HSE graduates Ahlwardt, Luginbill produce holiday album


Ryan Ahlwardt and Mike Luginbill are making music together again.

The 1999 Hamilton Southeastern High School graduates released a holiday album, a five-song EP, “This Year,” under the duo’s name of Small Town City. It is their first album of original music together in 17 years.

The two met in junior high and became close friends while performing together in choir at HSE.

The 1999 HSE graduates then went on to sing together at Indiana University for the a cappella group Straight No Chaser.

Ahlwardt said when Straight No Chaser’s video of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” from 1998 went viral on YouTube in 2007, Atlantic Records soon after offered the group a recording contract,

“Mike and I joined SNC again and performed around the world together,” Ahlwardt said. “I was part of the professional group with Mike from 2008 to 2012. He remains a current member and recently sang on ‘The Today Show’ with the group.”

Ahlwardt lives in Fishers and Luginbill is based in Nashville, Tenn.

“Mike and I formed our songwriting duo Small Town City in 2003 during our senior year at IU,” he said. “We chose the name Small Town City in our early 20s from a lyric we liked in a James Taylor song, ‘Her Town Too,’ and recorded ‘Round In Circles,’ our first album of original songs, a handful of years before our adventure performing around the world with Straight No Chaser began.”

Ahlwardt said after several years of recording holiday and pop cover albums together with Straight No Chaser on Atlantic Records, two of which have each sold more than 1 million copies, they decided in 2019 that it was time to return to thir roots of writing original music together.

“It was written and recorded virtually during the pandemic,” Ahlwardt said. “We plan on writing a new full-length Small Town City album in 2021 and performing live shows together as soon as we can.”

The duo had two writing sessions in person in January in Nashville and March in Indianapolis before COVID-19 restrictions were implemented.

“The virtual writing process included sending home demos and voice notes on our phones to each other,” Ahlwardt said. “We recorded our vocals individually from our home studios and sent the files to our producer, Matt Mellinger, who assembled all the parts from the musicians on each song. The pandemic not only inspired many of the lyrical themes on the album, but also forced us to get creative on how we were going to complete the recording process and release the album on time.”

Ahlwardt said Luginbill wrote four new original songs on ‘This Year,’ including the title track that features Brian Newman of Lady Gaga’s band on horns.

“Very Merry Christmas” is their favorite song, Ahlwardt said.

“It’s an upbeat, catchy song with a sound that is reminiscent of The Beatles and The Beach Boys,” Ahlwardit said. “Mike arranged and sang lead vocals on the fifth and final song on the album, a beautiful and modern cover of Joni Mitchell’s song ‘River’ from 1971.”

The album is streaming on digital platforms, Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon and is available on CD at RyanSongs.com. The duo can be found on social media at @SmallTownCityMusic.