Interview With Little King

What was the beginning pint for your music career? How did it all start?

Good morning from Tucson, AZ…appreciate your interest in Little King!

I got my start in original bands in El Paso, Texas, in November of 1995 with a 3-piece band called Tweed Quickly. My dear friend Shannon Brady was the bass player, and he had introduced me to the drummer/singer/songwriter Scott Marestein the year before. When their guitar player bailed, it was my turn to step up.  

Scott’s music was heavily influenced by Frank Zappa, old school funk, and some more progressive things like Rush. For me, it was quite an education in many ways. First off, I had to woodshed my ass off to learn 13 complicated songs in about 3 days. Because Scott writes “on the up,” I had to re-train my brain to not always find the 1 on the downbeat. Took a minute, but I got it, and we rocked well for about a year. 

When that gig was up, I had written enough songs to try my hand at making a record. I called the group “Little King,” which is a translation of my first name, Ryan, from Gaelic.  From there, I found a couple guys who fit in well in Mike Esparza (bass) and Alex Lizarazo (drums), and we set about playing a ton of shows and recording the first LK album, Transmountain.

That record came out May 17, 1997, so as a celebration of that milestone, we recorded and release a 25th anniversary song called “Silver Tongue” which was released everywhere on March 25, 2023. “Silver” is a term that describes the 25th anniversary, so it seemed an appropriate title on a number of levels.

Was there any bumps on the road? What kind of challenges did you have to deal with?

I mean…yeah! 25 years is a long time in human terms, so the whole thing has been a bumpy road, really. At least until about 2016, when I met Manny Tejeda, who is the current bass player and my brother from the Dominican Republic via Delaware. We met in Rehoboth Beach, the beach town in DE where we were both living at the time. We were both single dads, musicians, and hit it off immediately. He has become such an integral part of my writing, recording, and touring process, that he seems to truly be the missing piece.

Manny and Eddy Garcia (drummer and engineer for Little King since 2007) are both good friends and come from varied backgrounds. The key over 25 years isn’t keeping the same group of people together, necessarily, but it’s sure been nice.  Seriously, I love our chemistry, and while Eddy is currently busy with his main squeeze (the Pissing Razors), knowing that we’ve had some continuity over the last 3 releases has given me confidence that Little King continues to evolve and open new doors for all of us.

What was the most fulfilling and satisfying moment so far?

Even though I have been releasing albums and Ep’s pretty consistently since 1997, I haven’t been able to tour as much as I would have liked. In point of fact, we stopped in 2006 and never picked back up again as Little King until September of last year. For the record, I always WANTED to tour. But as an adult with real parenting responsibilities, I had “work” and life intruding on touring plans for a very long time. When we were finally ready to roll in 2020, after the very successful EP Occam’s Foil was charting on college radio and doing it’s thing, the pandemic interrupted those “best laid plans.”

Finally, stability kicked back in last year. We had released the album Amuse De Q in late 2021, and I am quite sure that is the best LK album to date. So, given the momentum, continuity, and the amount of time I had freed up personally based on a changing “work” dynamic, we decided to hit the stage. 

I worked hard at not sucking, and when I felt that had been achieved, the band came back together and included Jessica Flores (vocals and sax), David Hamilton (cello), and Christina Hrnandez (violin). We rehearsed and performed a show in Tucson, where I now live, and then on the home turf in El Paso. The results were gratifying…we weren’t perfect, but damn if we weren’t pretty okay! Didn’t suck, for sure.

How would you describe the music that you typically create?

I love the term “Dynamic Rock.” Early on, we kind of attached ourselves to the term Progressive Rock, but I don’t feel super-comfortable under that umbrella. Certainly, there are progressive elements to our music; lots of odd times, extended instrumental passages, and mixing of tempos and moods. It’s always been of great importance to me as a songwriter and listener to have a variety of dynamics to the music. Through the course of a full album, I’d like to have a journey that isn’t too one-note. I grew up in the late 70’s and 80’s, and I was raised on ALBUMS as a set piece…where one song fits with the next and the sum of the whole is greater than the parts.

What is your creative process like?

It’s changed very little from 1997 until last year. I have an old Washburn acoustic guitar that has been my canvas since the beginning of Little King. I noodle incessantly, but when it’s TIME TO MAKE AN ALBUM, it gets a bit more focused. I write riffs, experiment with different keys, tempos, and time signatures. When I feel like it is unique and interesting enough, I move to another part. They sometimes fit seamlessly from the jump, and sometimes they make no sense together at all! That’s okay…they may morph into something totally different, and I know that if it’s good enough, it will see the light of day somehow.

When the songs are fleshed out, I send demos to the bass player and drummer, or sometimes we just sit down and hash them out. This process can take weeks or months, depending on our agreed-upon timeline. Finally, we convene in Eddy’s studio in El Paso, Krank Studios, and lay the bed drums, bass, and guitar tracks down. 

I take the music home and begin to write words and vocal melodies. I am the singer and guitarist in a 3 piece proggy band, so it’s not easy to play and sing these tunes right away. Practice makes decent, I guess. But I want to make sure when I’m writing the lyrics that they make sense thematically as well as musically…that the meter is conducive to being able to nail it live.  I think I fail at that part as often as I succeed, honestly. Maybe too ambitious, sometimes?

Finally, I go back to Ed’s studio and track vocals, guitar solos/effects, and additional vocals and instrumentation. Dave Hamilton has created some amazing string arrangements for the last 2 records, so it’s been fun to have someone so accomplished adding bells and whistles.

When it’s done, we go to mixing, mastering, and finally out to the Faithful FOLK (Fans Of Little King).

If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?

I think the old days produced, on average, better quality performances and songwriting. I believe that is true because digital recording and editing has made it possible for the ordinary to sound pretty good. Not usually amazing…a good song is a good song…but it sure can make a marginal musician or composition sound like a winner.

In the old days, there wasn’t much in the way of vocal tuning, editing, post-production wizardry, etc. You had to be able to PLAY in the days up through the 90’s. I mean, don’t get me wrong…a great producer could polish a certain level of crap, but not in the way a ProTools or DAW whiz can now. So, I kinda miss the days of having to wade through a lot of overproduced digital dumping to find a diamond in the rough…Especially as it relates to virtuosity of the musicians.

If you were asked to give a piece of advice to upcoming bands, what would that be?

Jeez…probably to ignore my advice. Really.

What is new with the band at the moment? What are you currently working on and would like to share with the world?

We just released the single “Silver Tongue,” which, as I said, is the celebration of 25 years of music. It’s a hoot. Love the way it came out, and as I reflect back on the initial goal which was to create a track that would serve as a musical throwback to some earlier stuff with a nod to the future, I think we got it right. There is a super-heavy and odd groove that comprises the main riff, but there are a few surprises and changes that flow well enough to sound like they belong yet are maybe unexpected to the uninitiated. I love Steely Dan, and while we don’t really sound much like them, their ability to seamlessly change keys and vibe while maintaining form is something I aspire to.

Lyrically, it’s a lamentation and celebration all at once. There is “so much more to do” as an artist and human, and I think becoming a better man is the whole goal. That is the GOAL, anyway. But with a “Silver Tongue” is the theme…talk it through, do it eloquently, and share it with the world as best you can. Maybe that summarizes my life as an artist better than anything else.

You can access the song through streaming links here:

Or on YouTube Below