If you've seen a band in a living room or at a non-traditional venue in Memphis, chances are Ryan Azada had something to do with it. He's been bringing touring bands through the city since his teens. When New Jersey-based Dads played Memphis for the first time earlier this year at Crosstown Arts, Azada was pulling 70-80 hours a week running shows and art exhibits out of the space. The emo two-piece teased the crowd that they were going to kidnap Azada and take him on the road. But they weren't kidding. When the band came back to the Hi-Tone in July, Azada was playing bass for them. In October, Dads released their sophomore LP I'll Be the Tornado, and early next year they will be hitting the road with Kevin Devine. The Flyer caught up with Azada to talk about his first show with Dads, booking shows in Memphis, and his other project, Small Fires.
Flyer: How did you get involved with Dads?
Ryan Azada: I had booked a band named Run Forever here, and they were just so nice. They took me to a festival in Florida, but we got along so well that I toured with them for three years. I started out just doing merch, but I tour managed them when they got a bit bigger. We did a weeklong tour with Dads, but we had never met them before. After that, I would go out and do a few days with Dads just to hang and do merch. They wanted me to run sound for them on a tour, but they found out I play bass, and now my life is ruined.
It was that fast? They had never heard you play?
They were just like, "Oh, you play bass? Well, here are the songs." They flew me out to rehearse with them, and I think when we got there, we played 30 seconds of a song before the power went out. We went back to John's [drums, vocals] house, and Scott [guitar, vocals] played the guitar parts on a practice amp. I played unplugged bass over that. We pretty much just hung out. They were like, "We just needed to make sure you weren't glaringly awful before we sent you home."
And you were booking and running shows at Crosstown Arts around the time you met them, right?
Yeah, I was working there like 70-80 hours a week. Actually, the first time I could have met them, Scott emailed my Crosstown email address to book a show for Dads, and I totally forgot to respond. The next time when they came through during SXSW, they were joking on the mic, saying stuff like, "We love Ryan, we're gonna steal him from you one day." When they came back to the Hi-Tone with Touché Amoré, I was playing with them, and they were like, "Yo, we did it."
What's been your most rewarding experience on the road with Dads so far?
My first show with them was crazy because I had never played a show with a band that wasn't out of a basement. I also had never played with monitors or lighting around me, so I had no idea about mixes and how I wanted it to sound. It was unreal to play to 1,000 people. Our Memphis show at the Hi-Tone was really special because nobody, aside from seeing me play acoustic guitar really quietly, had any idea that this was the world I was in. It was cool seeing all of my friends.
How did you get involved with Crosstown Arts? I was booking random shows everywhere all over town. I found out about the Crosstown development project and I was like, this is a multi-million dollar nonprofit, they are not going to care about a kid booking shows in a basement. I finally met with Chris Miner [the director of Crosstown Arts], but I went into it expecting him to be some weirdo businessman who wouldn't be receptive to it at all. But he was so nice and was so into what I was doing, and, since then, he has become one of my best friends. We did shows in the basement of their office for six months before shutting down that space and moving into the actual art gallery where they book things now.
You have another project named Small Fires. How did that get started?
I taught myself to play acoustic guitar because I wanted to write songs. I've been working on an EP that I've been recording in my friend's backyard studio, and my friend Julien Baker from the Star Killers just joined. Hopefully one day it will be a full band, but right now it's just the two of us. We're putting the EP out online on January 2nd and releasing a tape on January 9th at Spillit: Survival at Amurica Photo Studio. We're leaving for a short tour January 2nd-9th.
At what point did you realize you wanted to be touring fulltime?
I went to college for a day, and then I dropped out. I had a full ride to University of Memphis, which I don't know why anyone gave me a scholarship because I wasn't a good student. But I went for like half of a day. I was going to study film, and it just sucked. I was working on movies anyways. So, I just quit. I think if you're just willing to do stuff, you'll be fine.