Matthew Ryan interview

A chat with Matthew Ryan

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He’s got one of the most distinctive voices that you may not have heard yet. Singer/songwriter Matthew Ryan is back with his new album on 00:02:59 Records, From a Late Night High Rise. Ryan dealt with some personal issues that deeply affected his songwriting on this release. He talked to us about that as well as wishing Bob Dylan didn’t exist, to leaf blowing, and to Arby’s Market Fresh sandwiches.

Bullz-Eye: So how long have you been in Nashville?

Matthew Ryan: Man, it’s been a long time. I can’t believe it, yeah. It seemed like I just moved here; then all of a sudden it was 12 years.

BE: Where are you from?

MR: Just outside of Philly. I actually was raised there and then my folks and then I moved down to Delaware.

BE: Okay. Are you an Eagles fan?

MR: No. I mean, yeah, yeah. Oddly enough, for some reason my family all liked the Dolphins. So I kind of grew up a Dolphins fan. Of course I followed the Eagles, and still do, actually. Now I’m following the Titans.

BE: Yeah, they’re doing pretty well. I’m actually from New York, so I’m a Giants fan.

MR: (laughs) Oooo.

BE: Yeah, it’s been a rough year.

MR: It sure has, man.

BE: So all the critics seem to be really digging your new album so far, which I think is really cool, too. How do you feel about it?

MR: You know, being where my career’s been, it’s always nice when the critics dig it. You know, in theory, you know it’s writers and music journalists that are really informed listeners, you know what I mean? I don’t know what they measure it against. I don’t know how people do that. I could never be a journalist. I don’t like much at all. That’s probably true with you guys too (laughs). It’s nice, it’s nice that people seem to be getting where I’m coming from.

BE: Sure.

MR: But you know, audiences are the most important thing. You just want to continue to try to grow that.

BE: Right. And your music has kind of gone through some changes. I know when I first started listening to you, it was more like a rock/alt-rock vibe, and now it seems to be kind of scaled back and lo-fi. And I read that you were inspired by real-life tragedy, too. Has that been the reason for your music to sound kind of darker?

MR: I don’t know, man. I don’t really hear my stuff as dark. To me, it’s beautiful. I can’t have any sort of objectivity about how it sounds. But as far as the change, you know, the way that technology has come around for artists, it’s just become really easy to kind of get that stuff recorded. So I think part of what’s happened is just, being the utilitarian musician that I am, it’s just like messing around on the tools that I have, and I wanted to sound and feel like something, you know? So I think that the more affordable the technology has gotten and the more stuff I’ve done at home, the more it’s become what it is. It’s always changing, and I think that’s part of the job of an artist too.

BE: Do you feel you write best when inspired by real-life events?

"I guess the last few years, the Clash has meant more and more to me. They are just so good; I think they are clearly the most important punk band, but they may be the most important rock and roll band, as far as I’m concerned."

MR: For me, writing is something that happens every once in a while. I used to push myself to do it a lot and I think that’s the kind of writer that I am. And you’ve got to hopefully say something that’s universal or something that tells a greater story. I don’t know, unless you’re writing fiction I think everything is inspired by real life. (laughs)

BE: You were on a major label, right?

MR: Yeah.

BE: Like one that merged, and then you got caught up in a numbers game. What brought you to the label you’re on now, or what brought them to you?

MR: I’ve known Abe Bradshaw, the fellow that owns 00:02:59 (pronounced Two Fifty-Nine), for a bunch of years. It’s a weird thing, I feel really ambitious (about) what I’m trying to accomplish as an artist. But when it comes to labels, I’m pretty lazy. I just don’t like to have to sell myself to people, which I guess can be a good or a bad thing.

BE: You mean to labels or to your audience?

MR: To labels. So Abe had approached me, and he asked me if I had anything I wanted to put out, and I said “Yeah,” and so we did it.

BE: It was that easy?

MR: (laughs) Yeah, and that is kind of the way that I’ve been operating the last few years. It’s weird, because that’s always the way I’ve been with girls, too. That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

BE: That’s hilarious.

MR: I don’t know what it is. If I was more full of myself this morning, I probably would give you a long interesting bunch of bullshit. It just kind of happens.

BE: Okay. (laughs)

MR: I just don’t like having to sell myself. Some people are really good at that, and some people come about it naturally. I’d rather just…

BE: You’d rather just get to a point where they’re all coming to you, right? Is that what you mean?

MR: Well, no. It’s just hopefully that the work speaks for itself and you don’t have to do any sales pitches. You don’t have to make any promises about how fast it can go and all that.

BE: So do you have more than one album you’re going to do with them, or is it just album to album?

MR: I don’t know. We’re talking about it. I’m making another record right now that I’m trying to get done before the end of the year. I probably won’t put out another one on 00:02:59, but you never know. Things have changed so much; I think it’s good to keep moving.

BE: What are your plans for touring in 2007?

MR: I’m going to do a tour with Tim Easton in February. I’m really looking forward to that. I’m a big fan of Tim’s stuff, particularly his last record. So we’re going to do that and there’s talk of a couple other tours in March and April. And hopefully we’ll have this next record that I’m finishing out, mid to late next year. And just keep moving.

BE: Yeah, that’s good. You have to. Are you touring by yourself or with a band?

MR: For this record, I’ll be doing a three-piece thing. It’s a pretty ambient record, so it’s kind of dishonest to pare it down to an acoustic thing all the time.

BE: If you could, who would you most like to tour with?

MR: That’s a tough question. That’s a really tough question.

BE: Besides Tim Easton.

MR: (laughs) Right! You know, there’s nobody I really want to tour with. I think as far as my ambition in touring is to just continue to grow an audience. There’s something that happens when your music becomes part of somebody’s life. I can’t really say that there’s anybody I want to tour with out there.

BE: Okay.

MR: Although there is a lot of good stuff. I just really want to have a direct line to an audience.

BE: Who are your biggest influences musically?

MR: Man, I like a lot of music. I guess the last few years, the Clash has meant more and more to me. They are just so good, I think they are clearly the most important punk band, but they may be the most important rock and roll band, as far as I’m concerned. They’re great songs and they’re fighting for something. Fighting for something greater than themselves, which I think is how we should all live.

BE: Do you have any singer/songwriters that you’ve looked up to in your life?

MR: Oh, man, there’s Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Obviously, those guys are monuments and all that, you know what I mean? Bob Dylan, I kind of wish he didn’t exist. He’s so fucking good. And Leonard Cohen is much the same, except I don’t wish he didn’t exist. (laughs)

BE: I know where you’re going with that.

MR: I mean, Bob Dylan is great. Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. And there’s a hundred other ones that I think are really special that maybe so many people don’t know about or haven’t heard the name.

BE: Have you been compared to Springsteen at all?

MR: Yeah, I’ve gotten that. It’s a funny thing. I definitely like Springsteen. He’s really good, you know? Springsteen is great. He’s a tough one to be compared to, though, because with Springsteen it’s….

BE: Yeah, (Springsteen) and Dylan are in totally different classes.

MR: Yeah, it’s weird. What I love about Springsteen is much what I love about the Clash. I mean, he leans so hard. But I don’t have that type of personality, so whenever I get that comparison, or somebody says that, I just don’t want there to be any expectations beyond who I am. I mean, Springsteen, you know, sliding across the stage and kissing on Clarence and all that stuff. He’s amazing. But those are big shoes. Those are really big shoes.

BE: I think a lot of it is your voice.

MR: Yeah, it’s a funny thing because, and I’m not trying to be too involved in my own mythology. I think it might be a dialect, because I’m from right near where he’s from.

BE: Oh, that’s true.

MR: I grew up about 45 minutes from where he grew up. But it’s funny, because growing up I listened to the Jesus and Mary Chain and early Psychedelic Furs and stuff like that. So I can honestly say I never really spent any time trying to sound like Springsteen. I was more trying to sound like Richard Butler from the Furs. When you’re first trying to be an artist a lot of times you go through this stage of imitation. That being said, when I got to know his stuff, particularly The River, I mean it is really great stuff. I wish I could write just one of those songs.

BE: Well you’re doing pretty good yourself!

MR: I’m getting there. Like I said, what I really love about Springsteen is he’s a self-made man. And I can really admire that. Besides the fact that he’s written a bunch of great songs and has really inspired lives. In addition to that, I really want to win and want to prove that things haven’t changed so much.

BE: So with that, how do you feel about the current state of the music business?

MR: I think it’s the Wild West, you know? You can easily blow yourself up in the Macy’s Day parade thing, which I have no interest in. But I think if I keep doing good work and keep being more and more specific, then you can make a case for integrity and hard work. I don’t know how fashionable that is. I don’t think things have changed that much, really. Obviously the more traditional support systems aren’t there, but that’s a good thing. Because you really get to prove yourself, you know?

BE: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think that all of the really great artists will rise above.

MR: It’s interesting, because I think about it all the time. It’s an interesting thing to do with your life. But where I come from, you have to have something to show for it. Now that doesn’t mean getting all puffed up. It’s just means that in some ways it’s your …

BE: You need to make a living out of it.

MR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’ve got to make a living. You’ve got to have a retirement. It’s a difficult thing and it’s also a beautiful thing and I think it’s worth it. I feel good about it.

BE: So you had your release party in New York City?

MR: Yeah.

BE: That’s where the label’s based?

MR: Yup. They’re in Brooklyn

BE: Are you planning a Nashville release at all?

MR: I’ve been talking to Grimey’s. Grimey’s is the only store that has it here. I just think it is such an excellent store.

BE: Yeah, it is.

MR: It seems utterly independent to me, which I really appreciate. I’m thinking about doing something over at Grimey’s, but Nashville…..I love living here, but I don’t like playing here so much. (laughs)

BE: And why is that?

MR: Oh, no reason. It’s just like trying to put on a play in Los Angeles.

BE: Because of all the songwriters here?

MR: Yeah, yeah.

BE: So where do you typically play in Nashville when you do play here?

MR: At the Mercy Lounge.

BE: Okay. And we are doing a big year-end feature at Bullz-Eye. What are your top three albums of 2006?

MR: Oh, man. I don’t even know if they were released in 2006. Man, I’m no good at this stuff. Let me think.

BE: (laughs) Well, what are you currently listening to that you really like?

MR: Oh, man, I’ve been in the studio, so I’ve been like in bad shapes as far as that stuff goes. Yeah, let me think though for a second because I know that there’s been stuff out there that I’ve liked. Um….dammit! I just listen to a bunch of stuff. Man, I don’t know. I really don’t know! (laughs)

BE: Believe me, I know. People ask me that question and I really have to think about it.

"Bob Dylan, I kind of wish he didn’t exist. He’s so fucking good"MR: Yeah, you just don’t want to say what comes to mind, because a lot of times that’s like going into a restaurant and someone asks you what you want to drink and you say Coke. You know what I mean? (laughs) It’s just like the first thing that comes to mind. “Ahhh…give me a Coke.”

BE: Well, okay, so that is actually my next question. What is your favorite place to eat on the road?

MR: (laughs) Oh, man. I’m going to betray myself now. Those damn Market Fresh Sandwiches at Arby’s. I mean, I’m talking about being able to get something to eat without any risk of getting sick or anything. I mean, that’s a good sandwich!

BE: Okay. Do you see yourself in one of those Arby’s commercials with the hat on? (laughs)

MR: I was actually thinking about that the other day. Umm, no. But I’ve got an idea for an ad for them. Like we’re …ahh, never mind

BE: No, you can tell me.

MR: Oh, no. It was funny to me. It’s one of those things that I don’t think would transfer well. (laughs)

BE: So what is your least favorite place to eat on the road?

MR: Oh, man. Um. McDonald’s. I haven’t eaten McDonald’s in, like, eight years. It’s so bad.

BE: Just the quality of the food?

MR: Yeah, just the quality of the food. You can take a bath and the next morning your hands will still smell like those french fries.

BE: (laughs) That’s so true!

MR: I’ve felt this way before the damn documentary (Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me”). Something ain’t right, you know? Something’s not right about that. I’m not saying Arby’s is so much better, but that Market Fresh Sandwich…they got me. Whole wheat bread? It’s a good sandwich. (laughs)
BE: What are your hobbies do you have besides music?

MR: I’m actually looking for some hobbies. My latest one’s been that I’ve got a leaf blower. And I just blow the leaves over into the corner of my backyard.

BE: (laughs) Okay.

MR: I’m serious. You ever use one of those things?

BE: No.

MR: I’m telling you, it’s one of those things you don’t know about until you use one.

BE: Okay.

MR: It’s so much fun.

BE: And you get addicted to it and you have to go out and do it?

MR: Yeah, yeah. It’s kind of like having a jetpack when you’re a kid.

BE: Well we’ve got a pretty big yard. I could probably use one right about now.

MR: My suggestion would be to get the electric ones if you can get a long enough cord because if you go with the oil and gas mixture ones, that’s just…I don’t know if you’re real good at math, but…

BE: It’s a pain in the ass. I have to do that with my trimmer. It’s the same thing.

MR: See, I’ve got an electric trimmer too. Those things are great.

BE: Yeah, you never have to worry about filling it up with anything.

MR: (laughs) No! You get that mixture wrong and you’re fucked!

BE: (laughs) Right. Okay, well I think that’s all I got. Do you have anything else you want to plug?

MR: Not really.

BE: Do you have any particular markets you’re touring though yet, or do you know that yet?

MR: I know we’re going through New York and Minneapolis and Louisville. Pretty much, we’re going to be hitting a lot of the Midwest and the Northeast and some of the Southeast and all that good stuff.

BE: Okay, well sounds good.

MR: Yeah, man. Well thank you, Mike.

BE: Yeah, thank you!