Ryan Cook during a recent appearance at Th'YARC. MICHAEL GORMAN PHOTO
By Michael Gorman
Ryan Cook is probably the least likely country and western musician on the face of the planet but, after years of fronting heavy metal bands in Yarmouth and Halifax, that's exactly what he's become.
Gone are the days of Cook's trademark growls and screams, replaced by a signing voice with just a hint of old-time country and backed by a well-oiled band. When Cook plays Haley's Lounge Jan. 20 at 10 p.m., he and the Sunny Acres Band will look to spread the sound.
Cook says the reason for the musical change steams from the desire to do something different and because the music that he despised growing started to grow on him. The sounds of Don Williams, Ernie Ford and George Jones started to click with him and inspired him to learn more about their brand of music, something Cook says acts as an escape, of sorts, from current sounds. "I spent probably almost a year just studying country music," he says. "I was absorbing as much of it as I could by buying records like crazy and just taking it all in."
Once he was able to understand the format and style of the genre, Cook says he was able to apply his own creative spin to the song-writing process. "When it comes to writing songs you have to wait until there's something there to come out . . . It's almost like a type of thing that's meant to be. You almost have to be going through something in order for something to come out."
Eventually, the songs he was writing started sounding less and less like tributes to Jones and Williams and more like his own.
The challenge now becomes exposing audiences unfamiliar with the music to what he's doing.
Though he's played only a handful of shows to this point, Cook is pleased with the reaction he's received. The band is a big help in this process. Bill Bullerwell and Craig Harris anchor a driving rhythm section, while Bob Lawrence's steel guitar and Ryan Comeau's slide guitar add colour to Cook's own playing. The cherry on top is the razor-sharp harmonies between Cook and vocalist Alex Matheson, who also occasionally sings lead.
All of these factors work toward the conversion process, says Cook, as people wrap their heads around what he's doing. "I really feel like it's a process of winning people over," he says. "This is the first time in my life I've ever played a style of music that was accessible to the general public — I've always been used to playing stuff that was just basement stuff that could really only be listened to by a certain alternative kind of crowd. "But now that I'm playing something that can be accessible to any age group and the general public, well, I guess there's that feeling to want to try and do something with it. We really are trying to bring back that old, genuine country sound that you don't really hear anymore."