This episode of Beyond Blue & Gold was brought to you by kismet: The NHL All-Star Game was played in Music City, home to the Pegulas' record label, Black River Entertainment. The Sabres’ chosen All-Star just happened to be the guy who brings a ukulele on road trips. Taking him to on a tour of the Black River studios was an obvious choice.
Initially, I thought the tour would be a fun scene in a story about Ryan’s overall All-Star experience.
Then I got to know Ryan O'Reilly.
Back in early January, we were at Ryan’s Buffalo home to meet the O’Reilly parents and talk about their experience as a foster family. When a “quick peek” at Ryan’s guitar room turned into a 40-minute conversation with Brian Duff about different bands, instruments and the types of music he was passionate about, I knew we had to push him a little (For the record, Ryan’s musical influences range from Marvin Gaye to City and Colour’s Dallas Green).
I asked Ryan if he’d be interested in goofing around in the studio when we got to Nashville. He laughed nervously and told me he’d see how his voice was feeling that day. I promised him there’d be no pressure; he could just play a cover and we wouldn’t use it if he didn’t like how he sounded.
I wasn’t positive that he’d actually do it until he sat down on the stool. The rest of us watched from the booth, and when he started singing City Lights—the first track you heard in the episode—I thought the audio engineer was playing something prerecorded to set the mood. Nope. That soulful voice came from the soft-spoken Ryan O’Reilly. I leaned over to ask Ryan’s long-time girlfriend Dayna whose song it was.
“That’s his song.”
Ryan later told us that he’d written it about moving to a big city after growing up in a small town in Ontario. “It’s about that sort of love/hate relationship with the city. I want my space and to be kind of on my own. And then when I go back home I’m like, ‘Oh gosh, I have to get back to the city where stuff’s going on!’ It’s the constant battle I have.”
He laid down three tracks total that afternoon, and has a standing invitation from Black River to come back with the rest of his material. Nick Autry, the studio’s general manager who recorded Ryan’s session, was practically begging him for more.
Professional athletes get very good at talking about themselves without really telling us anything. Hearing Ryan sing about regret, love, struggling to find his place – that kind of insight is rare. It’s what makes producing Beyond Blue & Gold such a rewarding experience. We get to draw something out of these guys what you usually can’t get in a post-practice locker room interview, all while bringing the fans further into the athlete’s world.
In a way, this series is the soundtrack of the season – enhancing the main story without detracting from it. Thanks for listening (and watching!) along.