Although his childhood dream before music was to become a movie director, LA-based artist Ryan Oakes discovered he had a talent for freestyle rapping in college, leading him to pursue a career in music. He moved to LA after college with a dream of making it in the music industry and almost immediately his music took off. He has built his career as an independent artist and built his fan base from the ground up, writing songs about his personal struggles and real problems and how he overcame his struggles, which has made him incredibly relatable to his ever-growing fan base. According to Oakes, “What I’m really here to do is just kind-of help people navigate life with my music. Since I’ve been doing that, it’s really connected and helped people gravitate towards me and, like, me gravitating towards fans when I meet them. It’s been an awesome experience.” Although he was drawn to the rap genre from a young age, inspired by artists such as Eminem, Jay-Z, and Kanye, over the years he has grown his sound and experimented with intertwining elements of pop and punk into his music. He has collaborated with artists like MOD SUN, State Champs, and Futuristic and today sees the release of the single “Heavyweight” from his collaboration with LA rock duo Loveless (Listen and download HERE). Oakes recently signed with the LA indie label Position Music and released his new single “WAKE UP”, which is the first single from his soon-to-be-released debut album. The song also has an accompanying music video that is the first in a 4-part video series. The song is, as Oakes describes, a wake up call to the industry, like “Hey. I’m coming into your industry now and you’d better be ready”. The music video was filmed in Atlanta by some guys who do horror films and, says Oakes, “They kind-of just built the story line around the psych ward with me losing my mind and trying to slide my foot in the door and then there are shady music industry people throwing contracts in front of my face. It was just kind-of like tying that in, as well as being in this place called Slumberland, which is a clothing brand I have, so we’re tying that in, as well. It’s like a Stranger Things type environment, and all of the videos kind-of follow me going through Slumberland and all of this messed up and crazy stuff happening to me.” With plans to release his debut album, hopefully start touring, and work on getting another album done, Ryan Oakes is excited about what’s to come as he starts a new chapter in his career. You can check out his just released single/music video “Heavyweight”, in collaboration with Loveless, below. Make sure to connect with Ryan Oakes via the following links.
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What can you tell me about your childhood and growing up in Virginia and what sparked your interest in music?
My childhood dream before music was to be a movie director. So I was always writing these skits with my friends and filming them and putting them on YouTube and stuff, so I always wanted to do something creative like that. I was always on the internet, trying to do cool stuff and to kind of make something of myself since I was a kid. I did that stuff up until about the 8th grade and then just let it go and did the whole high school sports thing. Once I got to my senior year, I had started to get into partying and you know, everyone likes to do the drunk freestyles at parties. People noticed that I was way better than everyone else and I didn’t even notice. My buddy was going into the Marines and was basically like “I want you to make a mixed tape before I get back”, and he was kind-of joking but it put the idea in my head. I made one song and put a song out and was going into my senior year and was going to have all of these lacrosse scholarships to go play in college and actually quit and didn’t play my senior season. Everyone thought I was super crazy, but it ultimately ended up working out!
You live in LA now, so what led you to move there and what do you find inspiring about living in LA?
It’s just so different! I tell my girlfriend that when I go back to my hometown, it’s like time-traveling to a different era. Everyone in my hometown is, like, more reserved and it feels a lot calmer energy-wise, and then you get to cities like New York and LA, where the energy is so high and everyone is so motivated to dream chase, whether in the music industry or film or whatever it may be that’s thriving in LA. It kind-of just gives me energy. When I go back to the east coast, to my hometown, it’s gloomy and I’m tired, but here it’s always sunny and stuff so it doesn’t really affect your mood and you can just really focus on stuff. I don’t know why, but the weather really affects my mood. If it’s gloomy outside, I just hate the day. The weather being super nice out here is amazing. Constantly, and it sounds kind-of weird, but constantly being around your own competition is like “Damn! I didn’t feel like doing this today, but I know someone out here is energetic and doing it today”. You obviously want to balance things and not burn yourself out, but it’s also super motivating to know that someone else is honestly working to try to take your spot out here and you better keep up, otherwise your spot is going to get taken. It sounds weird, but I really like that and it keeps me super motivated. So it’s definitely the number one factor of living in LA for me, for sure.
You have talked about how you were really drawn to the rap genre when you were younger. What do you think it was about that genre of music specifically that really drew you to it, and what can you tell me about blending more pop and punk into your sound over the years and evolving your sound as an artist?
Yeah. So, I took a huge interest in rap because when I was in elementary and middle school, when things like YouTube were being born, I remember being bored one day and browsing YouTube and came across the Eminem “Till I Collapse” video. I had never heard and Eminem song before and I was like “This is the sickest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” So before music, I was always listening to rap and just really, really liked Eminem, Jay-Z, Kanye, and all of those people. In middle school, I was constantly spinning them. When I was freestyling at these parties and stuff, everyone was like “You’re good at this. You should do this.” I was terrible at singing and was tone deaf when I first started, so it didn’t even really cross my mind. And so I moved to LA once I graduated college and basically had enough to survive two months here in my bank account. The music took off as soon as I moved here, so it’s almost like a fate kind-of thing. Once I moved out here, I was like “Ok. I can live off of just my Spotify right now. I’m just going to work every single day” and, like, two years in I was like “Wow!”. I was having sad rap songs blow up at first, so I was honestly kind-of sticking to this formula where I was sticking myself in one lane and making these sad rap songs and it just burned me out so bad. And at the same time, one of my producers moved into my house and he had a huge pop punk background and was just like “Dude. Let’s just make a bunch of different sounds and figure out which it is.” At the same time I was like “I want to really learn how to sing and teach myself how to sing”, so I was doing all of the YouTube tutorials I could find. YouTube college is what I called it. That’s basically how I learned to do everything musically. And we made a pop punk rap song and were like “No one is doing that.” This was probably like a year before MGK. So we were like “Woah! There’s something here” and we kind-of just stuck with it. My vocals weren’t there yet, but I developed them right around the same time MGK dropped and it was just like the switch clicked, you know what I mean? Pop punk went mainstream and it had a huge moment and it was like the dumbest luck ever, but it was so awesome that it happened. And now it’s like just continually shaping that sound and just trying to evolve from there and being a better artist I guess.
Last year you released the song “We’re Not Strangers”, which you have said was your first acoustic song you had done. Do you see yourself doing more acoustic music going forward or was that just a one-off thing for you?
I definitely wouldn’t rule it out, because that definitely fits the direction we’re going. There’s always room for a song like that. And it was really cool to have that moment. My buddy Jayden Seeley from this band With Confidence is actually the one who produces a lot of my stuff and was pushing me to develop and learn how to sing better. That was just our sort-of ode to “Hey. We did learn how to sing. We did figure everything out. Let’s try to push ourselves to do something we’ve never done before and grow artistically”, and then that came from there. I would love to do another one, for sure!
You have always been a very independent artist, up until recently, and I read in an early interview you did where you mentioned that it’s really hard to be an artist these days and that no one wants to believe in you or see you do good. Do you feel that going it alone for so long helped you to build the confidence in yourself to believe in yourself and accomplish the musical goals you set out to accomplish?
Yeah. So funnily enough, it like spawned from being super stubborn. I started putting out my music in high school and, of course, my first few songs just weren’t good because I had no idea what I was doing. And the second someone told me I couldn’t do it, it was like a switch flips in my head and I just don’t stop until I do it. Like, it’s really just being super stubborn, which is really funny. But I honestly love making music. So yeah, if someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m just not going to stop until I do it. It’s always been a rule of law that was just ingrained in me since I was born. People didn’t think I’d make varsity lacrosse as a freshman and I was the first one in the weight room everyday and the last one out. And the coaches noticed and I did make varsity freshman year. I’m not a fan of people telling me I can’t do things and it honestly just spawned from that and became the best thing ever.
What can you tell me about your life during the pandemic, because in 2019 you released 3 albums, which is a lot of music to release in a year! Do you feel that was a result of the pandemic and everything being shut down and allowing you to focus more on writing and releasing music?
It was interesting. I’ve always kind-of dropped songs every few weeks, just because…like honestly, I have nothing else to do besides make music and hang out with my girlfriend and my dog and my friends. So, right now, say, if we weren’t doing this interview, I’d just be sitting at my computer working on music. And the pandemic hit and it was one of those things where the music industry was like “Should we not drop music because everything is weird? Or should we take advantage of the fact that everyone’s kind-of stuck inside and try to drop more music?”. So everyone was kind-of confused on what to do. I took the route of literally at some points dropping a song every week. I learned how to produce pretty well and taught myself how to produce songs and produced a song with Mod Sun, which is one of my biggest songs now. So I was locked in, just working on music every day. I think I hit a point where I really evolved as an artist, so I think it really helped me a lot.
You recently signed a recording and publishing deal with Position Music. Having been an independent artist for so long, what was that moment like for you and how do you feel they will take you and your music to the next level?
It feels pretty good! When my manager and I were talking about this year at the beginning of the year, we were like “What do we want to do?”. Artists are in this weird time with the Tik Tok stuff and Instagram and fighting algorithms, where it’s just like if you master that stuff, which I’ve been trying to and have had some success, it’s great. But also just having people who have connections on the VSP streaming platforms that can get you extra playlists to find new fans. People who have extra money to blast funding in advertisements on music videos so you make new fans. That’s what I was looking for because it was just becoming a lot to handle myself. I’d been ready to sign for a few years and have done dozens of meetings and gone through dozens of contracts and Position finally sent the right one that made sense. I’ve known some of those people for a couple of years, prior to signing, so we have good relationships and they’re all just great people. The environment there, when you go and hang out with them, it’s like big family vibes. It doesn’t feel like a music industry thing at all where it’s every man for themself, and it just made a lot of sense to me and we ultimately took it. It’s honestly been the best decision I’ve ever made so far and is feels great.
You’ve really cultivated a good relationship with your fan base and grew them organically from the ground up. What can you tell me about your fans and that connection you have with them?
Yeah. So it’s always been kind-of a thing to me, at least that I’ve noticed, artists are either super active and engaging with their fans or they’re super mysterious, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I would respond to every comment and thank every person for listening. Even to this day, like right before our phone call, I was on my Instagram responding to every comment and talking to fans and engaging so they know I’m here and am not just some guy who wants them to stream their music so they can recoup their advance, you know what I mean? It’s at a point where I really got my strong fan base because I was making really real music about real problems and how I got through them and letting people know they’re not alone. And I’ve gotten thousands of messages saying, like, it’s saved people’s lives, which is obviously insane. It’s always just been about keeping that balance of making sure that I can have fun and make fun songs, but what I’m really here to do is just kind-of help people navigate life with my music. Since I’ve been doing that, it’s really connected and helped people gravitate towards me and, like, me gravitating towards fans when I meet them. It’s been an awesome experience.
You recently released your latest single “WAKE UP”. What can you tell me about the song and its message?
Funnily enough, it’s like an anti-industry song and that’s the first song I put out with a label, so there’s a huge contradiction (laughs). They all just laughed it off with me because it’s just, like, a funny thing. “WAKE UP” is an ode to my original fans because it really is just a super raw rap song, and I haven’t done those in years. And it only felt right because it’s the first single on my debut album, which is funny because I have like 200 songs out and I’ve never dropped a debut album, quote-unquote. The stuff I’ve been putting out is more like long EPs and LPs, if that makes sense. And so the biggest thing for me was, like, we’ve got to give the OG fans what they want because I know there are some people who miss that original rap stuff. So we gave it to them and it was received super well by my fans. And it’s also just a song like…the title is “WAKE UP”. Just wake up the industry, because they’ve been sleeping on me for 10 years and it’s like “Hey. I’m coming into your industry now and you’d better be ready” because there’s nothing that will stop the plans we have from taking over and getting as far as we want and stuff like that. It’s more of, like, a nice warning that it’s time to stop sleeping on me as an artist and if you ignore me, you’ll probably regret it because I will become bigger than you can imagine, I guess.
You also released a music video for the song that has you in a psych ward. What inspired the idea behind that video, as well as the idea of having it be the first of a four part music video series?
Honestly, that was my manager. We had been talking to a bunch of directors, because label or not, we were going to really invest into these videos and make sure everything was a step up for the debut album. And so all of this conversation was happening pre-record label and we found these guys in Atlanta that my manager had worked with that do horror movies for a living. I ultimately flew down there and shot those four videos with them and they kind-of just built the story line around the psych ward with me losing my mind and trying to slide my foot in the door and then there are shady music industry people throwing contracts in front of my face. It was just kind-of like tying that in, as well as being in this place called Slumberland, which is a clothing brand I have, so we’re tying that in, as well. It’s like a Stranger Things type environment, and all of the videos kind-of follow me going through Slumberland and all of this messed up and crazy stuff happening to me. And it tied together great so I’m super stoked on all of it.
Do you have an idea of when people can expect the next video in the series to drop?
Yeah. So I had to switch a song around that has to come out first, so there is going to be a random song coming out before the next song and music video drop. But the next one will be, I believe, December 16th.
You’ve done several collaborations over the years. You mentioned the Mod Sun one earlier and you’ve also collaborated with State Champs on “BURNOUT” and were featured on Futuristic’s track “Hate Me Now”. What do you enjoy about doing collaborations and do you have any new ones in the works or certain artists you are hoping to work with in the future?
Funnily enough, I was definitely at first one of those weird artists that was like “I don’t want to work with anyone. I want to be the only one doing my songs with me. No one can touch it.” And then I eventually was just like “This is stupid. It’s hindering my growth. It’s time to really evolve.” So actually for this upcoming album there are seven tracks with features on it and I just announced like an hour ago that my next song will be with this band called Loveless that’s having a huge moment right now. They have like a couple million Tik Tok followers and a great Spotify fan base and all that stuff and I think combined with…their fans haven’t really heard a rap song with them and I’m rapping on the verses and they’re singing an absolutely killer rock hook. I think it’s going to be accepted really well in that fan base. I really like working with bands. I’m trying to think outside of the box when it comes to features so it’s super unexpected and people will be very surprised by them and curious to tune in. We’re definitely in super collaboration mode. I think my dream feature would be with this rapper called NF on a rock song I make. And obviously the MGK’s and people like that would be super sick and hopefully an option at some point down the line.
You were saying at the start of the interview that you had initially wanted to direct movies. Do you see yourself ever getting into scoring movies or doing movie soundtracks and blending music and movies together?
Oh yeah. I would love to do a Fast and Furious soundtrack or something super hard-hitting. I have a couple of songs in a few movies. They’re just like Netflix movies, so they’re not super big, but I have two in this movie called The Florida Project and then another one in a movie that’s in German, so I can’t do a title, but that will come out later, in 2023 I think. Ultimately, I would love to act and do the whole other side of the industry eventually. But for now the focus is definitely music.
What do you like to do outside of music for fun? What kinds of things do you do to ground yourself, as I’m sure the industry can be very intense at times?
Yes! First and foremost, fitness has always been a huge thing for me and that’s what really keeps me grounded. Being able to work all of the stress off has been major for me. I’ve been working out since I was, like, 12 and haven’t stopped since, and I’m 27 now. It’s second nature to me at this point, so I’ve really enjoyed doing that. I’m a nerd, so I really love day trading and investing, so that’s a hobby of mine, which is super funny because it’s also super stressful. It’s like a video game to me and I really enjoy it and I also for some reason really don’t enjoy video games, so it’s just like trying to beat a game. And it’s super mentally stimulating and all of that good stuff, so it’s a good hobby to have I think. Other than that, just hanging out with my girlfriend and my dog and my friends, go out, hang out with my other friend’s sessions of the day if I’m not doing anything and just kind-of kicking back and talking. So just super normal stuff I’d say.
What’s next for you? What are your goals going forward? Do you feel like you are entering a new chapter in your career?
Yeah. It feels like a whole new chapter. I mean, the team I have behind me…it keeps growing and just keeps getting more crazy with what people can do. We’re about to lock in some really good booking agents, so obviously I want to be on the road as much as I can. I’ve had really bad luck touring. With my Spring tour I was support with this really big band and it ultimately ended up falling through. And then I was supposed to be on another tour this Fall and it got cancelled. So I really want to be on the road and on all of the festivals next year, which is looking like it will be a thing. So definitely some touring, and for the rest of this year I’m really locked in the studio. I have my debut album done. I’m going to try to get a second one done, so we’ll see if that’s doable. But I’m going to try my best, just so I can really focus on being on the road. But yeah. I’m super excited about everything. Everyone behind me is a power player and I think that if we are smart about what we do, which they have been, it’s going to be a great result.