10 Questions with Joe Buyer and Ronnie Byron
When many of us in the Penn State community tried to explain, in words, our emotions and thoughts about the Jerry Sandusky scandal, we simply could not. As late teenagers and twenty-somethings, it was not easy to voice feelings about something so delicate and foreign to most of us.
Joe Buyer, also known as Joe Conrad, and Ronnie Byron had different plans.
These two Penn State students wrote, produced, and played on the inspiring track “Childhood Dreams.” They used music as a coping tool and tribute for victims of sexual abuse everywhere. The video, filled with images from one of the most emotional weeks in Penn State history, has reached 23,250 views on YouTube.
Onward State sat down with both of them to discuss the song.
Onward State: Why did you write the song “Childhood Dreams”?
Ronnie Byron: Joe came to me with the idea. He already had the chorus written. He did more writing than me in the past, but we both had music as our outlet, and we both had a lot of emotions that we hadn’t been able to express yet about everything that had happened. At this time, it was only a couple of weeks after everything had come out and we just wanted to get it all out.
Joe Buyer: I have a closer connection to sexual abuse than others. I have a very close friend of mine who was sexually abused. So I had that connection with victims and their thought process and what they go through. When the whole scandal broke, the media was so focused on the people who were responsible and not necessarily the victims at all. We wanted to send a message to the victims that they’re not forgotten in this thing. We wanted to let them know that there is hope and there is healing out there for them.
OS: How long did it take to get the song out?
JB: I came to Ronnie with the chorus already written. She and I finished writing the lyrics and the music in two days and then recorded our own demo version of the song. Then a good friend of mine, Blair Drake, who I know very well, owns his own recording studio. I brought him the demo and he recorded it for us after listening to it. The first time he listened to it — and he’s from State College as well and went to Penn State — he turned around and looked at me and had tears in his eyes and said, “We have to do this as an official recording.” He worked with us over the next four weeks to finish the production of the song.
OS: What’s the message of the song?
RB: It doesn’t take one person to define what you can do in this world. We have hearts and we’re here to be a support system and to really love other people that weren’t loved as children.
JB: The last few lines in the chorus say “there will be monsters in this world, but they do not define your worth,” and I think that’s the point we wanted to get across. Knowing what I know about sexual abuse and in researching more about it, people are more likely to commit suicide, they are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. We wanted to remind them that while it is ugly, while sexual abuse is ugly, it does not define them. There is hope and there is healing available.
OS: How emotional was it to record this song?
JB: With my connection to sexual abuse and just being a Penn Stater, and with Ronnie being from State College, we were able to cover a wide range of emotions in the song. We laughed some, we cried some. We shared a lot of thoughts and where we wanted to take the song and the direction of it. I would say it wasn’t until we were in the studio recording it and had everybody there playing the different parts. We got the rough version of it down, and we all looked at each other and knew that this was bigger than just Penn State and our community. As more stories came out in the media, we realized that this was, and I don’t want to call it a national epidemic, but something that was a problem that’s much bigger than here. That’s when we decided that we wanted to dedicate this song to all victims of sexual abuse, not just the victims here.
RB: It was really, really difficult to watch my community get brought to its knees. My grandmother has lived here for 40 years; she lives on North Atherton Street. I don’t think a lot of students realized how much this effected the entire community. It was kind of a release for me to express my frustrations and my anger and disappointment and heartache — a lot of things all rolled into one. I also work for Penn State football, so I was literally right in the middle of it.
OS: Who else contributed to the track?
JB: The biggest contributor, by far, would be Blair Drake. We had Greg Ford come in and play drums for us. Both of them are alumni. Eric Seidle came in and played bass and he either graduated last semester or he’s graduating this semester. Everybody involved was from Penn State. Ronnie played piano and did backup vocals. I did guitar and vocals as well.
OS: Did recording “Childhood Dreams” help you keep the tragedy of what happened in perspective?
JB: I think so. Joe Paterno was one of the first people to come out and say, “Remember this is about the victims. Pray for the victims. Think about the victims and their families.” We felt like we wanted to keep that in perspective. That was the most important part. If this was going to be something that we wanted to dedicate to victims everywhere, we wanted to show, in the video anyway, that the Penn State community cares about the victims. A great majority of the video is about the candlelight vigil. The lyrics talk about healing for the victims. We really wanted to send that message to the victims, but at the same time, encourage the community to look up.
RB: For me, it helped me to ignore the sharks. Before we started writing, I just found myself getting really down on myself and my school just because of what was being said about it. We knew the truth of how much we cared and how much we came together as a community, but I have friends from other schools that were just really judgmental. This song helped.
OS: What does it mean to you to be “Penn State Proud” in the wake of what happened?
JB: The student response makes me proud. You talk about 40 people who were doing damage during a riot versus 12,000 who showed up for a candlelight vigil. To see, within my major, people sitting around talking about everything, hashing it out, but ultimately encouraging each other. While one person may have done, or several people may have done something wrong or tragic, it doesn’t define what it means to be a Penn Stater or what it means to attend this university and what it stands for. That’s been really cool for me.
RB: I agree. It made me more proud to call this my home. I’ve lived in State College my entire life and haven’t really known anything else besides the Penn State way. I don’t think there was any point in this whole process that I ever felt ashamed or disappointed in my school.
OS: What was the songwriting process like?
JB: I had the chorus hashed out before I came to Ronnie. I kept hearing piano and I wanted more perspective in the way that we wrote it. We got together and I played the chorus for her and we talked about, for 45 minutes, the direction of the song: what we wanted to say, the kind of message we wanted to send — different things like that. Then we went about the writing process. We came up with different phrases, different lyrics — some that were included and some that weren’t included.
RB: We just kind of had a paper of ideas. We had a list of things that we knew we wanted in it.
OS: Is there anything else you want to say about the song?
JB: Darkness to Light saw the song in a video when it was being posted all around Facebook and Twitter. They messaged me on Facebook and said they would like to talk to me about the song, and at that point we had already discussed donating proceeds to an organization, but we hadn’t decided who. So we talked to them and looked into their mission and what they would be doing with proceeds and decided that it was a good fit for us. The song is for sale on iTunes and we’re donating 100 percent of the proceeds. We’re not keeping anything from that. All of that money is going towards education for prevention and response for child sex-abuse.
OS: Finally, what would you say to your fellow students about how we go on from here?
RB: It’s baby steps. I think a lot of people have bitten off more than they can chew in terms of how far they can get in a certain amount of time. There’s a lot of healing to happen in the next few months, especially after coach Paterno passing. Surround yourself with people who are like-minded. Don’t believe things that have been said about you or your school. Just keep your head up.
JB: I would tell them to be proud, but I would also tell them to be aware. You could walk by victims of sexual abuse on campus all the time and not know that they’re victims. Your best friend could be a victim and maybe that’s a part of their life they don’t feel comfortable talking about. Don’t be ashamed to be a Penn Stater at all. We’ve shown through this adversity just how strong we are as a student body. Definitely be aware of what’s going on. Be aware of the ugliness that’s out there and how you can make a difference.
“Childhood Dreams” can be downloaded for $0.99 on iTunes, and the video can be found on YouTube.