Behind the Sirens
Staying home this much can spark new and interesting creativity, especially when it's driven by endless emotion, fear, frustration and isolation. Especially when the person you love is needing something that only a miracle or hero can bring, and the world is shut down, and the kids can't play, and you can't visit your friends or loved ones, and everything just feels off. Especially when you can't go see a live show and dance with your friends in the flesh. Everything becomes hazy, perhaps filtered in a questionable way. I personally think music is one of the only things that can fully help us endure through it all. And that's because music is resilient beyond measures. And sometimes, it just wants to bend a certain way, whether you intend it to or not.
Sirens came to life under the circumstances of the Covid 19 pandemic. It was also around the time of Erika's kidney transplant when this song sprouted new branches. Though I wrote it several years ago on my guitar, based it off one of my poems, and though we planned to record it with just an acoustic and both of us singing, fate had other plans for it's final passage. Erika put down drum tracks before she had her surgery. We were actually planning to do a whole album, mostly acoustic, but time got funky and making music became less a priority, especially after Erika's transplant. While she was recovering, I began to mess around with piano and additional beats just to build a map for me to play the guitar and vocals with. I was really just biding my time, waiting for Erika to get better so we could continue working on the album.
So exploring I went, letting my creative guard down, arranging and composing everything from pure emotion, using sound and color as my guide. As I worked, I would concentrate on thoughts of Erika healing and growing strong again. It became a mantra in all my decisions and actions. I would work on it alone while Erika was resting. I wasn't really trying to get anywhere with it but eventually it started to sound really good, yet totally different than our usual sound. Since we were doing everything backwards, we still didn't have vocals, so I just kept messing around with the music. I pulled my original guitar tracks out and then recorded into a reverse effect and sprinkled parts throughout. About 3 weeks or so after Erika's surgery, she was able to lay down the vocals. I had bought a really nice tube mic for her and we used it for the first time on Sirens. She sounded so good, I decided I didn't need to sing on this one, so we kept it as is. In the end, it really came together in such a different way than we intended, but it felt natural, transforming into a song that definitely reflects common emotion and abstract perception, that we all share one way or another, especially these days.
Like all our songs, Sirens took on it's on life, reflecting our perception about the times we live in. We hope you find a positive connection with this one. For me, it's very meditative, almost trance-like. This song was obviously meant for Erika's voice. It has so much color, hence the track art. In the face of this pandemic, we've all experienced tragedy but hopefully some miracles and blessings as well. I feel very thankful and hopeful despite not knowing what the future holds. I could say more, but its all in the lyrics, in her voice and in the colors.
What our eyes and ears are missing ...
By Nate Dow, longtime Boston Herald music writer.
We can't see our great musicians in the clubs any more but it doesn't mean I can't relive shows through my photo archives with select shots. Erika Stahl is a unique musical force, teaming White Stripes-style with her partner, Ryan Flaherty, to form the riveting duo Muddy Ruckus. Erika's percussion is the percolating pulse of the Noir Americana band, despite playing on a stripped down kit that usually includes just a snare, tom, hi-hat and a suitcase kick. Muddy Ruckus sounds like equal parts roiling southern rock, folk and bluegrass with a dash of punk-metal on the side. Erika and Ryan share the lead vocal duties, with Erika's versatile voice a mix between Nikki Lane and PJ Harvey. She began singing with Muddy Ruckus in a then-three-piece band, and although she'd gravitated toward percussion as early as the fourth grade, her band teacher admonished her, saying, “girls don’t play drums.” Erika started proving her wrong a few years later — and finally bought her first kit and started teaching herself to drum in her basement. When she added drumming to her vocal duties, and Muddy Ruckus became a duo, it was a natural progression, and the distinctly Ruckus sound was born. The band has won several awards in its first six years, and in 2017 earned a coveted official showcase at the AmericanaFest in Nashville. Erika and Ryan have three albums to their credit and just released the first single with the fabulous, "Let Go," from the upcoming fourth. Neither artist can be too concerned about a lack of current gigs to promote it. You see, for Erika the health scare came before the coronavirus pandemic became an issue. In December, she had to be rushed to the ER with acute kidney failure. Keeper of rhythm that she is, Erika refused to miss a beat, and went on touring the south even as she required Dialysis treatments. Her miracle came on May 26, 2020 when she received a donated kidney from her dear friend Clara. Erika is still recovering at Maine Medical Center but will soon be returning to home to Kittery, and a renewed life as a rocker, mother and loving partner.
When she — and we — are ready to get back to normal this is one triumphant return I long to see.
“Portland Maine’s rock duo Muddy Ruckus threatened to steal the whole show with nearly every song. Ryan Flaherty on guitar and vocals and Erika Stahl on vocals and drums make for an amazing band and their style blends roots, rock and blues in a vehicle that allows them to emote at every turn. Throughout the day people approached me to talk about how much they loved Muddy Ruckus.
- Live Music News and Review
“From day 1 Muddy Ruckus’ songs have had a driving force behind them. An electric energy that moves, sways, dances, pushes, pulls and punches you straight in the gut. A punch that you end up thanking duo Ryan Flaherty and Erika Stahl for because it leaves you feeling that vibe and emotion for a long while. Their songs impart a groove into the air surrounding them and the latest single from the Portland roots rockers delivers on that sentiment again.”
- Red Line Roots
"Muddy Ruckus took the stage and took our breath away! With only drums, guitar and vocals they built a wall of sound to rival any architecture. A hillbilly/bluegrass infused White Stripes. A great end to a new beginning of another 20 years! I love it here!"
- JoKnowsShows, Lizard Lounge Club
"Infectious, foot-stomping americana tunes. Similar to the White Stripes in duo power. Muddy Ruckus delivers a full bodied sound, with nothing but guitar and suitcase drums." - The Sound
"There are some spots in the Mississippi River, right outside our front door here in Rock Island, Ill., where the bald eagles are finding their dinners these stark and nasty days of winter. They perch themselves in the sad, crooked limbs near the water and they keep a close watch on what's just below the surface. They swoop down and clamp when they see something they like. They never get under the water, down to the bottom. It's where we found Rock Island-native and Maine-dwelling Ryan Flaherty a few weeks ago. We dredged him out of that mighty river's cold floor, down where all the secrets and regrets are thrown from bridges. He lives beneath the surface, as the songs he writes as Muddy Ruckus show. He finds something akin to pleasure in the undercurrents there." - Sean Moeller
“Rock N’ Rollers of the Year” - RedLine Roots 2017
“Album of the Year” - RedLine Roots 2016
“Best in Maine” - New England Music Awards 2015