“Humility is a good thing and sadly we tend to usually only have humility through struggle. I don’t know what that says about the human psyche. Maybe I’ve gotten delusional in my older age. That’s called survival, I think.” – Matthew Ryan
Back some time in the early 1990’s, in an America suffering the hangover of ‘80s excess, mall-mavens, Aussie Sprunch Spray fumes, not-so-subtle sexual innuendos of hair bands and twelve years of Republican rule, a young man of this modest narrator’s generation sat in a classroom at the University of Delaware, training his young mind to shape other young minds in preparation for being a school teacher, certainly one of our most difficult, rewarding and noble professions. At some point, somehow, however, as the autumn chill broke in off the Atlantic Ocean, tunneled it’s way up Cape May and shook the campus trees, signaling another chapter in the symbolic seasonal cycle, the boy from Chester, PA experienced something of a personal epiphany. He would not be ending his days with cracked, chalk-dried knuckles. If his hands were going to be dried and bloodied, they would be so from the frantic friction of flesh on guitar strings. It takes a strong soul and iron-will to set forth a course wrought with so many uncertainties, yet that is what Matthew Ryan chose to do.
Generations of schoolchildren would not miss out on the precepts of Mr. Ryan, however, as his teachings are available from both actual and virtual music outfits. His is not the business of disseminating the dossiers of historical figures, cracking fractions and prime numbers, or bubbling up Bunsen burners, but the basic building blocks for an ever-blossoming emotional self, one secure in his or her own skin and brave enough to come to battle loaded for bear against every insecurity and push it all out into full exposure.
Ryan, who recently turned 38, spent his first fifteen years learning tough life lessons on the hard-scrabble streets of the stark, blue-collar town of Chester, PA, a southern suburb of Philadelphia, situated on the banks of the Delaware River. At 15, he migrated with his parents to Newark (pronounced noo-ahrk), DE. “There was no greater insult than to think I [was] from Newark, NJ,” he says, slyly, certainly much more in defense of his teenage home than decrying New Jersey’s largest city.
His time at UD found him soul-searching and contemplating his future, with the sweet lure of a life of music constantly pulling on his coat. “I had been in bands in college, but it wasn’t something that felt possible to me.” At some point, the feeling changed. He left UD and opted to pursue his passion and desire to be a working musical artist.
The young Matthew Ryan picked up, packed up and hit the road, Nashville bound. “I moved here way, way back in the gold rush of 1993. I was studying to be a schoolteacher and I didn’t like where that was headed, as much as I love the idea of teaching. My dad lived [in Nashville] and I came down here to reconnect with him and quietly started doing songwriting and playing shows.” While he was starting to gain confidence and momentum, filling the bucket with steady spurts of that creative milk, he still had not intended to make Tennessee a permanent home. “I didn’t plan on it, but it’s kind of what’s happened. Nashville’s an interesting place, because here wanting to [be a musician] for a living is not a weird notion at all.”
Ryan’s not a country singer. In fact, trying to pigeonhole him into any one particular genre is like trying to satiate a Kodiak with a pomegranate. Straight-up rock ‘n’ roll, synth, folk, Americana, dance, roots-rock, just about anything you can name has been injected at some point somewhere. He doesn’t blow you away with technical proficiency. He doesn’t want to. Even he admits that things can often be flawed, but that matches the tone of his tunes. What he does do is give the listener something real, something to feel and something to think about, which is the true sign of a singer/songwriter in this or any generation. Production tricks and tinkering are left to a minimum. True rock is raw, which is why we sometimes call it rawk.
You won’t see him on Great American Country and he hasn’t done a Super Bowl Halftime Show with Justin Timberlake, but he doesn’t begrudge anyone who has found great success in his adopted hometown or anywhere else. “I think there’s a danger in calling people out. People do what they do for different reasons. But, I have a subversive nature and I think you’ve gotta take a stand for art. It’s one of those things, it’s very hard with a career like mine, you have to avoid the David Koresh syndrome,” he muses, presumably referring to the inclination to be the object of blind acceptance and allegiance.
This doesn’t mean that Ryan takes the crass-mass-can-kiss-my-ass position in regard to exposure in the community of music. He’s a humble guy, but unflinchingly confident in and committed to his craft. “I want to be as clear as I can about this because I don’t find myself cynical or defeated by any stretch. But, I’ve chosen to do things my way because I believe that’s important in the arts and those decisions have made for a winding road. The fact is that I feel like I’m getting better and stating my case clearer and clearer and that’s all that matters in any life. That’s where we’re headed.”
That same underdog spirit that crackles and careens through much of Ryan’s music reveals itself again when he speaks to the nature of the business. “Some people win in the short run and some people win in the long run and that’s what I plan on doing, winning in the long run, though I haven’t defined what that means yet,” he says, laughing with his signature rasp. “It’s a little scary because I know it’s not music for everyone.”
Ryan spent several years (and two albums, his 1997 debut, May Day, and sophomore follow-up, East Autumn Grin (2000)) early in his career trying to build his fan base on major label, A&M, an experience that had both its pros and cons. “When I was at A&M, it was so hard. By design, you’re put in position to sell it and I couldn’t sell it. I was incapable. Some people can look at it and say, ‘He had this great opportunity and he blew it.’ I don’t look at it that way. I feel responsible in that there was a lot of money spent and I wasn’t the type of personality that could model the shoes, so to speak.
“Oddly enough, I’m still friends with a bunch of those guys. They still support and they still advocate. They understand who I am and they’re proud that I continue to grow, both career-wise and as an artist. Those guys at A&M were good guys, man. That’s not to say there aren’t good guys at labels now, but the people I dealt with at A&M were the reason why I wanted to be part of the music business. They loved music.”
After his departure from A&M, Ryan re-focused himself on making the best music possible, seeking out independent labels for distribution. Difficult events in his private life led him to write and record Concussion, which was released via Waxy Silver Records in 2001. “Personally, when I think of Concussion, that was a very gutted point in my life.”
The songs on Concussion were shrouded in uncertainty, sadness, guilt, multi-layered loss and mortality. While the subject matter was dark, the songs were elegantly spare and beautiful. The album also included a denuded cover of The Clash’s, “Somebody Got Murdered,” and you would barely notice it as the same song, even if played in succession. Concussion is best summed up with a line from “Drift” (“I’ve only always said what I thought I meant”).
2002 found Ryan experimenting with different sounds and themes. He wrote, performed, recorded and mixed nearly all songs on his own for a stretch and self-released two albums, Dissent from the Living Room and Hopeless to Hopeful, via his website. Both are now nearly impossible to come by.
In 2003, he released the import CD, Happiness. Later that year, Ryan hooked up with Hybrid Recordings for a wide release of Regret Over The Wires, an album containing themes of, well, regret, detachment, tortured forgiveness and the lesson that little comes from passivity.
In 2004, Ryan issued another web-available self-recorded album, These Are Field Recordings, before connecting with friend and musician Neilson Hubbard for the side-project, Strays Don’t Sleep, an album of hopeful ditties, with Ryan and Hubbard singing the songs that the other penned.
Ryan found himself energized by the idea of being in a band. “Initially, it wasn’t gonna be long-term, then we got excited and felt like it could be long-term and then we got confronted with the reality of taking five people out on tour all the time. It’s expensive. It’s really expensive. A lot of people don’t realize it costs about $10,000 a week to take five people out on tour. I’ve got no interest in sleeping on people’s floors. Not that I don’t like people’s floors, I just don’t want to sleep on them.” Strays never toured, but the album stands as a true gem for fans. “Neilson and I are talking about doing another Strays record here at the end of the 2009 and just having fun with it and see what happens.”
Around that time, Ryan started getting noticed by Mark Schwahn, the writer and producer of the CW Network’s, One Tree Hill. Schwahn used Ryan’s songs, “Return to Me”, “Irrelevant”, “I Can’t Steal You”, and “For Blue Skies,” to set dramatic tone in various episodes. Says Ryan, “Mark is a huge lover of music and a huge fan of The Replacements and even I was surprised that he played some Westerberg songs on One Tree Hill, which I think is cool as hell. He’s a great guy and he’s telling important stories to the people that are watching. It’s above-average compared to what people tend to think about those kinds of shows. I grew up in a time where you wanted to resist those things, but now I’ve come to understand that context is everything and the hope is that the song was great before it was placed on a TV show, but sometimes those shows offer a doorway for people to have more context with it. I’m proud of that.”
Ryan would soon collaborate with Schwahn and others in the TV/film business to lend his immense talent to the cinematic arena, producing scores and writing songs specifically for placement on the big and little screens. In addition to One Tree Hill, his music has appeared in the Edward Burns film, Ash Wednesday, and episodes of Dawson’s Creek and House, among others.
Still not finding great commercial success, Ryan moved on to record From A Late Night High Rise (2006) and Matthew Ryan Vs. The Silver State (MRVSS) (2008), both released on Plastic Violin, and began exploring ways to create higher awareness of his music. “Well, I hate when I come off like a curmudgeon, because I’m really not, I’m a music lover…[but] it’s the hardest thing because work like mine can’t really be sold. The key with anything you do [is] you’ve got to want to do it without any expectations. You’ve got to want to do it because it could be great.”
Ryan’s current approach to exposure looks to capitalize on the popularity of peer-to-peer websites and applications. This led to him and publicist, Monica Hopman, creating The Dear Future Collective. “My goal from a business side is to create and allow for context for people to be able to appreciate what I do and hopefully if I’ve done it well enough and I’ve said it clear enough so that it can be understood, hopefully that attracts people to me,” Ryan explains. “So far, that philosophy is working. It’s a slow process, but I’m finding that slowly, but surely, it is, in fact, attracting people and [they] are finding me. I just try to put myself in a position to be found. You can’t sell art. You can only create context and try to attract people to you.”
The Dear Future Collective is a pseudo-business model crafted out of the need for artists to maximize their manifest by utilizing the ever-evolving nature of technology and turn the tide back in their favor. With the profusion of applications like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the like bringing people in constant contact with their friends and family and even seemingly foregone fringe fellowships, the DFC drives the interaction between artist and listener toward being more, well, interactive.
Out in many light-bearing locales in the the vast regions of the cyber-community there are rabid music lovers trying to hip their buds and budettes to the cool shit. Its been a new era in music for quite some time now and as we slip deeper into a future age, those that don’t adapt are left behind trying to slip dusty demos to industry dudes in dark clubs. Opinions on capitalism aside, it’s about using what’s available to your advantage.
“Our goal is to [first] define the water-line for me,” Ryan notes. “If we can figure that out, we feel like we can do that for other artists, as well. It would take a particular kind of artist to work in the way that Monica and I work, [because] it’s not gonna be for everybody. I would love nothing more than to create another kind of business model that really worked, not only for listeners, but for artists. And do it in a way where integrity was intact.”
Ms. Hopman expounds further on the concept, “I’ve been working with Matthew for years as his publicist and we wanted to continue that working relationship. We are both independent, hence, the need to come up with a creative business model that would work for us both. We created the partnership with a basic start-up fund. It’s forced us to keep expenses at a minimum which has really empowered us to think creatively for promotions/marketing. And we both contribute in/out of our areas of expertise as artist and publicist. We are splitting profits, reinvesting back into the partnership, and as we build, trying to find that balance between satisfying our core, ardent supporters and giving this record the time needed for a proper promotional push. So we’ve released it digitally on October 27 and by mail order through the website. It will be in-stores on February 16, 2010 via Junketboy. So far, we’ve met our initial sales goal for the last quarter of 2009 in just three weeks! So it creates a lot of positive momentum leading into 2010.
“We haven’t thought about releases for subsequent artists yet. It would be great to be able to offer a support “team” to empower artists, collaborate on promoting their releases and create a viable business model. But right now the plan is to start small with “Dear Lover” and build on the success to possibly another Matthew Ryan album.”
The DFC asks the fan to get involved, to be an advocate and spread the word about something they love. It seems rather simple, actually. Don’t we all want people we love to love what we love? Yeah, of course we do. This is what the DFC instigates; share your passions and joys with other people. If you love Matthew Ryan’s music, tell people about it. Play your favorite songs. If they like it, hey, you’ve created another advocate and kept the machine in motion. Ryan is enlivened by the progress. “With the whole peer-to-peer and listener advocacy and these sorts of things, I think it’s a very exciting time for artists like me.”
Now, Matthew Ryan tells us that he is just getting started. He recently broke loose with a record that no one saw coming. It’s not that the themes aren’t universal. It’s not that the gut-wrenching, heart-breaking sentiments of previous albums aren’t prevalent. It’s not that it’s an album about hope (it is), because optimism has always been in there, between the lines, in the sentiment, in the mood and often right in front of your face. It’s because it is as it’s always been with Matthew Ryan: You didn’t see it coming, because he didn’t see it coming. “I only did what I could feel,” says Ryan, and that’s all you can ever do.
Dear Lover has sizzled since it hit the hotplate in late October. Ryan talks frankly about it, “The simplest way to put it is that I’ve never been one of those that wanted to be cooler than anyone else. I want to reach as many people as I can, [that’s] the bottom line. I love the record. It was made with the motivation of feeling; to feel something. That was how I measured what I was doing. I had to trust that if I felt something, people will feel something, as well.”
There is no purer feeling, no purer love than the pride a mother displays for her son. Ryan’s reaffirmed by his mother’s faith in him. “This lands in that category of personal stuff. My mom was down in Memphis and I’d gone to see her. I gave her a copy of the record. She’s so proud of what I do and how I do it. She read the inside of the CD [cover] and there’s a story of why I’m doing what I’m doing. Why I made Dear Lover. I’m not trying to get all Ordinary People on you here, but my mom teared up and she said, ‘You just make me want to be a better mother.’ Which, of course, there’s a universe in that statement. Hopefully that’s what art does for everybody. Makes you wanna be a better man; makes you wanna be a better woman; makes you wanna be a leading role in your real life. I think it’s an important time for work that encourages that. That’s why I keep fighting for it.”
Dear Lover is, as Ryan puts it on the CD jacket, offered “because I believe in it’s ultimate heroism in the dim moments of the human spirit; and that your story is as important as mine.” It tears through every range of emotion; lamenting the loss of innocence (“Most of us start out just thinking it’s easy/When the hardest thing we do is remember how to smile”); the last shot at redemption (“Is it too late/Is it too late for me/To save a wreck like me”); the impetus for acceptance (“Will you have me inside your museum/will you let me bang your drum/smile when you come and unlock the door?”); stagnation (“Lost in the wilderness/of a static avalanche”); and human conflict (“The cathedrals and the banks/The stones we throw at tanks/The endless war of man versus himself.”)
With Dear Lover, the mercurial, quick-tongued Ryan delves back into some of the clever wordplay that punctuated portions of his previous releases. He is our modern-day Hermes, serving up an oratory as the shepherd of our emotional motility as we navigate the vast world within us and around us and safeguarding us back to hope.
“Some Streets Lead Nowhere” nearly disappears several times throughout the song, always feeling like it’s slipping through your fingers, a lesson on the ephemeral nature of all things, including love. “From that old street/To that new house/To those beautiful hills inside of your blouse.” That tongue-in-cheek-edness has always been prevalent in Ryan’s writing. While there are serious feelings and topics being gored and explored back to front and top to bottom, it’s a reminder that the handling, the approach doesn’t always have to be serious. Our lives are full of heartbreak, but it must be tempered with humor and hopefulness.
Transcendent trance-master, DJ Preach, appears with Ryan on “Spark,” a gripping, echoing grinder, for their first official collaboration. Preach had reached out to Ryan after hearing the song, “Follow The Leader” while watching House. Says Ryan, “Preach is great. I firmly believe that within every genre there’s great art being made and I think the thing that defines great art is where heart and talent intersect. And Preach has a huge heart and is incredibly talented.”
After the release of MRVSS, Preach took Ryan’s raw rocker, “American Dirt” (about taking risks, getting smacked down and getting back up), and remixed it into a dance-hall jammy-jam and caused quite a buzz in clubs and on the internet. “So, he and I have gotten to be friends. We just plan on doing these things from time to time as we go forward and we are talking about, at some point, doing a full-on collaboration.”
The current video for Dear Lover is the lead track, “City Life.” The song rips with electricity. Hear it once and it’ll stay in your mind like a one-track, cerebellum-implanted iPod every time you walk the streets of your town. The video was conceptualized to bring fans and advocates to a more intimate space, by connecting Ryan’s music globally through the shared experience. Fans were provided via e-mail with what has been dubbed a Flat Matt or Paper Ryan, a cartoon body, replete with brown pants and a “1991-type green” golf shirt, topped with an actual picture of Ryan’s face, and asked to take pictures with it in their city. “That video features people from all over the world with a paper doll of me, which I think is kind of funny, but it’s cool. But, what we want to try and do…we’re really hoping that one-on-one, people playing their favorite song for somebody will help spread the word on this record.
“We get messages all the time. When are you gonna come play [here]? When are you gonna come play [there]? We got one the other day from Jakarta. I’m talking all the time from everywhere,” Ryan explains. “So…that’s when the Paper Ryan idea came up. I think it’s neat because…I’ve felt that musicians and artists have always wrestled with ego and self-obsession, but I’ve always believed that music should be, at the very least, as much about the audience, if not completely about the audience. That’s not to say that an artist is at the whim of an audience. What I mean is that you’ve got to remove ego from it. You have to allow your music or your art to become part of people’s better humanity.”
And now, fans that participated can show their friends and family themselves starring in a Matthew Ryan video. Pretty cool, indeed. The video includes photo submissions from people all over the U.S. and Canada, as well as places as far-reaching as England, Iceland, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia. “Here’s the funny thing. It’s very exciting. Part of it is through television and these things, but for somebody as unknown as I am, I’m known by a bunch of people everywhere. If I could get them all in Minneapolis/St. Paul, if they all lived in the Twin Cities, I’d never have to leave,” Ryan riffs jokingly. Hear that? Fans and advocates worldwide, please move to Minnesota and we here will work on changing it to Minneapolis/St. Ryan. In the meantime, the City Life video can be seen here: youtube.com/watch?v=gJYs4CT66v0.
Dear Lover was released on October 27th and made available for digital download via iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, etc. and by direct mail order from matthewryanonline.com. The website also includes a widget that streams the songs from the record so you can get a little taste before you buy. The album will be in stores on February 16, 2010.
Ryan is planning a tour in support of Dear Lover, beginning in early 2010: “My plan is to do the first couple of tours solo and prove that these songs can be stripped down to their absolute essence. They’re great songs; I’m proud of these songs. Then, hopefully, if we can build it, I’ll probably come through with maybe a three-piece or a four-piece and that will be toward the end of next year. We’ll announce dates probably around the beginning of the year. I can promise you I’ll be coming through the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.”
Some dates have already been announced, including a rare opportunity to see him “in the round” at The Rochester Civic Center in Rochester, MN on April 15, 2010. Check back often at matthewryanonline.com/information/tour.html to see when Ryan will be in your area.
‘Round The Dial was able to pin Ryan down for a moment of levity, with the only “uncle”-option being to answer the oft-dodged Top Five Deserted Island Albums question. Well, okay, maybe “not necessarily deserted island albums, but just the first five that come to mind.” He resisted for a stretch, but RTD is a heavy beast to shake off. “It has to be a really rare album. Plus, I’m always afraid I’m going to disappoint. It’s not like I’m going to start referencing some obscure poet with a wooden leg who talks through a Campbell’s Soup can. Okay, Bringing It All Back Home, Bob Dylan; Let It Be, The Replacements; Hats, The Blue Nile; Sandinista, The Clash; and, just so it’s not all dudes, I’m gonna say Lucinda Williams’ last record, [Little Honey].”
On Ryan’s Concussion, Lucinda Williams lent her sweet and sultry voice to the heart-breaker, “Devastation.” “It was great” recording with her, Ryan beams. He found the honesty in her art to be inspiring. “She’s what you would call an open vein. For a little while, Lucinda and I got pretty close as friends. Lucinda’s one of the few artists that I’ve met and spent time with that I can still listen to their music. A lot of times you get to know an artist and you can’t really listen to them anymore, because there is such a distance between who you thought they were and who they actually are. Lucinda, she’s a method actor. She’s actually exactly who you think she is and that’s beautiful and passionate and a little scary at times, but always with a lot of heart.”
Regarding his inclusion of The Replacements, he went on to say, “I would not just be saying this to a writer from Minneapolis…I’m just a big fan of his work. Like, in some ways, I can look at “Unsatisfied” and ask the same questions about him that I’m trying to ask myself. You know, ‘What’s wrong, man! How old are you? What have you got to be unsatisfied about?… Guilty?! You’re not even…’” He understands that we’ve all got aspects of our lives that remain unsatisfied, a seemingly essential component to survival. And, guilt…well, guilt drives us from our missteps to be redemptive and to make better choices for ourselves and for others in the future.
“Guilty” was the first track from May Day and set the table for a ferocious feast of wistful and meditative missives that he’s punched into the public eye since. This is where I, as a fan and avid supporter, resist resisting the urge to inject myself into the story. I remember not discovering Bob Dylan until about 1997, when I was a 25-year-old soft-faced faux-badass with no idea of what kind of music I needed to fill the chasm in my life. The grunge surge had died (with Kurt Cobain) as quickly as it arrived and I wasn’t finding my way to the artists that inspired me to want to do something, anything. It was interesting that I came to discover Matthew Ryan, thanks to good friend and certain publisher/editor/one-armed-bandit of this here ragazine, Tom Hallett, about the same time I began to explore the vast catalog of Jack Fate. While I was in the midst of pouring through and pining over Dylan’s back pages, immersed so deeply in something I used to mock, Tom one day slipped a little mix-tape into my eager little paws.
That tape included some of the artists I came to call my faves: Vic Chesnutt, Jack Logan, Joe Henry, Paul Kelly, Luna, Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits, Jonathan Richman, Dylan, etc. It was like Tom was saying, “Hey, buddy, let me show you what you’ve missed…we gotta getcha caught up.” Then, sandwiched on one side by “Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea” by Johnny Cash & “If I Should Die Tonight” by Marvin Gaye, and “Stoned Out Of My Mind” by the Chi-Lites & “I’m Straight” by The Modern Lovers on the other side, was a rollicking little gem by Matthew Ryan.
That song was “Guilty” and I’m now on my third May Day CD. It wasn’t that I wasn’t careful with the merchandise, it just seemed to go everywhere I went like I was Mark David Chapman toting around a weathered and dog-eared paperback copy of Catcher In The Rye. Rest easy, though, I’m not an unstable loner or sociopathic stalker. Sometimes a metaphor feels right even though it sounds wrong. May Day was just the most complete and resonant album I had heard in my quarter-century of existential struggle. A pristine CD is one that isn’t being played, so a little pride rears up thinking about pounding two copies into utter submission.
From the moment I heard, “I’ve been guilty, guilty of all these things…I need someone to save me/Someone to save me/I need someone to say to me that everything’s gonna be alright,” I realized that things would indeed be alright after that; I was listening to one the best of a previous generation in Bob Dylan and one of the best of my generation in Matthew Ryan and I was and continue to be inspired by both.
I’ll admit now that I was nervous as hell talking to Ryan for this article and it probably showed, but he didn’t let on. It was and is a very profound album for me so I had to tell him as much, and I had to ask him about the place that May Day held in his heart, as its creator, looking back on it 12 years later: “I love that record. The hardest thing for me was that when people try and sell something, they try to compare it to monuments.” Yes, one should stop short of making comparisons. They’ve been made…over and over and over again. One of the toughest things for any artist to reconcile is being called the next This Guy or the next That Girl (no offense intended to Marlo Thomas) or to be rendered asunder into fragments of the monoliths of music that stood before them.
“I can remember that being compared to Springsteen and Waits and Westerberg and all those guys was not going to be fair to my work. I never had any intention of being Westerberg. I never had any intention of being Waits or Springsteen or any of those people. What I mean by this is…that when an artist really succeeds, he becomes a part of people’s lives that no other artist can occupy. And, in some ways, May Day was kind of like a cartoon in that I got invited to a fistfight and when I threw my first punch, I had this really giant fist. It was such a serious record for such a young guy. I didn’t intend on writing those songs.
“I have a hard time making sense of this. I hope it has some sort of cumulative message. I just wish it could have been received on it’s own merits, because I’ve always felt it was important for each generation of artists to try and drag the flag of their heroes a little further. I knew that was going to make me have to work really hard to hopefully create a shadow that some poor fucker 20 years from now will have to get out from under. I think to people that are intimate with [my work], they do [think it stands on its own merit], but it’s hard to get a fair shake through the machine. Luckily for me, on some level, the machine has collapsed, because, you know, it really is all about me,” Ryan says, laughing maniacally. “I’m kidding, of course. I just wish I would have made that record when I was older, because I don’t even know half of what I was trying to write about. I understand it more now, but that’s what happens when you kind of connect with the greater story. And I guess that’s what I’ve always wanted to do: try to connect with the greater story.”
The “caffeinated old guy” Matthew Ryan would like to say to the restless young Matthew Ryan: “Don’t take it all so seriously. Your work should be serious, because those conversations are serious, the internal dialogue. But, I’m just talking about the way you move through the world.” Move swiftly, but observe and breathe it in. Then, get in there and move the muck around. Make it beautiful.
Ryan has spent a lifetime spilling his feelings like warrior’s blood onto the battlefield of the collective human experience, with a thumb pressed to the jugular of our insecurities. In an off-the-rack culture ruled by immediacy and all the gadgets in place enabling it, he stays true to the essence of what we are as sentient creatures. “All the technology in the world isn’t gonna change what it feels like the first night after a divorce or when a baby is born or the first time you kiss a woman or the way your skin feels when you smell perfume. All the technology in the world isn’t gonna change those things.”
This is not the story of legend. There is nothing mythical to be found here. Matthew Ryan didn’t stroll into a roadhouse in Georgia in days of yore and sit down on a hickory stump to make some silly wager with Lucifer over a fiddle o’ gold. He wasn’t vagabonding in boxcars bangin’ on a weathered six-string to locals in every dusty little town across the country.
He didn’t have a hazy drug-addled stretch punctuated with never-ending backstage orgies. He doesn’t have a story of gin-soaked self-destruction that he was able to live to tell about. He didn’t go to rehab or the hoosegow. Too often we heroicize those who do stupid shit then somehow manage to straighten it all it out. A little credit ought to go to the guy who never fucked up in the first place; some props to the guy who worked hard because he believed in what he was doing.
Legends disappoint, because they often end in the realization that we’ve been genuflecting to some false prophet.
Matthew Ryan is a guy you can believe in. He’s real and true and revels in the edict that he’s no different from me and you. He didn’t weave his way through a vapid crowd of wannabe American idolites, banking on a long-shot dream of quick fame. He’s been grinding it out for two decades. He’s paid his dues and he’s done it his way as the chairman of his own board and architect of his own dear future. He never wanted to have widespread Nike-wearing devotees bowing down and hanging on his every word. He just wants you to feel what you feel and know that he, among many, feels it, too. “I realize that everyone’s just trying to do the best they can and I just want to be one of the voices in their ear.” And, once again, with Dear Lover, Matthew Ryan has delivered another set of sweet anti-soliloquies for your ear-hole, fought off the man-eating lion of self-doubt and pressed his chimerical carbon-print into the soil, all the while percolating with messages of hope.