Addict-Turned-Artist Uses Music To Rewrite the Script of His Life

WORKING IN HIS STUDIO on either a new song or practicing a cover is Eryc Ryan, who used music to help steer him away from his past troubles with drug addiction. (Photo: News-Press)

On July 1, 2018, Eryc Ryan woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed while recovering from his latest overdose as a Fairfax County police officer sat by his side. Addiction had literally and figuratively tethered Ryan’s life to the cravings of whichever drug he was abusing in that moment. Now the former heroin addict is looking to channel his obsessive edge into launching a musical career he hopes will serve as an evolving memoir for his journey.

“I did anything and everything I could to get a needle in my arm every day,” Ryan, whose real name is Eric Basham, said. “If I put even half of that into what I want to do today with music and with where I see myself in a few years, only good can come from that.”

Life has turned around quick for Ryan during his 17 months of sobriety. He got a job as a bartender at Liberty Barbecue, and when he’s not working, he’s either attending meetings at the Unity Club, hitting the gym or toiling away on his guitar. In January, Ryan helped start Liberty’s open mic night (which was ended in late October) where he got to display his talents as a singer and songwriter.

It was at an open mic night in July that his eventual manager, Amy Nail, took notice of him. Looking for a challenge outside of her work in advertising, the City of Falls Church resident joined forces with Ryan as they both played it by ear in their new venture together. Nail even invited Ryan to move out of the Oxford House, a local halfway house for recovering addicts, and into her home where he had a dedicated studio space to flex his creative muscles.

What a difference a year makes. He’d been in in Northern Virginia for less than seven years at the time of his arrest last summer, but Ryan had already racked up 35 felonies for various drug and burglary offenses. An attempt to relieve himself in a bedpan — and the ensuing embarrassment from failing at it — punctuated how much he’d let addiction belittle him.

The 30-year-old Ohio native had an addiction in one form or another throughout his life. Even though its manifestation appeared innocent at first, the underlying intent foreshadowed greater problems to come.

“I always wanted to escape feelings. My first addiction was food. I ate to push things away. Movies and food, because in movies I could escape reality,” Ryan said, before he shared his first experience with illicit drugs at 13. “I was over at a friend’s house and he pulled out a tin case with pot inside. I went home later and smoked weed, and didn’t know that was how the story was going to go. That my addiction started alone and ended alone.”

HE LIVES WITH HIS MANAGER, City of Falls Church resident Amy Nail. Both frequently collaborate on the next steps of Ryan’s career, whether it’s shooting a music video or meeting with his producer. (Photos: News-Press)

Ryan hastily glommed onto new substances. Not long after trying marijuana for the first time, he discovered alcohol. By the time he was a junior in high school he was selling weed to support a budding cocaine habit. Ryan’s tolerance for cocaine became so high that he often snorted a whole gram in one line, which backfired when he encountered an exceptionally strong batch during his senior year. “Twacked out” by the intensity, his dealer offered an antidote in powder heroin. Soon enough he would be taking it via needle injections.

It was when he was separated from music, his sole escape, that Ryan took his sharpest plunge.

His first band, “Burning Star of Leo,” was formed after he taught himself to play guitar and write his own music while on house arrest. But an all-night drug binge caused him to miss a show where a talent scout was attending. Angered by the missed opportunity, Ryan’s bandmates’ came to his apartment, severely beat him and kicked him out of the group. Months later Ryan would become a full-blown heroin addict as he stole from friends and family, started fake fundraisers and nearly sold the deed of his car in pursuit of the next high. His addiction followed him to Herndon when he moved here in 2011, until he finally had enough last July and realized the songwriting that helped him cope with withdrawals in jail could serve a grander purpose if he managed to stay clean.

“It was always that love, but addiction had taken me so far from it that every time I got a guitar I’d pawn it. It was more of an obsession that I couldn’t live through,” Ryan said.

After diving headfirst into a music career over a year ago, Ryan’s starting to see the rewards. He’s refined his eclectic rock/pop/punk sound with some original music, including “Proud of Me,” which was inspired by the movie “Rocketman” and Elton John’s own journey to self-actualization. And he’s working on his inaugural EP with local musician and producer John Schreiner, who spotted Ryan’s talent while attending an open mic at Liberty Barbecue. He’s also planning to audition for “America’s Got Talent” in February.

For Ryan, there is no backup plan to making it in the cutthroat industry. But “making it” doesn’t mean fame or fortune to him; it’s purely about hearing people sing his songs. Given Ryan’s current trajectory, that day could come sooner than he thinks.