Ryan Star calls his new album "a complete risk."
That's understandable, considering the Dix Hills native walked away from his major-label contract with Island Records. (His deal with Island came after he walked away from his major-label contract with Atlantic Records last year when he was able to turn his song "Stay Awhile" into a radio hit without the company's help.)
"That's not even on my mind," he says of releasing the album on his own. "That isn't entering into my creative process. It isn't entering into my life."
For him, the risk of "Angels + Animals" (Ryan Star), which will be released Tuesday, is purely artistic. Inspired by the work of Bon Iver and Frank Ocean, Star decided he was simply going to record from the heart.
"There are mistakes everywhere on this record, but that's OK," he says. "I wanted to concentrate on the emotion more. I'm not a pop singer. You can use production to make me sound more perfect. I didn't want to do it. I wanted to just embrace the uniqueness."
Unlike his last album, "11:59" (Atlantic), "Angels + Animals" doesn't rely on massive-sounding production and big-name producers. "Most of the songs were written on the piano in my apartment," Star says. "A lot of the vocals were done in one take."
On the wrenching "Bullet," which was recorded live with his band on the first take, you can hear Star give directions during the recording. On some tracks, you can hear the tape recorders clicking on and off.
"I didn't want to lose the heart of it by doing it in the room for somebody else," he says. "It was about letting the song be the way it was."
Exclusive subscription offer
Newsday covers the stories that matter most to Long Islanders. We dig deep to uncover the facts, hold the powerful in check and keep a watchful eye on Long Island.
Your digital subscription, starting at $1, supports local journalism vital to the community.SUBSCRIBE NOW
HELP FROM IDO
That kind of recording process, which was headed by Valley Stream native Ido Zmishlany from Lion of Ido, led to surprises, and Star was thrilled to keep them. In fact, he says it wasn't until he started listening to all the finished songs that he realized what he had done.
"I didn't even know I had an album yet," he says. "I was just listening to the songs, working on the sequencing, and the story hit me. The idea kept revealing itself to me."
Star said he realized he had written a concept album about finding love, losing it and recapturing it. "All of these songs, at the end of the day, are all about the same person," he says, referring to his wife, Hallie. "I keep writing about the same 10 seconds of my life. It's a hopeless romantic thing. But I keep moving forward."
Though the concept is fictional -- about lovers ripped apart by death and reconnected in the afterlife -- they are inspired by their real-life relationship, with plenty of details taken from their lives on Long Island. The album opens with "Sailing On," where Star is writing about his decision to leave Dix Hills, singing, "I've lost my way. I close my eyes and pray that I can dream again."
"It's about our Montauk days and writing 'I love you' and our names on the shore," he says. "The meaning of life is in that song for me."
On "Where the Island Ends," Star is once again singing of Montauk, which doubles in the song as his idea of heaven and where the lovers can reunite, which happens in the final song and first single,
"It's a real Long Island story," he says. "I'm always thinking about it."
To bring his ideas to life, Star turned to his fans for help to finance the "Angels + Animals" project. He felt their help could replace a major label after they strongly supported the release of his
"Animals" EP, which reached the Top 10 on iTunes Alternative charts even without label promotion.
To encourage fans to donate, Star joined Pledge Music and began offering incentives to those who gave to the project.
Star is getting ready to fulfill his promises now. There will be a private party for high-level pledgers at his Williamsburg apartment, where he will play new songs on his piano, which also will serve as the dining room table. There will be an intimate acoustic show for supporters at his sister Kristen Farrell's SoHo gallery. And there will be lots of autographing new CDs.
But with "Angels + Animals," Star also seems ready to fulfill his promise. It's been more than a decade since his band Stage made its major-label debut with a wide-ranging rock album so wildly ambitious that it confounded those trying to explain and market it. Now, Star is just as ambitious -- maybe more so -- but he has harnessed his ideas in a way that people can more easily understand and embrace.
Thrilled with the results, Star says he would happily use crowdfunding again for his projects. "This whole process has made me fall in love with making music again," he says. "I want this album to get heard, and I will do whatever it takes to get it out there. But I will also continue to make this kind of music -- songs that are real, honest and pure. It's clear to me now."
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Tuesday, Bowery Ballroom, Manhattan
INFO $18; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
2014: A BIG YEAR FOR LI ARTISTS
Ryan Star is the first out of the gate in what should be a big year for Long Island artists. In addition to Taking Back Sunday's upcoming album on Hopeless Records, which reunites them with producer Mike Sapone and is due out this spring, here's a look at some other upcoming releases:
BRAVEHEART Ashanti's first release on her own Written Entertainment label has been pushed back several times, despite having a strong single, "The Woman You Love," and collaborations with Rick Ross and R. Kelly. (Release date: Feb. 18)
CULT Bayside's sixth album -- and first for Hopeless Records -- reunites the group with producer Shep Goodman, who handled its "Bayside" album. The first single, "Pigsty," shows the fire of the band's early work, combined with the lyrical skill that has come with all their alt-rock experience and touring. (Release date: Feb. 18)
THE ART OF LETTING GO Mariah Carey's album has been a long time coming, seemingly ready last year when it was launched by the excellent "#beautiful" single with Miguel. However, Carey wanted to work on it some more, then was sidetracked by an injury. Now, she's readying a new single for release on Valentine's Day, with the album to follow. (Release: In the spring)