You may know Billy Moran for his incredible riffs and melodies as the guitarist for Louden Swain, but he’s ready to show the world his own music. After much encouragement from family, friends, and fans, Moran stepped into the studio and put together his first solo album, Surprise Party for the Introvert, a 10-track album that will have you blasting it in your speakers with the windows down in your car.
Comprised of a specific Billy Moran-esque style that is so uniquely identifiable as his own, the album takes you through rock songs, and slower ballads, making it the perfect ensemble of songs and giving you a peek into a whole new side of the musician.
I got the chance to sit down a few weeks ago with Billy to talk all about his new album, and more.
Editor’s note: The interview has been edited for clarity.
Nerds and Beyond: How does it feel putting out your first solo record?
Billy Moran: It feels oddly strange, but there’s also a sense of relief. It is probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. When you decide to go and produce an album yourself and find all the musicians you want to work with and take it all on yourself, it’s a very lonely process, because it’s all up to you. And one of the things I’ve learned so much about myself during this process, [is] what I’m able to handle and what I’m able to accept as far as a final product goes, and what I’m not able to accept, so it was a journey. Took a few years but … I looked at most artists and their release schedules and that’s probably about on par with when I said I was going to release an album, so it took a little longer [than] for most folks, but I’m happy it took as long as it did. There’s songs early on that were done, but they wouldn’t have fit with the vibe of the album if I recorded them back then, so I’m happy to go as long as it did.
Nerds and Beyond: How did the title of the album, Surprise Party for the Introvert come about?
Moran: I was toying with a few different ideas, and that one for me … I felt that the album title had to really kind of describe me, and this journey in just one sentence. For the longest time, Jason Manns kept asking me to go up to a mic and sing a song. It was uncomfortable for me because … I felt very comfortable in the position I was in as lead guitar player for whatever project. So, [it] felt like I was entering a room and there being a huge surprise party, and the last thing anyone that like me would enjoy is just having to entertain 30 or 50 people at the same time. It seems like it’s a nightmare. So I kind of use that as a way to describe the feeling of putting up my very first project not knowing what to expect.
Nerds and Beyond: How has the enthusiastic support from fans and your friends affected your journey as a solo artist?
Moran: It’s just very comforting. There’s been a good core group of fans that have been really, really encouraging and helping me along the way, whether it be through Cameo requests and things like that … they’ve really helped pull me out of my shell. So I can say that this wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for those fans. And then obviously, the group of friends and my family keep pushing me along the way, and Zack Darling who helped mix this and he was along for the whole entire ride, and he was huge in this whole process. If it weren’t for those folks, this wouldn’t exist today, so I’m just really thankful for them.
Nerds and Beyond: Were there any musicians or specific albums that inspired you while working on the record?
Moran: There’s quite a few. I really love Dawes and really love a band called Bahamas and I really love like, Gary Clark Jr., The Black Keys, and the kind of rootsy-blues artists. Stevie Ray Vaughan, even go back as far as like ZZ Top … I just love that kind of blues rock, and if I could figure out a way to kind of tie those in with the songwriting, like Dawes and Bahamas, I think that’s kind of where my world is. A little bit of edge, a little bit of gentleness.
Nerds and Beyond: Can you tell me a little bit more about the songs on the record? Were these songs that you’ve been writing throughout the years? Are these more recent?
Moran: Well, it varies. “Coyote” is probably one of the first songs that I fully wrote with my buddy Jamie, who I grew up with, he and I wrote a couple of songs on the album, and I just got a feeling one night when I was sitting in my room and I was just playing “Coyote”. It just felt like that was the time … that was the song that made me decide to go forward and release these songs that I had either stockpiled or haven’t written yet. It really got me motivated to pursue this album, and then I shared some of these demos with Jamie in New York when I was at a con once, and he was like, very encouraging. He’s like, “You have to, you have to pursue this. You have to put the songs out there. They’re too good to sit on a shelf.”
There were songs that I had, but I didn’t necessarily … I couldn’t hear them in any of the projects I was with. I couldn’t hear them as a Station Breaks song, a Swain song. There’s a specific style with all those projects that these demos didn’t really kind of meet, so I just wanted to really explore something in my own lane. So “Coyote” was probably the first song that kind of catapulted me into the process. And then “Little Dreamer” came shortly after, and then “Just Right” and then everything else kind of fell into place.
Nerds and Beyond: One of the songs I love the most that I connected to that I wanted to ask you about is “Present”. Is that about your daughters? I have a daughter, so when I listened to that, I really connected with it. It’s a beautiful song.
Moran: Thank you. Yeah, it was one of those ones that I just felt I needed to leave something for them to listen to whenever they’re feeling … as they’re gonna get older, more and more challenges are gonna come their way, and I just wanted them to have something that they can always kind of go back to kind of just recalibrate and center themselves and make themselves in a more calm headspace. So I wanted to kind of explain how I felt about them. And it’s something that hopefully they take with them.
Nerds and Beyond: I love how some of the songs are softer, and then you have songs like “Little Dreamer” and “Strange Times” which are good rock jams. Which of the songs on the album were the most fun to write or record?
Moran: I definitely think “Little Dreamer” came together really quickly. I had a demo for that, and I shared that with Zack and he used the term the demo was “bulletproof,” he felt really excited to kind of take that next step and go into the studio and get the band onboard and stuff like that. So I had all these demos really kind of defined early on, so that when we did go to the studio, and we worked with Rob Humphries and Cooper Appelt, Rob on drums and Cooper on bass, both also in The Station Breaks, it was really kind of laid out for them so that they just had to put their own unique fingerprint on it. All those songs were super fun to record drums and bass for it. Those few days in the studio were probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
That’s probably one of my favorite phases of the recording process when we’re in a room and we’re just kind of chasing ideas down and Rob’s getting up and he’s like, “Hey, let me try to put some bongos on this,” or when we tried to do this weird shaker rhythm here or Coop goes back in and kind of experiments with some bass lines. I love that phase of it probably more than anything.
If there’s one song I would say that really stood out to me was when Rob [Benedict] came in and did the vocals for “Strange Times”. It was just that day to me was this really standout [day]. It was fun because, for the first time, I was able to kind of just give him instructions as to what I felt my song would sound like, and just let him kind of roll with it. It was really fun seeing him in that kind of guest singer role where he was having a blast, and he and I wrote the lyrics on that one as well. I gave him some ideas and gave him some melodies and a few lines that I wanted to keep in there … I was really impressed with what he was able to do on that one. So that was a fun one for sure.
Nerds and Beyond: You hear some backing vocals on songs like “Drift”, “That Day in July” and “Strange Times”. I was going to ask if they were guests, and if we knew who they were; I could pick out Rob on “Strange Times”.
Moran: Yeah, there are a few singers that Zack turned me on to. Charlotte Dixon did the vocals for “Drift” and she just had this really pure, angelic voice that was perfect for that song … she was incredible. She came in and knocked that out. And then Debby Holliday, who is just a tremendous singer. She’s also in a Tina Turner tribute band. I had her slated to just sing the ending of “Yesterday’s News” and we ended up wrapping it up pretty quickly, and she’s like, “Well, what else would you like?” I’m like, “Well, let’s hear this.” So she joined me on in the end, and as well as “That Day in July” so I was really, really happy to have been introduced to her by Zack, and then just she just really killed it. They all really killed it on all those songs.
Nerds and Beyond: I like the little things at the end of the songs like the sounds of the birds, and then the sounds at the end of “Yesterday’s News”. Can you talk about adding those little sounds in?
Moran: As far as “That Day in July”, it was really personal song. It was the struggles I dealt with with the loss of my father and then looking back and reflecting on the relationship I had with my father. Basically, it was more of an I forgive you for your faults, and I understand them more now than I ever will and I wish I could have told you that. So at the end of that, I just wanted to let it breathe, because when I do the album order in this … I see a Side A and Side B. So, if I were to end Side A, it would have been “That Day in July” and it would have been just kind of letting it breathe and I just kind of more wanted to get the feeling of reminiscing. If I were sitting on a park bench, what would I be hearing, you know? So that’s kind of what I wanted to do at the end of that one.
And then for “Yesterday’s News”, it’s slightly heavier than that. It was again, another song about loss and the loss on both sides. But that one was more personal and it was just basically … I don’t want to over-describe it, but I was trying to sonically lay out how I would understand crossing over to another place, and I wanted to use my guitar in a way to kind of tell that story as the guitar being almost the soul of a person, and then at the end of it is kind of left to almost like reset.
Nerds and Beyond: What has this experience of making a solo record taught you in comparison to working on a record with a full band such as Louden Swain?
Moran: It just taught me just how to be patient with myself and wait for the right melody or the right lyric or the right rhythm to present itself before running in and recording. A lot of times with a band you get to cut those steps because you’re all collaborating and it’s basically like a majority kind of rule type of thing where you can just move quickly. Everyone has ideas, and some of those ideas work better than others. But it really moves fast and like with the last Swain album, we went into the room and we all had really good ideas as to what we were planning to do that day. We had knocked out I think eight songs in the last day, and we just had a really concise approach as to what each song was going to be. So both methods work really well.
If I had a co-writer with me, it probably would have been a lot quicker. But a lot of it is just questioning yourself. You’re like well, “Is this good enough?” And without that sounding board of a band, it sometimes takes a little longer than with the band. A lot of times you’ll just get Mike [Borja] to go, “That’s totally fine. That’s right.” And Rob, “Yeah, I love that” or Norton, “Let’s try this.”
So pretty much what I learned is it’s nice to have that sounding board at the same time, it’s also nice to have ownership of whatever you put out there.
Nerds and Beyond: Do you plan to continue working more on your own music after this record, or is this kind of a one-and-done album?
Moran: I’ll never say never to anything. But I definitely have a lot of songs still in the bank that are not … they’re homeless. So, I gotta find a place for [them] and I just think that a full album seems like a very ambitious idea. But, to sprinkle out a single here and there, I definitely think that’s absolutely a possibility. Because again, I have all of these songs in there. I have some songs that feel very Swain and I have some songs that may potentially be … I already have submitted four or five Station Breaks songs that are sitting there waiting to be recorded. And then Rob’s got a bunch of Station Breaks songs so we have material for a Station Breaks album. Then on top of that, I have a slew of other songs on my own that I think either need to become Tricky MC … so yeah, never say never.
Billy Moran’s debut album, Surprise Party for the Introvert is available to purchase on his website, here, and available to stream on Spotify.
Editor’s Note: Please note that any interviews at this time were done before the SAG-AFTRA strike.