Ryan Bundy recently posted a Facebook message saying, "Why are you not here?" with a photo of a band playing to an empty room. It was a Thursday night and one of the first sub-zero cold snaps of the winter. Downtown was quiet except for a couple well-attended events, and one could conjecture that locals were mostly holing up at home. At the VFW, an Alaskan band called Historian was playing to no one but Bundy.
"They are an awesome rock band from anchorage," he wrote from his phone. "This is a fucking crime."
Bundy is the current artist-in-residence at the VFW, which means he plays every Thursday in December with a rotating line-up of bands that he hand-picks each week. He's a friendly, bearded folk-influenced singer-songwriter who's part of a DIY music scene that sometimes sees attendance at shows wax and wane in extremes. Historian was a casualty of that phenomenon, and Bundy—though fired up on Facebook—gets it. For the most part, music connoisseurs who go to the VFW pride themselves on supporting a fairly eclectic collection of underground music. And many of them are in bands, so they go to support each other.
"People that go there love so many different kinds of music," Bundy says. "The kids that love the punk bands will just stand up there and listen to me play folk songs too. I love that about the scene there. (He laughs.) I played a bill there once where it was me and a black metal band, a honky-tonk band and a punk band, all in one night—and everybody loved it."
Bundy recently posted a new album online called Crow's Share. It offers 12 songs that have a folk foundation—banjo and slide-guitar, accompanied by Bundy's warm vocals. But it's full of electronica warping and reverb, melancholic bridges and musical off-roading that gives it a different composition than his previous two folk recordings. It feels so vastly different to Bundy that he calls it a "project."
"It felt like its own thing," he says. "A concept. It's not a Ryan Bundy album. This is more stand-alone. Some of my songs on the album start off and they could be just a folk song like what you'd hear on an old-school Iron and Wine album. And then it takes a turn and goes crazy. I like messing with people's expectations."
Bundy is from Homer, Alaska, and came to Missoula for college in 2004. That's about the time he started playing music, too. He was listening to songwriters like Townes Van Zandt and Jeffrey Foucault for inspiration.
"My motivation getting into it was mostly songwriting—writing lyrics, so I was more of a writer than a musician. I've never been super into the [technical] part of music, though that's changed now. I like to dabble in it now. I still watch guys solo on the guitar and I'm like, 'I have no idea what you're doing.'"
In the last few years, Bundy has become a staple in the music scene, especially with his odd bedfellow buddies from punk and rock bands. His sound has evolved, he says, because of his exposure to different styles of music and because he's become more interested in technical musicianship, just a little. Songwriting remains the focus of his work, though. The first track on Crow's Share begins with the line, "I had a dream I was flying above the sea, wish you were here to tell me what it means," and it doesn't relent from that mood. Even if Bundy didn't tell you himself, you'd know it was a heartbreak album from the first few notes. He admits it was heavy to record and required "taking breaks" to finish.
But it's literally about many other things. On the website, crowsshare.com, he offers a long, odd list of what the project covers: "love and loss, banjos, hope, electronica, left over morsels of childhood optimism, seagulls, it would be nice if you were here, gas stoves, colored plastic, shifters, bicycles, rolling rock, welsh books, clicking noises, dead flowers ... white cats with different colored eyes, darkness, over exposed photos of hillsides in homer alaska ... wound string, gray boots, crows, and crows."
Bundy grew up around crows. His mother's maiden name was Crow and he was surrounded by kitschy crow objects because of it. "I loved it, though," he says, acknowledging he became fascinated with the bird. "Crow's Share" is a term Bundy made up as an opposite to "lion's share," and he kept the idea in mind as he wrote the album.
"'Lion's share' means having the vast majority of something," he says. "But 'crow's share' refers to the concept of only taking what you need to survive."
For such a darkly colored album, this idea feels optimistic. Listening to each song, it's easy to hear that unlike a lot of break-up albums, there is no bitterness or ill-will anywhere in it.
"This is a melancholy project, but I think what I'm trying to say isn't," he says. "Crows live on leftover morsels but I think that they also flourish. And when it comes to letting go of someone it's an interesting idea to think about how little you really need in order to move forward. You're a lot more free."
Ryan Bundy releases Crow's Share this week on CD, and you can listen to it at crowsshare.com. Bundy plays the VFW Thu., Dec. 12, at 10 PM with Pancakes and Whiskey Hooves. $4. He plays the VFW every Thursday through December with various bands.