“The Rainbow Lullaby” is the world’s first LGBTQIA+ lullaby album by singer and songwriter, Ryan Bauer-Walsh, who collaborated with more than 50 other artists to create the album. Aside from making music, Ryan also hand painted and designed a gender-neutral, sensory friendly, clothing line called Banana Duck with Scott Tracy of tinpin.com.
Ryan recently discussed the album and clothing line via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): Hi Ryan! It is so nice to meet you! So tell us; how did you initially get interested in music and how did you break into the industry?
Ryan Bauer-Walsh (RBW): Thank you for inviting me! As a kid I used to spend hours making up songs on the swing in the backyard. Music, poetry and art were always parts of my inner dialogue and thought process. Needless to say-I didn’t have a lot in common with other kids my age and was alone on that swing a lot. I was bullied relentlessly and my parents thought music would be a safe space for me. That ended up leading me to study opera, music theory, playing several instruments, sing in many choirs, and eventually become a professional actor who sings. Right out of college my first big job came when Lonny Price called me on my birthday to tell me I had been cast in three shows at the Kennedy Center. From there it was just about working hard and staying excited. Persistence is everything.
MM: Why did you decide to create “The Rainbow Lullaby” for children and how did you choose which artists to partner with?
RBW: Great question! Well—It has been a challenging year; In June of 2020 the world was in peak lockdown due to Coronavirus- everything was shut down. I had been lucky to have enough work as a painter living in Harlem to get through the lack of work as a performer. The beginning of June was when I got the phone call from my Mother, who was sick with Cancer, that it was time to come home. I listed all my paintings for half price and sold nearly everything I had ever painted in two days. Two weeks later I was on a plane to Minnesota. I spent the entire summer having the privilege of taking care of my Mother until she passed in late October. The grief in the midst of all the turmoil we were experiencing was unbearable. I had no gravity and I was dissociating and having panic attacks. I knew that if I only grieved her loss instead of constructively celebrating her life, I wouldn’t be able to get through this moment. I decided to throw myself into projects that celebrated her maternal strength and would continue her legacy of charity and kindness. I had written a few songs that I had always wanted to do something with years ago and I thought; this was the opportunity to do something truly useful with them.
I rewrote the lyrics to the songs and called my friend, Fred Sauter, who is a brilliant, edgy queer composer and told him about my idea for a queer lullaby album. I needed someone to hold me accountable since my balloon was rather without a string. We decided to write more songs and make a demo. In the process of researching how to create an album I was googling and realized there were no lullabies for queer parents. We were about to create something new. I bought a mic, made a recording studio under the basement stairs and used my Mom’s laptop to record the songs. We pitched the demo to Broadway Records. My friend Andrew Gerle had just done an album with them that I did the cover for and he helped connect us. They loved the demo. Representation is so incredibly important, so we expanded the album to 25 tracks and assembled a team of all LGBTQIA+ composers, from many walks of life. From there we wanted to cast as many lovely people as possible. My one unbreakable rule was that everyone on the album would have to be the nicest people in the business. Now, with a team of over 50 people, I am excited to say that we have created something out of pure love and joy- and I am so grateful. Joy is a choice – a decision- and I used my grief as a way to dig deeper into joy. One of the lessons my Mother taught me.
MM: What typically comes to you first, melodies or lyrics?
RBW: Both! From my days on the swings out back I suppose my process was to compose in real time. During December, every night I would lay in bed singing and writing. I came up with so many songs. I would have to actively tell myself to not write the music along with the words if I was creating lyrics for a composer.
MM: What are your favorite songs on the album and why?
RBW: I cried in the studio when Michael Buchanan sang a song I wrote with Mark Hartman. The song tells a story of two men that live on either side of a creek. They’ve never met because the creek is too deep and too fast. One day a storm destroys one of the men’s homes. So, the other man takes his house apart to build a bridge over the creek and together with the ruins of both houses they build a new one together. The song is called “Stronger Together” and talks about how families are made. Honestly, I love all the songs on the album. From the thesis statement of the title track that states that there is a better world ahead if we all go there together in love- to the final track by Marc Shaiman that says “A family is who brings you love”, it’s a journey towards the dream of equality and acceptance.
MM: Who designed the lovely cover art?
RBW: Aw, thank you for saying it is lovely! I did! I loved the concept of a rainbow path through night, leading towards dawn. I work as a painter and illustration artist when I am not performing. Throughout the cover there are images that pay homage to song titles or lyrics. I like to picture children pointing them out as they listen to the album. The house on the cover is actually my childhood home. I sneak it into a lot of my paintings.
MM: How do you envision the music videos for the songs going?
RBW: There was a Christmas TV special called ‘A Claymation Christmas’ from 1987. Honestly, I picture it being something like that. The “Joy To The World” portion is beautiful. More than music videos I would like to publish an illustrated songbook of all the music on “The Rainbow Lullaby.” I’d love to connect with a publisher on that!
MM: You also designed a clothing line, which looks incredible! Tell us more about that?
RBW: That came out of the same grief the album was born from. I had to keep my mind busy on the beautiful parts of existing. I love Lisa Frank and 1930’s illustrators like Jean De Brunhoff and Ludwig Bemelmans. I also had recently affirmed my pronouns as “He/They” and wanted to create a gender-neutral clothing line for kids and adults that felt like pure joy for anyone to wear. My friend Scott Tracy, who created TinPin, an online bespoke retailer, helped make it happen. I knew we had something special when I wore the adult samples we created when I was back in New York and got stopped by every kind of person you can imagine to tell me they loved my outfit. I have also dealt a lot with anxiety since I was sexually assaulted 7 years ago and wanted to create a line of clothing that was sensory friendly. Some people need constriction- and some people need room to breathe. This collection provides both.
MM: How do your songs affect your designing sense and vice versa?
RBW: It isn’t so much that they affect each other- it’s that my songs and art, well, they all help me explain myself. Even as an adult I feel extremely misunderstood. So, in an effort to communicate my thoughts clearly I will paint a picture to show someone a complicated feeling I have or write a song to convey an emotion. I think English is not enough. This communication style was really helpful when I was talking with one of my producers, Yasuhiko Fukuoka, about the title song. I had composed it with a rather thin accompaniment and he was going to help me fill it out. He asked what I hoped it would sound like- and I told him it should make him feel the way he does when he sees the painting I did for the cover. Immediately it clicked- and the song feels like deep purple and rolling clouds. He’s absolutely brilliant and I love working with him.
MM: What’s your favorite piece in the clothing line and why?
RBW: Definitely the Banana Jam kid’s hoodies! It’s a chaotic traffic jam of Banana Ducks all going to work! I love a kangaroo pocket because I never know what to do with my hands. The hoodie is trimmed with my favorite design in the collection, BANANA PEEL PRINT! The whole idea behind the Banana Duck is that they are these innocent, happy creatures- covered in bruises- but within whom joy persists. Their bruises just make them sweeter. It was important to me that the collection was hand painted. I want the images to have flaws- to be accessible- to look like a human created it.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
RBW: In addition to working on Broadway, TV and film, I would like to publish some children’s books I have been writing! So far I have only illustrated children’s literature, but I would like to become a published author. I would also love to expand The Rainbow Lullaby album into a full songbook of 50 songs and have the sheet music printed alongside companion illustrations.
Beyond that, I am so excited to start work on the adult clothing line of BANANA DUCK with TinPin that will come out this holiday season!
The plan is to someday create an LLC- a ‘Rainbow Umbrella’ if you will, that will help all of these art forms function as a career path and business. One that helps expand the idea of queer people beyond nightlife.
We are your Children. We are Parents. We are Leaders- and we have value- and knowing that value takes consciousness of one’s own dignity; Pride. I want to create queer cultural traditions that form a solid foundation for the next generation of LGBTQIA+ peoples.
I think there is a beautiful world ahead and I want us to all find our way to that world together. Because, together; is the only way to get there.
* * * * * *
To learn more about Ryan, visit his official website: https://www.ryanbauer-walsh.com/