Giving It His All

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Even if you haven’t heard singer-songwriter Ryan Bisio’s music, you might be familiar with his name from the sports pages.  Bisio, from Arcata in Humboldt County, is attending CSUMB on a basketball scholarship and is one of the Otters’ star players.  He is celebrating the end of a successful season with the release of his debut CD “Sketches” and a weekly Thursday gig at Morgan’s Coffee and Tea in Monterey.

Bisio began his music career at age 6, when he received classical piano lessons.  However, as he got older, he became increasingly involved in school sports, which eventually led to his college scholarship.  “I was always busy with basketball,” he said, “but I always knew that I would eventually come back to music.”  At age 19, he picked up the guitar for the first time.  “I guess it just immediately made sense to me after studying piano when I was younger, and I just started writing songs right away.”

Bisio’s renewed interest in music led to his attending CSUMB as a music major.  He also began looking for places to perform, and started to attend open-mic sessions.  “My first public performance was in Santa Rosa in 2003, and after that I just started going around the coffee shops and open mics,” he said.  In April of this year, he started playing his own shows.  In addition to his weekly Morgan’s show, he regularly returns to Humboldt County for weekend engagements.  A close friend acts as his manager, and “we’re trying to find new places around California for me to play.”

Bisio’s CD was recorded during his spare time over the course of this academic year.  He recorded the album at home on a portable digital multi-track recorder, and played most of the instruments himself.  “It’s a very modest effort,” he said modestly, “but I really wanted to make the first [album] solo – a kind of stake in the ground to show where my progress is to date.”  The result is, as the title suggests, a 14-track sketchbook of Bisio’s songwriting.  Studio trickery and lush production are eschewed in favor of a stripped-down sound which highlights both the intensity of his songs and the honesty of his performance.  A cut from the album, “Backwards Letters,” is proving to be a favorite with audiences and has also appeared on a compilation CD, “Unexploded Ordinance,” featuring artists from CSUMB.

At his live shows, Bisio plays a mixture of his original songs and covers of music by his favorite artists.  “Audiences like familiar music,” he said, “so even though I try to play as many original songs as possible, I’ll throw in, say, a Dave Matthews cover once in a while to catch their attention.”

Bisio is set to graduate from CSUMB in the spring of 2006 and hopes to make music his career.  “I’m going to give it a shot, you know,” he said.  “I mean, I’m confident that I could work as a basketball coach or something like that, but I want to give the music a try and just see what happens.”

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, June 9, 2005

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