Wake Up: An Exclusive Interview with Ryan Oakes

Music Scene Media
May 12, 2023
14 min read

by Abby Paquet

Ryan Oakes is a self made artist, blurring the lines between hip-hop, pop punk, and alternative music. Ryan recently announced the release of his new album, Wake Up (May 12th), alongside his first ever headlining tour in the US. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Ryan and discover his creative and versatile musical talents, more about his journey as an artist, and the craziest rumour he has ever heard about himself.

MSM: So, you recently announced that you are going on your first ever headlining tour and you are also releasing a new album. How do you feel about that?

Ryan: It’s a lot of emotions. You know, I’ve been making music for 10 years now and obviously, part of the initial dream is to go out there and play your own shows and have people show up just for you and … kind of be the centre of attention. Enjoy the fruits of your labor. Um, it’s anxious, it’s excitement … Like, some days I feel great, some days I feel super nervous and stressed. It’s kind of all over the place. But I think, ultimately, by the time we get there and I’m done with the rehearsals and everything’s set in stone and the album’s out and stuff, I think it’ll just be pure excitement. But for now it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of prep. It’s good stress ‘cause I’m excited, but yeah, it’s definitely a little bit stressful as well.

MSM: I can imagine, yeah. And could you tell us a little bit about that album then ?

Ryan: Yeah, so … I’ll give a little bit of background about me and then the album ‘cause it all kind of fuses together. For those who aren’t aware, I did start as a rapper and I was a rapper for about eight years and I toured as a rapper and I got a pretty decent buzz. And then, I moved to LA and the day I moved here – which is the craziest part – I had a song blow up, right ? And it was a sad rap song. And so, I rolled with the sad rap stuff for a while. Um, I’ve always battled with like mental health and stuff, so I just kind of stuck to that topic and talked about it. ’Cause it seemed like it was like getting a lot of people saying they related to it and it helped them through stuff. And then I made so many of those songs that I started to hate making rap because it was just like kind of following a formula. And I didn’t feel like I was really evolving as an artist, so I eventually had a buddy move and was like: “bro, just try it ! Like, I have this pop punk beat, just see what happens when we try to mix rap with punk”. And then it sounded really good. So then,  hat like birthed this inner circle renaissance of me and my producers: like, we’re gonna take things from every genre and see if we can make it work. That was like three years ago. And so, let’s take it a couple years of working with the same producers and stuff, to finally feel like we blended every genre well in a way where it doesn’t feel forced or even really noticeable. So, that’s what Wake Up is. It’s kind of just like our … I wouldn’t say grand finale, but it’s like our final presentation of like: “look what we could do now.” We spent so much time doing this. There’s like rap, there’s punk elements, there’s rock, there’s electro, there’s screaming … there’s like stuff from every genre and even a pop song. I’m dropping a pop song this week that somehow blends with all of that, you know ? So, it took a long time to get to that spot.  And that’s what the album was all about. Where it’s like: “wake up !”, like this is something new. I’m at a point as an artist where music just feels like, so copy/pasted with the TikTok culture. And I’m not against TikTok ‘cause it changed my life, but it just seems like no one is really going to be – or at least trying to take risks and push music forward. And that’s kind of what my mission with my friends and producers was, where it was just like … “Who knows, maybe this is a stupid idea. Maybe this is gonna go great”. Like the music sounds great to all of us but it’s also at a point where you can’t really compare it to someone else. You can’t say: “this sounds like another one of these artists”, you know, and that was the mission. So that was like the whole goal, and I think we nailed it. So, we will see what people say !

MSM: Did you actually always know you wanted to do music or did you start like a different career before studies or something like that ?

Ryan: So … Yeah, it was interesting … In my childhood I was obsessed with film and I thought I was gonna be like a famous movie director. Like, I always wanted to do something; I always wanted to kind of build worlds. Like, I was watching Star Wars and Harry Potter as a kid and I was like: “I wanna make like something like that, that is super sick !” Um, and so, I was running around elementary school and middle school with a video camera; like forcing my friends to be in my videos and trying to write scripts and do all this stuff. And then, I actually like kind of blew up on YouTube for that stuff but I got banned because I was having my friends click the ads in middle school to make money, which was really funny as a middle schooler. But um, …I didn’t, say,  lost motivation; but I was just kind of like: “damn, I just put all that work in it ! Now it’s gone. So, what can I do now with all this free time ?” And I started to make parody music with my friends, like weird al type stuff. And then, that kind of evolved into … eventually I found like Eminem and like Mac Miller, and that was like right around high school. I was like: “damn, I wanna do this !” but it wouldn’t make sense for me to do this because of where I was from. People would either be like doctors or lawyers or pick a regular job and try to make as much money as you can that way. And like, no one was making music in my town. But right around my senior year of high school, I was freestyling at parties and I was noticeably better than everyone else. People started being like: “dude, you should try to make a song !” And then my buddy in the Marines was like  – kind of drunkenly joking …He was like: “I want you to make a mixtape by the time I’m back.”  from being deployed. And I never really thought about it, but I was like, I’m just gonna go to Best Buy and buy this mic and see what happens. And I put one song out and I like quit all my sports teams. I was gonna go to college to play Lacrosse and like gave up my big senior year of scholarships and stuff and everyone thought I was crazy. And then I did end up going to college and I did get a degree, but as soon as I graduated college was when I just did a full send to LA. And right when I moved here, my music just blew up out of nowhere. So, that was just like me saying the universe was patting me on the back and like, this was the right choice. So go forward and keep doing it. And it’s been like that ever since.

MSM: Where do you get the inspiration from for your songs and what’s your creative process like?

Ryan: It’s interesting. It differs a lot. But the main thing is obviously just like real life stuff that’s happened to me. Like, that’s what’s connected with my fans the most is when I make a song about a breakup or a song about a love song that’s the complete opposite of it. Or just like struggling with mental health or a song that’s motivating that is supposed to get you off your ass and get your goals done and, you know, just get through the day. So, just kind of stuff like that, like real life stuff. And then there’s other stuff where we’re just like sitting in the studio, messing with samples, and it just like pops into your head like a crazy idea. It’s just like, fed to you out of nowhere. And then you just roll with that idea ‘cause it’s like such a “out there thing” and then it just becomes something completely different and it’s super sick. So sometimes it just comes to you for no reason, not going in the studio expecting to make any type of song. It just kind of flows, I guess … When you’re in the studio with your friends, like, that’s the only time that happens with me is if it’s just like my best friends out of my producers. Um, I don’t really get that working with new people, but it’s just like the flow you get with your friends. I feel like it just inspires everyone and then that’s when good ideas get flowing. But yeah, I would say those are the two main ways that my work goes, I guess.

MSM: And which of your songs would be the most meaningful to you?

Ryan: The biggest one for me on Wake Up is “Tomorrow Never Came”. That song talks through abusive relationships and stuff like that. And that’s a huge one for me because I dove into the mental health stuff a lot, but I haven’t really dove into, I was just … Basically – long story short – I was in some brutal relationships in my life and it goes through and talks about that stuff. And I think it’s the best lyrically well-written song I’ve ever made. So, I’m excited about “Tomorrow Never Came”. And then I also just love the songs that like, punch you in the face, and there’s a couple of those where they just are so hard. Like, there’s this one called “Unapologetic” on there and “Sleepwalker” that I think really nailed that stuff. Also, the song “Heavyweight” that I have out with Loveless kind of nails that, but … I mean, yeah, there’s a lot of stuff that, you know, I’ve been making music for 10 years that I still haven’t covered. So, it’s cool to feel like you’re still making new stuff, you know what I mean ? It doesn’t feel like I’m repeating topics or milking anything. It’s all new material that I kind of save and make sure I cover later and now is later. So, we are at that stage.

MSM: And which songs are you most looking forward to play on stage, actually, and why ?

Ryan: My favourite song to play live is not on the album, but I’m hoping a song from the album replaces it, called Too Late. And it’s the song that like blew me up on TikTok and all these social media websites. But um, that song was just fun ‘cause that’s like my big song that everyone knows and it always just goes well. But there’s a bunch of stuff. I mean the album has like high energy songs such as White Flag with Magnolia Park and Down and that Unapologetic song I was talking about. And those are just the fun ones to play live ‘cause the crowds get into it, they’re all jumping up and down and you just kind of like, feed off of everyone’s energy. Um, yeah, one thing for sure if you’re coming to my show is I’m gonna have you move into doing a bunch of stuff and like waving your arms and you’re definitely gonna leave tired [laughs]. So, um, yeah. So, it’s just like, super fun. I always keep my stuff high energy, so the higher energy stuff would definitely be my go-to for sure.

MSM: Good. Yeah, I think that was one of my questions too [laughs] So I’ll just skip it ! Is there a band or an artist you’d like to collaborate with in the future ?

Ryan: There’s so many ! If I had to do like … dream collabs, I think it would be crazy if I made a song with Childish Gambino when he was in his rap era, for sure. Like, that would be insane. Um, I get this dude NF a lot, which I’m working on trying to get to him because that would be insane. It’s like the other dude I get compared to 24/7 about my music. Um, Those two would be definitely dream scenario collabs. I already have some stuff I can’t talk about with some legends already recorded, so that’s really cool. Um, so I would’ve said them, but I’ve done that, which is very crazy. Um, so yeah, I think those would be my main two for sure.

MSM: Who was the second one ? Sorry.

Ryan: This dude NF, he’s a rapper. He’s like super cinematic-y, Eminem-y, kind of mixed together.

MSM: Okay. And the other ones [artists] then we’ll find out.

Ryan: Yeah. Very soon. Hopefully.

MSM: And if you could play in any country or any venue, where would it be and why ?

Ryan: I saw this dude, this rapper named Russ. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him, but he tweeted, he was the first rapper to play at the pyramids in Egypt – ever. Like, they set up like a huge thing in front of them and I was like: “that is my new bucket list for sure !I want to play in front of the Egypt pyramids”. Like that would be insane.

MSM: I didn’t even know it was a thing !

Ryan: Yeah, I guess it’s now a thing for a super big artist where they can come play at the pyramids, which is sick.

MSM: Imagine the heat and all !

Ryan: Oh yeah. Hopefully it’s on a season – if they even get seasons down there – that’s just not brutally hot.

MSM: Yeah ! And what are you most excited about with the upcoming tour ?

Ryan: It’s just, I’ve opened for so many other tours and now it’s like my tour where everyone’s coming to see ME. When you’re an open on tour, you have to be like: “okay, I’m the smaller artist here so I have to win a bunch of fans over.” Like, I have to make people like me. I have to gain all these new fans. And now it’s just like, now we get to cater and nurture to like … These aren’t gonna be huge shows, right ? Like there’s only gonna be a hundred to 200 people at each show, but you get to meet everyone, build a relationships, shake hands.  And they’re there for you, which is the craziest part ! ‘Cause like for 10 years I’ve always wanted to have people show up and now they’re showing up and it’s like: “whoa !” That’s the crazy moment where it’s like: “wait, I, I kind of did it. !” You know ?

MSM: Yeah. That ’s great. It must be great like having all those people loving you and your music, like what you do …

Ryan:  Yeah, it’s like super. I don’t know, I can’t even process it ‘cause it’s not tangible yet, but like … I think once I’m there and it’s like in front of me, I’m gonna be … Probably a mess in a good way. Like, just like super emotional. Yeah, it’s gonna be crazy.

MSM: That’s nice. And, will there be a European tour ? If so, when can we expect it ? But I guess you said about next year-ish.

Ryan: Yeah, I can’t really guarantee it. I have been pushing for now and they just keep saying: “no, not yet.” Like: “Hold your horses !” But I honestly think if I went to Europe right now, I would sell as many tickets as I sold in the US. The issue is, it’s a little more pricey for the flights to fly like a 10 person crew out, and that’s where all the expenses lie. So it’s making it make sense. Are we willing to lose a little bit of money in exchange for going and saying we toured overseas; and like, meeting those fans and organically building … of course I am ! But my team is there to tell me “no” if it’s stupid. Um, but I am trying to get there as soon as possible. I think next year is super realistic, especially because we’ve already been asked by bands to do it. It just didn’t make sense budget-wise. But, yeah, we were looking at crazy losses and it just wouldn’t make sense. But you know, we’re getting those offers and that usually means it’s looking pretty good in the near future.

MSM: It looks like you already have a good fan base, in Europe anyway. I don’t have statistics or numbers, but seems like you got many comments from Dublin.

Ryan: Yeah. I got so many messages. Uh, when I put the US tour up, that was like:  “why is there no Europe ?!” and I was like: “yeah, kind of seems like Europe wants us more than the US right now.” So, kind of interesting.

MSM: Well we’ll be looking forward to that. Um. Are there any questions that you wish journalists would actually ask you but never do or rarely do?

Ryan: That’s a great question ! Um, I think, that I answer questions with the answers I want to get out now; ‘cause I’ve learned that whatever’s not asked, I can just kind of segue into in an answer I guess. So, I don’t think there’s anything in specific. Basically, all I wanted to get out was just, how hard we worked to make like a genreless kind of album. And I would say with Wake Up we’re 85% there, but I also just finished the album that comes after and it’s 150% there, so … If fans didn’t think I nailed it with this one, there’s still a lot of great music on there and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. But they can definitely look forward to the next one because it is just like, fluid. There’s no genre. Like, I don’t know how we’re gonna pitch it to Spotify as like: “we want these playlists” because it doesn’t match anything you know, so it’ll be very interesting. But, um, yeah, I think we got there.

MSM: What would be your worst moment on stage? Do you have any funny stories for us?

Ryan: I have two, I guess, I mean … one’s not that funny. The one that is funny is when I was in Ohio and I don’t know if you’ve seen the viral videos of performers, where they’re like walking on stage and they accidentally walk off without knowing there’s no floor beneath them. Like – basically – I stepped and thought the floor was beneath me and fell on my head on a stage, like years and years ago. And it was like one of my first headline shows with my buddy Zero. And, uh, there was like 30 kids there, so there wasn’t anything crazy, but I definitely missed the stage when I stepped and just absolutely face planted. And it was dope. Luckily, I somehow wasn’t hurt. There was so much adrenaline from the show already. I just popped back up and was like: “that was embarrassing !” and just kept going [laughs].

MSM: And, um, what’s your most useless talent ?

Ryan: I can juggle. Really well. In middle school, in our physical education classes, they made us learn how to juggle and I just never forgot. And I also –  building on childhood – when I was doing the filmmaking stuff, I was also convinced I was gonna be a magician. So, I remember a bunch of magic tricks that my fiance – when she gets drunk with me – loves to make me do, to amuse her. Yeah, so, those are my two useless skills.

MSM: And finally, what’s the craziest or funniest rumour you’ve heard about yourself?

Ryan: Uh, if you google my net worth, this one site says it’s like $130 million. And I think that is ridiculous because I probably would not be living in a house with roommates, you know what I mean, if that were the case. I t’s just like an outrageous net worth assumption. And it was funny,I didn’t know about it until one of my ex-girlfriends – before I was with my fiance – texted me and was like: “why didn’t you tell me you had all this money when we were dating ?!” And I was like: “I literally don’t have that much money. And this just shows why I broke up with you in the first place.” Um, so yeah, that was like the most outrageous thing that I think ever seen about myself.

MSM: Jesus ! A rumour you wish was true !

Ryan: Yeah, yeah. And I wish it was true, for sure !


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