Detroit Troubadour Ronny Tibbs Share the Retro Pop Gem “30-Year-Old Boy” (premiere)

Ronny Tibbs, a midwestern songwriter with a flair for the vintage, unveils "30-Year-Old Boy" ahead of his new four-year-in-the-making LP.

After a four-year gestation, the new album from Detroit troubadour Ronny Tibbs is bearing fruit, its delivery heralded by a video for lead single “30-Year-Old Boy”. Wearing its vintage ’60s influence on its sleeve, the tune opens with chamber pop piano lead and a sweeping string section enveloping Tibbs’ high-end crooning. At the cusp of the refrain’s second appearance, the instrumental swell escalates with some crashing drums and the strings’ growing grandeur.

It’s a song that gels nicely with Tibbs’ throwback aesthetic, which mines the classic pillars of popular music and its associated imagery — rockabilly, surf rock, doo-wop, Motown, American garage rock, and British Invasion. The video continues this theme, its narrative that of a serendipitous bowling alley romance wherein an initially awkward woman (played by Nicole Helegda) goes through a metamorphosis via a dream date scenario with a lounge singer (as played by Tibbs).

Though Tibbs is a quintessentially Midwest/Detroit songwriter, Lone Fry, the 10-track album the song has a home on, has its origins in Tibbs’ time living in California.

“This record started out as me bouncing a few tracks off of my good friend, and producer, Ryan Castle,” he says. “I sent him a folder of demos, songs I liked, some that had been around for years, and other songs I wasn’t a huge fan of but had recorded at some point. He texted me one night after listening particularly to ’30-Year-Old Boy’; he was really excited about it, which of course had the wheels turning again, but in a different light. I’m pretty sure he had the vision more clearly than I did when we first got together to work on it. I was still living in Seal Beach, California, at the time, and every Saturday for a good four months I would drive up to Van Nuys and we would work on that song. We had a week between sessions so we had time to think about guitar tones for a week, then we’d think about piano arrangements for a week, then string composition, then take a week off and think about restructuring some part of it again. It was the best sort of tedious. After we created that recording, we went on to write and record ‘All She Wrote’ before I moved back to Michigan with my family. We started taking that approach on every song from there, which led to a four-year process of creating this record on a ‘when it’s convenient’ schedule. I would head into work early and lay down bass lines for an hour, he would stay late at work on the West Coast mixing vocal parts into choruses and emailing them back and forth.”

Even from its title, “30-Year-Old Boy” conveys that feeling of being a certain age, but not feeling you’ve not really aged into it.

“I was 27 when I wrote it, so I guess I was writing about what I thought it was going to be like three years from then,” Tibbs said. “I was looking all around me and seeing people coming out of college or still trying to find their career into their 20s. It seemed like I would be 30 and still have no clue what I was supposed to be doing. It became this inner battle between having an expectation of it being figured out and expecting an answer when you receive your degree, like ‘Congrats, you will be happy working in the “X” field for the rest of your life,’ and that really wasn’t the case. So when I wrote it I just felt like I knew as much about my purpose at 30 (properly 27) as I did when I was a boy – and I still feel that way to a degree but I’m starting to think it’s never going to be cut and dry, and I realize now that’s a good thing.”

The video was directed by Christopher Gruse and was shot on location in Wonderland Lanes in Commerce, Michigan, a site Tibbs described as “a time capsule of a bowling alley.”

“I’ve always had a fascination with bowling alleys,” Tibbs said. “If you take a look around you’ll see that we’re constantly surrounded by new — new restaurants, new houses, restorations everywhere if they were old at some point. New can be fine, but then you see a bowling alley. A lot of the times the funky ’60s carpet hasn’t changed. The designs hanging on the walls over the alley haven’t been renovated. The sign out front is old and neon. It still smells like old cigs and oil from the lanes. It’s a place filled with art and design that serves a purpose and doesn’t need changing. I love (owner Dave Hochstein)’s place because it has been maintained meticulously and when he does change anything aesthetically it’s always tasteful and keeping with the era of the place. It took linking up on the right night but he was there helping us till about 4:00 a.m., knocking out the final shots – literally.”

Lone Fry will be available on online outlets on Tuesday, 8 January, with physical copies coming at a Saturday, 12 January, dual-release show with the High Strung at the UFO Factory in Detroit.

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