The polished production and vocal clarity on Terence Ryan’s stunning June debut, Don’t Panic, belies the fact that the soulful pop singer recorded much of the album in his Honda Accord while he was homeless for several weeks during an LA sojourn.
“Police were checking me out, seeing what I was doing, because I had a car full of stuff and out-of-state plates, and I was looking a little dirty,” the Pembroke native says. When he wasn’t hassled, Ryan would charge his laptop with a car adapter, hang a condenser mic from the rear-view mirror and stuff towels in the window cracks. Then he’d stop the engine—and air conditioning—to record vocals.
“It would get like 120 degrees in there,” he says of his makeshift studio. “I’d be sweating, dying, and I would turn the car back on and bump the AC a bit to get cooled off. Then I’d turn it back off and do another take.”
Ryan had headed west with a publishing deal in hand and a desire to chase a dream. But he eventually realized there was more to the family-rooted routine that he left behind. “You don’t see the value of something until it’s gone out of your life,” he says. “I realized it was time to go home.”
Home was where he’d spent long days working in the warehouse of his family’s door-hinge business and long nights recording in his parents’ basement. “I definitely drove them a little mad with the metronome clicking and the bass going until three in the morning,” says Ryan, who also played guitar, keyboards and an 808 drum machine. He was inspired by Kanye West—and many of the rapper’s collaborators, particularly Bon Iver, Frank Ocean and Coldplay. Yet, Ryan says, “I’ve only been able to actually kind of sing in the past two years. Before that, it was fake singing. I never liked my voice or had confidence in it.”
Not surprisingly, the track that resonates most, with its simple message and its focus on his voice and acoustic guitar, is “To Live and Die in New England,” where Ryan sings, “Come back home to the ones who raised you.”
A video with New England scenes—including ones at the warehouse and around his family’s Maine fishing house, both of which he used to record other tracks—offers a postcard to working-class life that could entice a chamber of commerce. But Ryan reveals his own dream for “To Live and Die in New England.” Much like the Red Sox have “Sweet Caroline,” he hopes that the Patriots come calling.