Catching Up With Ryan Kilgore
Saxophonist Ryan Kilgore is quickly building a strong presence in the music industry. The Atlanta native has toured with Stevie Wonder and Tyler Perry, was featured on the Fighting Temptations soundtrack and Hidden Beach’s Unwrapped Volume 7, and appeared in the hit movie Drumline. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Ryan is his desire to give back to his community by garnering support for school music departments. Ryan discussed his experiences as an independent artist, his new album Conversation with Love, and his current projects during this interview.
Mimi Soul: How did you get started with the saxophone?
Ryan: When band time came around, I was in 5th or 6th grade and I initially wanted to play the trumpet because there are three generations of sax players before me. I kinda wanted to do my own thing and have my own identity. But, as soon as I started playing the sax, I had a natural ability. It was kinda easy to me.
I was in college at Clark Atlanta University for Music Education but my passion wasn’t teaching. I developed a passion for being on stage so I left school. Of course I had people who asked what I was doing but I knew what I wanted. I really felt like if I didn’t give it my full effort, I wouldn’t be successful. So, I had to get a job after that. I did just about anything you can think of to survive while I was trying to pursue my music, including working at Chick Fil A, doing security, and working as an assistant band director.
God blessed me to be able to connect with Mike Phillips and he really took me under his wing. Over the last 4 or 5 years he has been like a brother. He blessed me with a great opportunity to fill in for him with Stevie Wonder in February 2007. I went from there to tour with Tyler Perry. I can’t take any of the credit for it. It has all been blessings of God. He blessed me to be in the right places at the right time.
Mimi Soul: What inspires your music?
Ryan: Mostly personal experiences. I wanted to speak from an aspect that says we all have issues. We all make mistakes but yet there’s still something that has to be common in everybody’s life and that’s love.
At this point my ultimate inspiration is trying to revive musicianship in our school systems so that we can create more avenues for younger musicians. I think some of them are falling by the wayside, because we older generation artists are not going back into the schools and creating a whole new audience for jazz. Unfortunately, the school system is on a downturn and of course, one of the first things to go is always the music and arts departments. So, I’m trying to develop programs where we can go around the country and try to save music departments. I’m going to try and start right here in Atlanta. I want to preserve where I came from. I came from being in the marching band in high school, where I got to be a section leader and go on trips, meet people, be in parades and wear band uniforms instead of jogging suits. I want kids to have that. I want them to know that music and their instrument can be used as a tool to take them anywhere in the world.
Mimi Soul: What inspired the title of your album Conversation with Love?
Ryan: In 2006, I had just left my job and one day I was just going through it. I lost my grandfather in 2004 and he was one of my hugest supporters. So, I was kinda having one of those days. As I was working on the album, God told me to write him a letter and I named the album Conversation with Love. I feel like one of the gifts that God gives us is love. So, that particular day, I was having a conversation with love. I was just asking Him to be a part of my life. Some of the things I say in the song are actually in the letter. I wanted to let Him know that I’m giving it all to Him and I expect Him to direct my paths. I think He expects us to make mistakes and fall but I think that’s set up so that we can depend on Him.
Mimi Soul: Is that you singing on the track?
Ryan: That’s actually my brother singing on Conversation with Love. That happened by mistake. He was coming to the studio to pick me up and the guy who was supposed to sing never showed up. So, I said “Ok, since you’re here and we’ve been waiting on the other guy for two hours, get in the booth.” It was really just supposed to be a reference track but since he did such a good job, I decided to keep him on it.
Mimi Soul: Are there any songs on the album that are extra special to you?
Ryan: Well, I Miss You was the first song I wrote on the album. It’s actually me playing guitar and singing. My grandfather used to play the guitar so the song was about missing him. My Sunshine is also a special song. It’s dedicated to all the women in my family with the concept of realizing that there are some people who are really special to you and their voice, presence or just the thought of them makes you smile and light up like the sun.
My baby on the record is London Bridges. This was more of an experiment. I was on the road and I hit my good friend from high school, producer Vince Williams, and said “Hey man, I need something hot but different. I need you to send me something that you think I wouldn’t like.” He sent me about 20 or 30 tracks and that was the one that liked the most. The song deals with somebody trying to kill my dream. I dated a young lady who asked me to choose between her and my music and I walked away. So, we came up with the concept of me working hard in the studio and trying to make some things happen and my girl is calling and asking me to make a choice. So, that’s the hanging up at the beginning of the track. It was a fun song to record. That was a step on faith kinda record because jazz artists don’t really put skits and stuff in their records. But, I’ve gotten a very good response from that song. I think the next record will definitely let all the juices flow and include a little more skits and stuff to add a little fun.
Mimi Soul: I really enjoyed that one. I say go for it.
Ryan: Yeah, at this point I have no choice. They’re expecting it now. (laughing) I’m actually working on the second album now as well a mixtape, which I plan to release prior to the next album. You may hear a little rapping on the next record. I have a song that we’re actually going to dedicate to trying to save the music departments. The concept is that I’m going to invite some other jazz musicians to collab with me and we’re all going to do our own little rap but we’re going to be playing behind our rap. It’s going to be a really cool concept. I want people to understand that jazz is fun. It’s not something lame or just for old people. It feels good. I think we’re one of the only genres that doesn’t promote to a younger audience. We’re so far behind from a marketing standpoint.
Mimi Soul: How would you describe your experience with releasing Conversation with Love independently?
Ryan: It’s very hard sometimes because you don’t have the big machine of a label and the marketing money to help you get out there in a more mainstream aspect. But, I’m ok with that at this point in my career. I think that everything happens for a reason and everything has a season. So, I’m being very patient. I’ve been around the block a couple times now so I understand that it is a process. I would much rather have longevity than a microwave career.
Mimi Soul: Have you experienced any other challenges as an independent artist?
Ryan: I guess we’re overlooked sometimes because some people think that if they haven’t heard of you, they can’t trust that you’re gonna do a good job. So, I guess one of the biggest challenges is exposure along with a rigorous travel schedule. Another challenge is balancing my solo career with being able to play with other major artists. I’m not complaining though because I’m very blessed to have that challenge and I’m learning through working with Stevie that it’s a chance to create some major relationships. Everything happens in due season and that’s what keeps me encouraged during the process.
Mimi Soul: What three words would you use to describe your tour experience with Stevie Wonder?
Ryan: (laughing) three words?
Mimi Soul: (laughing) Yes
Ryan: Incredible, Anointing, and can I use a word with a dash?
Mimi Soul: Sure
Mimi Soul: What is something you wish more people knew about life as an artist?
Ryan: It’s a real job. (laughing) Alot of people get the misconception that we’re having a blast and it’s great when I can post a picture or video. But, all the stuff in between like bus, plane and train rides, changing time zones and everything puts wear and tear on your body. People don’t see the 10-12 hour rehearsals. It’s a real job. The difference is that I don’t necessarily have a time clock. But, the scary part is that sometimes you don’t know where your money is gonna come from. You may be working for six months and that’s great but what about the other six months? Sometimes you may have to create something. There’s a certain peak season. But, it’s a real job and they take taxes out and everything. (laughing)
Mimi Soul: Is there anything else you want people to know about your music?
Ryan: I’m always going make sure I stay true to the music and give my whole heart and everything to it. The second album is tentatively named Love’s Response. Prior to the album, be on the lookout for my mixtape, which should be out in the spring.
Thanks Ryan for a great interview! Ryan says he enjoys talking to fans and making friends. You can find him at the links below.