For the past two and a half years, Ryan Hommel worked alongside the cast of Daisy Jones & The Six as the guitar/bass coach and Music Director. Yes, that means he taught cast members like Sam Claflin and Riley Keough to play guitar and become a band in the hit series for Amazon Prime Video. Through the ups and downs of the pandemic and the steadfast dedication of the production team and cast, Daisy Jones & The Six came to life in 2023.
Ryan Hommel, a Massachusetts-based guitar player, songwriter, and singer, recently released his first album since 2015. Default To Open is the second full-length album from Ryan, dating back to 2016 when he recorded these songs. The lead singles from this album showcase his raw talent and knack for penning songs that resonate with a wide range of music fans. Gaining insight into the stories behind these songs makes the album all the more intriguing to hear them after eight years.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Ryan Hommel to learn more about this collection of songs. In the past eight years, Ryan welcomed a lot of changes. Of course, the pandemic delayed the filming of Daisy Jones & the Six, but the time spent with the cast solidified his journey as Music Director. After touring with Amos Lee’s band as a guitar and pedal steel player, Ryan welcomed a baby girl earlier this year. Going from uncertainty to fatherhood has led Ryan to new endeavors, beginning with the release of Default To Open.
Ryan Hommel Interview
POETRY DANS LA RUE: You seem to be all over recently with Daisy Jones & The Six, your music, and your family. What’s the backstory to where you are now?
Ryan Hommel: “I’m originally from Massachusetts. My wife and I met here and decided to move to L.A. together. We lived in L.A. for about four years, which included the time during the pandemic, then we moved back to Massachusetts when we found out we were expecting a baby. Now we have a five-month-old daughter.”
PDLR: So I saw your album, Default To Open, was recorded in Nashville. Can you talk about that time in your life?
Ryan Hommel: “We recorded the album almost entirely in Nashville at Blackbird Studio. I used to drive a lot from Massachusetts to Nashville. I wanted to absorb the world of country music that I didn’t grow up in. Being surrounded by that community, I became passionate about playing pedal steel and met many people in the music industry.”
Behind Default To Open
PDLR: You recently released “Bury Me” and “All the Time in the World” as the first two singles. Can you talk about why you led the album with those songs?
Ryan Hommel: “When I listened to the whole record, those songs popped out to me as singable. I love songs that you can immediately sing along to. It makes listeners feel the song is familiar and they’ve known it forever. I’m not saying these songs achieved that necessarily, but most of the record doesn’t come close to doing that. Some other songs are more exploratory, longer, and experimental in songwriting. “Bury Me” and “All the Time in the World” felt like a good way to introduce the record to new ears.”
PDLR: I’ve had more time with the singles, of course, than the other tracks, but I do agree. “Bury Me” has been in my head a lot. It is singable and maybe more melodic, which people can easily pick up on. I also picked out “Wide Open” from the other songs, which was a little longer. It was more in-depth, and I liked the direction it went.
Ryan Hommel: “That’s great to hear because “Wide Open” is the first song I ever wrote. Default To Open is made of songs like that. It was my first experience putting these songs together from different times. Default To Open has been finished for eight years, since 2016. It almost feels like a compilation album, putting pieces of my writing together but only from a decade ago and earlier. The most recently written song on the record is the last track, “Brent Song.” I wrote this as a friend of mine passed away eight years ago. So the album comprises pieces of my life from before until 2016.”
“From an archiving standpoint and gaining a new perspective with my daughter being born, it matters that these songs are out there.”
Ryan Hommel: “I’m glad you responded to “Wide Open.” It feels surreal to me that that song will be in the world. From an archiving standpoint and having a new perspective with my daughter being born, it matters that these songs are out there. It’s also cathartic and rewarding to know that my daughter will be able to find that.
Sitting on these songs and having more time to reflect gave me an extended perspective. I feel more lighthearted about the record and less attached to it as a whole, but it’s a point in time that paints one picture.
I’ve done a lot of touring and come across so many songwriters. I’ve had more time to absorb how artists perform, interact, and adapt. You can interact with your art in many ways, and people will find their meaning once it’s out there. Art and music breathe new life into other people, and they breathe new life back into it.”
PDLR: Do you have a specific song that was the most rewarding to write or that you hit exactly what you were trying to convey?
Ryan Hommel: “I think “Wide Open” came out exactly how that song should be presented. Even if I’m unsure what that means, I’ve never felt that after recording a song. “Wide Open,” “Bury Me,” and “All the Time in the World” were songs that I recorded by setting up a guitar and vocal with a drummer in another booth at Blackbird.
All of the vocals on this record are primarily live, with the main guitar layer and the drums. Filling in the blanks with bass, other guitar parts, pedal steel, and keyboard was rewarding. It was me supplementing the barebones tracks we had from the recordings. I felt proud of “Wide Open” from the initial performance and what it was after we finalized the production.
In the song “Same Side,” the album’s third single, I played everything from top to bottom. “Same Side” occurred at my friend Ryan Ordway’s studio in New Hampshire. I went in with this song and planned to record it in a day. I started with an acoustic guitar and a vocal and added drums, bass, some other guitars, and pedal steel. Going in with a blank canvas like that and sitting back and listening after a day is a satisfying feeling.”
PDLR: Who were some of your musical influences growing up, or who inspires you in your music?
Ryan Hommel: “My dad introduced me to a lot of guitar-based music as a young teenager. He was trying to get me out of my Stevie Ray Vaughan fixation at that age. He bought me a Steely Dan, a Jeff Beck, and a Robben Ford record. The guitar playing was nothing like what I was listening to at the time. My dad tried to show me that while Stevie Ray was excellent, there was another world of guitar players.
Before that, the music in my house was Stevie Wonder, Aretha, and Elvis Presley. Those were my first music memories, along with Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, and Howlin’ Wolf. My favorite current band has been Dawes. They are my gold standard in writing, performing, playing, and overall class and evolution.”
Daisy Jones & The Six
PDLR: How did you come into your role with the Daisy Jones series, and what was it like working with the cast?
Ryan Hommel: “So when my wife and I moved to L.A. at the end of 2019, I got a call from Tony Berg. He is an incredible producer and one of my producer heroes (Andrew Bird, Phoebe Bridgers, boygenius). I met him the year before, and he kept telling me to move to L.A. When we decided to move, he called me and said he had a two-month gig to teach guitar and bass to a handful of actors. The actors would come together and make this fictional band known as Daisy Jones & The Six from the book by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
At the time, Blake Mills and Tony Berg were running Sound City Studios in L.A., where many iconic artists have recorded. The show signed Tony as the Music Consultant for Daisy Jones & The Six and Blake Mills as the Executive Music Producer. Blake Mills wrote or co-wrote and produced all of the music for the soundtrack (alongside collaborators Tony Berg, Phoebe Bridgers, Taylor Goldsmith, Marcus Mumford, and Chris Weisman, among others). A huge bonus was the proximity to and the use of Sound City. The reality of the songwriting process and location mimicked the book’s storyline. So, plugging this fictional band into that time period and space was so surreal.
“The initial call was to have Daisy Jones & The Six be a fully functional band. If you put them on stage, they should be able to play this music flawlessly.”
I was set up across the street with Frankie Pine, the Music Supervisor, and a handful of other music coaches (drums, keyboard, vocal). We were working with the cast across the parking lot from Sound City. I was teaching Riley Keough (Daisy Jones), Will Harrison (Graham Dunne), and Josh Whitehouse (Eddie Roundtree) at the time, which was January 2020. Sam Claflin (Billy Dunne) came in around when everything shifted because of the pandemic.
They kept us remotely working on Zoom to keep the band learning. The cast members needed help learning their instruments and focusing on their characters’ roles, so most of that was done individually. Because I had been doing that, working with them collectively as a band made sense. So that’s how I fell into the role of Music Director for them as a band. Enter Suki Waterhouse (Karen Sirko) and Sebastian Chacon (Warren Rhodes), and we had Daisy Jones & The Six.”
“The initial call was to have them be a fully functional band even though they will be miming to recordings on the set. If you put them on a stage, they should be able to play this music flawlessly. That was a tall order, but everyone did their best and committed to the role.
Before we finally started shooting after the delay, we gathered the band at SIR in Hollywood for a private showcase. The showcase included everyone involved in making the show, like Taylor Jenkins Reid (book author), the Hello Sunshine media crew, Scott & Lauren Neustadter (creator), Reese Witherspoon (executive producer), Amazon, all the music crew, and more. It was particularly humbling to be a part of something that massive.
They absolutely achieved their goal, and they played the songs. They pretty much played the AURORA record front to back. Nabiyah Be (Simone) sang “A Song For You.” It was remarkable to see it pay off after keeping it going for so much longer than expected. They can all play and sing and have a natural chemistry that you can feel in the room.
My role transitioned into being on set with them whenever music was on camera. It was such a thrill to be there and coach them through those scenes. They were driven, motivated, and dedicated to learning to play music together, which certainly shows.”
PDLR: That’s incredible to hear your perspective. When reading a book, you envision how it will look. But then there was the uncertainty of not knowing if the show would happen or when. So when you hear it from you, it’s cool to see they came together as a band and learned it. You can see the realness in the show and the chemistry that you mention.
Looking Ahead For Ryan Hommel
PDLR: What’s next for you after the release of Default To Open?
Ryan Hommel: “The last record I put out was in 2015, and I began writing Default To Open around the same time. Of course, all these years have passed, and life has changed significantly. I’ve taken myself off the road to be with family and raise my daughter with my wife. I want to be present.
Releasing this record is putting me back in the game of how the industry works today. I’ve aided many people or worked on other records as a producer but haven’t put myself out there in a long time. I thank Greg Hall for running the backend of the album release and managing this campaign.
We hope that this album sets me up for future releases. I’ve already started working on the next record, which is more rooted in my life now, becoming a father and what family has come to mean. I enjoy getting the word out there and connecting with people in the music industry.
After releasing this record, I’m starting a new live in-studio video series. It’s something similar to Daytrotter or Audiotree. This project would be about working with new artists that I usually wouldn’t have the chance to, but they are coming through town on tour or local to this area.
The idea is to bring them to Ghost Hit Recording studio in West Springfield, MA, where I often work. The studio was built into this church from 1800, and the live room is the sanctuary with the original pipe organ. It’s just a place where you feel especially compelled to make music. I’d love to bring in artists as a stop on their tour and cut some live footage, very minimally mic’ed. It’s going to be called the 1:1 Sessions. It’ll be a YouTube channel and a website.”