New Zealand guitarist Ryan Kershaw has brought together music education and personal development in a unique self-directed guitar course. Ahead of a unique workshop in Cork City, he speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about the music industry, pop-psychology, and what brought him to Cork.
Without wanting to dip too deep into the grab-bag of rock‘n’roll clichés, it’s been a long and winding road for New Zealand’s Ryan Kershaw, from turning down a move to Japan to further his martial-arts studies in order to pursue his high-school dreams of guitar heroism, through the trenches of the music industry and its attendant office politics, to the idea of assembling a mental health-focused guitar course that’s spawned his first book, plus a spinoff for would-be guitar teachers. Nursing a cup of coffee in the lobby of the Maldron Hotel, Kershaw first expounds on what brought him to settle Leeside to begin with. “It was good and bad, actually, kind of a blessing in disguise. We were going through a few things at home: the music industry, I didn’t like or agree with, and it was sapping my creativity. Also, my partner’s parents were quite sick, so it was a pretty stressful time. I wanted to hit this place for music anyway, and (my partner’s) father came here for better healthcare, so I hung around for a bit and fell in love with the place. I wasn’t leaving.”
Use Your Buzz to Play the Guitar is Kershaw’s self-constructed guitar course, melding the staples of the dog-eared old book of chords with autobiographical elements and self-directed learning, veering into a pop-psych take on self-help. Happening across this combination was the result of a lifetime playing and chasing his ambitions. “A lot of artists, musicians… they have, although it’s seen as a rebellious side, it’s more intrigue as to how the world works. A lot of the time it’s bright people that are bored, there’s a lot of stuff going on. (Putting it together) happened as a result of the challenges in my life, personal and professional. Just a natural thing, a very hard one with a lot of obstacles, but with what I was studying and the path I was on, it was natural. Plus, seeing the gap that was needed for musicians: a lot of books tell you how to shred or how to get this many likes on Facebook, but no-one tells you about the real sh*t, which is (gestures) up here.”
Grappling with the industry back in New Zealand imbued Kershaw with a certain independence and stubbornness in maintaining control of his music. Working with the national branch of Music Managers Forum, Kershaw garnered experience in the office aspects of music, which informs these leanings. “One of the main frustrations was hearing the same bands played over and over on radio, while other bands weren’t getting supported. Sometimes when you see dodgy handshakes going on or you hear of a pat on the back at these meetings, as someone who comes from the sweaty, dirty underground, you think ‘it’s not what it’s all about’. So you get to a point where you realise, ‘okay, I’m not going to change all of this by yelling about it’, but perhaps it was needed at first, now it’s ‘what can I do to change things, but in a positive way?’ And that still involves as much listening as screaming.”
Music in Cork, of course, is faced with its own challenges at present, especially considering the current gloom surrounding venues and the closures of community spaces. Kershaw is circumspect about the state of play when asked if the current climate is familiar. “Coming from somewhere that doesn’t have a music culture, has a different culture in some ways to the grassroots of Ireland, there’s still the treasure here, it really is a beautiful place. The real danger is of bitching and moaning about everything that’s changing. There’s a place for it, and as a musician, I have to be careful of it, too. I’m human, not just doing a personal growth book and saying everything’s great. I just know that it’s easy to get lost from what you do have.”
A novel solution to the question of spaces in which to conduct art and personal tuition comes in the form of Kershaw’s next in-person songwriting workshop this Sunday, open to all levels and instrumental abilities. Tapping into his business acumen, himself and his partner have opened ‘Goldirocks’, a music-themed hair salon on Oliver Plunkett street, where the shop floor will serve as a gathering space for musicians to gather and partake. How does one marry the worlds of coiffeuring and music, and how will the practicalities of music events be? “We had another one in New Zealand called ‘Live and Let Dye’ (laughs). My partner came home one day (from her old job), and these hairdressers, y’know, get treated like crap. So we started talking about what to do next, and what she was into. We’re both big music fans and in the room was a copy of Guitar Aficionado with Jimmy Page on the front cover: big hair, done up all fancy (laughs). So, we said, let’s do that, but let’s do it, y’know, quality! It might seem like more of a fight at times, but ya gotta do what you wanna do.”
Ryan Kershaw’s next songwriting workshop is this Sunday at Goldirocks’ Salon on Oliver Plunkett St. Tickets can be booked at the salon or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.