Ryder Buck’s small childhood bedroom is stuffed with his favorite things. Neatly stacked throw pillows cover the bed, one emblazoned with the letter “R.” Two toy banjos hang on the wall, angled in toward one another. On his desk, a journal lies open, as if he’s just walked out of the room, leaving the last entry unfinished.
But Buck, a La Cañada native, hasn’t been here for over a year. Early on the morning of Oct. 27, 2013, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter was killed on the 2 freeway in Glendale, in a horrific accident described in an earlier L.A. Weekly story and made doubly tragic by the fact that he had just successfully overcome testicular cancer.
The tragedy cut his life short and, as far as his friends and family knew, it cut off any chance they had to hear his original music — which had been lauded by industry professionals — recorded and distributed.
But Buck’s family wouldn’t let his voice slip away that easily. Bringing the wreckage of his laptop to experts — it had been destroyed as Buck tried to cross the freeway on foot — they discovered file after raw file of acoustic tracks that Buck had recorded, just days before his death, in a studio at the Musician’s Institute, where he attended college.
“We got nearly everything back,” says Shelley Buck, Ryder’s mother.
The tracks were rough — “just laying down ideas so he could remember them later,” says drummer Sean Moriarty, who'd played with Buck since 2012 — but they were enough. Enlisting the help of record producer Mitchell Froom, whom Buck’s father knew through his own work on the movie Frozen (Chris Buck directed the Disney blockbuster), his family handed over the songs to be recorded on an EP.
Froom brought in a handful of studio musicians with top-notch resumes — two play with Elvis Costello, and two others with Jackson Browne — and spent days recording the younger Buck’s work with a full band, adding instrumentation and remastering the original tracks as necessary.
“It was kind of working backward,” Froom says. “Usually the singer sings in such a way and the band follows. … But he sang with a lot of feeling, and he sang really well, so we didn’t have to do a lot of tuning and timing or that kind of stuff.”
What emerged was a collection of six haunting, bluesy melodies, with Buck’s pure, laid-back tenor occasionally accompanied by the smoky alto of bandmate Nikki Segal. “Down to the River,” which Buck’s father names as his favorite track, explores the possibility of an everlasting love; on “Leave Your Light on,” he croons to a new lover, asking her to wait for him.
According to Moriarty, the band hopes to get back together and “re-establish ourselves. … We did lose our frontman, the founder of the group,” he says. For now, most of them are in school, and this month they’ve gone their separate ways for the holidays.
But Buck’s family continues to discover pieces of Ryder's story that he left behind. His journal is full of notes and lyrics, and friends send clips of short recordings from their phones or computers, which both his parents and his bandmates hope to turn into something more.
Meanwhile, they’re left to deal with the silence of the aftermath. Stretching out her legs on her son’s perfectly made bed, Shelley says one of Ryder's songs — “Bella Note,” which is among her favorites — was played at his service, which was attended by nearly 1,200 people.
The track, which features Ryder’s two brothers’ vocals laid over it, is a love song to the night sky:
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One day they’ll watch as my own stars align/And these sails pass that breeze, leavin’ this town behind.