MATTHEW RYAN – I RECALL STANDING AS THOUGH NOTHING COULD FALL

The first time I heard Matthew Ryan was just before Christmas 1997. I found his debut disc, May Day, and was instantly smitten. Ryan’s gravelly voice was reminiscent of Tom Waits, his guitar suggested Bruce Springsteen, but his words and music were wholly his own, and they floored me in a way that few acts ever had before or have since.

It was the quietly devastating songs that moved me most, the way he seemed consigned to his fate on songs like “Certainly, never.” But Matthew Ryan could light up a guitar too, and his rocking songs were just as good.

Sadly, me and the many, many fans across the country who felt the same weren’t enough to keep him in high cotton at A&M Records, and he was dropped by the label after his second disc East Autumn Grin failed to capture a wide audience upon its release in 2000, despite being one of his best releases ever.

Many artists might have just given up. But he kept making music, kept moving down the road. And I know I’m not the only person who is thankful that he did.

Why? Because Matthew’s music is the stuff that mixtapes were made of. Way back in the days before iPods and mp3’s, the mixtape was a sonic poem, a way to give sound and fury and pain to the feelings tugging at your heart, whether driving fast down a two-lane blacktop at night or sitting alone in your house on the couch after a bad break-up, crying.

I peppered so many tapes and, later, CDs, with his songs – whether rollicking rockers like “Guilty” and “Heartache Weather” or somber laments like “Time and Time Only” and “Irrelevant.” His songs always seemed to fill the pivotal slot on the mixtape rotation, that special place that you wanted a kick-ass song to come in and just lift your spirits and perfectly capture the hurt in your heart.

Even though cassette tapes have long since passed, in the advent of this digital age, I am happy to report that Ryan is an accessible artist who has embraced the 21st century. He’s an avid tweeter who personally interacts with fans on social media, whether Twitter or Facebook. He’s a funny guy, too. Genuine and real.

i recall standing as though nothing could fall is vintage Matthew Ryan. Like each of the efforts that preceded it, the disc has its share of up-tempo, guitar-driven tracks (a personal favorite being, “All Hail the Kings of Trash”) and slower ballads and plaintive portraits of life and love left reeling and trying to recover (“Hey Kid,” “All of That Means Nothing,” “My Darker Side”).

See, that’s the thing that distinguishes him from other singer-songwriting troubadours. Matthew Ryan makes desolation, desperation and despair sound good.

That downtrodden resignation reigned supreme on his early work. It lessened a bit in the mid-2000’s only to return for the double-punch of 2009’s Dear Lover and 2010’s Dear Lover (The Acoustic Version).

And upon first listen to i recall, he still struggles with the darkness that might destroy a lesser soul. But amid the worry, a theme seems to appear. Instead of provoking an incident, Matthew Ryan is now forging alliances. He wants to negate war and broker peace, however tremulous that peace might prove to be.

Here’s hoping even if that peace proves fleeting, Matthew’s music won’t ever stop flowing forth.

Matthew Ryan – Hey Kid
Matthew Ryan – All of That Means Nothing Now
Matthew Ryan – All Hail the Kings of Trash

Matthew Ryan’s Official Site, Matthew Ryan on Facebook, Buy I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall

MATTHEW RYAN: DEAR LOVER


Matthew Ryan’s twelfth album, Dear Lover, is part prayer, part confession; a whispered recitation of the things that often go unsaid between people. This may sound dour, but Ryan has always been adept at infusing his hymns with more than enough hope to lift them above any sorrow and melancholy that may be contained therein. This – along with an uncanny gift for melody – is what makes Matthew Ryan one of the most challenging, and satisfying, songwriters alive.

Sonically, Dear Lover follows slightly more in the footsteps of Ryan’s From A Late Night High Rise than it does his previous release, Matthew Ryan Vs. The Silver State. Those longing for jangly guitars and easily classified “Americana” songs will have to dig awfully hard to find that here, but those who crave labels and simplification probably don’t dig Matthew Ryan to begin with. Listening to Dear Lover is an abject lesson in the strength of the song. To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter what these songs sound like – where there’s a mandolin here or a Hammond B3 there – they’re carried by the strength of the emotions conveyed and the  manner in which Ryan portrays them. Whether Ryan is howling out for fear and freedom – or freedom from fear – (“The Wilderness”), perpetually wandering the halls of houses long abandoned (“Your Museum”), or stumbling towards the light at the end of those same halls over a twitching Trance beat (“Spark”), there is a grace to Ryan’s lyricism that penetrates the sonic cloud cover he envelopes these songs in.

Which brings me to the recording. As mentioned previously in the Ninebullets interview with Matthew Ryan, Dear Lover was recorded at Ryan’s home, almost entirely by Ryan himself (DJ Preach contributes the beat to “Spark” and assorted friends lent a hand here and there), not as some sort of budgetary maneuver or to capitalize on the immense auto-tuning aspects of ProTools, but because Ryan had always wanted to challenge himself by making an album entirely by his own hand; failure and success would be his responsibility alone this time, no fall guy, no finger to point. As such, Dear Lover has also been released by Ryan’s own label. After a shuffling between six labels, Matthew Ryan decided simply to take his career into his own hands. With no label’s schedule to adhere to, Ryan elected to release Dear Lover digitally and via mailorder October 27, with a full-scale physical release scheduled for February 16, 2010.

My hunch is Dear Lover will be an overwhelming success for Ryan, critically and otherwise. Not because every Underdog has his day (though I hope that’s true) or Matthew Ryan has some karmic cache to cash in (he likely does), but because the record is too good not to succeed. Songs this visceral, this chilling, this beautiful, shouldn’t be ignored.

So don’t ignore them.

Matthew Ryan – The Wilderness
Matthew Ryan – Your Museum

Matthew Ryan’s Official Site, Matthew Ryan on myspace, Buy Dear Lover

HAVE YOU SEEN DIGNITY: AN INTERVIEW WITH MATTHEW RYAN


If you could put a voice to that feeling that overcomes you as the night stumbles to a close and the barlights dim ever so slightly, that last little loving nudge towards the door before the slam back on, each blazing bulb a 120 watt punch in the nose, that voice would be Matthew Ryan’s.

For the better part of 15 years, Ryan has been putting out beautiful records, collections of graceful, hypnotic melodies floating high above a battlefield of love and loss and all of the other wreckage we all leave behind us. Sonically pinpointing Ryan’s music – for those who take solace in the ease of that sort of reductive classification – is nearly impossible, as his compositions are at times stripped nearly bare (the twangy late-night diatribe of “Nails” from Regret Over the Wires), and at others a crash course in sonic layers (the beautifully orchestrated ache of “Never Look Back” from From A Late Night High Rise).

I first came to Matthew Ryan’s music via mixtape, well over a decade ago. A friend had carefully placed a couple of songs from Ryan’s debut album, May Day, among a few of my favorites (Dylan, Westerberg, Earle, Waits, Springsteen). The tracks stood out, not because I didn’t recognize them, but because they were so beautifully written, so well-crafted, that I had to listen multiple times consecutively before I was convinced they weren’t somehow pathworked creations derived from other songs. Since that day, I’ve been an avid and unapologetic Matthew Ryan devotee.

When I learned Ryan would be self-releasing his new album, Dear Lover (available now digitally and through Ryan’s website, with a full-scale physical release scheduled for February 16, 2010), I vowed I would sing the album’s praises in every venue afforded to me. As such, this is the first of a two-part Dear Lover celebration. The following interview with Matthew Ryan was conducted over the course of several days via email, with no planned questions, only those which flowed from the answers Ryan provided as the conversation flowed. What resulted was, I believe, as natural a conversation as two people can have given the circumstances. Part Two, which will follow later this week, will be comprised of my review of Dear Lover. Until then, enjoy discovering, rediscovering, or further discovering Matthew Ryan.

You’ve said you view music cinematically, and I’d agree that Dearl Lover is a very cinematic record in terms of the narrative flow, the way one song leads into another. Were there any specific films on your mind when you were making the record?

A Very Long Engagement and Children of Men were on my mind a lot…

Those are fantastic films. Were they on your mind thematically or was the intent more to make a record that sort of reflected Cuaron and Jeunet’s filmmaking? Both films, in my opinion, had a very “barren” quality about them, the sort of beauty you see in trees completely stripped of their leaves in late November.

Yeah, there’s a barrenness. But also how people (and those characters) get even more human when confronted with mortality. Whether it’s the mortality of their dreams, concepts, beliefs, love or lives. There’s a lot of references lyrically to winter on Dear Lover. Almost a nuclear winter. I wanted the record to be spare. I wanted my voice, the melody and the lyrics to convey the stories. I really tried to create a filmic feel and tempo to the record. The music acts like weather, furniture and place. The record isn’t intended to be apocalyptic by any stretch. It’s just supposed to be completely stripped of anything that obstructs the emotionalism.

It’s these kind of details that excite me about music, film and art in general. Dear Lover was intended to be as pure a record as I could offer where I didn’t burden myself with any concern outside the feeling that the songs were simultaneously exposed and maximized. Because there’s diversity in what songs require, the filmic idea allowed me to go exactly where each song needed to go because I could treat each song like a scene. Funny thing is, that if you listen to City Life (track 1) and The End Of A Ghost Story (the last track), they both occur in the same “location.” But so much has happened in between that the air has changed, the mood has changed. The feel is different. And that’s not unlike the mood or feel of your kitchen before and after an argument that finds resolution. Know what I mean?

Yeah, “stripped of anything that obstructs the emotionalism” is a great way to put it – barren in that way, as well. You mention that you wanted your voice, the melody and the lyrics to convey the stories and this is something that, in my opinion, you’ve always done incredibly well throughout the course of your work, using a song’s melody to convey those things that the lyrics don’t. To me, this is a completely different animal that writing a “hook,” and it’s an aspect of songwriting that really gets overlooked. What was the process for you? How did you figure out what would be spoken and unspoken in these narratives?

For Dear Lover I only wanted to record performances. I’m sure you understand how often tracking becomes about “getting it right” or “good enough.” Those modes are dangerous to the purity of a song. I love choruses. But they are not a priority. Songs can act as descriptive mantras and conversations as well. Many of the songs on Dear Lover are just that. To me the best choruses feel natural like where the wrist becomes the hand. I’ve found that I want above all to feel something as a performer and a listener. That may seem obvious. But that’s where I’m coming from. So with the songs on Dear Lover are moments recorded circling a theme. Hopefully the songs are strong enough to stand alone. I believe they are. But so much of writing and singing and performing is simply allowing yourself to operate on instinct. It takes an absolute trust in the moment. But that is how I approached both the writing and the performing of these songs, which was mostly done on mic. And after something was recorded, I would let it breathe for a bit and then listen to try and understand if my truth, in that moment, was told.

That brings me to something I’ve found is really important to me as a listener: that an album stands both as a complete work in and of itself and as a collection of songs that hold up individually. There is a very clear and tangible theme coursing throughout Dear Lover, and you’ve talked a little bit about the songs dealing with some of what results from a confrontation with mortality. How important is it to you that people hear this album in its entirety? Dear Lover is being released digitally first, so there is a distinct possibility that people will hear one, two, or a handful of tracks “out of context,” so to speak. How do you reckon with that?

It’s a lot to ask of strangers to commit to listen to our work like we do. Particularly when you consider the army of intentions and nature of luck. I mean, that’s essentially what we do whenever we release a record. There’s a fair amount of ego involved in the notion of albums alone. But it’s also a pure and simple willingness, need and desire to communicate. I’ve always hoped to create albums that evoked curiosity from listeners. In the speed of our emerging culture, it seems tougher to engage people for the entire 45 minutes of a record. So that’s why I tried to make each song as pure and radiant as possible, hoping each song could stand on their own for whatever the needs or emotional availability of a listener is or was. But like how scenes in a movie glide into each other, the songs on Dear Lover do the same. It starts in one place and the story pulls it to and through all the elements that arc of a story offers. Hopefully it pulls listeners along. It’s not preachy. It’s trying to tell as honestly as it can the ways that we can get lost, and in turn, at least one version of how we can be found again.

I think that’s really beautifully put, and the honesty of the songs really permeates the performances in a very intimate, visceral way. Dear Lover was recorded and mixed almost entirely at home, which you’ve written about a little bit for Blurt. What prompted the decision to make the record at home and, for the most part, by yourself?

Well first and foremost, recording an entire album alone was something I always wanted to do. I’ve tried before, but my technical skills weren’t quite there yet. Follow the Leader (from From A Late Night High Rise), Jane I Still Feel The Same(from MRVSS) and Return To Me (from Regret Over the Wires) were all, for the most part, recorded in my home studio. But with Dear Lover it was time to live and die by my own talents and abilities. Early in 2009 I read a quote by Joe Strummer. He said essentially that as long as you have others to blame, you’ll never learn nothing. That really stuck with me.

I love the people I’ve played music with, but they could never read my mind. So every record has had beautiful moments, and moments where I felt the sonic story underachieved. So with Dear Lover it was time to dismantle any excuses for failure. I started my own label with my publicist, Monica Hopman. And I made Dear Lover alone at home from beginning to end, I don’t want to have anyone to blame for where I have fallen short. I want to grow my career as much as I can, offer the purest, most beautiful music I’m capable of. And I want to succeed, I see no nobility in being virtually unknown. Because being virtually unknown means you haven’t earned any equity in what you’re doing with you life. I want security, but I also want my dignity. My goal is to prove that that still means something in all the blizzards of our culture.

I still had friends play on the record, but only after I felt I had defined exactly what the song was. And I have to say, in all honesty, Hans Dekline at Sound Bites Dog mastered the absolute hell out of Dear Lover. He made it sound like a million bucks.

I think there’s a real fallacy in the thinking of some that being on an indie label means you get to retain every ounce of your dignity and control. I think both you and I could probably dispel that notion pretty quickly for someone.

Dear Lover sounds fantastic. So now you’ve got this beautiful record that people should hear and, for better or worse, it’s up to you to bring them around to it. In the dizzying blur of the everythingrightnow world we live in, that likely means Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and the like. I’m curious, has there been a point yet where you’ve had to go, “okay, enough self-promotion today.” I know there are days where I have grown really tired of being both the carnival barker and the trapeze artist, y’know?

As a sort of related question – since this interview will be posted rather than printed – how do you feel about the way that arm of promotion has changed in the last decade or so? Do you read many music blogs?

I try not to self-promote. I’m actually anti-marketing in a way. My goal is to engage people and offer context to my music because my hope is that my music inspires them to become advocates. I believe that regardless of what business believes, real success and a real career is built upon an intimacy between what you create and how people welcome what you create into their lives. The best “promotion” is when someone sits down in a car or house somewhere and someone says, “listen to this, you have to hear this song.”  It’s a slow-process, but it’s proving to be the right process for me. My career continues to grow. It’s painfully slow sometimes, but other modes just don’t work for me.

I find myself more interested in what real people are saying in threads and chats about music. I do read some blogs, but honestly, it’s often hard for me because I have a dog in the fight. Frankly, I find some blogs and music sites to be a form of fascism. That being said, I am inspired by anyone anywhere that writes passionately and intelligently about music. I love when I read something so infectious about a band that it builds real curiosity from me. I recently found Glasvegas through a blog. It just felt honest to me. And it turns out, I love their record. That’s when it’s a success. I just wish their was a way to divide the great and inspired writing from the hipster dregs and the spam. We really need three internets: One for smart, emotional critical thinkers; one for proud consumers; and another for hipsters who will cringe and hopefully grin at pictures of themselves and their clever music three years from now.

I think you were one of the first musicians who I remember openly saying, “share my music however you see fit.” It was really refreshing at the time, and continues to be so. I absolutely agree that the best “promotion” is one person to another, “you gotta hear this!” That’s how I found May Day many, many years ago. Somebody put “Irrelevant” and “Railroaded” on a mix tape for me. Are there songs on Dear Lover you feel are especially representative of what you wanted to accomplish? Something you would put on a mixtape for someone?

It’s hard to point one song out on Dear Lover. I worked very hard to make this a collection with real thematic continuity and development. I know listeners will have their favorites, and that’s been the beauty of my career so far. Because different people gravitate to my work for different reason. I’m always amazed that nearly every song I’ve ever written is someone’s favorite for very legitimate reasons.

But if I had to say which songs I would point people to, it would go like this:

We Are Snowmen – Because it’s true poetry and cinema married to a melody. It’s a short story that ends with a beautiful, urgent message in conclusion. It’s also my favorite vocal performance to date. I feel like a real singer on Snowmen.

Your Museum – Similar to Snowmen in that it deals in absolute beauty. It’s one of those songs that’s as beautiful as it is strange. But because of the melody, lyric and air it creates, it doesn’t buckle under being strange for strange’s sake. It sounds like it should, because if you’ve ever been where this song is coming from, you know what a relief it represents. Some of my best writing when it comes to pure hope.

Spark – Because it’s something that maturity has allowed me to embrace without fear. It’s the bravest song on the record aesthetically speaking because the track is a hard Trance track. But thematically for the arc of the record it works perfectly. I know some purist might snub it, but I don’t care. It’s a great song when stripped down. But the song was also sturdy enough to play the role of Apocalypse Now for lovers in the development of Dear Lover’s story. And that amazes me.

The World Is – Because, well, this song is the essence of my message over the years. Some view me as a pessimist or cynic or depressive or too serious. Well, that’s just not true. I’m an eternal optimist with seriously romantic notions of what men and women are capable of. We live in very serious times, and I feel that it’s my job to try provoke heroism and perseverance in myself and those that care to listen. It may upset some to know that rarely, very rarely are my songs about just me and my experience. I know that can be contrary to the mythology that some artists like to build around themselves. But my songs are looking more outward than some might suspect. It’s impossible to separate individuals from the times they live in. By finding beauty and despair in the modern struggle I believe art helps to define a way out or at least to offer some peace with the things that daunt hope and dignity.

Matthew Ryan – American Dirt
Matthew Ryan – Come Home
Matthew Ryan – We Are Snowmen