Matthew Ryan on the State of Union
Matthew Ryan is one of the current best songwriters you didn’t know you were missing. With his twelfth album, Ryan explores the distance within the intimacies of men and women, between humanity. Dear Lover is, also, a homegrown project from beginning to end, recorded in Ryan’s home studio in Nashville, TN, and released on his newly created label The Dear Future Collective. Ryan has left behind the large record labels, creatively connecting with listeners through the Web 3.0 world of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, while performing house concerts alongside venue shows. I Interviewed Ryan about his integrative approach to music promotion, the creative process and art’s centrality in re-humanization:
K: You made "Dear Lover" from beginning to end on your own, including starting your own label for distribution. Why the change from previous projects?
M: Well, I started the label with my publicist, Monica Hopman. She and I have worked together for years and a friendship developed. Often we both found our careers and our work at the mercy of what label's were willing or not willing to do. There comes a point where you no longer want to be held under the whims of someone else's ambitions. So much of the music business now seems custom built for the DIY model, it seemed only natural to go ahead and take the wheel. Dear Lover fits that self-possessed spirit as well. I've always wanted to make a record by myself from beginning to end. My goal was to make the purest music that I could without any influence from any other. I felt it was time to lean entirely on my own strengths and weaknesses. And like Joe Strummer said, "As long as you have someone else to blame, you'll never learn nothing." I'm determined to define my own independence. That being said, there were times with Dear Lover that felt more like Moby Dick than making music. But I just stayed at it and kept pushing myself. It took 4 months to make Dear Lover. I really tested myself. I'm so proud of the record and that I followed through on it.
K: A few years back you started asking how to better connect with those that buy your music - posing the question openly on MySpace - and since have used various social media forms such as Twitter, and Facebook to this end. How have you seen these mediums effect your relationships with fans, your music and with the music business?
M: Well, I've always felt that the Internet could offer a new intimacy to all of us. It seems at times that the static and sheer mass of it all acts more like a force of isolation. To me, music is a great connector. I guess I wanted to see if I could be a part of some humanizing, worldwide community building. But I also wanted to try and engage people, rather than sell to people. I was never comfortable with some of the more high-school popularity contest aspects of the music business. My hope is to continue to find ways to attract people to my music in the purest ways possible.
K: Dear Lover and the Dear Future Collective have been digitally in motion for a few months. What have you discovered, learned so far? Where do you want to see things go?
M: It's a big blizzard of a world, but creativity and honesty can go far to attract new people to you. It's amazing, every time we exact an inspired idea through some sort of DIY video or blog or news, we see a spike in interest and digital sales. Just when we fear we've hit a wall, some other idea comes to push us further along. We keep growing, slow and steady outside the law. It's beautiful and scary though, because the challenge is to gain loyalty from listeners as they ebb and flow in and out. We won't really know what we've accomplished until I start touring in February. And that leads me to my hope for the future of music: that we as a society slow down and absorb those things that are meaningful to us. I don't know if it's completely true, but I often get the sense that we are not only an instant judgment society, but a constant consumption society. Maybe I'm being reverential to how I welcome the arts or information, but I've always found work that slowly unfolded for me was ultimately more rewarding. And I can't help but think there's a consequence to the slash and burn speed of things. But like I said, I really don't know, we may just be experiencing some evolution of how humans experience things. And if that's the case, I hope that they write and talk intelligently and passionately about what they love and what worries them.
K: With Dear Lover, how have you seen your writing and worldview evolve over 12 albums?
M: It has always been my goal to not only be a life-long artist, but to also be a constantly searching artist. I feel that I'm getting better at what I do, and I'm just getting started. There's a humility and easy assuredness to the great work. And that's what I want to achieve. I've been trying to tell a story about the distance between who we are as men and women, and who we wish to be. And the only reason you write about that is the belief that you can close the gap if you converse with it directly and honestly.
K: Each album seems to carry its own story arc both lyrically and musically; story depth seems central to your song writing - "Dulce Et Decorum Est," "We are Snowmen, "The Ballad of a limping Man.” How do you approach your songwriting as a storyteller and what part do the instruments and rhythms you choose contribute to the story?
M: It really is hard to describe how I write. I generally look for the spark of an idea, or the spark finds me. Either way, it has to be something that moves me. Once I find that I just follow the trail to what the song wants to be. It's almost as if the subconscious is where the really poetry is found. I just try and follow my gut and trust that when I feel content and the song's finished, that there's a cumulative emotionalism and/or message. Above all though, I try to tell as many sides of the story as I can, while as best I can, try to be honest from every angle.
K: You seem to use various genres all within one album, how does that kind of diversity come about?
M: I really do view each song on an album like a scene in a movie. And those decisions are based upon the arc of the overall story and where those songs arrive. Sometimes I feel that I've underplayed a song’s traditional strengths to meet the cinematic ambitions I have. But, I'm proud to say that any of my songs can be stripped to their roots, and you'll find a perfectly sturdy tree.
K: What influences your creative process?
M: I'm influenced by a feeling, it's a feeling that ignites me and pulls me along. I find that my favorite songs are the ones that feel eternally relevant to my humanity and how I view the world. I assume that if something rings true to me, that it will ring true to others because we are more similar than we are different.
K: What do you enjoy about the creative process?
M: It's one of a handful of events in living that makes me feels completely connected to the moment. But any real moment possesses a thread of primal electricity. Love, sex, hate, peace, hope, comfort and so on. These are the moments we live for. Boredom is a waste of time.
K: What do you see the role of art and artists, be it in the world, or in connections, etc?
M: I think about this often. Possibly because of the nature of my work, it causes me to often reconsider where I'm coming from. My work is often received as depressive or dark. I don't see it that way at all. Above all, I believe art should be useful. To be human means to be confronted by both dark and light. The arts are generally trying to communicate a wisdom we're not necessarily born with. An intimate relationship with the arts can help us to avoid the BIG mistakes. I believe “The Man In Black” by Johnny Cash says it as well as it can be said:
"I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black."
K: How much do visuals inform your music - the video release of "We are Snowmen" or the Paper Matthew Ryan "City Life" video?
M: I wish I had the kind of budgets to make entirely immersive visuals for my songs, maybe one day I will. The cinema in living is so important to my work. The color and light of a room, the expressions we make, and all the details that make for emotional weather. But I also like exacting simple ideas to try and engage people. At any rate, cinema and a sense of depth, movement and 3 dimensions means everything to how we experience the world, it's no different with a song.
K: If I recall, you scored an episode of "One Tree Hill," what was that like for you?
M: Well, I've been lucky to be able to do more and more of this. But with One Tree Hill I got the opportunity to set the entire musical tone of the episode. I really surprised myself; it was an ambitious thing to do over the course of 5 or 6 days. But with some help from David Henry and Mark Schwann, I think it turned out beautiful. I hope to do more actually scoring.
K: Dear Lover is filled with the desire/request/plea for 2nd chances, where does which come from?
M: I don't know, I hadn't really thought about it. I guess I would say that happiness is not a destination. It's something that moves in and out like weather. Maybe it's weather that we earn, maybe it's just a sense that everything is as good as it can be at a particular moment. So much of what we do amounts to perseverance, why must winter always come? But we defend the things we love from darkness, or at the very least we try. The human heart is a delicate, open and mysterious thing.Dear Lover is trying to not only close the gap between a man and a woman, but to engage people with themselves and the ideas and notions that originally ignited them. So, I wouldn't say it's about 2nd chances, I would say it's about never giving up. And the pleas or requests are probably directed more towards the reoccurring themes of trouble and discontent while trying to comfort and re-enforce the promises you make to yourself and the ones you love.
K: How did you come to include Amazing Grace in those last lines of “The Wilderness?"
M: I was singing on mic while writing and that's what came out. I'm not a particularly religious person, but the concept of grace is something I can completely stand beside. Grace in traffic, grace in confrontation, grace in our politics, grace in all the parts and plots of our lives.
Matthew Ryan will be on tour starting February 2010. For more information and to hear the new album Dear Lover streamed in its entirety visit: http://matthewryanonline.com/ or follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/matthewryan101