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When I look back on 2008, I think the heaviest of realizations I conclude, is that the music has always been in, and a part of me. For as long as I can remember, there's been a song in every task I've ever carried out.
Whether it be doing my chores as a young lad, or coping with hardship, falling in love, or suffering a tough loss, music has always been there. The sounds have been the "old standby" that have never disappointed me, nor left my side.
Without the melodic noise, I often wonder what may or might have become of my existence. I wonder where I'd be, without all those artists, making great music, and helping me to get through the day.
And then, a few years back, there in the North Dakota dirt, the burning question hit me.
"What if?" What if I, me, just a red blood, blue collar, son of the working class, assumed the role of the artist? What if I started making the music that gets me, and others, through the day? What if?
I am Ryan Boyce. I am a husband, a father, a lover, and a hater. I raise babies and pay bills. "I am you. You are me. We are what we are."
By night, I ply the blacktop, up and down one of the most dangerous highways in the west, behind the wheel of a Kenworth super tanker, into the oil fields of the Uintah Basin, in Utah. By day, I tend to matters of the family and life. And, when there's time, I make music.
My existence isn't glamorously adorned with the stuff of lore. Hell, I make a living in two of the most loathed industries on earth and my music isn't everyone's cup of tea. But this existence is mine. The stories are honest, abrasive, gritty, and truthful, and I want to share them. Because, somewhere, somehow, for some reason, I know it matters.
Let's Walk It Back.
I've only ever known tough, physical, blue collar trades, despite two tours on college campuses, and degrees in History and English Literature. I guess it's just the way I was raised. I've just always been drawn into a world, carved and cut from the stone and timber. The story of American Life and all that.
From way back in high school, I remember being interest in creative writing and literature, both fictional and nonfictional. I just love the imagery created in words. Wordcraft is so powerful, in so many ways.
Early on, I formulated the opinion that ink and parchment possess a strength, very near that of the voice. So I guess, it stands to reason why music became such a magnetic force for me.
In the mid 90s, during college, I was a drummer in a post punk, modern alt, rock band, during the height of the grunge era. Percussion was something that just came naturally, and I've always been rhythmically inclined. We were all childhood friends and Nine Spine Stickleback made some great, aggressive music. It was my first taste of writing lyrics for music, or anything else, for that matter, and I was hooked.
But as all things grow and evolve, so too, do personalities and perceptions. We went our separate ways, remaining good friends and parting on good terms (remember that).
My attention shifted toward my "working" career for nearly 20 years, and I focused on "growing up" as it were.
As we all sometimes do, I took on life, like a bull in a china closet. I did my best to wreck a brief marriage to my high school sweetheart. I crushed my fair share of hearts and souls along the way, and I sabotaged plenty of friendships. All while maintaining a mutually beneficial partnership with booze. Needless to say, my propensity for self destruction was perfected in my affinity for pain. I've long since curtailed the self deprecating behavior though, thank the stars.
For whatever reason, I never put down the pen, always writing in journals or ledgers, always collecting thoughts and stories.
And through it all, there was music. Always music.
Somewhere Along the Way
Well into my second marriage, to a wonderful woman, whom has definitely become my better half, I moved my family to Virginia Beach, VA.
We stayed a few years. I landed a sweet gig as a superintendent, with a big firm, and we spawned our first child together (our third, collectively). We were beginning to live the American dream, right?
I suppose I felt comfortable enough, that I could really start devoting some time into my writing interests. In 2008, I wrote "Chesapeake Bay." It's a soldiers song, and rightly so, given where we were at the time. Being surrounded by service men and women, and their families really inspired me to write something from the soldier's perspective. I had every intention of putting it to music, but at that time, I didn't even know how to read, write, or play music.
Then 2008 happened, and everything changed.
I lost my job, a home, a car, and quite nearly my sanity. Everything was coming down in a landslide. It wasn't the first time I'd lost, and it definitely wouldn't be the last.
Having a family to provide for, changes everything. There's no time to dwell in self pity, or sit around with your hand out. You either get your ass back to work and keep grinding, or you get left in the dust (years later, I would write "The Salt" about it).
With the economy failing and prospects dwindling, we re-circled the wagons, and headed back west. I put the family up, in my parents basement, and I hit the road in a big truck, one of the only professions I knew could never die lest this country be resigned to crumble into ash.
Over the road trucking has its perks, but is hardly the romanticized, adventurous trade of decades past. It's filthy, lonely, unforgiving, and less than lucrative. But, given some hard work, it pays the bills.
It goes without saying that those were some of the most arduous and painstaking days, weeks, months, and years, I've ever endured. Not only for me, but especially for my family. We migrated from my parents place in Idaho, to my wife's parents place, in Utah, and finally, literally the second we were able, we landed in a home of our own and began again, chasing the American dream.
Somewhere along the way, down some lonely stretch of West Texas' highway, I made some contacts in the oil industry. In 2009, I found myself on a bus, headed into another unknown frontier. I was bound for the Bakken Oil Fields of North Dakota.
Indeed, it was the wild west, or at least as near as I'd ever witnessed, in these modern times. There were essentially no rules, no laws, and no regulation for the first two years there. It was a black gold rush, and the money was ridiculous. I literally witnessed an odyssey. I saw man camps spring into small cities. I watched as industry and a mechanical renaissance overwhelmed and overran a sparsely populated, rural, agricultural region.
It was beautiful and terrible, in every way imaginable.
I worked my guts out and lived like a coyote, for nearly five years. But I had a plan. And as painstaking as it was, give or take a bit, here and there, the plan was executed.
By 2013, with my wife and children by my side through it all, we made it back to Utah, where we were born and raised, to settle in for the long haul.
After lengthy discussions, Sheri and I concluded that the children had been on the move enough, and needed stability. With the older kids coming into young adulthood, and the baby growing like a weed, "fuck around" time was definitely over. We were here to stay, and make our play for happiness and prosperity.
And through it all, there was music. Always music.
Where the Music Took Shape
Somewhere, sometime in 2009, I was literally sitting there, in the North Dakota dust and dirt, just pondering life, listening to a Will Hoge tune, ("Highway's Home" or "Even If It Breaks Your Heart") and it struck me. "I'm going into town to buy a guitar."
I'd never played before, I couldn't even read or write music. I had no background or musical pedigree. I just had this cloudy, faint hint of a dream, to start writing songs.
So I ventured into Minot, North Dakota, and bought a shitty guitar.
I never thought it'd amount to much more than something to occupy the lonesome lengths of time out there, a thousand miles from home.
And so it began.
It started with me just aimlessly strumming and picking strings, trying to find some semblance of sounds to put together in some half assed, sensical way. At first, it was nothing short of frustrating.
Were I a betting man, I never would have laid odds that I would amount to Jack shit as a musician or songwriter. But something was happening. Something unexpected. Something truly awesome. All the noise I was hearing and humming in my head, was starting to manifest itself. Slowly, mind you, but most assuredly, even I could hear it.
You see, I didn't immediately seek out lessons on YouTube, or try to learn to play some of my favorite songs. Something in me didn't dare try, or was afraid to fail and make myself look or sound stupid. What can I say? We all fall subject to being self conscious and critical. Instead, I just kept trying to formulate chord progressions, and combinations of sounds that were pleasing.
One day I found the balls to let my wife listen to me play. It wasn't like she was blown away or anything, but she did remark,
"Honey that's cool. You should try putting some of your writing to that."
She was onto it, well before I was. So too, was my oldest brother, Michael. I had hired him to come to work with me in NODAK. Mike would later become a major inspiration in my musical endeavors.
So off I ran, ledgers full of thoughts and fledgling abilities with a guitar in tow.
Just like all passions or interests in hobbies, it became a difficult labour of love. I started listening more intently to my favorite songs and artists more intently, studying the semantics, the mechanics, the rhythm, and the flow. I listened to the reason and rhyme, and the mood created by tone and sounds. I honed in on melodies and harmonies alike. I took pages and pages of notes, and started constructing a template for creating a song. I didn't want to just copy means and methods, but at the same time, I didn't want to stray so far from familiarity that my music would be uncomfortable to listen to.
And then, one night, there in the dark during a fierce electrical storm... it happened. Everything aligned and "There Hangs A Hero," "Journal Box Road," "Chesapeake Bay," "Maybe I Was Wanting," and "Love From Afar" were born.
It was one of the most liberating and validating nights of my life. It was real.
And through it all, there was music. Always music.
I Am The Storm
And the devil whispered in my ear, "You can't handle the coming storm." To which I replied, "I AM THE STORM."
With a small handful of songs in my repertoire, it quickly became apparent that I was onto something. At least that's what I believed. Did I doubt myself? Yep, you bet I did. But something kept driving me. I couldn't say what exactly that something was. All I knew was, it felt good to create.
So what now? I definitely did not possess the confidence to go participate in some open mic engagement. That prospect was seemingly light years away. No way, no how.
I started surfing social media, and looking for ideas, and then a name hit me. An old friend from way back in grade school.
I've known Mike Smith since kindergarten. Through middle school and high school, I knew him to be a pretty accomplished guitar player, and so I reached out. Turns out, Mike was married to his high school love, Erica, and they were living the dream, raising two boys, back home in Farmington, Utah.
After the initial niceties and catching up, I explained what I was working on. Early on, I made Mike aware of my talent level, and my initial apprehension in making music. All of my self doubts never even phased "The Talented Mr. Smith" as I like to call him. It's like he knew from the get go, exactly where I was headed, and exactly what I was hearing, in the creative process.
We recorded, via mobile devices, a couple of rough, scratch tracks, and the rest is history.
The project known as The Artisan Thieves, rose up from the ground and reared its head.
Over the course of the next few years, we networked back and fourth, occasionally meeting up to collaborate, and proverbially dip our toes in the water of making music. Between 2012 and 2014, The Artisan Thieves amassed a dozen or so song ideas, and with the help of Jason Jones at Art City Sound, in Springville, Utah. We tracked out our first "official" studio EP, consisting of four songs.
"Chesapeake Bay," as I mentioned before, was the first song I ever fully finished. "Maybe I Was Wanting," and "Journal Box Road" were based upon life out on the road, away from home and loved ones. And finally, "Love From Afar" was the hooky, ode to the (one that got away).
It was clear. The Artisan Thieves had every intention of making a run. The motivation was there, the music had the potential, and we were never short in the wants and wishes department.
The road ahead was the unknown, and we were ready to traverse the terrain.
But, oh so little did we know. And oh how unprepared I was, in every way for the journey ahead.
And still, through it all, there was music. Always music.
Who Am I
I am Ryan Boyce, a working class hero. An aspiring singersongwriter, music maker, and artist.