There was a time, not all that long ago, when Tyler Ramsey was one of Asheville’s best-kept musical secrets. Despite his 6-foot 8-inch frame, the genial and mellow musician kept a low profile. In fact, he was mostly known for his work as a sideman, adding layers to other people’s CDs or sitting in for a show or two in his friends’ bands.
He was involved with some notable projects here and there—local headliners DrugMoney, Jr. James & the Late Guitar, Wayne Robbins & The Hellsayers come to mind—and his 2004 self-titled debut solo album helped establish the finger-style guitarist as a worthy addition to the local folk scene.
But it wasn’t until late 2007, when he joined pop-culture-approved indie-rock group Band of Horses as both a guitarist and opening act that Ramsey suddenly became a national—even international—name. The release of his Echo Mountain debut, A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea, only brought him greater attention, with no shortage of positive press and a pair of high-profile National Public Radio appearances. Add to that several international tours with Band of Horses and his own coast-to-coast solo tours, and it’s not surprising Ramsey claims that the last year has been “the busiest year I’ve ever had.”
“I’ve been away from home more than I’ve been at home,” Ramsey tells Xpress. “I’ve flown more than I’ve ever flown in my life. I’ve gone to places I’ve never been. I’ve been to New Zealand and Australia and Japan. We did some cool Mexican dates. We went all over Europe a couple of times. It gets really super tiring.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the relentless performance schedule has affected Ramsey. Once known as being among the most laid-back of local performers, he now explains that he’s become somewhat restless. “I’ve been moving around a lot,” he says. “I feel like I should be doing something all the time. I guess I’ve already turned into the kind of person that, when they get home from touring, doesn’t know what to do. I get home, and I’m like, ‘OK, when is the next trip?’”
Even the old cliché of “living out of a suitcase” has proven true for Ramsey. “I have actually been,” he says. “Two days ago, I took my clothes out of my suitcase for the first time in the past year.” He pauses a moment before adding, “But, I have washed them a couple of times. “
What kind of events have been filling Ramsey’s schedule? Touring with Band of Horses has certainly been a large part of it, taking him to dream-like gigs at the Glastonbury Festival (one of the UK’s biggest outdoor-music events), the Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and the BBC’s Later With Jools Holland. But it was a pair of profiles of A Long Dream on NPR’s World Café—a several-track examination of the album, and an in-studio performance and interview—that Ramsey seems most proud of.
“That was a huge, huge goal of mine,” Ramsey says. His recollection of the appearance seems almost hazy: It seemed like he was suddenly just “sitting across from David Dye, just me and him, and I’m just kind of playing my songs for him,” he recalls. But it wasn’t entirely ideal, Ramsey says, explaining that he was “really upset” that he didn’t get to hear the interview when it aired on WNCW.
For the time being, Ramsey is back in Asheville, writing his next solo album at his studio space in West Asheville and preparing for the next Band of Horses recording. Although he’s not yet a household name, locally Ramsey is well-known enough that he risks that strange phenomenon—perhaps owing to a mix of overexposure and undeserved resentment by former peers—in which former fans turn against once-obscure local performers. Is it a myth, or has he experienced it during his rapid rise?
“No, I don’t think I’ve felt it,” he says. “But it’s not a myth. I’ve seen it happen to people. When they get to a level of success, you’re suddenly like, ‘Where’s my band?’ You get possessive about it. But I feel like I’ve had really great shows in Asheville when I’m at home. I don’t think I’m visible enough to draw that kind of attention.”
[Steve Shanafelt is a freelance writer based in Spartanburg, S.C.]
who: Tyler Ramsey with Hope and Anchor
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Saturday, Dec. 20. 9 p.m. ($10 advance, $12 day of show. www.thegreyeagle.com)