We asked musician Ryan Rumery to talk about what went into creating the music and soundscape of The Way West, currently in previews at the Bank Street Theater. Check out his answers below and get a sneak peek of his original compositions.
Q: Can you talk about what went into creating the overall music design for The Way West?
A: After I read the script and saw a run-thru, I knew exactly that I wanted it to be a guitar score. And I wanted the music to be reminiscent of some of those old blues recordings where you could hear a boot tapping on the table. So I actually took my old cowboy boots that I’ve had forever and mic’ed up my old kitchen table. So the boot sound you hear that starts the top of the show is my boots. It’s me doing it. There are no fake instruments in the show. It’s all me playing the instruments in the tracks. For instance I took one of my older floor toms from the sixties and I was tapping on it for some of the rhythm, and then I added some old shakers. But then as the music progresses through the play, and more tension builds, the electric guitar slowly starts to make its way in. And that’s my old Fender Telercaster that I have from the early eighties. And the score kind of evolves slowly moving out of the acoustic and into to the electric.
Q: There’s an original song in the play, “Foraging,” that Mom and her two daughters sing at the climactic moment of the play. Can you talk about that song and that moment when everything sort of changes in the play?
A: Songs in theater, in a straight play, are really tough things to do because you don’t want it to pop into the world of musical theater. There’s nothing wrong with musical theater but this is a straight play. So the two things that were important about creating “Foraging” were actually letting the actors speak the text and also realizing that it’s not a melodic gesture but a cathartic gesture. It’s a cathartic moment. So the song became about a grove and a rhythm. I made a grove that had my floor tom, my drum set, sometimes me just tapping on my guitar. It was all rooted in Tom Waits. Like “What Would Tom Waites Do?” for this moment. So it’s a grove that that rises and falls but has no melodic content. The grove starts on Mom’s tape recorder as the tom grove but then as the song takes over the scene the drum grove goes into the full drum set. It gets bigger and bigger. Then it dives back down as the moment ends. I think there’s actually like eight tracks of me on that one piece of music. Me playing drum set (which is three tracks: overhead, snare and kick), and then there’s the regular floor tom hit, there’s a couple guitar takes, and then I took wire brushes and just beat them along. So it’s this culmination of rhythm and texture for that moment.