Ryan Cabrera has just finished a course of speed dating and speed songwriting, cramming his summer with dating-show tapings on top of finishing his new album. And while he doesn't get to score on "Score," an MTV dating show that doubles as a songwriting competition, Cabrera says he got to do the next best thing — help write a lot of love songs.
"I actually came up with stuff for myself while writing with them," Cabrera said of the 40 contestants he co-wrote tunes with on the forthcoming program, which debuts November 14. "And I'd think, 'Maybe I should save that one. I'm going to keep that one!' "
Since the contestants have to win their dates by creating and performing one original song, Cabrera's job was to guide them through the process, helping with everything from lyrics to song arrangement to stage presence (see "Ryan Cabrera Finds Soul, Considers Tour With Kelly Clarkson"). "I was supposed to just help pull stuff out of them," he said. "But some people were really, really good."
Still, he found that the main advice any of the budding songwriters needed was the simplest of all: Be honest. "Don't try to be something you're not, and don't try to say something you don't feel," he said. "Whatever's honest, whatever's on your mind, just don't hide and try to be cool. Don't be fake or cheesy. Sometimes you think, 'Oh crap, do I really want to say that? Do I really want the whole world to know how I feel?' But that's the only way to get through to another person."
That's why, he said, "True" was "so successful" as a love song — one that keeps getting him invites to sing at weddings. "I did that for my brother's wedding, and for one other couple," he said. "It's a big honor to have a song that they would want to [use]. It's the coolest thing ever. I think it's crazy. [And the song works because] I wasn't trying to be cool, or put the moves on you. I was saying, 'I'm weak, and I can't help it, and I'm just going to say exactly what I feel.' "
Cabrera's model of a perfect love song, the one he wishes he wrote himself, happens to be Extreme's "More Than Words" — a sentiment he shares with Frankie J (see "Frankie J Keeps Buzz Alive With Extreme Cover Version"). "I wanted a 'More Than Words' vibe when I wrote 'True,' that's why I kept it acoustic," Cabrera admitted. "There's a key to saying something that hasn't been said five million times, and I think they captured that."
The singer-songwriter also hopes he's captured that magic once again on his love-song-heavy new album, You Stand Watching, out September 20. Each song is about a real-life relationship — but don't assume it's all Ashlee, all the time.
"Of course the world is going to be like, 'It's about this, because this is the one relationship we saw,' and not thinking, 'Obviously he's been in more relationships,' " Cabrera said. "There are songs about Ashlee. There are songs about other people, too. It's all over the place."
For instance, "Fall Baby Fall" explains how hard it is to keep a relationship together when he's on the road all the time. With "Photo," the focus is on breaking up with someone, "and all you have left is one picture," but you wish you could have one more shot. In "It's You" everything reminds him of the person he're in love with. "Last Night" is about taking chances. And for his first single, "Shine On," Ryan tries to remain friends with an ex. "That song is more open, kind of the way it should be with any relationship," he said. "Instead of, 'I hate you and curse you and want you to go to hell,' you know what? Forget that, I don't want you to suffer. Do your thing. I want you to move on. I hope you're happy. And we can still be friends, hopefully. And even if not, I'll still support you. I wish the best for you; God made you to shine on."
If Cabrera's starting to sound like the perfect ex, that's because he makes it a point to "try not be too mean."
"I don't want to piss anybody off too bad," he admitted. But that doesn't mean he's going to hold back — or even give fair warning that a private relationship moment has been made public. "They always know [anyway]," he said. "They can see it. The girl I wrote 'True' about knows it, because I sang it for her before it was on my record. But I don't call and say, 'Hey, I wrote a song about you.' "
Plus, he said, his goal is to transcend his individual experiences and create something everyone can relate to, whether or not they know who or what a song is about. "I want you to hear [these songs] in 10 or 20 years, when it doesn't matter what was going on at this time," he said. "The songs will last, not just 'This is what it's about.' "
Ryan Cabrera tour dates, according to his publicist:
- 8/26 - Doswell, VA @ Kingswood Amphitheatre at Kings Dominion
- 8/27 - Charlotte, NC @ Palladium at Carowinds Amphitheatre
- 8/29 - Saint Paul, MN @ Minnesota State Fair
- 9/03 - Santa Clara, CA @ Redwood Amphitheater at Great America
- 9/05 - Sacramento, CA @ The Cove at California Expo and State Fair
- 9/17 - Indianapolis, IN @ Castleton Square
- 10/16 - Los Angeles, CA @ Brea Mall