Muddy Ruckus is a rock duo that plays “darkly inventive Americana,” according to the New York Music Daily. Guitarist Ryan Flaherty and drummer Erika Stahl of Portland, Maine play a grungy style of railroad indie punk blues. This stripped-down power duo blends rootsy guitar and edgy percussion on a suitcase drum kit, and is known for a full rock band sound. They’re poised to release a new single, entitled “Chasm,” and celebrate its debut with a concert at Port City Music Hall on Friday May 24th. They’ll be joined by “renegade bluesman” King Kyote. Buy your tickets at this link and RSVP to their FB event here.
Recently, LMNR had a chance to catch up with Ryan Flaherty, who comprises half of Muddy Ruckus (along with his partner in music as well as life, Erika Stahl). Read below for the inspiration for the band’s name, a locale the duo has on their performance “bucket list,” and a perhaps surprising hobby of Ryan’s.
LMNR: How did Muddy Ruckus as we know it now come about? What’s your origin story?
RF: Muddy Ruckus began as my solo project in 2013. I met Erika the same year while playing an outdoor gig in Portland, Maine. We began dating and quickly fell in love.
She would play old blues records for me and sing along to the songs while playing air guitar… and I was like… wow…. she has an amazing voice. Funny thing is, she had never performed or pursued any musical path before. I asked her to sing on a couple shows with me, which she was very much against at the time… as she had never sang onstage before. After a couple runs, she was like “Yep, I like this, let’s do this.” So it started to become a regular thing. At the time, I was playing with several different projects, none with any serious intentions or ambition, and I was questioning if I really wanted to continue playing music or pursue a different path. Erika was like, “Dude, you have to continue playing your songs, and I want to continue singing them with you.” It was very encouraging and a huge gift from her. So we decided to just play as a duo. We were already living together so we could practice all the time and play shows together with very little schedule conflict.
It wasn’t until the end of 2014 that Erika began playing the drums. She was learning to play bass and then I hurt my foot really bad so I could no longer play the suitcase kick drum I had built for my solo shows. She took over the percussion and after a few rehearsals I booked several shows and we started playing out as a guitar/drum duo. Even though we weren’t ready! Erika had very little experience playing. When she was a young girl, she wanted to play drums in the school band, and her teacher told her “girls don’t play the drums.” Erika has now been playing drums for 5 years with Muddy Ruckus, and has become the backbone of everything we put out.
LMNR: Where did the name “Muddy Ruckus” come from? Did the name come first or was it your sound, which sounds very much like a “muddy ruckus” sometimes?
RF: The name first came up when I was developing a solo project, playing around Portland with different back up bands and musicians. I had written a song called “Mother Mud”… with lyrics quoting Winston Churchill “if you’re going through hell, keep going” – a kind of gospel blues ballad about not giving up during hard times, no matter what “hell” you are going through on this earth and ultimately submitting with gratitude to the wild, the mud… where we all came from and will all (probably) return. There was a lot of other stuff in there too, about angels and demons and fiery roads…. typical themes in most of my songs with a kind of “muddy,” swampy quality to them. Muddy also seemed fitting for a name since I was born and raised in Rock Island, IL, along the “muddy Mississippi River.” Around the same time I was developing my solo stuff, I acquired a suitcase to play as a kick drum (the same suitcase Erika plays today). It was loud and obtrusive for most of the acoustic shows I was playing back then, causing kind of a ruckus. At some point I put the two words together, Muddy+Ruckus… and it just made sense. I ran the name by Erika and she agreed, it totally described the music, so after that it just stuck.
LMNR: You’re based in Maine. Does the unique landscape and culture of the state inspire your music? Ryan grew up [in Illinois]- how did Maine end up becoming home?
RF: Maine is our present home and we spend most of our time here when we’re not on the road. We definitely absorb any environment that we’re in which ultimately becomes a feeding ground for inspiration. However, I grew up in Rock Island, Illinois… Midwest. I spent 21 years there before moving around the country, to California, Arizona, Tennessee… and finally landing in Maine.
Erika grew up partly in New York and then Little Rock, Arkansas. For the most part, our inspiration hardly comes from the romanticism of any particular place, as much as the people we meet, the situations and occurrences that we experience and the observations of the world around us from our tiny corner of existence. That being said, we’ve written most of our current repertoire in the beautiful state of Maine… but I think you can find all the places we’ve lived, throughout our songs. I’m not so much a writer as I am a sponge that takes everything in and then filters it back out into a song.
LMNR: Tell us a crazy or touching (or both!) story from touring on the road.
RF: Lots of crazy stuff has happened to us on the road! Maybe not stuff we should discuss. That being said, I’ll say being in a traveling band has landed us the opportunity to meet some of the most gracious and loving people in our lives, many of which we have become close friends with. Most of the folks we meet on the road have been super kind to us, letting us stay the night at their house, bringing us offerings of moonshine and other yummy gifts, feeding us breakfast or late night supper after the show, taking us on little adventures in their hometown, introducing us to their family and sharing bits of their lives with us. It continues to amaze and humble us how generous and selfless the folks we meet on the road are and we are super grateful. Lots of these folks have since traveled far and wide to see us play outside their home town, which is huge to us, since we are always traveling to them… it really means the world to us that they would make a long distance journey just to see our little ol’ duo.
It’s really hard driving from town to town with super late hours and not always knowing where we are going to end up… but so far we’ve been pretty lucky because of the friends we’ve made on the road. It’s true what they say (whoever they are) that magic happens when you hit the road. For us, that magic partly comes from the experience of making new friends and meeting those lovely strangers in the unknown.
LMNR: What’s something your fans might not know about you two?
RF: Erika has a beautiful nine year old son and they both know how to throat sing – very well!
I love to plant flowers and work outside in the garden… it’s one of my favorite pastimes.
LMNR: How has your music evolved over the years? What bands are you influenced by?
RF: Our music has probably just continued to open up and become more brave and extroverted. We started very calm, and then we added another amp, or another drum and wrote a rock song with a new rhythm, and then a full rock album,,, but then we bounce back to calm and folksy for a while… escaping the noise and focusing again on harmonies and lyrics … seems to be pattern we fall into. We love all types of music. We are highly influenced by old blues, punk rock, Django Reinhardt, Ravi Shankar, Woody Guthrie, old school folk, classical and world music, etc… it all kind of sticks with us.
LMNR: What’s a goal you’d like to achieve in the next year? You’ve already had a number of accolades bestowed upon you, like winning NEMA’s Best in Maine act in 2016. What’s next?
RF: We’d just like to find a way to get our music heard by more people and continue to grow a connection with our audience. What we do as a band is collaborative with our audience… they are part of the band too… when we connect with them, that’s when the music is at its best.
LMNR: What’s on your “bucket list” as a band- is there a legendary venue you’d love to play but haven’t yet had the chance?
RF: We plan to go out to the West Coast with Muddy Ruckus over the next year. We feel the same about taking the band overseas to play in Europe. We’d love to play at Red Rocks someday, or any place amazing like that. But in the end, it doesn’t matter where we play, we just want to play for a receptive audience and make a connection with them.
Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers?
RF: We are recording and releasing a new song every month this year! Our music is available just about anywhere online. We just released an EP on vinyl and we recently just starting sharing “Vault” demos from our home recordings and rehearsals on Patreon.com. This Friday, May 10th we are releasing a brand new video with our new single “Chasm.” We’re really proud of the video and hope you check it out!
Make sure to catch Muddy Ruckus on tour this summer and beyond. Their “Chasm” single release show is at Port City Music Hall in Portland on Friday, May 24th. “Like” them on Facebook, listen to them on Bandcamp, and stream them on Spotify.
UPCOMING MUDDY RUCKUS TOUR DATES:
- May 10 – BRYAC – Bridgeport CT
- May 11 – The Stone Church – Brattleboro VT
- May 24 – “Chasm” single release show at Port City Music Hall – Portland ME
- May 31 – Ocean Mist – S. Kingstown RI
- June 1 – The Stomping Ground – Putnam CT
- June 7 – The Pizza Stone – Chester VT
- June 8 – Red Square – Burlington VT
- July 5 – The Rhumb Line Bar & Restaurant – Gloucester MA
- July 19 – 3S Artspace – Portsmouth NH
- July 20 – Hollis Hills Farm – Fitchburg MA
- July 26 – Unruly Brewing Co. – Muskegon WI
- August 1-4 – Mile of Music Festival – Appleton WI
- August 9 – Triple Crown Whiskey & Raccoon Motel – Davenport IA
- August 16 – Green Love Renaissance at Harry’s Hill – Starks ME
- August 17 – Strong Brewing Co. – Sedgwick ME
- August 25 – “From Our Roots” Concert Series – Standish ME
- September 20 – Medallion Opera House – Gorham NH