Ian Ridenhour releases a smart and sensitive new album

LYRICAL PURSUIT: “There is a level of lack of control in songwriting,” says Ian Ridenhour, who is about to launch his sophomore album, Cry About It. “I’ll sit down to write about one thing, and it’ll end up being about the emotions I’m dealing with or whatever’s going on. It might start out to be about that and end up being a love story or, more commonly, a love story gone wrong.” Photo by Cami Belanger

Records are born out of any number of inspirations: breakups, new love, birth, death, travel and other life events that take some processing. Local indie-rock artist Ian Ridenhour took inspiration for his new album, Cry About It, from his personal demons. In the spectacular video for his single “Monsters,” Ridenhour is chased through a horror-film set (staged in a warehouse in Greenville, S.C.) by some truly scary creatures.

“I don’t pretend to know other people’s struggles, but my personal experience with anxiety and depression has been going on for three years,” the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist says. “For a long time I was afraid to talk about it.”

But Cry About It, which launches with a show at White Horse Black Mountain on Friday, Sept. 30, changed that. “With this album, I’ve started trying to engage with that stuff more,” Ridenhour says. “In talking about my own experience, I hope it’s helping to start a conversation. This happens to a lot of people, and the most dangerous thing is when we’re too afraid to talk about it.”

Though the subject matter comes from tricky emotions and real talk, Ridenhour’s songs are far from downers. Instead, his writing is pop-savvy and smart; his performances are dynamic, with hooky melodies, frenzied riffs and kinetic, danceable energy.

Some of that onstage exuberance comes from starting out as a drummer. “I’m very used to being way at the back of the stage. If I want people to notice me at all, I have to way overperform,” Ridenhour says. “Because of that, I’ve tried to translate that to my piano playing where I can.” Though keyboards are his main instrument in his current project, Ridenhour picked up percussion when a drum troupe came to his preschool. Now 16, he’s been playing professionally since age 6.

Ridenhour is also classically trained on marimba, which is similar to piano “so it seemed like a logical choice,” he says. The new instrument led to different-sounding songs: “I can see my own style change based on the instrument I’m writing on.”

When it came time to record Cry About It — Ridenhour’s sophomore album; he debuted with Quietly Making Noise in 2014 — a unique opportunity presented itself. A friend who had previously appeared on the Whiz Kid Week of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” recommended Ridenhour for the show. Even when he was selected, Ridenhour didn’t know if he’d get to play (more people are cast than are ultimately needed to guarantee enough contestants) until he was called, late in the filming. “In order to not go insane, I walked in with the mindset that this is an experience, and it’ll be a cool experience no matter what,” he says. “I did not expect to do as well as I did.”

Ridenhour walked away with $50,000, which he earmarked for recording. “The last album had a shorter time frame due to budget restrictions,” the musician says. This time around, he was able to stretch out, schedule-wise. Ridenhour worked with engineer and producer Michael Hynes (Nomatic Studio) — who also plays bass in Ridenhour’s band, along with drummer James Kylen and guitarist Jamieson Ridenhour, Ian’s dad.

Having a producer on board was a game changer. On the single “Dancing Children,” for example, “originally I had not envisioned it with anywhere near the amount of pop production it has, and it’s a correct move — it fits the song and captures the dreamlike state of the lyrics,” Ian Ridenhour says.“I write most of my songs very much oriented toward indie-rock and alternative rock, and I really like that [they] were taken into some interesting directions.” Local electronic musician Ben Hovey contributed a trumpet solo to that song; other guests on the album are Savannah Buist and Katie Larson of indie-folk outfit The Accidentals.

“Dancing Children,” like “Monsters,” was paired with a lush, imaginative music video created by local filmmaker Kira Bursky (All Around Artsy Productions). At just 20, she’s already garnered a laundry list of awards and, at press time, is in Paris drafting a screenplay.

Ridenhour is similarly poised for early success. “It’s interesting trying to differentiate between a career and being a 16-year-old kid,” he says. “One of my goals [with this record] is to be seen as an adult musician and not a teen musician. … I’m trying to make this something that’s a sustainable career for me.” Take that, monsters.

WHO: Ian Ridenhour holds an album release show
WHERE: White Horse Black Mountain, 105 Montreat Road, Black Mountain. whitehorseblackmountain.com
WHEN: Friday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. $10 advance/$12 at the door

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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