On The Homefront

One-On-One with Ryan Humbert of The Shootouts

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While we all spent much of the past year wondering if and when life will get back to normal, those questions have weighed most heavily on the minds of our favorite country music artists. The pandemic and its associated shut-downs has taken a severe toll on artists ranging from the local singer-songwriter searching for an audience, to the biggest names in the business whose livelihoods were all but taken away. The music industry is built on artists connecting personally with fans night after night in a small bar or massive stadium. That hasn’t happened in over a year now. But there are flickers of light coming through at the end of the tunnel. And with that light comes hope that music (especially live music) will be back with us again soon.

The Shootouts, a favorite of traditional country music fans throughout Northeast Ohio and beyond, are but one example of a band that changed its focus to making lemonade when life handed them lemons during the pandemic. This is their story of renewal and rebirth.

So Ryan, it’s been a while since we last talked? How have you been during these crazy times?

“Actually, I’m doing well. We’re definitely looking forward to being able to get back to work, though.”

While a lot of musicians have been sidelined by shutdowns, you’ve actually managed to remain pretty productive. Can you fill us in on what you’ve been up to since we last spoke?

“When Quick Draw came out in 2019 we were getting a lot of positive feedback and things were going rather well. In early 2020 we were nominated for Best Honky-Tonk band at the Ameripolitan Music Awards in Memphis. And we even released a couple of covers: a Shootouts version of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “Don’t Bring Me Down” by ELO. (If you haven’t heard these, you really need to check them out!) Things were going well. And then we were set to meet up with producer Chuck Mead to start work on our second album. We were all set to go into the studio in Nashville when they got hit with that tornado in February, of 2020. Chuck had lost two of his vehicles and sustained damage to his house. Many of his neighbors lost their houses too. We asked Chuck if he wanted to delay the record, and he said no, lets go ahead and do it. So we played in Chicago on March 5th, Indianapolis on March 6th, did a sold out show in Columbus on March 7th and arrived in Nashville to start work on the record on March 8th. That was the week that Covid-19 started to take hold, cancellations were rampant, and there we were in the studio in Nashville. By the time we got homer on March 16th the world had shut down and we lost tons of shows and thousands of dollars worth of income. Yet in between all of this we managed to finish the record.”

That’s amazing! You’ve also done some cool things with your Americana radio show. Would you like to talk about that a bit?

“When we got back on March 16th everything was shut down and there were no signs of life in the music industry. I used that time to write some new songs, do some work on my house and just have some down time. This wasn’t something I was used to. So one of the things I did was I took my radio show (The Americana Roundup, Sunday mornings 9 to 11 am on The Summit) and turned it into a 24/7 streaming channel. Anyone can listen at AmericanaRoundup.com where it’s available free and without commercial interruption. I personally curated over 5,000 songs and set up the rotation. I just love the genre, and for me, this was a passion project. I wanted to be able to expand on what I was doing with my radio show at The Summit.”

Staying on the subject of the pandemic, how did you manage to keep the band engaged during all the lock downs?

“Luckily the band was all of the same mindset. We took the pandemic very seriously. We didn’t want to go out or do anything that would have put our selves, our families, our friends or our fans at risk. We didn’t want to selfishly take a show and risk having somebody we know potentially get sick or die. That just wasn’t worth it to us.”

“We did a few things last summer that were outside and socially distanced, like one show at the Rock Hall. We did a handful of events that we felt were safe to do. But other than that we were willing to just wait it out. We knew that we’d be releasing the new record when the time felt right. But everyone was willing to play it safe. There were no complaints. It was the right thing for us to do.”

“Things can still change at the drop of a hat, but while we haven’t announced them yet, we’ve booked a dozen shows so far. We will be adding more as it’s safe to do so. The original idea was to release the record last fall. We really wanted to release it in the right way, though. So when it was evident that things would remain slow for a while, we decided to take our time putting it out. We mixed the record long distance. The gentleman who mixed the record and Chuck were in Nashville while we remained up here. It actually ended up being pretty interesting and fun. We’re really happy that we’re able to get the record out now.”

A lot of artists have resorted to performing online. In fact Drake White is still doing a regular show on Wednesday evenings. Is that something The Shootouts considered doing?

“Live stream? Yeah, we actually did a couple. I did a couple of them solo. Then we did a big one with the full band for Case Western Reserve. Hmmm. I did a separate thing for a Christmas event. Brian and I did one together. We’ve done a few of them. But the biggest issue for us as a band is that we don’t necessarily live close to each other. Some of us are over an hour away, so trying to set something up regularly would have been difficult. It’s good that we did some because it gave people who don’t always have the chance to see us live at least get to see us on a computer screen or TV. But there’s nothing like a live show!”

That’s enough about Covid-19. Let’s talk about the album. It’s due to be released on April 30th, right?

“That’s correct. It comes out on April 30th.”

Tell us about the album. How did it come about and how did you arrive at your song selections?

“I met Chuck Mead when he came to The Summit back in 2019. I gave him a copy of our album when I interviewed him for my radio show. And then I ran into him a couple of times while we were down in Nashville about a month or two later. We started talking a little bit and I asked him if he’d consider producing a record for us. And he said “yeah, I think I would.” Chuck has been a torchbearer for real, traditional country music. That’s kind of where we see ourselves, following in his footsteps. So we discussed the songs and set it up. We were thrilled to get the chance to work with Chuck on this project. He’s the guy that completely understands the genre, what a band like ours is trying to do and what our mission is. What we’re trying to do is a lot like what his band BR5-49 did.”

“Working with him just seemed to naturally make sense.”

“It was fun to actually work with him. We sent him demos for fifteen tunes, and he liked all of them and said let’s cut them all. So we recorded fifteen songs and decided to see what stuck. Well, all fifteen songs turned out pretty good, but that was too many tracks for an album. So we chose twelve that kind of told a story together.”

“We really wanted the record to be fun. People have gone through a lot during the past year whether it’s been dealing with sickness, work or any number of other issues. We wanted folks to be able to get in their car, roll the windows down and ride around for forty minutes and hopefully just enjoy themselves.”

“There are only two slow songs on the record. The other 10 are all upbeat. We think this album is representative of our live shows, as well.”

Of the twelve songs on the album, are they all originals, or did you include some covers?

“There were no covers this time. All of the songs are original. They were either written by myself or our long time side-man, pedal steel player Al Moss. The title track “Bullseye” is an instrumental song written by guitarist Brian Poston. He’s just a monster, and this is a great show off piece for him. It’s a great song! And there’s one song that’s a co-write between me, Al Moss and Marc Lee Shannon (The Resonators), who’s a singer/songwriter that’s also from Northeast Ohio.”

Are you planning to take the band to regional and national shows when you’re able t get back out on the road?

“Definitely yes! When it’s safe enough to do so, we’re on our way. We had some amazing shows that got cancelled last year in Los Angeles, Chicago, Iowa and New York City. This year we’re going to try to pick up the pieces and rebuild our momentum.”

Are you planning to do a Bullseye Tour later this year?

“We’re going to promote the album as long as it makes sense to do so. We really want to do it right. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that there’s still a pandemic going on.”

When you do collaborate, or even when you write on your own, do you have a preferred way of working?

“Not really. I’ve done co-writing long distance or where we’re all in the same room and you’re under a deadline, I’ve gotten together with guys where we’re just shooting ideas around and we come out with five or six songs. I don’t think there’s a “best way” to write songs. It’s what gets you to the finish line with a great product that matters. I’m not a stickler when it comes to process. Typically I like to come up with a hook, either lyrical or a melody hook, and then try to write around that. Songwriting is hard to describe sometimes. It’s kind of a weird and mystical process.”

“There’s a song on the new record that I wrote about my mom. She passed away unexpectedly in November of 2018. We were very close, and I wanted to pay tribute to her in a song, but I didn’t want to force it. I felt that it would be better if the song told me when it was time, and that is actually what happened. It took about a year, but when I finally sat down and wrote the song it was finished in about a day, It was October of 2019 when the inspiration and the idea for the chords kind of came to me. The song is called “Another Mother”, and the chorus basically says how we should value that relationship. While the song is about moms since there’s such a unique bond between mother and child, it could just as easily be about any family member. We should really value those relationships. Like the song says: “you don’t get another mother when the first time here is through.” It’s a very emotional song, and it’s similar in style to “California To Ohio” on the Quick Draw album.”

Let’s talk a little bit about “Rattlesnake Whiskey.” That’s a cool song. What’s the story behind it?

“Well, thank you. The song was actually inspired by a book that I read. The story is about a small historic town in Ohio. In the book they talked about how some guys were making moonshine and they would pour it into the mouths of rattlesnakes to ward them off. I thought that’s interesting. I didn’t know rattlesnakes were even in Ohio. I thought it was a weird and funny little tall tale. It stayed with me and I thought it would be the perfect song.”

You don’t have to answer this if you prefer not to, but do you have any aspiration or hope of being played on country radio?

“Well, it’s funny, how do I answer this? The Shootouts are very much rooted in classic styles of country music. You’ll hear a bit of Bakersfield and Western Swing and Outlaw Country in our music. Those aren’t things that are represented by country radio these days. As far as trying to break a new artist or song in country radio, it can be very difficult and very, very expensive. The people on our team, band members and myself included, haven’t felt that it would be worthwhile to pursue airplay on country radio. The Shootouts are never going to change our mission statement and turn out a Bro-Country record. If an opportunity came up to move onto country radio we’d certainly pursue it. It can happen, you know. Just look at Chris Stapleton. He doesn’t fit into any of the current country radio formulas.”

What do you like in today’s country music, and if you had your druthers, how would you like to see it change?

“There’s really good country music still being made out there. You just have to know where to look for it. I listen to a lot of outlaw country on Sirius XM Radio and other more traditional satellite and online stations. These and Americana are the kinds of music not being played on commercial country radio. Those stations follow a very strict set of rules. It’s a very small lane of traffic, and if you want to branch out from there you have to go elsewhere. I enjoy diversity in the music I listen to. And you can find a lot of that while dabbling at the fringes. If I could change anything, I’d love to see commercial country radio stations start to play a wider array of artists, particularly women and people of color. There are some incredible records out there that country radio won’t touch, but they should.”

Well Ryan, thanks so much for your time today. As we close, what would you like to have happen for The Shootouts in 2021?

“Obviously we hope that the record will get into the hands of as many folks as possible. We’re definitely looking forward to getting back in front of live audiences and doing all we can to build awareness for our band. The future can be bright for traditional country music, and we hope to be a part of it all.”

The new album Bullseye by The Shootouts will be released on Friday, April 30. Treat yourself to some great new music that’s sure to delight. Here at CCM we can hardly wait! Much good luck to Ryan, Emily and the guys as the new record makes its long awaited debut.


Buy the new album Bullseye: Here

Follow The Shootouts on Facebook: Here

Get news, tour info and merchandise on their website: Here

Watch The Shootouts in their Virtual Interview and Performance from the Rock Hall in Cleveland on Wednesday, April 28 at 7pm. You can login to the FREE event on your phone or computer: Here

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