Ryan Dempsey takes a trip down Memory Lane

Back in 2015 I took a closer look at Twiddle, who I had seen previously as a small-font band at music festivals around the Northeast. Nothing had stuck out just yet, beyond a surprise version of the “Duck Tales” theme song at The Big Up in 2010. But after seeing them in small rooms and grow to perform at The Palace in Albany and as far away as Lockn‘, my perspective of the band changed, for the better.

The recent Roots Tour was a rousing success, where Twiddle made stops at venues that served as notable points in Twiddle’s history in Vermont. The Roots Tour – featuring archival and recently recorded streams, band interviews, plus two live streams from Higher Ground – brought out the best of the band, collectively and individually.

The band interviews were the hidden gem of the Roots Tour, and worth the price of admission alone. Each band member spoke individually, and later collectively, providing insight into each of the venues they performed at during the tour, and how that little corner of Vermont (of which there are many) affected Twiddle’s growth over the last 15 years, especially those important formative years.

With three shows at Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction, VT taking place this weekend, NYS Music caught up with keyboardist Ryan Dempsey to talk about Roots Tour, how he has spent time during quarantine and where he would be had he not been a musician.

photo by Dave Decrescente

Behind the keys for 15 years, Ryan Dempsey doesn’t wonder where the time has gone.

“The time was well spent, and I really have no regrets. I’ve been having fun along the way. So sometimes it seems like a long time but other times I feel like it was just yesterday.

Twiddle started out at Castleton State College and almost immediately met Mihali Savoulidis and would form Twiddle. And it does surprise him how this all got started.

The universe has a way of working itself out. I wouldn’t have imagined myself ever being a professional musician when I met Mihali. I was studying to go to L.A. and be a film director but I’m happy it worked out the way it did. I trusted Mihali’s leadership and his confidence in the fact that we would be a band one day and it would all work out.

photo by Dave Decrescente

The concept for Roots Tour, taking the viewer and band through the roots of Twiddle in Vermont, could have worked in a non-COVID-19 world. A tour, with exclusive tickets and chances to see the band at old haunts (The Perfect Wife, Nectar’s, and The Pickle Barrel, among others), would have been as well received as anything Twiddle has done in the last five years. But given the circumstances of no live music, the Roots Tour would be presented as a wholly online experience.

I think it was a collective and unanimous vote between the full band that it would be a good time to bring up old footage and a bunch of material that we’ve been collecting for 15 years and releasing it in a documentary kind of style. I think it was just the right time to do it. We have been talking about it for years and we always said, “Just hold off, let’s hold off, let’s hold off,” and then, when COVID became prevalent, we thought it was just the perfect time to get down and look at all of our material we had over the years and compile it all together and see what we had. And I think it was a successful venture. 

There was of course the nostalgia that will evoke and tap emotions in the unexpected places. For Dempsey, that place was the Eaglerock Estate, also known as the ’Twiddle House’ where Mihali, Ryan and Brook Jordan lived, wrote, rehearsed and played shows, and later met Zdenek Gubb who officially joined the band.

Going there was very nostalgic and seeing my band there as adults and looking back and thinking back to when we were children or you know just out-in-the-world young adults and not having a clue what we were doing and scared to death on what we were doing, but always following our intuition. It was cool to go back to Eagle Rock and be with my brothers and have our own moment and go up to our rooms and have stories of years that we were there and how the music shaped itself in those early times. That was very cool. 

Now with Roots Tour behind them, and three Drive-In shows in Vermont this weekend, Dempsey was asked what he was missing the most about playing live right now.

I miss the gathering of people. I’m a very social person, so playing live is important for me because obviously it’s great to see fans interacting and showing their love for the music as we play on stage, but I also miss going out after and before shows talking to every fan I can, in the front or the back, and shooting the shit with them. A lot of good family with our fan base that I have come to know and learn to love over the years and I miss being able to interact with those people personally.

photo by Dave Decrescente

One would suspect that musicians of any ilk are spending their time in quarantine these past five months staying productive and writing songs. That is true for Dempsey as well, but with the distractions that come from not having a typical routine to fall into.

So, my duck and my raccoon poop on me while I play so that’s affected my concentration; when I’m on the piano, I like to have one of the animals up there. But actually it hasn’t really affected it because I’ve been busy doing Cameos and we still practice with Twiddle, but it’s hard. It’s like when you work out, you get used to working out every day and then, when you stop, you kind of get out of your original routine. So I guess I’m not playing as much anymore even though I can still practice, but being able to be with Twiddle every day on the road, every day you wake up and you immediately go to soundcheck and you practice for hours. So without having that daily routine it’s kind of throwing me off. I still am trying to stay creative, but as far as practice, I should probably be a little bit more disciplined about practice.

Now with 15 years of Twiddle under his belt, when asked to look back and give Ryan Dempsey in 2010 advice, he turned to the last five years of his life with his wife for words of wisdom.

Watch out for that Alexandra girl, she’s coming for you. To relax a little bit more and not be so stressed out. To trust your intuition and just not listen to anyone, not family, friends or even haters – just do you and believe in your passion and your dream and not take shit from from anyone. 

And what advice would he give his 2015 self? He thought of that Alexandra girl, simply saying “You’re about to meet the love of your life.”

Now, with Drive-In shows this weekend in Essex, Twiddle will hold their first public performance since their Winter Tour in March. What does Dempsey expect from the show?

“I expect us to be so nervous that we fall on our faces and make fools of ourselves. We will be so scared that we will start playing a song and we’re all gonna just forget the song! It is going to blow and the audience will say “you suck, I hate you Twiddle” and then I don’t know… I’d like to see people in bubbles… big plastic bubbles just rolling around while we play.”

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