Interview: Going from Local to National with Gentle Temper

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Photo Courtesy of Gentle Temper

By Lily Doolin, Blog Editor

Boston New-Age Folk duo Gentle Temper, made up of Ryan Meier and Marion Earley, will be coming back home and performing at Atwood's Tavern in Cambridge on February 23rd. Ahead of the show, the two spoke with WERS Blog Editor Lily Doolin about tips for transforming from a local band to a nationally-touring namesake, how moments of adversity can become moments of learning, and maybe even what kinds of snacks keep them going on tour.

I wanted to see if you guys could describe for me the early days of Gentle Temper. How you guys got together, what the process was like, learning each other’s ways. How did you guys find your rhythm together?

Ryan Meier: I can tell you once we’ve figured it out (laughs)

Marion Earley: I think it was kind of accidental, we were both in different bands, but Ryan and I were hanging out a lot. Ryan was writing music for his band, and I am obnoxious with singing harmonies on everything (laughs).

RM: It’s welcome at every second: I wish you sang harmonies on everything I ever sang (laughs).

ME: So, I was just singing along as he was practicing his songs, and we both just had a click moment. I sang on some of his songs for his other band, and then both of our bands kind of… well, disbanded, and then we started writing together and playing together, and then it sort of bloomed from there.

What was it like for you guys coming together and writing some of your first songs and performing together? What was the process for those first couple of songs of yours? Where did they happen, how did they come together?

RM: It was a lot of garage bands. I had a laptop melt in my hands, and I lost a lot of programming and stuff. It was an interesting time of bands disbanding and hardware that I’d used for three years and that meant so much to me just melting away. We wanted to do something in the opposite direction of our two very loud bands, so we said, “Okay, let’s do something a bit more slow, intimate, and quiet.” I think for the point that we were at in our lives, it fit perfectly

ME: Yeah, we both had just graduated college and it was a very transitional period. When we started, it was just Ryan playing acoustic guitar, both of us singing, and me sometimes playing acoustic guitar as well. It was a very big departure from what we had been doing before.

RM: I just love creating and writing, and lyrics are always a roadblock for me. I always sit down and ask myself, “What do I want to feel?” and try to create that with instruments. When Marion brought me–I think it’s happened three or four times now–Marion will bring me a poem and she goes, “Hey, I think this might be cool,” and I go, “Yes, this would be cool,” and four hours later, there’s a song. That’s the most fun I have (laughs).

ME: Most of it, in the beginning, started in Ryan’s room, and I wasn’t really writing much other than some poetry once in a while. It was an unassuming way to start. It was not necessarily a “we are going to do this, we are going to be a band” kind of thing.

In talking about you guys figuring out the songwriting and learning how to produce on different hardware, as Ryan said, where do you guys draw inspiration from? How do you seek out inspiration when you are at a roadblock?

RM: I’m going to give you an answer that makes it sound easy, but let that not deceive you. I am pulling my hair out and sweating at times out of pure frustration from roadblock. I would say anytime we travel, I like to do the thing that the core member of the band Beirut does. He travels all the time and reserves a couple of albums to listen to, to have this frame of reference for it, and I think that’s so poignant. If you’re just doing your daily routine and just listening to albums, there’s a controlled environment where you’re not being stimulated in other ways, and there’s also not a unique experience being tied to it. I’ve learned, with how much we travel, to give our songs that kind of opportunity to express the crazy ups and downs we feel driving five hours to a show that we don’t even know is going to be good, and then it turns out to be this huge experience that we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives. That’s what I do at a roadblock.

ME: Yeah, lots of full-album listening (laughs). I think creative people also draw inspiration from everything–to us, everything is inspiring. Seeing someone on a street and wonder what their day is like and what their life is like and what experiences brought them to this point. Also, hearing things that you don’t necessarily like, I think that is inspiring too.

RM: There’s been a lot of that over, shall we say, the last handful of years? (laughs)

ME: Yeah, some things come from me just being like, “Okay, that’s something I never really wanna try, but cool” (laughs).

That’s totally awesome (laughs). Shifting gears now, if you could pinpoint at least one or two moments, after years of figuring each other out and getting into a rhythm, that were pivotal turning points where you realized this could be much bigger than just, as you said, a garage band thing, what would they be?

ME: I think the first time we played out, which was at the Lizard Lounge open mic, was a pivotal moment when we were like, “Okay, this could be a real thing.” I don’t even think we had a name at that point (laughs). We were just kind of like, “Let’s play these songs that we’ve been working on and see how it feels.” And it felt really good, and it was received well, so I think that was the first time I thought that this could really go somewhere.

I hate the term “networking,” but I feel at some point everyone is told to be networking in their lives, so how did you guys navigate the music scene in Boston? For any band out there thinking, “How do we get ourselves involved in the community?”, how did you guys get to book shows and create relationships here?

RM: It’s interesting that the space here offers so much. There’s a ridiculous amount of bands that are churning over, because while the names change, there’s this common motif between members of bands, and a lot of the musicians always stick around, and they’re all thoroughly underappreciated. There are so many amazing artists that I’m like, “How are you not nationally touring? How are you so underappreciated?”

ME: Boston makes it kinda easy to be a part of the community.

RM: With that, though, I will say that sometimes the city feels so far away. People in the more college areas are like, “There’s no way I’m going to go to Somerville, that’s so far away” (laughs).

ME: But I think that, with networking, I also have to think of it not as networking, but as building genuine connections with people. If I think about it as a business transaction, which is kind of what “networking” sounds like to me, I get cold feet and I get anxious and weird. I have to think about it like I’m trying to build these genuine connections with people. If something musical or music-related comes out of it, then great. That’s a bonus, almost.

How did you guys make the transition from being a smaller band that goes to open mics to a band that tours nationally? Not just business-wise, how you guys got to meet the right people, but also how did you guys have to change the way you thought about performing?

RM: Well, we realized how much fun it is to get to other cities and give them something that isn’t the daily. Once you feel like you’ve played around your hometown a lot, I feel like you should expand a little bit–not too much, don’t over-extend yourself. We did that once, we drove to Tennessee and back for not-enough shows, just to see some friends. It was fun, but it took a bit out of us. I’d say the leap sort of happens when you’re straining your day job, and you’re like, “If I just had a little more time, if I had the energy to make that leap, that would be great.” I will say, I think we had supportive bosses at the time. I was teaching music, and I was working part-time next to where Marion was working.

ME: Yeah, I was working at a coffee shop in Somerville. They were so supportive. It’s not easy to work in an establishment that’s open seven days, to have your employees be like, “Okay, we’re leaving for tour for a month!” But they were so nice about it. We got really lucky there. Ryan and I itch to travel; we don’t like being in one spot. We needed to get on the road. We have so many friends and family that are involved in the music industry and have done this for years. That in itself was really inspiring, to see people that we’re close with doing this and know that it’s possible to do this, so I think that gave us a little push to do it.

For sure! On that cheerful note, to bring it to a sad note perhaps (laughs)–

RM: Let’s do it (laughs)!

Could you guys describe for me a moment of adversity, where you questioned whether or not you could really do this. How did you get out of that, or what did you learn from a moment like that?

ME: That happens to me on a weekly basis (laughs). Not in a sort of existential crisis, “Oh my God I can’t do anything anymore in life,” but in a like, “Is this really possible?” way. Just a fleeting moment. But I mean, any creative career is not an easy thing to dive into, and especially when you are doing all the leg work yourself. We’re so lucky with the people we know and the people we’ve connected with. We have places to stay, and we have food to eat. We’re really lucky with all of that. I can’t pinpoint one exact time where we’ve both looked at each other and said, “What are we doing?”

RM: I always knew I wanted to be a touring musician. The day I picked up an instrument, I was like, “Yeah, I just want to do this for life.” We played between 180 and 200 shows last year, and at some point in there–I think it might’ve been August–we played ten shows in six days. I think right there, I think I was like, “Part of me is so happy, but part of me is so exhausted.” I just want to give the best live show we can do as two people, and when I felt that kind of suffering, I felt like, “I can do this too much, to the point where it hurts itself.” That was a crazy moment to feel. I was like, “I can’t just do this and not sleep and not eat and not drink enough Kombucha and not take a breather for myself.”

Absolutely, there’s a self-care aspect to it as well.

ME: Yeah, there’s definitely a major balance and figuring out what your limits are. It’s not something you really realize until you’ve pushed beyond what your limits are, and then you’re like, “Okay, this is too much, I can’t do this.”

That’s a great moment to realize, and on that note, what is one piece of advice you would give to upcoming bands in the Boston area specifically?

RM: Stand your ground. Find your message and stand your ground.

ME: I would say keep going. That’s something that I try to take with us. We could so easily just stop and go back to day jobs and quit, but that wouldn’t make us happy. Just do what makes you happy and keep going with it.

I want to end on a fun one: What’s your favorite road-trip snack?

RM: Oh man, this is in my wheelhouse. This is actually tough (laughs).

ME: I am only eating Saltines right now (laughs).

RM: If you want an accurate picture of traveling, Marion had food poisoning yesterday. That happens. Saltines are the staple (laughs).

ME: Honestly, pretzels. Pretzels, Cheez-its. I can’t only pick one.

RM: I’d go with candied ginger.

ME: Candied ginger?

RM: Yeah, it’s good stuff! I’m like, “This is healthy, so I can eat more” (laughs).

ME: Wow, you just went the total opposite way I went. I was like, “Give me all these crackers” (laughs). Also, water?

RM: Yeah, water and seltzer, cannot beat it.

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