Ryan McMahon was born in 1979 in Chemainus, BC. The only child of a longshoreman and a future educator, Ryan began entertaining early. The circles of aunts, uncles and grandparents were tickled by his early renditions of the theme song from Davy Crocket: King of the Wild Frontier. The same relatives were not so thrilled by his discoveries and emulations of the early stage stylings of Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor. Whether the attention he received was positive or negative, it was during these early days that hooked Ryan into evoking emotion from those around him.
Fast approaching his forties (any day now), Ryan has carved out an almost 20-year career as an independent artist in Canada’s vibrant music scene. He’s always been a genre fence sitter, hanging out on the edges of country just enough to say he isn’t; Ryan is both a whisper and a scream.
“Ryan sings to anyone and everyone who has ever got drunk, smoked, cried, loved or been loved,” says producer Andre Wahl (Hawksley Workman, Luke Doucet).
Ryan’s life goal has always been to craft songs that speak to the human condition.
“I didn’t know who I was until I found music. I found that the person I was becoming in my songs was far more confident and self-assured than I was myself. Writing songs was my way of relating to people on a broader scale than I could otherwise.”
Over the course of his career, Ryan has toured Canada countless times, released five full-length albums, and seen his music licensed nationally and abroad. He has shared the stage with an extremely wide-variety of artists, ranging from Lisa Loeb and Buffy Ste. Marie to Nickelback and Mother Mother.
He’s had the honour of participating in:
- the Western Canadian Music Awards
- Tonder Festival (Denmark)
- Canadian Music Week
- Music West
- Americana Fest (Nashville)
- Folk Alliance International (Kansas City)
- Various other notable Canadian music gatherings
In 2012, Ryan snagged 3 awards (out of 5 nominations) at the Vancouver Island Music Awards (Male Vocalist, Record and Artist of the Year)!
Lion Bear Fox
In 2012, Ryan co-founded Lion Bear Fox with song-writing colleagues Cory Woodward and Christopher Arruda, and the band was immediately named as one of the Top 20 Finalists for the 2013 Peak Performance Project in Vancouver.
The opportunity gave Ryan and his band mates the chance to shine light towards their charity, the BandWagon Project (mobile recording studios that visit various lower mainland care facilities), which was inspired by Megan McNeil and The Will To Survive Campaign that Ryan was deeply involved in helping take shape.
Getting some Exposure
In April of 2014, Showtime’s original series, “Californication” featured the single “I’ll Be Damned,” a song that was included on “Put Me Back Together,” which came out April of 2015. On September 8th, 2017, Ryan released a home-recorded EP titled “Song Shelter Recordings,” created entirely at his home studio in Ladysmith, British Columbia.
2019 and Beyond
In January 2019, Ryan will release “In Line For a Smile,” which was co-produced with Zak Cohen at Woodshop Recording Studios in Duncan, BC.
“In Zak, I’ve found the Jorge Calderon to my Warren Zevon,” says Ryan. “I’ve worked hard to create a record that really spotlights all aspects of my personality, and I think that when I look back on a lifetime in music, this album will really stand out as a high water mark for me. I’m extremely proud of it, and I can’t wait for it to reach not only my small fan base, but new ears as well.”
The latest addition to Ryan’s catalogue is Live Now, his first album since 2019’s In Line For A Smile, and a collection he has been eager to share since the pandemic forced him to pause all musical activity. The creation of Live Now began in early 2022 with the recording of “One More Fire,” arranged through the help of Juno-nominated country artist Aaron Pritchett.
Ryan explains, “Although we have stylistically sonic differences, Aaron’s been a great friend to me and my music since we connected at a charity event a few years back. We tracked ‘One More Fire’ as a stand-alone single at Vancouver’s Warehouse studio, with Aaron’s son Jordan and his fiancee Danielle handling production, along with engineer Sheldon Zaharko [Steve Dawson, Matt Anderson, Billy Talent]. We all found working together so organic and enjoyable that the decision was made to build an album around those first few sessions.” With its uplifting, pop-friendly construction still grounded in banjos and mandolins, “One More Fire” set a high bar. Nevertheless, it kicked open Ryan’s creative floodgates, resulting a batch of songs he describes as containing more hope and optimism than any of his previous material. “The entire record is a reminder to myself of just how rich my life is, and how to dig in and persevere no matter what is going on around me,” he says.
A second single in the summer of 2023, “Lost & Found,” took things in slower direction, but powered by Scotty Smith’s shimmering pedal steel, it became the perfect soundtrack for gazing at the stars and taking stock of your life. Indeed, it’s hard not to feel inspired when hearing Ryan sing, “I know I gotta get out of my own way, and maybe I’m learning how / There’s time to make a change for better, I think I’m ready now.” That may be the overriding message at the core of Live Now, as Ryan personally sees the album as the first he’s done that fully captures what he set out to achieve. It’s also contained within the finger picked ballad “A Song Can Change Your Mind,” an honest reflection of the impact music has made in Ryan’s life, and the impact he hopes his music can have on listeners.
“I’ve long had a wide variety of influences, but before creating these songs I really did some deep dives into the careers of current Americana-type artists that I really admire,” he says. “Jason Isbell, Nathaniel Rateliff, Father John Misty, Israel Nash—these artists are out there, doing their own thing using highly artistic and simultaneously entertaining methods, all the while telling their truth. That’s what I want to do.”
Legendary Canadian TV/Radio personality Terry David Mulligan may have summed up Ryan best:
“The complete package. Singer. Songwriter. Performer. Troublemaker. Passionate human being. For me… priceless.”