As the self-proclaimed “little king of cosmic folk,” Ryan Rickenbach has a lot to live up to. It also begs the question: What the hell is cosmic folk?
“Well it sounds nice,” Rickenbach explains. “It makes people stop and think a bit. I don’t know if I can elaborate beyond cosmic folk being a unique expression of the universal.”
And the little king monicker?
“I was born Ryan, which is Gaelic for ‘Little King’. You can either choose a new name or live up to the one given to you. By forgoing a more traditional path in life in favor of creating music, I feel like I’m meeting that challenge. I’m my own little king, creating my own little cosmos.”
After graduating from the University of Maryland, Rickenbach moved to New York to pursue a different passion – theater. “I did a show in New York that cast me as a young songwriter in the sixties, hanging around Gerde’s Folk City and that crowd. I knew as soon as the show closed I didn’t want to pretend to be songwriter, I wanted to live it.”
By chance the show introduced him to Cass Dillon, a fellow songwriter and artist who went on to produce Rickenbach’s first record, “Stasis EP,” released in April of 2016.
Rickenbach draws influence from what he calls his holy trinity: Elliott Smith, Hank Williams, and Steely Dan. “Those three always grab me and pull me into their universe completely,” says Rickenbach. “That’s what I mean when I talk about cosmic folk. That’s where I’m trying to go.”
Rickenbach’s newest song, “Adelaide,” breaks from his usual form in its specificity, telling the story of one of his dearest friends who quit his job, cashed in his retirement, and embarked on a cross-country journey that ended tragically in a car accident.
“His passing was a seminal moment in my life,” recalls Rickenbach. “He was an extremely intelligent and deeply loyal friend. The word ‘Adelaide’ is a beautiful sounding word to me, one I think aptly represents a paradisiacal hereafter.”
The video for “Adelaide,” which was produced by Phil Sokoloff and Rob Dezendorf, is dreamily impressionistic while remaining grounded in nature by scenic shots and steady movement through the landscapes his friend travelled through in his final days.
“I didn’t want the video to be sentimental or macabre.”, Rickenbach recalls. “I wanted it to have vibrancy. To be full of life. Whenever you’re surrounded by an abundance of life you’re also surrounded by the mystery of it, so through this I hoped to emphasize the gravity of existence. Phil and Rob shot a ton of beautiful footage with a concept in mind, but the hard part was putting it all together and making the narrative coherent. We passed drafts back and forth, but it wasn’t until the three of us sat down for a marathon editing session and put our heads together that we were finally able to look at each other and say ‘this is it’.”
With the release of “Adelaide,” produced by longtime collaborator Dillon, Rickenbach plans to keep doing what he does best: writing and performing music. He plans to release new tracks from his upcoming album January 2020.