If you’ve never heard of Sleeping at Last, I suggest you open up Spotify, Apple Music, or whatever music streaming service you prefer, and take a listen (Saturn being my song of choice). After that, you can find my interview with Ryan O’Neal, the artist behind the music.
1. When you are not creating music, what do you do for fun?
RYAN: Playing with my two little girls, Lily and Iris. I also love movies and try to see as many new ones as I can!
2. What is the first step in your process of creating a song?
RYAN: I’m always writing and recording tiny ideas. I’ll sit at the piano without any intentions and just play.. and if something interesting pops up, I’ll pull out my iPhone and quickly record that moment and entirely forget out it. I do the same thing with lyrics – I keep a journal and am always putting in random ideas and words I happen to like that day, or random thoughts.. and I forget about it. When it comes time to actually “write” a song, I really enjoy the process of going back through those collections of sounds and words and seeing if there’s anything that resonates with me. It kind of gives me the feeling of hearing these ideas for the first time because I’ve completely forgotten that I ever recorded them. Once something stands out, I pluck it out of the collection and begin seeing if I can make sense of it and if it has enough weight to become a song.
3. What was the first instrument you learned? At what age did you begin to learn it, and at what age did you come to master it?
RYAN: I first started playing guitar when I was about 13 years old. I began to sing a year or two after that and fell in love with the piano somewhere around then too. I don’t feel like I ever really mastered any of it though! Still working at that…
4. Sleeping at Last began as a three-man band, consisting of you, your brother, and a friend of yours. What changed when Sleeping at Last became a one-man project?
RYAN: My brother Chad and my best friend Dan both eventually decided to pursue other interests and are doing amazing stuff! I was the songwriter from the beginning of Sleeping At Last, and because these songs are so personal to me, kind of like my journal, it just made sense to continue making music under this name.
5. You’ve done a lot of covers of well-known songs, many of which (including your original music) have made it onto shows such as Grey’s Anatomy. How do you approach creating a cover?
RYAN: Most of the covers I’ve recorded were actually commissioned by projects – many for Grey’s Anatomy, some for companies making commercials, etc., so that points me in the direction of what song I’m covering. First I listen to the original and sort of map out what makes it special, how the song is arranged, what instruments are playing what, etc.. and then I figure out how to capture as much of what I love about the song on piano.. then I’ll play around with the tempo and key to see if there’s something new to discover about the song and I chase that! It’s been so much fun to get to reimagine these songs for different projects! It gives me an opportunity to appreciate some of these songs in a new way.. I had heard “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” countless times in my life before covering it and I never really paid close attention to the words and getting to cover this song gave me a closer look at how incredibly sweet and beautiful the lyrics are! Things like that make the process super fun for me!
6. What song (or collection of songs) would you consider to me your most ambitious project to date?
RYAN: I’d say my “Yearbook” project was the most intense project to date, as I wrote 3 songs every month for an entire year. That taught me SO much and was also incredibly hard. But I’d say my most ambitious project is “Atlas”, as it is a giant thematic series of songs that I’ve been working on for several years now.
7. Space is one of my favorite collections of yours. You are also working on a collection of music called Astronomy. What about space drove you to write about it?
RYAN: I’ve always adored space! The songs I wrote inspired by each of the planets in our Solar System belongs to my “Atlas” project, and once I was done recording those and moving onto the next theme in that series (“Land”, a song for each of the cardinal directions: north, south, east, west) I was kind of sad to leave space behind me, as I had SO much fun researching and exploring all things space while I wrote… so last year I started a new project called “Astronomy” which are mostly instrumental pieces of music I’m writing kind of as the soundtracks to upcoming Astronomical events. So I’m very excited to still get to make a little space music from time to time!
8. Atlas: Year Two is coming to a close this year, ending with a collection of songs dedicated to all nine types of the Enneagram. Can you describe your draw to the Enneagram and how you go about writing a song for a certain type?
RYAN: Well, “Atlas” as a whole will tell the origin story of all things in the known universe… i.e.. it began with darkness, then light, then space/planets, then our planet: land and then oceans.. that all makes up “year one” of the project, and then the thematic camera zooms in on us: human beings – “year two” is all about involuntary human development – our senses, our emotions, our mind, heart and body… and our personality. When I first learned about the Enneagram, I was blown away by how I began to see it ring true in every relationship in my life.. and I tend to believe that we’re born with our Enneagram “type” hidden inside us.. so it felt like the perfect end piece to my “year two” of involuntary human development. “Year three” will be all about voluntary human development – the things we DO with all that we’re given. As for your question about how I go about writing a song for each of the nine Enneagram types – well, it’s been an incredibly enriching and challenging experience! I’m trying to write each of the Enneagram songs from the perspective of that specific type.. so I’ve been learning everything I possibly can about every type so that I may attempt to sing some truth into each of these beautiful nine Enneagram types!
9. What Enneagram type are you, and what is your favorite thing about it? Your least favorite?
RYAN: I’m a type nine, with a bit of a one wing. My favorite part about being a nine… hmm.. not sure! My least favorite thing is probably the obvious need to avoid conflict – if I let it, that desire to run from conflict takes up a LOT of my time and energy.. which is kind of ironic, because sometimes I try so hard to not let something get difficult that I end up making things more complicated than they ever needed to be.
10. Many of your songs have something unusual tucked into it, some of them having Morse code somewhere in the background. What is the strangest thing you’ve inserted in a song?
RYAN: I love easter eggs in films, so I thought why not put in easter eggs into all of my music? So I’ve been having fun with that for years… as for as the strangest thing.. hmm… I recorded a lot of food “instruments” for my song “Taste”… I picked a food from every category of taste… umami, sweet, sour, savory and bitter and made drums out of those songs.. a bag of sugar in the raw as a shaker, things like that! Felt a little odd spending time recording the sound of food, but was also a ton of fun!
11. What does your typical work day look like?
RYAN: I get up at 6:30am, spend a little bit of time with my family and then begin work around 7am and end at 5pm. I take the weekends mostly off. It’s a pretty basic schedule! My days working consist of many different things… sometimes its a lot of emailing, other days are all about writing lyrics… and most days are me trying to figure out what the heck I’m doing!
12. What does your ideal work day look like?
RYAN: My ideal day is putting the finishing touches on a song and recording.. it’s usually a wonderful feeling and getting there is a lot of work!
13. What are your favorite books currently? Movies? Songs?
RYAN: Book: “Everybody Always” Bob Goff. Movies: LOVED “A Quiet Place”… and “Incredibles 2”. Song at the moment: “July Tree” by Nina Simon.
14. How does your faith affect your music?
RYAN: I’ve had a simple rule that I’ve followed since I began writing music: Never force my faith in to my music and never force my faith out of my music. I’ve always wanted to write personal and honest songs, so that rule has been incredibly helpful in remembering to always write my heart down.
15. What are your plans post Atlas: Year Two?
RYAN: I’ll be releasing more music in my ongoing “Astronomy” series, as cool events in space happen! Eventually, I’ll begin “Atlas: Year Three” and I’ve got a few other ideas that I’m excited to explore – really excited!