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The return of Zach Ryan

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When guitarist and singer Zach Ryan, formerly of The Rooks, left Las Vegas for Nashville in 2012, he did so in search of a scene where his music might find better success. Next week he returns, with a new version of his old band, The Renegades, for five shows here, part of a six-week national tour.

How did you assemble your new band? I kind of always have a new band, because somebody can’t go on tour or … there’s always something. Being a solo artist, it’s harder to get people to throw in with you. I’d like to have a band, Bruce [Springsteen] has always had the E Street band, and Tom Petty always had the Heartbreakers. Neil Young has Crazy Horse. It’s harder to get that when you’re still scuffling around bars.

Was it easier for you to find musicians in Nashville? That’s why I moved here, because there’s a large pool of players to draw from and learn from. The person that’s been with me the longest is Carl Seals—everyone calls him Hot Carl. He used to work the door at Artifice … and we’ve been like best buds ever since. And the other guy’s name is Ricky Dover Jr. He played in a band before called The Booze that did real well. I found him here, and we just liked all the same stuff. But we’ve had a lot of bass players and drummers.

You have a crazy long tour coming up. Is this your biggest yet? Yeah, we’ve only done two weeks before. This is a big stretch, six weeks. We have a few days off in some places. I’m really excited. We’re playing in The Dalles, Oregon, and that’s where I grew up. It’s like a small truck stop town … and nothing really happens there. It’s one of those towns you drive past on the freeway, and you’re like, “I can’t believe people actually live here.” The town has grown up a little bit since I’ve been gone; they’ve got some breweries and cool places. We’re playing at this place called Clock Tower Ales out there. I’ve never played a show as a singer and a guitar player in my hometown. I was a drummer when I left home for Vegas.

When did you move to Vegas? I moved to Vegas twice. I lived there for nine months, when I was about 21. I’m 27 now. And then I came back, ’cause it didn’t work out. I was living in Oregon for another eight or nine months doing care giving, and my buddy Spencer Burton talked me into moving back to Vegas and giving it another shot.

And then you were here for a while. I was there for, like, three years and three months. The Rooks did really well, but [Zach Ryan and the Renegades] never really could take off. We did really well every time we went out of town. I think you can only do so much in Vegas, especially at the time we were there. There’s only a small pool of people in the live music marketplace there that go to Beauty Bar and Griffin and stuff. Now that’s changed a lot, it seems like, with Downtown Project doing a lot of stuff. I don’t know if that’s going to be to its benefit or it’s detriment, I guess we’ll see. I was there for Life Is Beautiful, and I enjoyed it. Just as long as they don’t drive up the drink prices too high.

Nashville’s scene is huge in comparison. How is your band doing there? We’re doing great. The nice thing about Nashville is, there’s a real built-in live music audience, because all bars host live music for the most part. There’s never been a night when I’m like, “Oh, man, why did we come out?” It’s really great. I don’t want to sell short what we did in Vegas. We did pretty well as far as you can do. It wasn’t like anyone’s music career was taking off. It seemed like the only band that was really doing well at the time was Most Thieves.

Do you think it was harder to break through here as a country-rock band like yours? [Nashville] is definitely more our wheelhouse. If you came to our shows in Vegas, it was mostly rock ’n’ roll.

What have you learned from Nashville’s scene? It’s just following the muse, being true to your instrument and rehearsing enough to where you can do that sort of stuff. That’s something I learned when I moved to Nashville—musicality is something that’s greatly neglected in most music scenes that I’ve been to, and in Nashville, it’s, like, overboard. Everybody is so much better than you, it just pushes you so much harder. It’s so competitive out here. I knew moving out here I’d probably be one of the worst guitarists I knew, but it’s good and it’s sobering. It’s really nice, because everyone out here’s so cool and helpful. They’re just really good and they just love sharing, so I’ve learned so much. And I’ve taken a couple of guitar lessons, which I’ve never done.

Since you have so much new material, will there be an LP soon? Yeah. It’s been a constant struggle to maintain a lineup to really make that happen, but I think after the tour I’m just going to use this band to cut an LP. I’d really like to do it all to tape, mostly live with minimal overdubbing. I always find when we record something, I never like it as much as when we’re playing something. When you’re recording live, you’re in the moment and you’re creating a moment. There’s certain times when it’s better to craft a song and do that, but with the kind of music that we do I think the moment is really important—the variables that happen when the guitar player maybe strikes a couple extra notes. I think if you can maintain the excitement for everybody, it comes through on the record. And that’s something we haven’t been able to achieve yet.

What do you miss most about Las Vegas? Mexican food. The Mexican food in Tennessee is awful. Over on Bonanza and Las Vegas Boulevard there’s a taco truck that has the best al pastor ever. And I definitely miss my Vegas friends. I made some lifelong friends here that I really want to see. And I definitely miss the fact that everything is available so late there, the all-night nature of it. And the Griffin. I miss the Griffin.

If there was one thing you could bring to Las Vegas from Nashville, what would it be? The built-in music audiences and the availability of good live music. I’ve seen shows in Vegas where I was like “These guys aren’t ready to be playing out live yet.” I think a band is more than just a couple of guys getting together. Here, when you see a band, they’re really prepared and it’s a show—that’s something I think Vegas could benefit from.

ZACH RYAN AND THE RENEGADES March 24, 9 p.m., free, Artifice. March 26, 10 p.m., free, Griffin. March 28, 9 p.m., $5, Beauty Bar. March 29, 9 p.m., Container Park, free.

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Local and independent music lover Leslie Ventura found her passion for journalism as a UNLV undergrad, contributing to Las Vegas ...

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