Prolific would be one way to describe Matthew Ryan. Given his background, calling him a working-class musician would suit the 36-year-old singer/songwriter just as well.
Matthew Ryan Vs. The Silver State (00:2:59), which arrived April 1 in the United States, is Ryan’s 11th release since 1997. The album marks only the second time the blue collar-raised rocker originally from Chester, Pa., has worked with the same label for two consecutive releases. In this case, it’s the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based 00:2:59, which issued Ryan’s From a Late Night High Rise in 2006.
His latest tour, which begins May 1, is sponsored by the outdoor lifestyle clothing company Gramicci. Ryan recently discussed the Gramicci partnership, his new album and the importance of the artist/audience bond.
Medleyville.us: Your backing band is Vs. The Silver State, but those unfamiliar with you might conclude from the title of your new album that you have a beef with Nevada. Is there any chance that you do, and if so, why?
Matthew Ryan: “No, I have nothing against Nevada. It’s a beautiful and strange state, with all its Martian landscape and beauty and, of course, Las Vegas. I’m employing symbolism. And in my mind, Nevada represents everything that we do with our lives. We build and gamble with our futures. We get lost and we approach bright lights and boulevards out of nowhere. Sometimes we have to insist on regaining our romanticism and our idealism — that’s what this record is about.”
On your Web site, you say there’s a lot of yourself in the new album. Was that a conscious thing, or did it happen naturally and you came to the realization later on?
Ryan: “There’s always a lot of myself in my songs. I don’t think I’m capable of experiencing anything that anyone hasn’t experienced. I believe that I may be able to offer a language and melody to it so that maybe these things and events we experience won’t daunt, overwhelm, isolate or depress as much as they can when you feel alone in the weather living brings. Above all, I want to inspire activism in lives, and I mean with in one’s own life. We’re all leading men and women.”
What song or songs on the new album were particularly difficult to write, and why?
Ryan: “They were all very easy to write. I don’t really craft songs; I may get stuck on a line or a verse. But mostly I only write songs that present themselves to me. It’s almost like a sense of deja vu. But sometimes it’s vertigo. ‘American Dirt’ would represent vertigo. ‘They Were Wrong’ would represent deja vu.”
Your output has been very steady over the past decade-plus. Is that a byproduct of your working-class background, a tip of the cap to the way the music industry used to be, or something else entirely?
Ryan: “I approach things with the philosophy that it must be earned. That’s definitely part of the blue collar story. My family was, and is, hard-working, honest people. I’m grateful for that. I’ve become my own engine.”
How did the Gramicci partnership come together, and did you wrestle with the idea of having a company sponsor your tour?
Ryan: “My friend Wade put us together. He’s a smart guy, and he knew the people [who] run Gramicci. I liked the clothes and what Gramicci stood for, and above all, that meant everything to me to entertain the notion.
“I wanted to bring my band on this tour, and I feel it’s time to offer the entire cinema in a live show. For years now, my guitar player, Brian Bequette and I, have worn paths across the country slowly building an audience with every release. I feel it’s time to get nuclear — and that all costs money. Gramicci and Wade helped to make that possible.”
You’re including a copy of Matthew Ryan Vs. The Silver State with every ticket sold for your May shows. Do you see that kind of a tie-in becoming an industry standard in the future?
Ryan: “We’re giving away copies of the record to everyone who comes to the show. This is a dangerous notion for an independent record company. And I’m grateful that they’re willing to go with me on this idea. We can only afford to do it for the first run in May. But I thought it was important, very important.
“My friend Thad Cockrell actually showed me the idea. . . . I guess we just want to make a case for the physicality of music: the design, the words, the entire experience on a proper stereo in your car or home. The digital world is beautiful, but it’s also chaos and static and an endless list of names and hype. The anonymity is overwhelming. And there’s little loyalty from listener to artist and visa versa. I want to give people this music so that it really exists, so that it’s real, and maybe the presence of the artwork will provoke more than a passing listen.”
“Listeners and artists together are a powerful thing — it’s the stuff of cinema. But right now, we’re living in an instant judgment society, and we’re floating around without much real intimacy. I want to make the case for more intimacy and physicality. That’s always what I felt made music mean more — as a lover of music, for me, the best music requires two, maybe three listens before its true beauty opens wide. That relationship connects us, all of us.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Matthew Ryan on tour (schedule subject to change):
* May 1: The Grey Eagle — Asheville, N.C.
* May 2: Eddie’s Attic — Atlanta
* May 3: The Evening Muse — Charlotte, N.C.
* May 4: Berkeley Cafe — Raleigh, N.C.
* May 6: The Iota — Arlington, Va.
* May 7: The Living Room — New York
* May 8: World Cafe Live — Philadelphia
* May 9: Thursday’s — Pittsburgh
* May 10: Sam’s Saloon — Indianapolis
* May 13: Schuba’s — Chicago
* May 14: Beachland Tavern — Cleveland
* May 15: The Ark — Ann Arbor, Mich.
* May 16: Come2Go — Fort Wayne, Ind.
* May 17: Mercy Lounge — Nashville, Tenn.