Creative Differences is an alternative duo composed of Ryan Petersen and Larson McDonald. From Huntington Beach, California, the two combine elements of rock and alternative to produce music that ranges from electrifying to introspective.
The duo thrives on-stage, throwing shows that have never been short a mosh pit. Petersen and McDonald have personalities that burst through a loudspeaker or phone screen, never being afraid to show who they are and using their style of humor to craft a product that resonates with the audience.
With a full year scheduled and plenty of new music on the horizon, we sat down with Creative Differences to find out about their background, visuals, and upcoming releases.
Martin: How did it feel to sign to an independent management label at only 18?
Ryan Petersen: Dude, crazy. It happened after one of our shows that we played on a tennis court. It was our first show in a while, so it was magical already, but afterwards, we get an email from this dude Danny, and he was like, “Hey, what’s up, I’m interested in talking with you guys about possibly doing management for you.” At first, we were “eh” on it because we didn’t know if he was legit, but we just felt like giving it a shot.
Larson McDonald: I guess it was enough for Danny to see 10 seconds of us on an Instagram story for him to dig online and find our other music videos and contact us.
And so we went out and talked to him, and he started to name drop and talk about his career so far, so when he told us, “You guys are a two-year project," I was like, "Okay, this guy’s legit," because so many people will give blind encouragement, but Danny was like, "It’ll take some time, but once we get there, we’ll get there."
Martin: Obviously live performances are a big part of who you guys are. When was your first show and how do you go about planning for a show?
Larson: It’s just the two of us that write the music and everything, but when we play live we got a guitar player, keyboardist, and a bassist. When we play live, we have to use tracks and script out the whole performance because for some songs it’s just me on drums and Ryan playing keys or jumping around, so we need the rest of the song in there. Sometimes, that’s the hard thing about playing live, as we have to figure out what parts are gonna be played live, but we really take the time to say, "Alright, when I press play, we’re gonna play through the whole show and it’s all gonna be like one long scripted theatrical experience." That was hard for us in the beginning when we first started playing live, I think when we first started with the ukulele and cajon at open mic nights.
Ryan: We played one open mic night and I stood on a table and tipped it over and I was like, “OK, we should stop playing these and do something else.”
The short answer is: it’s an operation. We’re learning as we go, but the ideas we have are so much bigger than what we have the ability to do right now. It’s just about finding ways to accomplish massive things with such a small budget and the limited resources we have.
Martin: Did it take you a bit to get comfortable on stage, or did it come naturally?
Ryan: Honestly, for me, it’s about getting into a different character. It’s kind of like when I put on the jumpsuit, I’m in a different mindset and it’s just so natural; it’s not even funny. It’s more natural than breathing. It’s more of an MC energy than I feel like a lot of alternative singers tend to have, but being able to just jump around and watch the crowd move like an ocean and seeing everyone with the same energy be on the same page, to me it’s like conducting. It’s something completely surreal.
Larson: I always enjoyed performing in front of people, but we were in a high school program that does a few shows every year, and the first shows freshmen year I did terribly; I got so scared. Then over time, I became more comfortable just being behind the drum kit on stage and got more comfortable with my skills as a drummer and understanding what I can do. It just became second nature where performing is what I’m concerned about; I’m more concerned about entertaining people, and then I’m concerned about playing the drums is what it’s become.
Martin: How do your senses of humor blend into your musical style and live performances?
Ryan: It’s kind of a funny contrast ‘cause, at least from how I feel our live performances come off, they’re very theatrical and serious, and we take ourselves seriously when we’re on stage. But we also gotta leave room for us to still be goofy ‘cause he and I are an odd dynamic, but a fun one, and I think that when we’re on stage and we’re yelling at each other, doing stuff like that, people enjoy getting a keyhole into our dynamic when we’re writing. Making skits and stuff on the side is our way of presenting the same stuff that happens behind the scenes.
Larson: That’s the other thing: most of the lyrics are very serious and very dark at times, but the thing is, we want to show our little bits of humor in upcoming music videos and show that you can have seriousness, but then also be regular people and be funny and enjoy yourself on stage. We’re still learning how to implement that.
Martin: What’s your process like when you’re recording and producing music? What’s your collaborative process like?
Larson: Every song is different.
Ryan: I’d say the general form, it goes: Larson usually makes an instrumental, he sends it over to me, and if I can write a verse and get a hook down on it, then we’re like, "OK, we’ll sit down and flesh it out and turn it into something." If I get ideas the first listen, I’m like, "OK, this one's a keeper." If I need to sit with it for a week, OK, but usually it just starts with that ping-ponging and if I can get something down that's decent enough for a baby demo, then we’ll start with that.
Larson: It’s continuing with that back and forth. I’ll come over to his room and we’ll record some stuff, and then we’ll sit with it for a while, and then we’ll say like, "Nope, not that chord," and we’ll redo the whole song. We’ll just keep going back and forth until we’re like, "Okay, I can listen to this now." Because when you record a song and then you don’t listen for a few weeks and go back and listen, it sounds completely different. That’s our best way to realize "that part doesn’t work," or, "that part’s great."
Martin: Are there any artists you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
Ryan: Denzel [Curry] is the dream collab. He just did something with Glass Animals and I’m like, "Okay, so it’s possible. Eventually, we will work with that guy." In the immediate, it’s new producers that really help us level up. Our tracks writing-wise are progressing pretty quick, just that to bring it up to that industry standard, we love having an outside opinion to round it off and make it complete. So far, our only writing collaboration is with one of our new tracks. One of my buddies sent me a beat and I went to Larson and said that this was right down our alley; we needed to do something with this. So we took it, and we happened to be working on a song with the exact same tempo at the time, so we morphed the songs together and turned it into a song. It’s called “Breath Away” and should be out sometime in May.
We’re more open to doing that kinda stuff in the future; it’s great to bring other people in. We don’t want it to be a secluded project; we want it to be collaborative. So at some point, when we are working on an album, having a couple of features on there is ideal, for sure.
Martin: Who are some of your creative influences, both musically and comedically, and what bodies of work have stuck with you?
Larson: That’s where our name Creative Differences really comes into play, ‘cause we have completely different tastes in music and yet we create lots of the same stuff. My favorite artist is Bon Iver and one of his favorite artists is Kanye. But Kanye and Bon Iver have done several songs together and they’ve combined two different worlds for an amazing end result. So, that’s kind of where we take some of our influence from - those collaborations between artists you wouldn’t expect to see together.
The Weeknd, Foster the People, AWOLNATION even. Again, those are all across the spectrum. It’s specific elements from each of these artists that we dig into, and then we put them all together to fit us.
Ryan: I’d add Gorillaz, Cage the Elephant, and Billie Eilish, as well. How can you not respect her and her brother?
Martin: How did you come together to form Creative Differences?
Larson: It was a long process. I don’t remember how I met him, but one day he forgot to bring his shoes to school and I was like, "You know what? Cool." And then we just sat down and we wrote a song; it was called “Figments.” It was a terrible song.
Ryan: We deleted it off Spotify; we deleted it off YouTube. It sucks.
Martin: What can you tell us about your upcoming releases?
Ryan: Our goal is to get two EPs out that sort of highlight the different areas of our songwriting and tone. “Redlight” is gonna be our first song in this series; that video is one of my favorites. We’re a visual-oriented band, so we take our music videos very seriously. Everything worked perfectly on that shoot. So that one marks that first phase of that EP, and then we got a lot more after that, and it should be coming out monthly over the next year. I’m super excited for where things are headed.
Martin: When you’re trying to make a music video, how do you go about crafting a video that lends to the song?
Ryan: A lot of it is like when I hear the song I’m like, "This is what it’s going to be." For “So Beautiful,” when I was listening to the demo in my car, I was like, "This is a Tim Burton video."
It’s just finding the right visual that taps into what people are already thinking, even subconsciously, and then when it hits you’re like, "Yeah, this makes perfect sense, I totally get why it happened that way." Even if it doesn’t match the lyrics, just the tone and how it makes you feel.