January 19, 2005
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SJP


Serial Joe frontman goes solo
By -- For JAM! Music


Ryan Thomas, aka Ryan Dennis, is sitting at Toronto’s Rivoli, the scene of Serial Joe’s very first gold record presentation back in 1999 for “Face Down.” The former singer for the teenage rock band is now 21 and has his sights on a solo career. He has been to university, written some 40 songs, and recorded almost a full album’s worth with Corey MacFadyen, the producer of Serial Joe’s 2002 swan song, “(Last Chance) At The Romance Dance.”

“I started working with Corey at Groundloop in Niagara Falls. We really gelled together as far as the new material goes,” says the Newmarket, ON-based Thomas, who plays guitar and bass on the recordings. “It’s a lot heavier and a lot more of what’s really my happiness in writing.

“I’ve never felt excited about my own songs before. Either I didn’t feel my voice was good enough or there was something missing, but with these songs, it’s the first time I’ve ever listened to my own songs,. The first four albums, I never listen to ever because they just weren’t there for me, so that’s the biggest change for me.”

Thomas — he has chosen to take his middle name instead of Dennis simply because he never liked his surname — has just started reconnecting with past contacts. He no longer has management or a booking agent (his mother, Debbie, and Kim Clark Champniss co-managed Serial Joe, and Vinny Cinquemani of S.L. Feldman & Associates booked the band), and is seeking a record label to license the album.

“I have a huge vision for the project over all,” says Thomas, who has also been talking with “Face Down” producer/mixer Dave Ogilvie (NIN, Marilyn Manson, Skinny Puppy) about mixing the tracks and possibly producing a few songs. “My kind of frivolous vision is to bring back epic rock. I’m all about epic. I love them in movies. I love them in songs. I love them in anything.”

When Thomas was just 13, Serial Joe put out 1997’s rap/rock recording “Kicked,” independently, and was soon signed to Montreal’s Aquarius Records. “Face Down” came out in 1999 and sold upwards of 90,000 copies, according to Thomas. The curiously titled “...” followed in 2001, before the final album, “Last Chance.” Along the way, the band, which had long lost the rap component to its rock music, won MuchMusic Video Awards for “Skid Row” and “Deep,” earned a top 10 single for “Mistake” and “Completely,” played Woodstock ‘99, shared the stage with Silverchair and Hole on the Edgefest tour, and opened for KISS on its Farewell Tour.

Serial Joe even landed a U.S. deal with Epic, but it quickly went sour. “We were signed during the Napster boom and there was major restructuring (at Epic),” recounts Thomas. “We lost our A&R guy, his boss, and his boss. Everybody associated with our project was gone, and we got lost in the shuffle. I wasn’t at all into the idea of cost-cutting for the sake of it. They wanted to put out an old video we made when I was 15 and I was almost 18.”

When they got out of the deal, Thomas says he wasn’t disappointed. “I knew that songwriting-wise I wasn’t ready for an American deal at that time. We had some decent songs and ‘Mistake’ was a great song, but I wanted an album of great songs. I had a lot of personal development to go through. I was so young.”

In Canada, he recognizes Serial Joe just couldn’t keep going either. “It went the way it had to go. You’re not going to stay in the spotlight if your songs aren’t there. I was a bit naive. I wrote a lot of pop material because that’s what I was feeling at the time. I was in a new relationship, my first real one, I guess, and I was very excited and happy and in love, but looking back, I think there was a lack of genuine feel because a lot of it wasn’t really me. I was writing a lot and had a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure, and I felt a huge need to succeed and you don’t write well when you’re under that stress. You write songs that aren’t real.”

So the members of Serial Joe dispersed and Thomas got out of the music spotlight altogether. “I was in grade 11 at the time and I was a year behind and I really badly wanted to finish with all my buddies, so I went back to high school and took two years worth in the one year,” says Thomas.

Towards the end, he started writing again and ideas just flooded out. He wrote about 15 songs in a month. Still, he was intent on going to university, so he enrolled at the University Of Toronto and made the hour commute each day from Newmarket. “I wanted to go towards law so I took history and philosophy with some political courses mixed in, but U of T was definitely not the school for me,” he says, calling it a “lonely experience,” difficult to make new friends with such massive classes and not living in town.

“The whole time I was distracted completely with writing and music in general and I wrote another 20 songs over that period and decided to just put all my eggs in one music basket so to speak and get out of university and just do music.”

He bought a hard disk recorder and started recording all his ideas, from heavy rock to alternative to acoustic. “I just wrote and wrote and wrote until I felt I had an album of really good songs. I have like 40 songs. They all have a certain feel that capture a state of mind at the time in my life,” says Thomas. “I experienced some harsh things of reality, relationship-wise and life-wise, confronting old demons. There’s a lot of things in a person’s life that are hidden because they’re not comfortable with them. Basically, the album is autobiographical.”

“Through Me,” Thomas wrote about the pressure to confirm to a “normal joe” living by going to university and emerging with an acceptable career choice. “Taken In” was written in Bobcaygeon about appreciating the beauty in ones surroundings. “One Hundred Thousand Miles” was inspired by vanity shows such as Extreme Makeover and The Swan, and that the scars must be dealt with on the inside. “In A Way” deals with how unacceptable it is for guys to show their true emotions in a breakup, and “Empty” about a malicious person who always turns the tables and makes you look bad.

“I’ve been paying for all of my own recordings and I plan to keep it that way,” says Thomas. “I want to shop an already completed album and look for somebody willing to put the project where it needs to be and willing to back it financially in marketing dollars. I need someone else to help me get there. It’s not the type of music that’s a new ‘the’ band. It’s not a college indie rock sound, so I need a different kind of backer than that. I can’t just be thrown out there.”


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