Ryan Culwell On a Memorable First Gig and the Song That Made Him Famous In His Family

January 27, 2015

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

If I am touring solo I drive a 2010 Honda Civic. It actually doesn’t have that many miles on it yet, and it gets incredible gas mileage. I’ve had a string of accidents lately that involve mailboxes, so the car needs a new bumper and I probably need to wear my glasses more often.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

I don’t really eat fast food, so the road can be tricky. I think it’s a mistake to skimp too much on food. There are lot of long term benefits to be gained by sitting down and eating a real meal with friends. I’d rather eat well than spend my money on a plush hotel room. Also, any grocer has yogurt a banana and some granola that can get you through any morning if you’re in a hurry.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

I change strings as little as possible because I prefer that dead sound. The secret is finding strings that hit that place quickly but don’t lose their life. Right now, that’s D’Addario Flat Tops for me. I play pretty crudely but I haven’t broke a string in over a year. Hope I didn’t just jinx myself.

Where do you rehearse?

I have a 5 year old, a 3 year old and one on the way, so getting alone to make music can be impossible. I don’t have a dedicated rehearsal space, I usually just stay up later than everyone and write in the kitchen at 2 am. There was one time I had to rehearse a solo set in my car several nights in a row because I had a big show coming up and literally no other options.

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

I wrote my first song at 9 years old. It’s still famous in my family, “I’m goin to grandma’s, she lives by a lake, goin to grandma’s she makes chocolate cake, better get in the car we’re gonna be late, goin to grandma’s cause grandma is great.” It was a hit in the niche, 12 bar summer vacation grandparent adoring sub genre that was so big in the late 80’s

Describe your first gig.

There were three bands billed on my first show; an Elvis impersonator, our little pop rock group and a local heavy metal band headlined. The Elvis impersonator was in his late 40’s and didn’t have proper undergarments on under his satin outfit, so our girlfriends in the front row were terrified at his shaking about. When he finished, they pulled the curtains and it knocked over my mic stand as they announced us as Ryan Culwell’s Band. It was exactly like the Oneders on “That thing you do” except that a heavy metal Christian band named Nevaeh took the stage afterwards- that’s Heaven spelled backwards for the record.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years. I cooked cow bile for about a year. In a 110 degree warehouse I’d cook the water out of the bile until it resembled a melted chocolate bar. I’d ship it to Italy and they’d make pharmaceuticals out of it. Few companies do collect this bile but it is used in a lot of prenatal vitamins, so if you’re a mother who is reading this then you’ve probably had some of the bile I cooked. Side note, the gall stones of cows are used as all natural Viagra in some Asian countries. I was supposed to collect them and get $100 per ounce. I prefer playing music.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

A great musician told me early on in my career, “we don’t play to get paid, but we don’t play to not get paid.” The more my income streams diversify the more stability I have seen on the security front. I sound like a financial advisor, but diversify- that’s my plan.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

I have a good friend who has always told me to focus on the art and let success figure itself out. Nowadays everyone tells you that you have to do the grind on social marketing and getting yourself to market and to read more Seth Godin. That stuff is great, but  I wish I would have believed my friend sooner. Get better at creating and eventually the things you create will speak for you. This is contrary to most the advice you will hear, but it is true in my experience.


Ryan Culwell has tempered his songwriting craft in the isolation of his Texas Panhandle home for years and has only recently brought his Folk/Americana songs to the welcome arms of Nashville. His songs, which dive deep into the barren and rural landscapes of his homeland have been placed on the CW’s Hart of Dixie and allowed him to share the stage with diverse acts like Need to Breathe, David Allan Coe, and countless Texas troubadours. Upon his arrival to Nashville, Ryan began working on a collection of songs that would eventually become the Winter Wheat EP. The EP was mixed by Neilson Hubbard and kicked off a working relationship that would lead Ryan back into the studio. Producer, Neilson Hubbard (Kim Richey, Apache Relay, Matthew Perryman Jones) and Ryan Culwell have wrestled out a full-length album that will come out with flying fists in the near future.

Culwell will release Flatlands in March 2015.  You can find him online and on the road.