s guitar, but there’s also accordion, kalimba, and banjo.”

The release party for I Know, I Know will be held at The Sanctuary at the Nave Gallery, Clarendon Hill Church (155 Powderhouse Boulevard) on Saturday, October 17, 2009, at 7:30pm Ryan will play after an opening band, then there will be a screening of Loft Show Upstairs, a documentary by Mike Boudo about The Loft Series. Entrance to the party is $5 or $10 for admittance and a CD. There will be refreshments and all ages are welcome.

You can learn more about Audrey Ryan at or You can view a preview of the documentary at

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