Interview | Abbie Bell from The High Ryes

Abbie Bell & The High Ryes

“When I brought this song to the band, it just clicked.”

Abbie Bell had a chat with me to discuss her band, The High Ryes. We spoke about supporting big names in the country genre, the backgrounds of their two released singles, as well as venturing into a rock dominated Scotland as a country band.

Q: This first question is about your “Take It Off Tour”. There’s some HMV dates on there as well as the support shows. Have you played any of these venues before?

Yes. So we’ve played Bannerman’s before. That was, kind of, when we first formed. We did a string of shows at Bannerman’s. All the other ones will be new to us, which is really exciting.

Q: Are you looking forward to going back to Bannerman’s then?

We are actually, yeah. We have a really good relationship with Bannerman’s. They were the first venue that gave us a shot, basically. It’s quite hard, at times, especially as a country band to try and get the right venues and get the right gigs because there’s not a big market, right now, here in Edinburgh for it. But at the time, we just wanted to get some live experience, test out the songs we’d been writing. They gave us slots, they bumped us up to headline slots. We’re very much looking forward to going back.

It’s a great venue, the sound engineer there is fantastic, they know the venue really really well. It’s a good wee setup, definitely.

Q: What are some things you’re most excited for on this tour?

I think, probably, doing the big support slots. On October 5th, in Bannerman’s, we’re supporting Jack J Hutchinson, which is a London based blues rock, artist, which is great. He’s on his UK tour at the moment. Then we’re also supporting Kevin McGuire [October 6th], who’s in the country space, and is just really big right now, iconic. He’s definitely one to watch. To be offered those support slots on two very big shows, especially since we only formed a year ago, I think that’s what we’re most excited about. To get out to audiences who we can hopefully build a relationship with, and hopefully they like our stuff and start to follow us, and build that fanbase.

Q: That’s really exciting! How did those support slots come about? Did you reach out to them?

Yeah pretty much. The Jack J Hutchinson one at Bannerman’s, on their Facebook group, they often put a list of openings, gigs that are available and bands can apply, which is amazing. That’s why many new bands opt to go with Bannerman’s because they’re always willing to support local and new artists. We follow them quite regularly and we saw a few support slots and we’re, sort of, in this stage now where we’re wanting to get the right gigs. When we saw the Jack J Hutchinson one, we were like “we’ll apply for that” because even though we’re country, we do have some rock and blues elements in some of our songs and the set. We thought we’d be a good fit, and we’re really liking his stuff that he’s released at the moment. So yeah, we just kind of applied, and then it was a case of, we got it. I don’t know what the chat was with Jack, whether Bannerman’s just, kind of, vouched for us because we’ve played with them a few times, they’ve heard our set, or they looked at our socials, the songs we’ve got going on, maybe they just liked our stuff. It was very, very easy.

The Kevin McGuire one was posted on his Facebook, asking for artists and bands to get in touch to support him at his show. And so, again, we applied for that one, we sent over all of our socials, our singles that are out at the moment, all of our live footage, and yeah, just put our name in the hat. That one took a little bit longer, he had, you know, hundreds of bands and musicians reaching out to him on Facebook, Instagram. What an opportunity to play with him, and yeah, he offered it to us, which is amazing and we’re so delighted and can’t wait to put on a good show for him. Considering, there’s not that many big, kind of, UK country artists in Scotland right now, and he’s definitely one of the big ones, so that was an amazing one to get.

Q: I’ve personally found that the UK music scene, and especially the local scene, is pretty dominated by rock music. Do you find it difficult as a country band to push into this kind of scene where nobody seems to be doing what you want to do?

Yeah, absolutely. In the UK, in Scotland in particular, it’s still quite a nice genre. And you’re completely right, Edinburgh is very, especially with the amount of venues that have closed down, there’s only so many options out there. So, I think in Scotland, it’s still very much an up and coming genre. In the UK, we’ve seen massive progress, even in the, over a year now, that we’ve been a band. We found it very, very difficult in the beginning, but now that we’ve built a little bit of a name up for ourselves, we’re starting to see, kind of, more country creeping in. You know, there’s the big announcement that Maggie Mays in Glasgow is being transformed into a country bar, and things like that. And Glasgow has an amazing, kind of, connection with Nashville, with the Grand Ole Opry, and things like that.

So it is there, it is just small, but I do think it is going to get bigger, it’s getting more popular, new festivals are popping up all the time. Whether it’s country, americana, country rock, or blues, whatever it is, we’re starting to see a lot more. We’re just happy to be, kind of, at the forefront of that, you know, getting in early whilst things are still up and coming. It’s an amazing thing to see, it is, kind of, bigger down south, so we’ve been fortunate to play in London. We’ve put in a few applications for some of the bigger country festivals, and we’ve got Country On The Clyde. So, it is getting there, definitely.

Q: One of your released singles makes up the name of the tour, ‘Take It Off‘. What are the backgrounds for these songs? How did they come about? Were you listening to anyone in particular while making them?

So ‘Take It Off’ was a song I wrote in my early twenties. I’ve been a singer-songwriter since I was about 14, so songwriting is obviously a big, big passion of mine. That was always one that I had in the back burner. And probably at that time, I was very into country music, but I grew up around rock music. I grew up around 80s, you know, Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, Pat Benatar, all these big hits, Guns N Roses. So that probably influenced the, kind of, soundscape of the song when I first wrote it. And then we were, as a band, we were developing the songs when we first formed, and we wanted something with a bit more grit to it. I think we’re all very eclectic musicians, we have so many influences, we want to be multi-faceted, we want to be able to combine that and create our own style. We don’t just want to be country-pop, modern country, we want our other influences to come through.

When I brought this song to the band, it just clicked. They’re all very much into, my drummer is a massive Pearl Jam fan, my bassist has been in numerous rock bands before. So it was all a space that we felt very comfortable in and then we just basically worked on it, and managed to put that country spin on it. But that even came through more when we went to the studio. At first it was quite country rock, but more of a bluesy edge, whereas when we went to the studio, the producer that we worked with, he put this, kind of, spaghetti-western, this more traditional, oldschool, country flare on it that took the song on a completely different direction to what it is now. It became an immediate hit whenever we’d be playing it live, and that’s just how the song grew. So, obviously we’ve had so much coverage with ‘Take It Off’ as a second single, and people are relating to it, especially the lyrical content, and what inspired me to write the song. There’s more of that message getting out there. I wrote the song when I was coming to terms with being gay, and things like that, so the whole song is about feeling liberated, and being your authentic self. I think, especially in this day and age, to have a country song speak about that, people are liking it, which is amazing!

Q: What about your first single, ‘We Ended in Nashville’? Was that a similar process of writing it before, or writing it with the band?

So with all the songs, at least the lyrical, and main melody, and structure of the song, I write always before. With ‘We Ended in Nashville’, just before I formed this new band, so it was actually the song that inspired me to get back into music. I’d taken a five-year hiatus, I had really bad writer’s block, and I was not able to, you know, sit down and write songs that I liked. And then, I was inspired to write this song in that country space, and it just came together so quickly, and I just immediately knew that there was something in it that I just had to get it out there, have people listen, record it, play it live.

Then when I brought it to the band, it was the first song we all co-wrote in terms of the musical arrangement, and that was the first song that we took into the studio together. You know, my bandmates are so, so talented and they were able to take the original, the draft version of the song, and really bring it home, and make it that more modern, country, what you hear in the charts nowadays. They helped to develop the guitar parts, the drum parts, it was definitely a collaboration, when we took it to the studio. Because we were all so passionate about it, this was the song that showed them, “oh, we see something in Abbie, let’s make this band work, let’s have a go at it”, and that’s how that song came together.

Q: When you’re writing the songs, do you have an idea of how you want them to sound? Or do you let the others take your words and melody and create something else from it?

It really depends on the song. Sometimes it will be the case of, I’ve written a song and I know exactly where I want this song to go, it’s just a case of saying “this is what I hear” to the band. But we have a very much open conversation policy, if something doesn’t work, we call it out. It’s a collaborative process, but if you feel, kind of, strongly on a way that a song has to go, then obviously that could be the case. So that can happen, and everybody just enjoys the process. It could also be the case, which has happened to a few of our songs, where the original version that I brought to the table just isn’t clicking, whether that be for the melody, or the structure of the song, there needs to be chord changes, or we just can’t find the right drum part, or the right bassline.

We’re a team, we basically just put it back on the board to be like “no we need to sit with this a little bit more, deconstruct the song, change the chords, maybe change the actual lyrical structure, and then everyone puts their opinions in, and we co-write it from there. It really, really depends, we’ve had quite an array of different processes for when we’ve come together, we are quite a niche genre. Sometimes we can get quite ahead of ourselves and write a very, very pop song, or a very rock song, but it’s like how do we make this country, how do we make this folk. So yeah, it can really depend.

Q: Have you got any more singles planned for this year?

We do, yes. So we have one, hopefully, going to be released around November/December time. There isn’t any date confirmation yet, just because we’re still, sort of, getting the studio organised. But we’ve done the demos stages, we know which direction we want to go, and which song we want to release. We’re hoping to make this the biggest release yet, so we’re getting all the ducks in a row before we can get ready to announce. There will definitely be another single for the end of 2023, and then another one in 2024 as well.