Some guitarists say the sound is in the hands, the magical interplay of fingertips on steel; others say it’s all about the equipment — the instrument, the amps, the microphones. For Ryan Hallengren, the music comes straight from the heart and nothing — not even cerebral palsy — is going to keep that music locked up inside him.
Many players would be tempted to throw in the towel if faced with the limitations Hallengren faces; because of the cerebral palsy, he’s unable to form chords in a traditional manner. His workaround solution involves tuning the guitar to an open E, then devising his own chord formations for the popular tunes he performs with his brother Devin Hallengren on drums in their classic rock band the Noiz Boyz.
You might think Hallengren would be limited in the types of music he could cover. Then you hear him play. His solid, inspired riffing ranks alongside many of the area’s finest players, making Ryan one of the most sought-after guitarists working the local circuit.
“Figuring out the chords themselves is not too difficult,” Hallengren says. “The hard part is getting my fingers to reach the frets. It’s more of a physical thing. If one method doesn’t work, I just try something else that works better.”
How does he do it?
Hallengren’s unique style leaves some guitarists who see his live shows scratching their heads, wondering how the heck he does it. For most audiences, however, his convoluted fingerings go unnoticed.
“You have to think on your fingers, so to speak,” Hallengren says. “Sometimes if my right thumb is getting tired I’ll push down hard with my left thumb. Nobody notices because all they hear is the music.”
The hardest part, according to Hallengren, is getting to the gigs and climbing onto some of the taller stages. The cerebral palsy makes it impossible for Hallengren to drive; walking can be a challenge, even with a cane. You’d never know it to hear him talk.
“It’s not too difficult, really,” Hallengren says. “Logistically, it takes some assistance, but it’s what’s between the ears that books the gigs.”
Hallengren and his brother Devin were introduced to music at an early age. Ryan played piano by the time he was eight years old. But it wasn’t until their early teens that they discovered the joys of rock and roll. Entranced with “hair bands” like Kiss and Poison, the brothers immersed themselves in the style until they could emulate their favorite groups note for note.
“We just kind of branched out from there,” Hallengren says. “We did the market research and figured out this is what people wanted to hear. People call us music libraries.”
Not surprisingly, the brothers come from a musical family with numerous uncles, parents and miscellaneous cousins performing in various bands around the area. It was only a matter of time before they took up instruments and joined in.
Devin Hallengren jokes about learning to play from his older brother, admitting it’s not always easy working with family.
“It’s been an experience,” the younger brother says. “We’ve had our good nights and our bad nights. When it’s a bad night I’d like to smack him, but when it’s good, it’s really good.”
According to Devin Hallengren, the band earned its “Noyz Boiz” moniker while the brothers were still living at home. The two spent days (and nights) slamming together hair band standards in their bedroom rehearsal space. Between the PA, amps and drum set, things could get a little loud.
“One day our mom was having a really bad day and she came into the bedroom and shouted, ‘Knock off the noise, boys!’” Devin Hallengren says. “I thought about it for a while and decided that would be a great name. I told my mom about (our decision) and she felt bad all day long about yelling at us.”
Hundreds of shows
The name stuck though and it wasn’t long until the brothers were playing their first professional gig. They were called in to play a party in the “middle of nowhere” when the band originally hired for the gig became too inebriated to perform.
“They called us to finish the night,” Devin Hallengren says. “We played ‘Rock & Roll All Night’ by Kiss all night long and everyone was singing along.”
Hundreds of shows have followed for the Hallengren brothers, with the Noiz Boyz format and other bands. Ryan Hallengren currently performs with Noiz Boyz, Top Shelf and Deepfall. Devin Hallengren plays regularly with Top Shelf and the Messin’ Around bands in addition to his work with Noiz Boyz.
According to Devin Hallengren, the next generation of family-inspired musicians is already coming up.
“My (six-year-old) son, Jordan, came to see us play and he said, ‘Man, I wanna do what my daddy’s doing,’” Devin Hallengren says. “I let him get up there and beat on the drums while grandma and grandpa take pictures. He likes it. He gets to be a rock star for a few minutes.”
As long as there’s a new generation of Hallengrens ready to lay down a distorted guitar riff or hammer out a solid back-beat on the drums, the future of ’80s hair band music remains alive and well in West Michigan.