Looking out over the musical horizon of a beautiful, fully realized full-length album, it’s hard to hear the harrowing journey husband and wife duo Ryan and Angelica Hay had endured over the last half decade to get there. But when listening to their tragic story, one undeniable fact emerges: Nothing heals quite like art.
Flashback to 2007. Ryan Hay is playing piano and touring the country with popular Michigan indie-folk outfit Frontier Ruckus. While in East Lansing, he meets his future wife Angelica through her friend, Detroit indie-pop musician Anna Burch, who also happened to play with Frontier Ruckus at the time. The couple began dating, and less than three years later were married.
Deciding to become “real” adults, they buckled to the pressure of mid-20-something melancholy and left music and art behind.
Angelica had already jumped right from college into a career as a microbiologist — despite long wanting to become a figurative painter — while Ryan shed his touring musician lifestyle for the noble pursuits of grad school and teaching.
The couple relocated to Colorado, and were relatively content for a few years living their more conventional form of “adulthood.” Yet something just felt missing.
“We wanted to go back to our artistic pursuits, and we missed our families, so we quit our careers and moved back to Michigan to be artists,” Ryan Hay told Revue.
Then the unthinkable happened.
“A couple weeks after we arrived in Michigan, I was stopped in traffic on I-69 when I was struck by a semi-truck going about 70 mph,” Hay said. “I had severe and life-threatening internal injuries, my left pinky was almost totally ripped off, and I had significant damage to my neck and shoulders. My surgeons were uncertain I was going to survive.”
Only 27-years-old at the time, he felt like his life had shattered in that instant.
“Thankfully, Angelica pulled me out of my spiral by introducing me to painting in late 2014,” Hay said. “She encouraged me to use her old supplies — no judgment, no expectations — just as something constructive and fun to do together.”
By then, the couple had relocated to Grand Rapids, where Hay spent much of that year continuing his recovery, with art as a healing tool.
Finally starting to become himself again, he received the most joyous news of his life when he and Angelica found out she was pregnant. The couple had always wanted to have children, and the moment came as much-needed relief from the existential crisis they had dealt with for more than two years.
But it was not to be.
“When we went in to hear our baby’s heartbeat for the first time, we were coldly informed that our baby wasn’t viable and that the reason was not only rare but also potentially life-threatening to Angelica,” Hay said. “That was the worst moment of both of our lives.”
Enduring even more medical visits to rule out a range of possible cancers, the couple could not even grieve their loss. Reliving this new trauma over and over again, they felt isolated, alone and completely overwhelmed at the prospect of moving on with their lives.
“Despite how difficult these years were, we began finding that the more we shared, the more we felt connected, and there was hope of healing in that way,” Hay said. “This discovery, combined with a sense of having nothing left to lose, allowed us to gradually abandon our fears about being vulnerable, about failing, and about being public people again.”
Renewing her passion for art, Angelica Hay then decided to apply to the graduate school at Kendall College of Art and Design, where she’s now completing her final year, earning both an MFA in painting and an MA in visual critical studies.
Ryan Hay also had his first group exhibition as a visual artist in February 2016. While at the event, he started talking with one of the other artists, Matt Loeks, and mentioned he played piano.
“(Matt) said he couldn’t play piano but played synths and made music, which I had a hard time understanding,” Hay said. “We hung out a couple months later and that night was life-changing. He showed me some of his synths and some other artists using pianos and synths. I had thought synths were synonymous with keyboards. It turns out I had no idea what synths were or could do. It was like I’d been in the dark for years and then all the lights just went on.”
After this epiphany, Ryan and Angelica formed Pink Sky. Together, they run multiple synths, mixers and drum machines simultaneously, along with occasional vocals from Angelica. Describing the project as an indie electronica art band, Hay said he focuses more on how the duo works than any set genre.
“We actually have more in common with rock bands than electronic musicians. There are practical similarities, like that we gig with heavy, mostly analog gear, and that we are limited — tonally, and physically — by that gear, even in the studio,” Hay said. “People aren’t going to hear wild tonal shifts or production tricks in our music, because we aren’t creating in a computer. We only record what we can actually play live.”
Pink Sky recorded its 12-song full-length debut, FORMS, at their house, beginning last fall and finishing this past spring.
“At the time that we were searching for a band name, Angelica completed her most ambitious and beautiful painting to date — a 4-foot by 4-foot painting of herself walking away from the viewer, amongst wildflowers and a pink sky,” Hay said. “We were scratching our heads for days in our hunt for the perfect band name, and the answer was sitting right there in front of us. None of us remember if it was me, Angelica or Matt that suggested the name, but it was an immediate and unanimous approval.”
Following the album’s release this month, Hay plans to continue to add to the visual elements of Pink Sky in the next year. The group also has additional shows lined up in Detroit and Chicago, and plans to complete its second LP for a release sometime next spring.
Pink Sky FORMS
Album Release show
Wsg. Wing Vilma, Bronze Wolf, Darkly
The Pyramid Scheme
68 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
Aug. 25, 8 p.m., $7 advance, $10 day of
pyramidschemebar.com, (616) 272-3758