Ryan Horns pushes through setbacks to make anger-fueled double album "Othello"
Ever since high school, Ryan Horns has written songs. It’s the way he processes the world around him. This week, in fact, he may write three or four songs.
But in order to do so, he had to teach himself how to play guitar, and then he had to teach himself how to record the songs. Still, that wasn’t the hardest part. He could learn those things on his own. The tough part was meeting other people, convincing them he was a capable singer, songwriter and guitarist, and then getting onstage in front of an audience.
“I remember the first show I ever did was at the Treehouse, and there was sort of a buzz because I had put some songs out. People were going to show up, and I was terrified of that,” Horns said. “So I go there, and it's packed in that tree room, and everybody's like three feet away from me, right at the same level. And I wanted to hide the fact that my hands were shaking. So my hands are shaking, but I needed to pick up something to drink, and then you realize everybody can see your hands shake while you're spilling your [drink].”
As a kid, Horns’ social anxiety was written off as a harmless byproduct of shyness. “Over the years you realize ‘shy’ isn't putting yourself in a room for days on end because you don't want to deal with people,” he said. “It wasn’t until the ’90s that I realized, ‘Oh, I have a pretty bad problem.’ Overcoming it took a long time.”
Horns, a former journalist who now works at Ohio State, faced his fear head on, taking public speaking classes and performing routinely with his bands, the Last Hotel and Paper Airplane, a power-pop project he put on hold several years ago but was inspired to resurrect in late 2016, channeling the rage resulting from current events into a new batch of songs.
“Once the election happened, I looked around and I was like, ‘I don't have any hope for this place anymore. I've lost faith in a lot of people around me. I don't know where they're coming from anymore,’” Horns said. “The funny thing is that I found hope in not having any hope. ... You find some sort of resolve in that.”
Armed with at least two albums of material, Horns initially thought he’d release a pair of records, one as the Last Hotel and one as Paper Airplane. Recording began in 2018 at Musicol and 3 Elliott Studio down in Athens, but each time a lineup solidified, bandmates would move away or bow out and Horns would have to start from scratch.
Eventually the Paper Airplane lineup came together with Horns on vocals and guitar, band co-founder Antonio Garza on drums, John Fitzgerald on bass, Keith Jenkins on lead guitar and Rob Cave on keys. The bandmates will perform at Rumba Cafe on Friday, Oct. 11, to celebrate the release of their excellent new double album, Othello.
“You and I had a falling out/We’re both full of rage and colorful shouts/It’s been so many years now I don’t even know/What I was mad at so long ago,” Horns sings on the standout title track.
“That song was the hardest song to write,” said Horns, who had trouble finishing the track, which was partially written before the other Othello songs. “Then I realized, ‘Oh, that song is actually about dealing with anger, like all these others. … I was reading more about [Shakespeare’s] ‘Othello,’ and I was like, ‘This is a whole play about dealing with anger and manipulation. That pretty much nails it.’ That song, I think, defines the whole album.”
When Othello was finally finished and submitted to online retailers, Horns faced yet another hurdle: the album art, which depicts Horn pointing a toy ray gun at the camera, was rejected. “It's supposed to be a commentary on how ridiculous the gun culture is,” said Horns, who revised and resubmitted the artwork, which is awaiting approval.
“This album started out about being pissed off, and it turned more into perseverance, like, ‘How do you get through all this?’” he said. “So you're trying to overcome anger, but then you realize maybe perseverance is the only thing that can help to overcome anger.”