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Eats and Beats: The Impressionistic Folk of Singer-Songwriter Ryan David Orr

Beverly Shumway

It was pretty apparent early in his life that Ryan David Orrwas destined to be a musician. He began writing and performing original music at 13, and has since lived all over the country honing what he calls his impressionistic style of folk music. Now based in Pinetop-Lakeside, he writes and records on the same property he once shared with his mother, one of his biggest influences. For the latest installment of our series Eats and Beats, Ryan David Orr shares the evolution of his deeply personal music.

RDO: I was born in southern Oregon, a pretty rural area, and kind of grew up in rural areas. My parents divorced when I was about 2, and it was pretty much me and my mom for most of my life.

The cover of Orr's 2016 album "Kopascetic"

RDO: She passed away a few years ago. She was a singer-songwriter and she kind of came out of that ’60s folk school. She wrote songs my whole life and then she got me into music, when I was about 7 years old she got me started on violin. So when songwriting came around it was a pretty easy thing to access because she was constantly writing and there were guitars all around and there was writing and there was always music. This song is called “Brother Warrior” by Kate Wolf. That was a song my mother used to sing me when I was a little kid because my bedtime stories were folk songs.

Credit Mike Mahoney

RDO: I moved from Oregon with a band to New York.  It got expensive and just got kind of crazy and my mother had been living in Arizona for like almost 10 years by the time I moved out here. I talked to her one day and just said you know, it’s getting kind of crazy and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if this is working out, you know, and she’s like, come on out and try Arizona. And so I came out and tried the White Mountains and I’ve just been there off and on for a while now.

Credit Beverly Shumway

RDO: I like living rurally. People ask me a lot of times about the White Mountains and coming from Oregon and, you know, do you go out in nature and get inspiration? And I think, no, not really. I go out in nature all the time but it’s not really what inspires me to write. The most inspiration I have gotten has been from cities and from people. It’s just about humanity. And so, I think part of really creating art is creating something that keeps the dialogue going and keeps the humanness there, and keeps people thinking and keeps people wondering and talking and questioning and evolving, and addressing what is important with the human condition.

Credit Mike Mahoney

RDO: With a lot of the songwriting, with a lot of the storytelling, I like to give 75 percent of what you need, give people enough to where they can create their own scenario of what a song it, quote-unquote, about, or whatever, because I don’t like to answer that question a lot of the time: what is that song about? I like to answer it usually kind of in a maybe somewhat ambiguous way where it’s sort of like about a thought or it’s about a feeling, or something like that, where people can kind of take it and use it how they need to, you know? I’m really sort of doing it for the catharsis and for the pleasure of creating the piece, or the art. 

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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