Ryan McMahon is wrapping up his current tour of Alberta and B.C. with a show at the Nanaimo venue where he “cut [his] teeth” more than 20 years ago.
The Ladysmith-based singer-songwriter and his band – keyboardist Joel Spillette, drummer Phil Wipper and bassist Lance Lapointe – are performing at the Queen’s on Feb. 1, the release date for his latest album, In Line for a Smile.
“That is where I played my first professional show,” McMahon said of the Queen’s. “The Queen’s Hotel snuck me in there when I was 17 years old – I’m 39 now – and I was opening for a metal band called Dirt Nap from Victoria and it was full of Hell’s Angels and I was really scared.”
McMahon said his repertoire will be mellower this time around. He describes In Line for a Smile as an album of “really personal tunes” that ponder modern life and the paradox that “right now we’ve never been more connected, but we’re also never more alone.”
“The title track itself, In Line for a Smile, it’s about beating the blues. It’s kind of a tricky time to be alive,” he said. “Politically, you see all the things that are going on, you see the way that we treat each other both face-to-face and particularly online.”
The album itself was recorded free from modern distractions at producer Zak Cohen’s Woodshop Recording Studio, which McMahon describes as being “just outside of Duncan in the middle of nowhere.”
He said he’s done with recording in cities.
“There’s trees everywhere and you can go for a walk and clear your head if you were having an issue with a part,” McMahon said.
It’s his first time working with Cohen. They met while McMahon was recording an album with his folk rock trio Lion Bear Fox at the Woodshop and the pair hit it off.
“He’s very collaborative. It was a co-production,” he said of In Line for a Smile. “I produced it, he produced it. But he kind of let me get my way enough to feel like I was really in charge, but then also knew when to tell me ‘no’ and that’s very valuable,” McMahon.
At the Queen’s show Cohen will be making a special guest appearance on guitar. At the risk of sounding cliché, McMahon said this latest collection of music is his best work to date.
“The thing about songwriting, to me, it’s kind of like an ancient art,” he said. “You sit down with your guitar and you put pen to paper and that’s an old thing and I feel, when I’m doing that, I feel like I’m tapping into something nice and timeless and it feels good.”
WHAT’S ON … Ryan McMahon album release party at the Queen’s on Feb. 1. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8. Tickets are $25 at the door or $20 in advance at the venue, Lucid, Desire Tattoo, Sunrise Records and online at showpass.com.