Ryan “Wolfgang” Zimmerman

Ryan “Wolfgang” Zimmerman behind the boards at Rialto Row

Charleston music producer Ryan “Wolfgang” Zimmerman is the kind of person who always seems effortlessly busy, a buoyant personality nonetheless fueled by an incessant creative burn. He’s recorded dozens of indie rock records in the Holy City over the last decade, starting with efforts from his own band Brave Baby, laid down in a converted storage shed, to now, working in his professional Rialto Row Studio with everyone from singer-songwriter favorites like Grace Joyner and She Returns From War to locally based major recording artists like Band of Horses and SUSTO.

And while his talents as an engineer and producer get top billing, part of the appeal of working with Zimmerman, according to past collaborators, is how seamlessly he contributes musical and songwriting ideas, similar to what he does as a drummer and songwriter in his own band.

And, as it turns out, Zimmerman has always been a kind of secret songwriter whose other skills took precedence.   

“I started playing drums at age eight and start playing guitar and writing songs probably by about 10 or 11,” he recalls. “My mom ended up buying me a tape machine and as I got into high school and stuff, I slowly got into recording people, but I still was always writing songs and playing guitar and everything. But as I got older, I just kind of settled more into the drummer role in a lot of bands.”

Even in his role behind the kit in Brave Baby, Zimmerman ended up with a few songs on the band’s records at the beckoning of frontman Keon Masters. The producer credits his bandmate and friend for pushing his efforts out into the daylight. When the band began decided to take a break, Zimmerman saw his chance to fully control his own creative project. 

“[After Brave Baby’s second album,] Electric Friends, I started really putting time into [writing],” he says. “Back in the day I maybe wrote one song or two songs a year, but ever since 2015 I’ve just been writing as much as I could and not really necessarily trying to finish them, just to get better and better at it.

“Then at the end of 2017, we all sort of realized that we were headed in different directions musically and wanted to take a little bit of a breather and let everybody experience and develop the solo side of themselves a little bit.”

For Zimmerman, that’s meant taking on his more electronic and R&B impulses — he namechecks Prince and Morris Day and the Time as inspirations — as well as “more organic” traditional rock fare. And although he’s done a lot of solo recording, he’s fleshed out his live band (dubbed Invisible Low End Power) with a large cast of players, including Dylan Dawkins of Persona La Ave and Jeff Wilson of Get With It and Moon Pimp. The group will utilize a double-drummer setup, with Zimmerman sliding back and forth from drums to guitar while Atlas Road Crew’s Justin Ian Jones anchors the rhythm section.

As much as the new project excites him, Zimmerman says he really sees his production work and songwriting as two sides of the same creative coin, feeding into each other and augmenting each other rather than competing for time —  even if he’s more financially dependent on the former.

“When I’m working with somebody, I feel like I’m basically joining the band and trying as much as possible to be in it and feel like it’s my project,” he explains. “There’s always been a side of me that’s sharing ideas on chords and lyrics and stuff like that. With the solo stuff and the production stuff, I don’t necessarily seem them as separate. It all just feeds into one.”

As for the future of his solo endeavor, or his production work, Zimmerman is sanguine. 

“I’m not necessarily trying to limit where it can go. I mean, I hope it has the legs, but mainly it’s just exercising that part of myself that I want to grow at,” he offers. “I don’t really care necessarily what the percentage is. If it gets to a point where my solo stuff takes off and I get to hit the road for a year, that’s fine, I can take a little break from the studio. If it comes out and it’s just, you know, for fun and we get to play some shows and I’m just still mainly studio guy, I’m happy with that, too.”  

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