Photo by Jed Wells

Dream fulfillment doesn’t always come in one dramatic swoop. Sometimes it’s a slow, step-by-step process more methodical than magic. That doesn’t make the ultimate end any less significant, though. If anything, reaching the dream can be all the more satisfying for the work put in to get there. 

Utah songwriter Ryan Tanner is putting that theory to the test in Nashville, where he moved two years ago to follow his passion. Just making the leap to Music City was the culmination of years of work on the Utah music scene, where Tanner spent time as a member (at various points) of Atherton, Paul Jacobson and the Madison Arm and The Lower Lights, as well as playing as a solo artist. His style can be best described as bluesy American roots, with a dash of Mormon hymns. 

“The way everyone talks about the music business, it seems daunting when you look at all the things that need to happen, or think about the way things are supposed to happen, or how you want things to happen,” Tanner says.

Even so, Tanner is doing everything possible to make his dream a reality. He hits open mic nights regularly, and in Nashville, that can lead to being heard by all manner of industry folks, from producers to label executives to performers. “You never know who is going to be there,” Tanner says. “What you DO know is that the people there are going to be listening.”

Tanner is amazed by the passionate musicians he meets every day, players steeped in the history of American roots music—everything from folk to bluegrass to old-time country. For a guy who loves that music, the chance to learn the history firsthand on stages where that history was made is invaluable. “I still feel like I’m on an endless scavenger hunt, trying to put pieces together,” Tanner says of his ongoing education. 

Last year, Tanner made his first album since moving to Nashville, bringing a bunch of his Utah friends to town to record the brilliant Together is Where We Belong. He recorded at a famous old Nashville studio, the Sound Emporium. 

“As soon as we walked in, I knew I had to make the record there,” Tanner says. “There have been some amazing records made there. You go through the log book and you see Johnny Cash’s name, you see Gillian Welch. You think, ‘Hopefully, if we stand in this place long enough, we’ll get a little of the residue of what’s been done there.’”

The resulting recording shows he captured some of that studio magic, and now Tanner feels like he’s closer to his dream than ever. 

“You hear about finding your voice, and I feel like I’m getting closer,” Tanner says. “I feel like I can get in front of a room of people and play these songs and be proud. I hope I can play for people and that I can make more records. What I always wanted to do was write and sing songs. This feels like a big step in the right direction for me.”

Back>>>Click here for more stories from our Jan/Feb 2015 issue.