Matthew Ryan | Hovering Around Happiness

Living is inspiration. The missteps, the victories, the mundane and the challenging—and at every point in between there is cinema in living.

There’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. And by that I mean that my playing Matthew Ryan’s newest disc Dear Lover on repeat for days doesn’t make me love it any less; if anything, the more the songs get caught in my head, the stronger my feelings for them.
Ryan’s previous album (his eleventh), 2008’s Matthew Ryan vs. The Silver State, featured The Silver State as backing band/collaborators, and it was a very, very good album; Dear Lover is even better.
Dear Lover finds Ryan more reflective, less reactive. The music, on the whole, is more upbeat; some programmed sounds slip in between the chords and the strings. It’s a fully realized album, one that doesn’t need time to sink in or grow on you—yet one with which you will, indeed, fall further in love with each listen.
Ever the gentlemen, Ryan took some time to answer a few of my hastily scribbled questions in advance of his tour, which hits Cicero’s in St. Louis April 12.
With Dear Lover, you’ve abandoned The Silver State. Was that a conscious decision or the natural order of things?
I wouldn’t say I abandoned them, we’re all still friends and most of them guested on Dear Lover. I just wanted to make a very specific sonic movie with this record. I wanted to challenge myself to get to the absolute center of communications with the songs, so I worked alone through the first 80% of making the record. I’m motivated by what I feel; I try to follow and listen to what that feeling is suggesting I do next. Dear Lover wanted to be what it is. At every bookmark in our lives, I believe we should tap into the purest motives we can.
What’s your creative process?
The process changes; I don’t talk mysteriously about this because it’s complex. It’s just undefinable. Creativity should pull the artist along. In some ways it’s a conversation with the subconscious, and there’s a sense of peace that comes with communicating with that interior compass.
You’ve been doing this a long time. What keeps you going?
People do all sorts of things for a long time, sometimes longer. My dad worked at Scott Paper for 30 years or so; I’ve always admired that. Maybe the blue collar ethos is my work ethic. But above all, I feel I’m getting better and more specific in what I do. It’s a fortifying feeling to keep growing creatively and career-wise, even in such uncertain times for the music business. I love how music connects people; to be a conductor of sorts for that feeling, well, it’s a pretty rewarding thing that pulls you along and further in.
With 12 albums under your belt, how do you continue to be inspired?
Living is inspiration. The missteps, the victories, the mundane and the challenging—and at every point in between there is cinema in living. I want to write about it all as honestly as I can.
What’s your opinion on the whole label thing: major, indie, self-released? Which is best for you?
Ideally, a combination of all three would be best. But I would say lean toward the option that offers the most liberty for your gut and creativity. That’s what I have done, hence creating my own “label.” It seems to me that the world is ready for the DIY method. The tools are there, and the culture of music has reached the point where music is measured by its quality alone, and not who delivered or marketed it to you. I believe that’s a good thing, though it comes with its own obstacles.
Do you feel the record industry as we knew it is dead? If so, what’s left for bands to strive for?
My guess is that the business is changing; that’s obvious. But, you know, there are a lot people who love music. And that makes me optimistic that we’ll figure out a way for it to subsidize itself and create a smaller (but dignified) economy than it was. I think all artists and bands should strive to make great music. If that’s accomplished, everything else tends to take care of itself.
I’m sure you’ve learned more than a few things over the course of your career. If there is one invaluable lesson you’d want to pass on to the next class of artists, what would that be?
Be your own engine, and be honest.
How do you sustain a career in music, especially after all this time? Do you work other jobs to pay the bills?
I don’t have another job, but I’ve diversified what I do quite a bit. That being said, I only do what I love. In my mind, that would be a key to any life hovering around happiness: Do what you love. You have to be honest with yourself; you have to work hard. And the cruel thing is, regardless of your intentions, you have to be offering something that somebody else is willing to welcome into their lives. For me, my audience may grow and retract depending on trends or what I’ve created, but I’ve been fortunate in that an audience has always remained. I’m grateful for that.
What do you feel you bring to the stage during your live show?
That’s a tough question to answer. I love playing shows; there’s a certain skydiving sensation to it. The absolute center of my work is perseverance, so there’s an element of that in the arc on stage. But it’s simpler than that, actually. I love the sense of community at a live show. The feeling of actually being there, alive. The flirting with the unknown. Shows have a kinetic energy, an intimacy without dogma. I want people to leave a show of mine feeling more alive, and that more is possible. It’s something I became conscious of a few years ago, and it’s something I’m still trying to define. | Laura Hamlett
 
Matthew Ryan plays Cicero’s in St. Louis April 12. Full tour itinerary available at www.matthewryanonline.com.
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