Treaty City Rising: Anna's Anchor

Epitomising the DIY spirit of Limerick’s music scene, singer-songwriter Marty Ryan, (Anna’s Anchor) speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about his city, his experiences and how they’ve made him.

Taking inspiration from a wide variety of influences, from The Smashing Pumpkins and Brand New, to the likes of Interpol, Limerick singer-songwriter Marty Ryan has channelled a rare honesty and willingness to be open with life experience into DIY musical project Anna’s Anchor, recording and gigging in both solo acoustic and full-band capacities, touring the world and further informing his working and creative processes on his own terms.

The city has been central to Ryan in that respect: as well as providing a supportive environment for him to grow and develop as an artist and professional, it’s allowed him to give back, as he’s mucked in on the nascent DIY LK movement of young musicians, promoters, engineers, photographers and other music personalities, that have given their time and their civic pride to contribute to their city’s cultural renewal in recent years. But for all of this, the music of Anna’s Anchor comes from deep within, openly discussing his life, loves and hurts in the best tradition of the emo/post-hardcore oeuvre.

Nearly a year on from most recent long-player 'Everybody's Welcome', Ryan collects his thoughts on the finished product, the songs thereon, and with the same earnestness that permeates his work, how things have changed for the contexts in which they were written. “This time last year, we were in full on promo mode with the singles. I can, hand on heart, say I'm still 100% happy with how they came out. I consider myself a better musician now but for the time and place that I was at, I'm still delighted with how it sounds. Tracking it in the house in Castletownbere with my close friend Mike Gavin, and having it mixed by one of my heroes, Jon Goodmanson, is still a dream set up for me and no one can take that away. I loved every moment of creating it, and it is by far my fondest memory of anything Anna's Anchor-related.”

“As for the context in which it was written, that's a really hard one. I don't have much in the way of family. I wrote it over Christmas time in 2017 when I was on my own and I find that time of year so difficult, when you know everyone's with their parents and siblings and people always reflect on the importance of family. That's not a scenario I have in my life so Christmas can be an extremely lonely time. I tried my best to make it a productive and positive experience that year and wrote the guts of the album then. I was fresh out of college with a "good" degree, in a "good" job yet totally unhappy. The housing crisis in this country was, and still is, ridiculous and a lot of that occupies the album lyrically. The title "Everybody's Welcome' is meant somewhat tongue in cheek because although we are seemingly the most welcoming and friendly country in the world, that's not the case at all and its extremely apparent from the top down in how the country handles a lot of its social issues. That said, with all of the personal issues of my own, I have really tried my best to remain open and welcoming to anyone that wants it. A lot has changed since then. I'm doing music full time and in a much better head space, but at the same time, a lot of the themes in the album are still as real and true right now.”

The album made its way into the world, released on digital and physical formats via indie label Failure by Design. Ryan is effusive about the label, the infrastructural and touring support he’s received, and the relationship that the two parties have built over the past year or so. “It’s been great. I was extremely lucky in that I got to support the amazing person that is Seán McGowan around the U.K. and those gigs were a big deal for me. I had the chance to show off my music to FBD from such a good platform on that tour. I met them on the tour when the lads came to the Southampton show, signed a few days later, announced the signing right after the tour when we were playing a bunch of festivals in Germany, and it was just the perfect storm where everything came together. It was great to have extra pairs of hands in relation to PR, distribution and manufacturing. I put so much pressure and responsibility on myself with AA, so it was a huge relief to have help. It wasn't all a breeze, we had difficulties with the vinyl which didn't arrive until after the release tour, but that type of thing is just unfortunate and you roll with it. The fact that anyone at all is willing to give our music their time is incredibly humbling, no less invest money in it, so I am extremely grateful and fortunate for the help Connor and Ben at FBD have given me.”

Earlier in the week, we spoke with fellow Limerick musicians We Come in Pieces and Emma Langford about the city they share, the shape of DIY music therein, and the civic and social reach that the artform has accomplished in the city. Ryan, as a resolutely DIY artist, has seen the changes happen from the ground, and speaks from experience in sharing thoughts on the current boom it's undergoing, the work that the community is putting in, and the challenges it faces. “The local scene in Limerick is amazing at the moment. I've been knocking around for a long time, I caught the tail end of the heyday of Bakers Place in 2008 or so, which really made me want to play in a band. Limerick was kind of in the doldrums after that closed down for a few years. It's great that it's booming at the moment, and there is a lot of hype around it at the minute. I've been heavily involved with DIYLK since day one, the first gig was actually in my living room, and I'd like to think DIYLK has been a big part of the current resurgence. From our perspective, that's only the case because of all the hard work that a big bunch of people have put into promoting other people's music.

“The community is such a selfless thing, where every two weeks, we're working hard on a completely voluntary basis to put on out-of-town bands as well as locals. We've been fortunate with timing in relation to MusicGeneration students coming of age, and the economy picking up with venues like Pharmacia and Mother Mac’s opening but really it'd be nothing without the insanely selfless effort that a bunch of people put in. I always get a kick when we put on a band from another county and they're like "God, ye're so lucky to have this scene, there's nothing like this where we're from". There totally could be with the right kind of effort, and luckily we've managed to put that together over the last 3-4 years.” 

Some very striking imagery of the city that spawned both the music and experiences behind Anna’s Anchor appears in video for leadoff single ‘White Washed Corridor’. Portraying a night in the city centre with unflinching honesty, and featuring appearances from familiar Limerick faces, the video was a collaborative process with Limerick media veteran and director Shane Serrano, of Crude Media. Ryan discusses the working relationship, and the creative process behind the video. “Ah, it was fantastic, I can't thank Shane enough. That's the third video I've done with him, and he's really gone above and beyond for me. I'm extremely grateful for it. That video was a really hard one. To give you context, there's been significant alcohol abuse in my family and, to a certain extent, it has made me feel ashamed, angry, lonely and desperate. After a difficult path of trying to find some kind of counselling for me to come to terms with this, I eventually found Al-Anon, which is kind of like Alcoholics Anonymous but for people that have been affected by other people's drinking. That's what the song is about.”

“I wanted to both show the dark side of drinking too much, whilst also re-creating a group counselling scenario to show that there is light at the end of the tunnel, if you unfortunately have to go through something like I have. All of this is super-sensitive stuff for a number of reasons, It's painfully personal for starters and secondly, it had to be done right and come across 110% honest and genuine. That can be a hard thing to do on film sometimes as you are after all, acting out a scene. I came to Shane with the idea, he really liked it, and I then spent a couple of months trying to back out of it just out of fear. Shane kept reassuring me and in the end, he couldn't have done a better job. The video is poignant, painful and speaks from the heart. That's what I'm always trying to get across with Anna's Anchor.”

Ryan has been pursuing a new project too, in new podcast DIY IRL, acting as a tour of Ireland's DIY scene, working off the initial idea of visiting 32 counties and speaking with 32 guests. What has the whole process been like, and how does hosting a podcast differ from bantering from a stage, or other DIY media? “I'm still in the thick of the process, producing a new episode each week. The premise is to interview a different person from a different county each week that has applied a DIY mentality to their chosen vocation, whatever it may be. I'm also writing and recording a brand new song every week, that's a big part of it too. It's been a tonne of work so far, crazy. I've always been one for quirky, whacky ideas but this one has me under serious pressure but we're a quarter of the way through so far anyway, and I'm so happy with how it’s been going. It's so different to anything I've done before. Interviewing a person is most definitely a skill and an art form in itself and I'm only developing it as we go but I love it. After we released Everybody's Welcome, I had to really think as to what I wanted to do next and when I thought hard about why I do this, the two reasons I came out with is to write and record songs, and to also meet people that inspire me. DIY IRL is my means of cutting through all the bullshit and getting straight to the source of that.”

“Talking about differences, the release process is so different to a normal musical release in all the best ways. Nowadays if you release a single or album, if it doesn't make a splash immediately, it's dead in the water and the sell by date of music gets shorter and shorter. A Podcast is totally different, it's a slow gradual burner and my god is that refreshing to learn. I also love how communal an experience it is as it's not about me at all, it's about the guest and it's unreal craic to chat to listeners about the different guests and what they enjoyed. I love it so far.”

Ryan is heading back to the UK next month, touring in support for Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties (Dan “Soupy” Campbell of the Wonder Years’ side project), right around a time of change on an international level, to put it mildly. Ryan is honest about this coming leg of gigs, and the context in which they'll be, pending a minor miracle, the last of an era for touring artists at either side of the water. “Well first of all, I'm so excited for those shows, what a huge opportunity. A sold out support tour like that does not usually get given to an act with no management or agent, so I'm extremely fortunate to be over there and I cannot wait. Smaller Irish acts just don't get to play those kind of shows abroad, so I'm extremely excited and grateful!”

“In relation to Brexit, I'm not too worried from a touring band perspective, there'll be ways and means around it, both by the books and not. America is the most expensive and difficult place to tour in the world with visas and all that. I've managed to tour there by being a cheeky bollocks, so I don't intend on stopping anytime soon if Brexit forces me to. We're the lucky ones, we're still in the E.U., I feel very bad for U.K. mates that tour mainland Europe a lot, that's a much more scarier prospect.”

While the near future might be bearing down on us all, it’s also given Ryan space to continue organising the scene closer to home, fulfil touring obligations, and partake in an event that’s very close to the heart of the Treaty City. “We'll be announcing our special Limerick charity Christmas gig shortly, for Limerick Suicide Watch, which we've done for the last few years, that'll be exciting. After that, I'll be back in the new year in the U.K. with a headline run, and then a short jaunt around Europe following that. DIY IRL will be finishing up at that point and by then, I'll be fully satisfied that I've done my best to promote the "Everybody's Welcome" era of the band, and it'll be onto the next thing, whatever that may be!”

Anna’s Anchor tours the U.K. in September, in support of Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties. For more information on which dates he’s appearing on, check Anna’s Anchor on Facebook.