Whale of a Journey Brings Musical Success

In Features, Non-fiction on February 21, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Courtesy of Saltlakemagazine

Written by Alex Ashley

Once upon a time, there was a young man named Ryan, who left the small town of Colville to travel the world, and then became a nationally acclaimed folk star…

Well, that’s the story in a nutshell.

When a 16 year-old Ryan Hayes, of Colville, Washington, left his hometown, he had no idea that in the next 11 years, he would accomplish what most never accomplish, and that the world would know about it.

He would travel the world as a missionary.

He would travel the world as a professional geologist.

He would write and produce an opera.

And finally, he would star on national television for the world to see.

But as it happens, he did.

“Lessons of Life and Love”

On the tail of a 2-year missionary assignment to Ecuador as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hayes found himself in school.

“I was going to school in Rexburg, Idaho, studying to be a geologist,” Ryan says.  He is the next in a long line of scientists in the family; his father is a chemical engineer.  “On the side, I was writing a rock opera.”

In 2009, Ryan’s future collaborator, musician Jon Peter Lewis, rolled into town.

“I found out he could sing, and asked him to sing the lead in the rock opera I was writing.  Thus began our collaboration.”

When Hayes says “rock opera,” he means exactly what you would think he means: a theatrical, musical production of epic proportions; “a modern breed of classical opera,” as he describes it; “a story told through continuous music that blends traditional folk instruments and melodies with bluesy American rock.”

The opera, which Hayes titles “Deep Love: A Ghostly Folk Opera,” chronicles the experience of a bereaved young widow, as she struggles to meet the demands of her deceased husband’s undying love.  Fellow Midas Whaler, Jon Peter Lewis, says Hayes wrote the Opera with another friend after enduring some personal trauma in his life.

“It’s the result of learning lessons of life and love,” Ryan says.  “It’s very dark.  It deals with death, and things like that.” But he says its dark nature should not give the impression that it is inappropriate for all ages.  “It is not graphic or scary, even though it does touch on some pretty dark, heavy issues.  In its own, very strange way, it is family friendly.”

The scope of the production alone is significantly impressive.  “We started working on it back in 2010, and in a matter of 6 months, we were able to take the production from my living room to a very large performance hall with something like 30 people on stage.” Hayes’ Rock Opera has 4 leads, he says; they are backed by a 20 or 30-piece orchestra that performs the original music.  When the doors open, everything is very somber.  Organ music is playing when you come in.  “It’s very rocky, very folky, and it definitely has its own, unique tone and personality.”

Hayes is still producing these shows today, taking the production on the road.  The next line of shows for Ryan Hayes’ “Deep Love” will include fellow contestants from season 3 of NBC’s The Voice.  “To get to be doing that kind of extra-curricular performance is very special, very unique.”

“When you come to the show,” Hayes adds, “come in funeral attire.”

“Want to Have an Adventure?”

After getting through college, Hayes was finally working a real life, professional geologist, wielding a shiny new degree and building up a pretty good resume in his field.  “I was working out of state and out of the country quite a bit,” he said.  “And then one day I got a call from Jon, and he basically said ‘want to have an adventure?’”

The adventure Lewis spoke of was an audition for the popular reality show, The Voice, which was holding auditions in California.  Ryan replied: “Might as well,” which prompted the band’s unique name “Midas Whale.”

Although their airtight vocal harmonies and colorful, enthusiastic folk performances give the same impression of a duo that has been playing together for, say, years, the fact is that the duo, Midas Whale, did not exist until that phone call.  “Our collaboration was not regular up to that point,” Hayes says.  “We didn’t start playing together until we went on the show.  It was a spur of the moment decision.”

And a good one at that.  The show’s views and its judges at up Ryan and Jon’s performance.  Each judge spun around in his chair with a smile on his face upon hearing the honest vocal performance of the duo’s rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and later fought over who should get to coach them on the show.

“It was very interesting,” explains Hayes.  “It’s a little known fact that in the first take, we went up on stage and Jon’s mic wasn’t on, so all they heard was my harmony vocal with no melody.  Nobody turned around.  When we redid the performance, it was a day-and-night difference.  So we got to experience the feeling of defeat and knocking it out of the park all in one audition!” Such is a strong testament to the strength of their collaboration as artists.

In the “Knock Out Rounds” of the show’s 3rd season, Midas Whale didn’t make it.  Rolling Stone magazine defined that moment as “the day the music died”—a flattering statement from such a titan in the realm of rock journalism.

Although the duo didn’t make it into the final rounds, Ryan says the experience served the purpose they wanted it to.  “Our primary goal,” he says, “was met when we got to play our music in front of producers, and make some great connections with some great people.  The rest is just the cherry on top of what is really important to us—getting to play music and make people happy.”


            Regardless of his accomplishments as a musician and songwriter, Hayes takes a very realistic viewpoint of it all that is laced with a healthy dollop of humility.

“Jon and I know we can’t rely on our momentum from The Voice for anything.  It gave us a great kick start, and helped us to hit the ground running, which we are tremendously thankful for.  But we know that now it is our responsibility to create our own momentum.”

Hayes thinks it’s working.

“People used to talk about what we ‘were’ and that we had been on a big TV show.  But because we have something to offer musically, something unique and meaningful, people are starting to talk about what we ‘are.’ We are getting recognition as artists, songwriters and musicians, not just as ‘those guys who were on television.’”

Hayes and Lewis’s recent venture, running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for their project as Midas Whale, is perfect evidence of this.  In just a 30-day window, between May 6th and June 5th this year, nearly 1,400 backers raised the duo $36,442, exceeding their goal by well over $6,000.  The average pledge, reports Hayes, was somewhere around $27.00 per person.  “To have that many people supporting our music, most of whom weren’t even our personal friends, was an awesome experience.  We have some truly die-hard fans.”

For good reason, indeed.  The duo, quite simply, is a prism refracting all that is good about music—harkening back to the golden age of folk music, when a song wasn’t just a paycheck, but a message—and taking the world by storm with pure, unadulterated Americana and folk music, something it hasn’t heard in a long while.

“My approach to music,” says Hayes, “is that I’m a songwriter.  I don’t consider myself a great singer or even instrumentalist, but I do think I have a strength in songwriting.  I think it’s funny that I made it so far on a singing show, where songwriting isn’t part of the criteria.  But what makes me cling to a song, what makes a song worthwhile to me, is a strong melody.  That’s why I stay pretty faithful to folk music, because of the strength it carries melodically.  I try to have meaning lyrically, but I don’t consider myself a good lyricist.  Music, for me, is a pure and simple melody.”

Although Jon Peter Lewis’s style is somewhat different from his own, Hayes says when they play and write music together, it isn’t forced.  “Jon has some pretty strong folk roots, even though some of the music he has developed in his solo career is more ‘poppy’ than what I would write, so the collaboration is incredibly natural.”

Obviously, the diligence and hard work has paid off.  “Every day is a productive day for us,” Hayes added.  “My greatest ambition in life has always been to play music full-time, and right now I’m doing it.  You have these moments where this odd feeling comes over you, and you think ‘shouldn’t I be doing something I like less?’ We haven’t gotten a day of solid rest since we kicked off the show.”

Although he plans, eventually, to return to his “plan A,” the field of geology, he says right now he is riding the wave, so to speak, and taking advantage of every opportunity.  “And I’m excited to represent my hometown,” he says.  “I grew up in Colville, and I have a lot of pride for Stevens County and the Spokane area.  I’m a huge Bing Crosby fan, and to know, deep down, that some really great music has originated from my home area motivates me to be the next to put Colville and Spokane on the map.”

For a young man with such remarkable talent and opportunity, the goal is realistic.

“It’s something I’ve always aspired to,” says Ryan Hayes, “bringing more credit to the town that raised me.”

[Featured in The Spokesman-Review, Feb. 21, 2014.  Read here:]

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