He may be the YouTuber guitarist with 339K subs and over 56 million views on his Riffs Beards & Gear channel, but Ryan Bruce says building a following is less about chasing the likes, than being true to yourself.
RSNG quizzed him about playing guitar in ‘Dragged Under’s’ debut album, as well as his advice for budding performers whether you want to be a YouTube influencer, a guitarist or launch a new band...
RSNG Dragged Under has debut album The World Is In Your Way out now – tell us about the band?
RYAN BRUCE, GUITARIST AND YOUTUBER RIFFS BEARDS & GEAR ‘We're all fans of different music – we love the heavy, fast punk rock stuff, but we also love singing along to old Phil Collins songs in the car. Do you know what I mean?’
‘We love that element of being able to just sing along to something. We're just trying to find a happy medium between really, really awesome heavy guitar riffs and huge singalong courses.’
RSNG What did you have in mind when you're setting out to write the guitar tone for the album?
RB ‘I'm the riff guy. I would come in with a pile of riffs. How this record work is, our producer, Hiram Hernandez, is an insane guitar player. It was him, myself, our singer, Tony, and our other guitarist, Josh, in a room.’
‘We were literally just passing around the guitar trying to basically outriff each other. It was like, "No, let me see it. Here's what would go good with that part." “Yes!" It was extremely collaborative. It was just a bunch of different pieces of the puzzle, and Hiram put everything together and just took our riffs.’
‘He contributed riffs to the record as well. It was just a very organic thing. It was a hang.’
RSNG Is that how you get the sense of fun over while still being hard-hitting, do you think?
RB ‘Yes. That had a huge amount to do with it. The music for Riot was written in an hour. We were having so much fun, and then a snowstorm came. That second night, there was a blizzard going on and we wrote the music for Hypochondria in like two hours. We were just having fun and we had nothing else to do, and we were drinking way too many energy drinks at four o'clock in the morning, haha! It was such a blast.’
‘The most simple thing that I regret bypassing, was not having more patience’
RSNG You a lot of time chasing tone and playing with amps. Do you think that's important for guitar players just to build up that sonic education, to play with lots of different gear?
RB ‘I do. How you sound is part of who you are just as much as how you play. I do know a lot of my guitar playing friends who couldn't tell you what kind of strings they use, and that just blows me away. They know they use a purple pack of Ernie Ball. That's all they can tell you, which is fine. No one has to be like a super hardcore nerd, but you should at least be able to know what you like as far as like a Marshall or a Boogie or whatever it is.’
‘Yes, I think it should play a role. A lot of guitar players don't know what they like. They should find out what they like.’
RSNG For a genre that people say is under pressure from other kinds of music, there's a lot of new guitar innovations and new products out?
RB ‘Yes. It's never been a better time to be a guitar player… At the end of the day, all of these options are awesome, but the crowd doesn't care what you're using. As long as you can get to the end result of sounding like you want to sound, what you're using actually doesn't really matter. Digital, tube amp, or whatever. There are so many toys now. When I was a kid, you had a small PD Combo or a Marshall half stack, and that was it.
RSNG You're going to be doing a lot of touring with Dragged Under?
RB ‘Yes, hah! We’re still in Anaheim right now, and tomorrow, our tour starts in San Diego. We won't be home until early March. We're going to tour the US – like we have 28 shows in 33 days or something like that, or 34 days. We're going to go hit the road hard.’
RSNG Does that evolve your sound at all? If you're playing that many shows live, do you get into a groove and come up with new ideas, or is it a question of just refining what you do?
RB ‘I think it is a creative space for us. Me and Josh are always stockpiling riffs in the communal band Dropbox in LA, but there is a lot of downtime on a tour like this, so yes, we will definitely just be tossing around the guitar, for sure. Also, touring as much will make us definitely more, I guess you could say, cohesive just with shared experience and time put in.’
RSNG Do you get inspiration from anybody yourself?
RB ‘I am a huge nerd for '90s grunge bands because I grew up in the '90s in Seattle. Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains is an absolute hero of mine. He's had the best guitar tone, live or in the studio, for 30 years! I’m also a huge fan of the Soundgarden guys, Kim Thayil, Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, how his simplicity and a sense of melody was really, really amazing.’
‘I'm also a huge Eagles nerd, as weird as that sounds. I love The Eagles! Newer stuff is good too. We're big fans of Rise Against, the Beartooth, Comeback Kid and, of course, Sum 41 and Green Day, all of those bands. I think you can hear that in the record. For me personally, I go back to the grunge days and the '90s, the golden era, haha!’
RSNG You've got a lot of experience of giving advice through your YouTube channel, but what would you say is the simplest yet most overlooked thing guitar players can do to improve their playing?
RB ‘I would say patience. That's the most simple thing that I regret bypassing, was not having more patience. I see a lot of younger players nowadays in the world of instant gratification. They want to be good right now. Learning any instrument and mastering any instrument is a long game.’
‘It's years and years and years and years of just honing your craft. I would say the most overlooked thing, for new players especially, is just having the patience and knowing that you will get better.’
RSNG There are so many resources out there now for learning as well. It's almost, "Where do you start?"
RB ‘I wouldn't even know where I would start if I was starting today. It's so saturated. You can miss stuff if you're not careful. I was recently at this Tom Morello guitar camp. I was an instructor. A lot of these kids that were 13, 14-years-old were just absolute monsters at lead guitar playing.’
‘What was interesting is, a huge number of them could not keep time. They couldn't keep basic rhythm when they were playing lead because they learned to play using things like YouTube videos. They did not spend their time jamming with the drummer at a garage. I thought that was really, really interesting.’
RSNG I guess whole phase of being crap with your mates in the garage is being bypassed now?
RB ‘That’s a critical stage. It's very, very important that you suck at your instrument with your friends in a garage. You'll learn a lot!’
‘‘Do something you truly love and people will follow the passion, not your false hopes’
RSNG What would you say is the most important thing about building a YouTube following and reaching the audience that you want to connect with?
RB ‘The most important thing to build any YouTube following is doing it for you and not doing it for views or for money. Really doing it because you love it, whatever that is, cooking show, guitar playing, video games, whatever.’
‘Today's audiences and today's younger viewers especially are incredibly smart. They can sense when you're doing anything under false pretences. If you're doing something in the hopes of it going viral, I would say, just don't even try, man, because you can't predict those kinds of things.’
‘Do something you truly love and people will follow the passion, not your false hopes.’
RSNG Do you think it's useful for people, if they're into music, to share their content, share their playing?
RB ‘It's a good balance. Getting yourself out there is definitely good. There's Instagram guitarists now that are getting endorsement deals and stuff like that. That's all cool too, but most of those people are also gigging at least sometimes on the weekend.’
‘I don't think any of that stuff replaces live performance completely. It definitely is more of a balance now than it used to be. I don't know. Definitely putting your stuff out there and putting out content is definitely part of being a modern guitar player, for sure.’
RSNG What do you think the biggest challenges are for bands starting out?
RB ‘The pure saturation. I had an old band, and it was so tough. We had myself, and we had another YouTuber, Jared Dines, in the band. It was still really, really tough to just even get any traction anywhere, and we were trying to do these tours.’
‘Promoters don't care largely about your social media following. It's more maybe applicable now in the real world, but in 2016, when we went on our first tour, they were like, "Who cares how many subs you have or how many millions of people follow you, guys. I don't care. What's your tour history?”’
‘It's so tough to get out there, but I think if any band does want to get out there and it wants to wade through the sheer amount of other bands that are playing, they need to get out and just hit the ground running. You just need to go out and play, play, play wherever they can and not focus so much on local. If they're trying to be a national band and touring, they have to get out of town.’
‘The worst thing a band could do nowadays is just sit there and play their hometown over and over and over again.’
RSNG If you could put a tour together with anyone, who would it be?
RB ‘I would say a really, really, really great tour would be with Beartooth or Rise Against, or even Green Day. That would be insane!’
RSNG What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given as a guitarist and as a music producer?
RB ‘As a guitar player, I was told when I was younger, "Always play with people that are better than you because you will always pick up something and you will push, and you will always try to get to their level, and naturally, you will get better as a player hanging out with people that are better than you." As a mix engineer or producer, the best piece of advice I've gotten was, "Let the band be the band.”
‘When you're producing a record, the role of a producer is to guide and help the band have a vision of an album. It's their music. Your job is to just guide them to the proverbial trough to drink the water, so not taking too much control.’
RSNG Interviewer: What kind of lessons did you draw from Rest, Repose that you're going to apply?
RB ‘There's a saying that, "Just write good songs and good things will happen." I never subscribed to that, but writing for the live show and writing the material for Dragged Under, all of these things like the tours that we've got and all the opportunities that are coming to us have simply been from people that just like the songs.
‘There is truth in, "Just write great songs and everything else will fall into place." I never thought that was the case. I thought that was complete garbage, but it's not. It is absolutely true.’
RSNG In terms of equipment choice, just getting a bit slightly nerdy, how did you arrive at that in the end?
RB ‘We had a couple of guitars. It was a Balaguer, a Beau Burchell Tele, and a Music Man. I have this one-off burl top James Valentine signature model for Music Man that they made me. Both of those guitars had a Fishman Killswitch Engage pickups which are very, very, very tight and they're very progressive.’
‘There's not a lot of low end on them. I think it really landed to the percussive sound of some of the riffs, like the main hook in Hypochondria, the four on the floor riff, like that's those pickups.’
‘We would try other guitars and they just didn't work for the aesthetic we were going for. We plugged those in and we just went with it. It wasn't too much just like, "That sound's right. let's go with it." Those two guitars were pretty much the entirety of the record.’
RSNG What defines a good riff for you?
RB ‘Me and my friends, refer to the head bob factor. You start bobbing and banging your head, it's a good riff. If you write the riff, you have to give it 24 hours, and if you still wake up the next morning and give it that stank face, then it's a good riff! Haha.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Ryan Bruce AKA Fluff on guitar in the official video for Dragged Under single Hypochondria.
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