People often ask me how I get musicians to record a session. The answer is simple: either I invite them nicely, or they contact me. Ian Ruhala of the Detroit, Michigan band Hala did the latter after an introduction by mutual friend Anna Burch. And it didn’t take me long to consider, because I instantly fell in love with his music. What is love, you ask? Is it easy? Well, in this particular case it was. Hala joined me at bookstore ‘de Utrechtse Boekenbar’ in Utrecht and recorded covers of Bob Dylan’s The Man In Me and Alice Cooper’s Be My Lover, as well as his own Sins and What Is Love? Tell Me, Is It Easy?.
Watch the session below and read more about Hala’s influences and work in between the videos.
“Some Dylan songs move me almost unlike anything else.”
“Bob Dylan’s music always finds me at the right time. I’m not as well versed in his catalog as some, but songs like The Man in Me, and Threw It All Away move me almost unlike anything else. With the vastness of his discography and career, it kind of makes for a listening experience that has some form of consistent discovery.”
Like father like son.
Ruhala’s dad is in a classic rock cover band, he tells me. “And he has been for basically the entirety of my life. It’s been him and the majority of the same work buds of his, playing around the metro Flint/Detroit areas for the last twenty-odd years. Be My Lover by Alice Cooper, has always been a staple in their sets – it is a great song.”
“My songs have this knack for foreshadowing a certain time period in my future.”
Ruhala wrote Sins at his kitchen table. “I was sitting there, strumming on an acoustic guitar one afternoon when the song’s opening line first came to me. Each lyric following seemed to gather steam from the prior, and I believe the song was finished in that one sitting. I can’t really recall the head space I was in when writing, but I’ve found that when in focus like that, the outside world has both this intense grip on you, while simultaneously not even being at the forefront of thought. The world seems to stop; nothing matters in that moment other than the pen, paper, strings, and voice.”
Writing, for Ruhala at least, can be an almost subconscious venture. “I’ve never really felt strongly when preparing to write a song with a certain mood, feeling, etc… in mind. Those limitations, or focal points, sometimes leave me struggling to make it through a single verse. Sins was one of those cases where everything was written in the order you hear it today. Each verse took influence from the prior, and when the pre-chorus/chorus sections were developed, it was an instance of thinking to myself: ‘What would I (or myself as the listener) want to hear next?’ Asking this question repeatedly gave the song motion, which made the process of writing it a lot more rewarding.”
He never really can pinpoint what a song is truly about, until reflecting about it months or even years later. “I guess it again has something to do with the subconsciousness of my writing process, or writing in general. My songs, for me, have this knack for foreshadowing a certain time period in my future – Not to say they act as my “magic crystal ball,” but I find rather that they act as markers in which I realized something (again) subconsciously, but hadn’t yet acted upon it. Moments of realization, if you will, that I was dealing with something poorly, wanted change; any number of thoughts or feelings.”
“This song has changed my life.”
If you take a look at Hala’s streaming numbers, you’ll find this song stands out. “I wrote and recorded What is Love? Tell Me, Is It Easy? in one day. It wasn’t even a single off of Spoonfed. But, this song has changed my life. It has given me opportunities to travel the world kind of, and has gifted me with the time and resources needed in order to focus on my craft. The song also goes against the typical songwriting structure/formula, which I will always appreciate.”
The Man In Me (Bob Dylan)
Tidal | Apple Music
Be My Lover (Alice Cooper)
Tidal | Apple Music
Filmed by Matthijs van der Ven & Charlotte Mermans.
Edited by Matthijs van der Ven.
Audio recorded & mixed by Matthijs van der Ven.
De Utrechtse Boekenbar
Utrecht, The Netherlands
De Utrechtse Boekenbar
Martijn Groeneveld of Mailmen Studio
Thank you for watching and enjoying this session. You’ll probably like some other sessions from The Influences’ archive too, like this one by Anna Burch.