Songwriter and guitarist Ryan Vosika has come full circle since the days he attended Ruch Elementary School in the Applegate Valley.

Songwriter and guitarist Ryan Vosika has come full circle since the days he attended Ruch Elementary School in the Applegate Valley.

For starters, he walked a mile to and from school from the second grade until his older stepbrother got his driver's license.

"It was a good 10 years," Vosika says. "You'd be surprised how long a mile feels when you're only three feet tall. I did a lot of soul-searching on that walk."

After he graduated South Medford High School in 1993, he attended Southern Oregon Stage College (SOU) for a short stint before he and a classmate moved to Portland to put a band together.

"We were called The Dead Sea Squirrels," he says. "It was the bass player's idea. We were named in the Oregonian as one of the top 10 best band names."

Vosika, then 22, and his friend put together a power pop group and, in 1997, recorded a six-song EP.

"We couldn't keep a drummer, so we could never really get the project going," he says.

The band fell apart, and Vosika bought a Taylor 310 steel-string guitar, turned into a hermit, and focused on songwriting for three years.

"Then I traded the Taylor for a van," he says. "I watched 'Scooby Doo' as a kid and always romanticized about the idea of just being a guy, living in a van with his guitar. I have a motorcycle now, but I have to sleep on the ground."

With the van, Vosika headed to Los Angeles, where he landed a job at Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, Calif.

"I met all of my personal music and film heroes while I worked there — Christopher Walken, Hunter Thompson, Robert Plant, Jerry Seinfeld. Just being around them — interacting with them, listening to their conversations — made a huge impact on my life.

"I put together a rock band called In Victory. Our first gig was at The Roxy on Sunset Strip. It was exciting. It's a stage that Ozzie Osbourne and Bob Marley have played on."

Vosika began writing a lot of harmony-driven rock for electric guitar. It was the beginning of his "happy grunge" musical style, he says.

"I don't have any preconceived notions about music," Vosika says. "The song dictates what is best for it. Creativity should be about fun and celebration. I was watching an interview with Led Zeppelin, and Robert Plant said music has been about joy since the beginning. When joy and celebration don't come first, the music inherently suffers."

Last year, Vosika returned to the Rogue Valley, where he reconnected with Chavala Bates, who became his backup vocalist and girlfriend. The two first met in kindergarten.

"Chavala tucks her voice right in behind mine," Vosika says. "It's like she's singing over her shoulder. That's a good way to put it. For me, there's nothing more intimate than singing with someone. It's what brings me the most joy. I think that is reflected in our performances and in the music I write."

As a duo, Banditos Yanquis has performed with other area musicians, including guitarist and mandolinist Jeff Ramsey and violinist Sierra Law. Banditos Yanquis occasionally played as a four-piece, with bassist Jason Lusk and drummer Paul Deller.

Lusk accompanied Vosika and Bates when they performed for the finals of the Rising Stars music competition in late April at the Britt Pavilion.

"I like playing with a band and playing solo," Vosika says. "It's like yin and yang. Playing solo lets me be more spontaneous with the arrangements. It's hard for me to play a song the same way twice."

Vosika's guitars are like his children, he says. He's had his Stratocaster for 20 years, as of this month. His Aria steel-stringed acoustic is a 1975 model.

"Like me," he says.

Along with backup vocals, Bates adds percussion to the duo's mix with shakers and tambourine.

The two songwriters who have made the biggest impression on Vosika are Jeff Buckley and Nina Simone.

"They were unbending, unflinching about what they felt was right," he says. "They were mental giants.