Multi- GRAMMY-nominated artist Ryan Shaw's new studio album IMAGINING MARVIN is set for a November 27th release via Shaw’s own FORM (Fans Of Real Music) Records with distribution by Broadway Records. Inspired by one of Shaw’s idols, Marvin Gaye, IMAGINING MARVIN is the powerful new project that originally premiered live in New York City in 2019 to a sold-out crowd. Showcasing Shaw’s soaring and impassioned vocals, the album features numerous Marvin Gaye hits alongside five of Shaw’s original songs; the latter inspired by Gaye’s legacy
Ryan Shaw is no stranger to singing or the stage, in 2019 he appeared as Judas at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the U.S. premiere of the critically acclaimed London/Regent's Park's production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which one the Olivier for Best Musical Revival. He has also starred as the original Stevie Wonder in Motown: The Musical on Broadway, and on London's West End as the Soul of Michael Jackson in Thriller Live.
Shaw talks with RyeTheNewsGuy.com about the release of his new album, his inspiration in channeling Marvin Gaye, how he is keeping busy during the pandemic, advice, and MUCH MORE. To learn more about Ryan Shaw, visit RyanShaw.com to keep up to date with all that he has planned! You can also follow him on Twitter and Instagram @thisisryanshaw.
Where did the concept come from to create this new album “Imagining Marvin?” And as an artist, what impact has Marvin Gaye had on you? The concept was birthed initially as a brainstorm with my manager, Elizabeth Healy. I had stepped away from the music world for a few years and ventured into the theater world initially as a part of Broadway's Motown the Musical where I played Stevie Wonder for two years. Then I was off to the West End to be a part of the Thriller Live cast where I played the soul of Michael Jackson. Then I was back in the states a few years later playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House. Elizabeth and I were talking next steps and I told her that I was ready to get back into music but it’s so hard to get traction especially without the money of a major label. She asked me, "so what’s the idea?" Initially, I said, well to do some covers because it’s hard to push original music, but I was so against becoming a covers artist only because I have a lot to say. "So, what’s the middle ground?" she asked. As she was doing a google search or reading an article about significant musical happenings in the year (it was 2019), she said, "you know this year Marvin Gaye would be 80 years old."
This simple statement was the birth of Imagining Marvin. I said to her, "well if I do a tribute to Marvin it would not just be a bunch of random covers. And it would make sense as Marvin has been a big part of my 26 years as a professional musician." When I first moved to NYC as a part of the live music community, the song that set me apart as a singer was “What’s going on?” Years later in Motown the Musical I also understudied Marvin. On top of that, the inspiration for my cover of the Beatles “Yesterday” that garnered my third GRAMMY nomination was inspired by Marvin Gaye’s not so well-known version of the song. I was happy with the idea of doing a tribute to Marvin but was still on the fence about being pegged as a cover artist. As the conversation continued, we started talking about how awesome of a musician Marvin was and I remember saying, "I wonder what he would be doing if he were still alive today?” And that was it. We will never have that answer, so I used my imagination.
If Marvin was still alive today, what do you think he would be like?
Marvin was such an iconic and versatile performer that I don’t know. Would he have ventured into what we now call pop? Because Motown in its day was pop. Or would he be what we call modern-day R&B or blues or would he be a crooner or rocker? Marvin's voice and musicianship could do it all. That’s what made doing this album so much fun. I got to take the essence of Marvin and merge them with my own artistry to create something that embodied him as much as it embodied me. It's both nostalgic and original at every turn. Do you see him still performing and writing music, as well as getting involved in activism?
Absolutely! I feel like Marvin would have been one of those artists that say they are retiring every 6 years and then come out with a new album of amazingness coupled with a worldwide tour. And even if he did retire, I believe he would always be a man for the people. He risked his career at Motown to speak his mind about the situation of our people, which to me is true artistry. It is not tainted or swayed by money or fame, and if it’s true to oneself, it may be the very thing that brings that money and fame, but with no guarantee. That’s what makes it real and worth it all in the end.
What is your favorite Marvin Gaye song?
That he sang “The Shadow of Your Smile” That he wrote “Save The Children” And “ Wholly Holly” (Which Aretha Franklin also did an epic cover version of) What was it like to work with Valerie Simpson on “Strong Men Can?"
It was a dream come true. Valerie Simpson is the best all-around: the greatest of musicians, the greatest of songwriters, the greatest of singers, the greatest of humans, the greatest of supporters, and the greatest of friends. When I first moved to NY she and the late Nick Ashford took me under their wings and sort of became what I call my industry parents. Their love and support and g at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House. Elizabeth and I were talking next steps and I told her that I was ready to get back into music but it’s so hard to get traction especially without the money of a major label. She asked me, "so what’s the idea?" Initially, I said, well to do some covers because it’s hard to push original music, but I was so against becoming a covers artist only because I have a lot to say. "So, what’s the middle ground?" she asked. As she was doing a google search or reading an article about significant musical happenings in the year (it was 2019), she said, "you know this year Marvin Gaye would be 80 years old."
This simple statement was the birth of bout the project. I had done a demo of "I Want You" to make sure it was just as much me as it was Marvin. And to see if Valerie thought the concept was a bust or not. We played her the demo and when it finished, in true Valerie style she paused then said, “there’s something there.” A week or so later, I called her and said since you wrote just about all of Marvin and Tammi Terrell's hits, would you be willing to write an original song with me for this project? She said sure, let me think about it. A couple of days later I received a voice memo and a call. She said I don’t usually send people my voice memos. I usually go into the studio and doctor them up a bit, but I think you’ll get it. And I did. Hence, “Strong Men Can” was born.
What is different from this album compared to the last two you released?
There are differences on every facet of this album. On the business side, it’s my first release on my own label, FORM Records in conjunction with Broadway Records. On the creative side, it’s my first time producing my own record with the help of co-producer Shedrick Mitchell. Based on the first two points of this question, I am also much more stressed compared to my last two albums. And that stress is emotional, mental, and financial LOL.
You have quite a career in both music and theater, from being nominated for three GRAMMY awards, and performing on Broadway and the West End. What has been your favorite experience out of those thus far?
They both have had their share of memorable experiences. The first time at the GRAMMYs was surreal. The amount of love and support and next-level gifting for and from the community can not be surpassed. From the theater, meeting Stevie Wonder and getting his personal blessing on my performance of him still leaves me speechless. And living all-expense-paid in London for a year wasn’t too shabby either. Aside from this album, what have you been working on during quarantine?
Quarantine has brought about many things! I have been doing a lot of meditating. I have created a new product that I’m trying to launch to keep the bills paid while we wait for the entertainment industry to rebound into this new normal. The product is the best vegan cream cheese that one can find. and I’ve tried every store-bought brand and tired almost every online recipe, and with a little trial and error and experimentation, I’ve just about perfected it. Now I'm just taking all the food safety courses and trying to secure a commercial kitchen. Doing this during a pandemic is mind-blowing, but the world and bills don’t stop. So we just gotta keep going and all will be what it is supposed to be. Which sort of means all will be fine, although what seems not fine for us will be fine for someone else or future generations. What is your favorite song on the album and why?
“The Shadow of your Smile." and “Love In Pain.” They are polar opposites in production, but if you dive into the lyrics they are both simple but include deep sentiments. What is the best advice you can give to aspiring musicians who are trying to make it in “the biz” especially today when everything is digital and the market is so overly saturated?
In today's climate, there is no real advice about the business side because there are so many avenues now and so many unknown variables and changes. I’m still leading with the tried and true method of make a plan and having a strategy, but 50% or more of that plan is still trial and error when put into practice. There really aren’t any rules anymore. Industry wise I say follow your gut. Your vision is inside of you and although people around you may understand and support the vision, only you can truly see it, because it is you. Creatively, I would say, "do music that matters to you and it will matter to someone else." It’s no more or less deep than that for me.