In this week’s Dallas Observer we profile 20 of the metro area’s most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Can Turkyilmaz. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.
Ryan Thomas Becker works in a library. It’s not a job he chose so much as one that came to him. An English major in college, he’s always loved to read. But books are artifacts, their words etched in time. The work he does is so different from the music he makes.
For Becker, songs are not artifacts. They’re fluid. Every time you step up to a microphone, the music has the chance to change, to grow, to deconstruct itself. It also has the chance to teach. Working in a library may not have been his plan, but Becker lives to be a student.
A Denton native, he’s spent a decade-plus playing around North Texas with a slew of different bands. He thrives on the variety. First he fronted his own band, RTB2. Then there was Last Joke. There was the Talking Heads cover band, too. It’s not that he was transient. Each one was simply a different means of learning.
Becker is best known as a guitarist. With his head bouncing back and forth, hair disheveled, his whole body twisting to extract the music, he can play the lead without having to rely on flash. It’s all tone and taste. But he sings, too, and loves to play keyboard. Each is a different tool, a different medium to be mastered.
In recent years, he’s stepped back from the familiar role of leader to be part of the supporting cast. He plays for Madison King’s band. Doing so has opened up new channels; now he can follow the music rather than try to lead it. It’s in that space that certain paradoxes come to light, like learning that playing less can really mean playing more. Like the cover band, he learns more about playing by playing others’ music. The pieces are all part of a whole.
In turn, Becker has experimented even more. He’s turned to his four-track recorder, rifling through his record collection for samples. The records may be artifacts as well, but they’re artifacts that Becker that can make fluid as well. He can disassemble and rebuild them, use them in new and strange places. He’ll use whatever sounds he can find, even if it’s a baseball card in a bicycle spoke. The stranger the journey, the more satisfying it is to reach the destination.
Except there’s another paradox: There’s no destination. Playing music is a life’s work, not an end game. In Becker’s life, it means, simply, working to get better.
By Jeff Gage
Photo: Can Turkyilmaz