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Of Wood, Words and Hip-Hop: The many talents of Hurtbird's Ryan Hayes 

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Ryan Hayes is about to head out on an 11-day tour with his band, Hurtbird, but he's not spending this particular Thursday morning packing or making sure the Portland band's set list is ready for the road. Sure, that might be on his to-do list, but at the moment, he's in the middle of building a bar. Out of wood - coincidentally - for a live music venue called The Woods, which is partially owned by Loch Lommond front man Ritchie Young, a frequent collaborator and longtime friend of Hayes.

In addition to writing the highly cerebral and poetic lyrics for Hurtbird, a hip-hop-meets-every-other-type-of-music-this-side-of-Yanni band, Hayes is also a carpenter who builds items out of reclaimed wood. Since work building and remodeling houses dried up in recent years, Hayes has refocused his talents, making use of his college fine art education to make creative custom furniture. He likes the autonomy the solo venture allows him, making things like, say, setting out on a tour with your increasingly popular band a hell of a lot easier.

While he's crafty with wood, he's doubly so with words. A trained poet, he's been recording raps since his childhood in Bend when he'd rhyme into a boombox to hone his skills. But before he had the boombox, Hayes had his dad's old reel-to-reel tape player on which he'd recorded a thick volume of albums during his days in the Army. This meant Hayes, then in fifth grade, got an early lesson in Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and others. Knowing that makes Hurtbird's seemingly odd combination of hip-hop and experimental rock make sense.

The guy had those sounds in his head for a good 20 years before molding them with the help of a solid surrounding cast of band mates, including Ritchie Young's brother, Michael, into what are now Hurtbird's hard-to-ignore songs.

"Instead of playing the traditional hip-hop sounds, we wanted to be able to take a $20 Casio keyboard and put it through a tube amp. That's kind of the cool thing about [this band]," says Hayes, taking a break from his work to pick up his iPhone last week.

Even though he got an early start in hip-hop, rapping would eventually fall off Hayes' radar during his college years until he was back in Bend during his 20s. He credits members of Person People with getting him back into freestyle rapping, something he'd let go of during his college years, and providing him with a creative community that wasn't as common in Bend a decade or more ago.

"I felt like the core group of friends were all kind of trying to do something different and outside of the redneck box that was in Bend in those days," says Hayes.

The term "experimental" is often - perhaps too often - tacked onto any description of Hurtbird, given the wide range of styles that accompany Hayes' rhymes, which can be heard on the band's most recent record, Nature vs. City. While some of Hurtbird's tracks feature a classic hip-hop lyrical cadence, much of what Hayes spouts is spoken-word poetry. Having studied poetry in college, Hayes still writes at a steady clip - at least when his mind allows.

"I'll write every day for a month and then I'll get in a weird spot where I think I have writer's block and then I'll take a week off," says Hayes.

Hurtbird is unique - even in Portland where it can be tough to stick out of the crowd as a band - but that isn't to say the band isn't alone in its seemingly odd combination of hip-hop and rock, folk and jazz influences, especially in the Northwest where rap acts are increasingly crossing over to entertain indie-rock audiences.

"We play a lot of shows with indie-rock bands and we play a lot of shows with touring hip-hop bands," says Hayes. "We've always had this idea of mixing indie rock and hip-hop when we made this band."


8pm Friday, June 3. Poethouse Art. 55 NW Minnesota Ave. $5. All ages.


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