After the success of his previous releases garnering over 4 million streams, out singer/songwriter Ryan Nealon drops his latest, the powerful and personally cathartic, “What Makes A Man.”
The well-crafted song begins its journey with a familiar pensive perspective for young people figuring out who they are:
What makes a man / Someone to be just like their father
Grow up and love somebody’s daughter
And make him proud
I don’t understand / I tend to relate more to my mother
Everyone said when I was younger that I’d come around
But I listened to the things they said and I lost my way
Kind of believed I should be someone else, not myself
Oh and nothing has changed / Maybe it’s too late
But then Nealon and his collaborators (James Bradshaw and Jeoff Harris) artfully build to full-on power pop anthem asserting a knowing confidence that can only be earned:
Been holding back for way too long
I made mistakes but I’m moving on
Oh, not gonna wait until I’m gone
Throughout, Nealon flexes his muscular vocals and range to impressive effect moving with equal ease from introspective exploration to stadium rock. This is a real voice, folks.
Instinct recently had a chance to chat with the talented Mr. Nealon about “What Makes A Man” plus a few other life lessons.
Instinct Magazine: What was the inspiration behind “What Makes A Man?” Was there a specific person, memory, or moment?
Ryan Nealon: For me, “What Makes A Man” is a letter to my younger self. Coming out was a journey to say the least, and I wasn’t able to truly feel comfortable in my own skin until my early twenties. I spent so many years hating myself and tried to convince myself that I wasn’t queer because of how it might effect other people.
Making this song was so unbelievably cathartic and if I’m being honest I didn’t think I was ever going to be brave enough to talk about this in my music. This topic in particular for me comes with a lot of PTSD which stems from societal pressures to be straight and how much I was bullied when I was a kid for being “different,” and deep down I always knew there was an important song that could come from my past experience.
I truly hope that younger queer people who are struggling with their identities can find validation in the song.
IM: The track definitely takes the listener on a journey in its structure and production. Did you have a sound in mind in creating the song?
RN: I knew I wanted it to be a power ballad the minute I thought of the concept. I wrote this with my friends James Bradshaw and Jeoff Harris, and we wanted to make something very powerful and emotive without taking it on the cheese train. We took a lot of inspiration from Adele, Sam Smith, and other artists in a similar vein.
IM: After the organic build and power of the song, you circle back at the end to a pensive perspective. The last phrase of the song made me catch my breath. Was there a conscious thought behind that choice?
RN: Absolutely. For me it’s important to have someone be reminded of what the song’s really about, and I think with a song like this it was so necessary and tugs at the heartstrings.
IM: Who has had the biggest influence on your music and why?
RN: I think at the moment I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from Adele’s career along with newcomers like Phoebe Bridgers and Maggie Rogers because for me it’s always been songs first and performance second.
I could honestly care less about how impressive my vocal performance is on a song, I just need the song to have wings of its own and for me to just be a vessel for it. I think artists like Phoebe and Maggie have some of the best songs out there because of how vulnerable they are in their writing, and that is beyond inspiring for someone like me.
IM: What do you do outside of music to stay on balance?
RN: I love so much stuff! For me I love being outdoors (hiking, walking, road trips, camping, etc), keeping up with current television shows and movies, cooking, and going out to shows (definitely went to more before the pandemic haha).
IM: What are three things you can’t live without?
RN: At the moment, my weekly treat yo-self day (usually a Sunday that I dedicate solely to me time), movie nights with my roommates, and might sound cliché but my music—it’s gotten me through so much in my life.
IM: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
RN: The best advice I’ve ever been given was by Arjan Timmermans a few months ago. He was the first person to really tell me to just focus on my songs and let everything else follow and my writing has grown so much since then. I’ve also been trying to remember that we’re all on our own individual paths and just because someone you know is succeeding in a different way doesn’t invalidate your accomplishments.