Ryan Cassata Is Letting His Music Do The Talking The LGBTQ Activist Teases New Album At Blurred Culture and No Season's Madame Siam Showcase
LOS ANGELES, CA- Ryan Cassata has been heralded as a “Transgender singing sensation” (The Advocate), one of the “50 LGBTQ Musicians You Should Prioritize” (Paper Magazine) and on Billboard’s list of “11 Transgender & Non-Binary Musicians You Need to Know”. In addition to making waves in music, Ryan also somehow finds the time to be an LGBTQ activist & motivational speaker, a writer, poet and actor, so we were particularly lucky to have him take the stage for one of our Saturday night mini-showcases at Madame Siam.
We were able to catch up with Ryan after his performance and we spoke about his plans for the future, his music and a bit about his past.
How did you get into music? I just wanted to figure out how you got into your music and how you developed your sound.
Growing up there was always music playing in the house. The radio was always on … or CDs were always on… so there was always music as early as I can remember. Around age 5 or 6, my older brother was playing electric guitar for a couple weeks and he stopped playing it and I kept looking at the guitar and I told my mom, “I wanna play, I wanna play,” and they were like, “You’re too small, you’re too small,” and finally, I was persistent enough and they ended up getting me a guitar. My guitar teacher at the time had built it for me, ‘cause my hands were so small, and I started getting lessons. I was really fortunate with that.
When did you start performing for crowds?
I performed at my school’s talent show when I was super young. I must’ve been like 7 years old, and then I started playing out on Long Island, New York, where I’m from, at open mics and stuff. I started playing gigs when I was 13 years old. I booked all my shows myself. I called venues and I emailed people and I booked everything myself. Since I was super young, and booking all these shows myself, a lot of kids that were doing the music thing that young were having their parents book all the shows for them. My parents never booked any shows for me. They did drive me before I got my license, but they never negotiated with the venue for me.
When did you come out to LA?
I came out to LA almost two years ago, and before LA I was in San Francisco for about 4 years.
Was there a particular reason why you’ve been floating around?
A lot of my traveling is for inspiration. I definitely wanted to come to the West Coast. It’s a better life out here for people that are LGBT. That’s what originally brought me to California. I picked San Francisco because I was very into Jack Kerouac at the time. I read a lot of that beat poetry and was like whoa, maybe there’s still something going on in San Francisco, maybe I should go over there and check it out. So, I went out there and I kinda found out there’s not much of a music industry there. There’s kind of a scene, for sure. There’s shows and all that but there’s not many industry people that are there, and I noticed that. It was very expensive to live there and I moved back to New York for a little bit and then realized you know what I gotta go back to California.
Was music always your first choice? I read that you’ve also done some acting.
Yeah, I do. I also do some acting. That’s probably my newest thing that I do, but music’s always been the beginning. The beginning … everything was music, and then when I was around 13 years old, I started to do some activist work.
And that’s how you really got your name out into the public spotlight, right? Through activism?
Yeah. I was able to mesh my music into it, but, you know I got thrown into activism because I was the first one out in my middle school … in my high school … so I was basically forced to be an activist. I didn’t want to do it but there was no other choice. It was either I become an activist or I don’t survive high school.
Pretty clear options for me. Yeah … that’s why I decided to fight and to help other people.
That must’ve been a pretty intense experience at such a young age. How much of that experience informs your music?
I’m sure a lot. I’ve been through a lot and I think that does go into my music, but I that’s not all that my music is. Most of my music is love songs, you know? And that’s what I write about a lot, so, it’s not too much about being trans or being queer or being bullied, [but] I’m sure some of the pains from that drives me in a way, you know?
I’m sure. Is there any song in particular that you’re means a lot to you?
A new song that I’ve had recently is called “Daughter,” and then I have some songs ready to go, so hopefully I release more soon. The song I released before “Daughter” was called “Light Up,” umm and that song’s actually about San Francisco, it’s a love story, it’s a very universal topic, so there’s a lot of songs like that. And part of my thing is like writing a catchy hook melody that people can sing along to easily, so, I’ve been doing that for, I guess like 10 years now, haha.
What’s “Daughter” about?
“Daughter” … that was actually the last song I played at Madame Siam. The song’s about my relationship with my dad. About my transition from female to male … my dad was not cool with it and I basically just fought and fought and fought until he was cool with it … and you know … it’s love, definitely, but it was a really rough time for me for a while.
I can only imagine.
The chorus is, “I didn’t change who I am, I’ve always been a man, still it changed your world, but dad I’ll always stay your little girl.”
I’m assuming that you don’t mind him calling you daughter?
I’ve been out so long and I’m very comfortable with who I am that “daughter” and “son” mean the same thing as long as they’re used with love. As long as they’re not used to hurt you, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. My dad calls me his son but the song was to remind him that his daughter is still here, like you didn’t lose a child, if that makes more sense.
That’s beautiful. It’s a very powerful sentiment.
And not many people have really said something like that, so when I put the song out, a lot of people were like, thank you so much for saying that, these are the words I’ve been looking for for a really long time, but I didn’t know if it was okay to say it or, you know? So it was something that a lot of people needed, and I didn’t even know that.
The new music that you have up your sleeve, are there any common themes? It is music that’s been written over the years?
“Daughter” is on the album … love songs, and then there’s songs [that just needed to sing.] I’ve lost a lot of friends to heroin, so a lot of the songs are about the heroin epidemic, and I think it’s something that we really need to shed some light on, so I really wanna dive into activism with that.
And when are you, when is the new music supposed to be out?
I’m not sure yet. Definitely 2019, but I’m hoping early 2019 it’ll start coming out. I’m not sure how, which ones will come out first or whatever. I’m talking to some industry people right now trying to figure these things out. You know … I’ve been doing this by myself for a really long time and it’s finally like … people are behind me now, or starting to be behind me. I don’t have to plan all that stuff anymore, so, I’m kind of letting other people help me now.
I hear you, that’s the only way to make it in this industry.