From Castleton to the big stage

Twiddle keyboardist Ryan Dempsey dons his Ninja Turtle look.
Courtesy Photo

As the door opened to the home of Ryan Dempsey, keyboardist for the local band, Twiddle, it was interesting to be greeted instead by his tour manager.  

It was 7 p.m. and Dempsey was asleep on the couch.

As he woke, he seemed startled to see somebody standing in front of him, then rubbed his eyes and got up. He was wearing Ninja Turtles one-piece pajamas, a turtle shell hat and red mask over his eyes. He had a bottle of Zhenka vodka in one hand and tea in the other as he got off the couch with a groggy, hazy-eyed “hello.”

His keyboard sits on a porch surrounded by windows that hangs right over the cusp of Lake Bomoseen. It’s the equivalent of a CEO’s office with a great view of the city, a perfect place for a musician’s office.

The 28-year-old Dempsey has been playing in Twiddle since he was a junior at Castleton College

“It’s like if you were a kid and wanted to play in the NBA. That’s how it feels. I’m living my dream. It’s something you just never think is going to happen because it seems like the impossible,” he said smiling.

With tours all over New England, and tours becoming more regular in the west, Twiddle has developed quite a following.

(When asked about)But is fame a blessing or a curse?

“I love talking to fans so much. I want to talk to every single fan. I want to get to know them on a personal level. I feel people’s energy and I love to talk to everyone and when people want to talk to me,” he said. “I always want to make it positive. I just want to exert positivity.”

Robert Wuagneux, one of Dempsey’s professors at Castleton  College, called him a “a kind and gentle spirit” who is “sensitive, tasteful and clever.”

“He was a good student who was very insightful, cooperative and interactive. I like their music and I consider them to be fellow professionals,” he said.

But Dempsey described another Castleton College professor, Robert Gershon, as his mentor. And Gershon, chairman of the communication department, had nice words about Dempsey.  He said he was always a hard worker on the projects that he wanted to work on. He called Dempsey one of the best video students he ever had. He said he didn’t have much to teach him because Dempsey already knew so much.

“He went through one phase where every video he made had the same duck in it. He was never going to be a video journalist or stuck in a given style or a given rut. He knew how to tell fun stories with images,” Gershon said.

Gershon then recalled a specific time when Dempsey’s creativity shined.

“He did one really neat thing. In a drama workshop that he wasn’t even enrolled in. He brought his keyboard in and attached it right to the video editing software, watched the movie a few times and then played off the top of his head, a score for this horror movie with all the tingly little sounds just at the right time and the action just at the right time. He had a flare for it,” he said.

In his childhood Dempsey said he was not allowed to listen to the type of music he plays today. He was homeschooled for seven years of his life and was only allowed to listen to Christian music. Even certain classical music was off limits.

“My pastor once told me you couldn’t listen to some classical music because if they were sad at the time when they wrote it, that sadness would transfer over to you. I didn’t even know Jimi Hendrix was black until Mickey (Twiddle’s guitarist) showed me in college. I was not allowed to listen to it up until then,” he said.

Given Twiddle’s jam band style of music, some might be surprised to learn Dempsey’s early influence on his music was Bach.

“Bach is the genius of melody,” he said.

Beethoven and Mozart were also up there in his younger days, but now he combines the classical inspiration with inspiration from artists like Jimi Hendrix, Phish and Bela Fleck.

“My influence is classically trained, then I started studying jazz at Castleton College. I never thought I would be a musician,” he said. “I had a minor in music and a film degree. I thought I was going to move out to LA and be a film director. After school I committed to music. My intuition led me to play music full time.”

His parents opposed his choice because they thought it was unrealistic. But Dempsey said he believes it is realistic.

“With enough patience and time, if I do this long enough, it will work out. Music is my world. It’s what I want to do with my life and it’s great,” he said.

Dempsey says he gets inspiration from his surroundings and is influenced heavily by Vermont and where he lives.

“If I were to live in a big city, I don’t think the music would be the same. It’s where we are in this world, it’s nature that inspires me. If I lived in the city, I would probably write hip hop,” he said.

Dempsey also spoke about what it’s like to be on stage in front of thousands. He said being able to go out and have people love your music is the most amazing feeling in the world. For most of the shows they play, they receive artist bracelets. Dempsey only leaves the bracelets on from the best shows they played as a band. If he doesn’t feel like they played their best, he cuts those bracelets off. However, he accepts the fact that nothing is perfect and that’s what makes music great.

“Music isn’t perfect. Life is not perfect. It’s never perfect. You can get into each other’s heads and be connected, but life is not perfect, therefore the music can’t always be either,” he said. “It’s human nature.  Music can be flawed. When I see Phish and Trey messes up a note… I love that! Certain bands don’t mess up ever, but I’d rather hear a band that messes up.”

Student Megan Breen is a big Twiddle fan and eagerly spoke about the band.

“Well, I love them. I enjoy their music a lot. Actually, I was never really into “jam bands” before I went to one of their shows. Not that they are a jam band, more like jazz mixed with everything, but they got me to open up to a ton of new genres. I still remember my first show and just leaving in awe,” she said. “If it wasn’t for Twiddle, who knows if I would have ever found myself in love with Phish, you know?”

Connor McGinnis, is a fellow musician from Rutland. He plays in the band Hamjob and also considers himself a big Twiddle fan.

“Twiddle is just great; immensely talented individuals of their craft. To see a couple of hometown boys take their passion as far as they can is inspiring,” he said.

Still waking up in his apartment, Dempsey then tried to explain music and what it means to him and does for him.

“You can get a lot out through music. If I want to say something, there are only so many words to describe something like anger, but I can describe anger in music too,” he said. “Say I’m playing by myself, if I want to get out an emotion, say I’m very lonely or angry or mad, I can play that out through music. It’s therapeutic like doing yoga or talking to a therapist. Music is a universal language that can describe things that words can’t. It is indescribable.”

Although he doesn’t dwell on negative things, Dempsey admitted having a few hard times along the way. He didn’t say much, other to say an unnamed person “destroyed what he was trying to do” for a while.

“I’m trying to preach love and positivity, but someone came into my life and destroyed that and did a lot of damage to what I was trying to do. This person bribed one of my good friends and stole a lot of money from her. They used the band fan page as a way to make money to get drugs and they were able to do it. That is the only negative thing has happened,” he said.

In his words of wisdom for young musicians chasing the dream Dempsey said, “Have patience. Take ego out, no ego. Have confidence, but not ego. Don’t let women destroy it because women will destroy a lot. I love women, but am careful and don’t let money get involved. Don’t expect profit right away, do it for the music and relax and dream.”


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