Analogue Music | Matthew Ryan

Matthew Ryan

By Matt Conner

Matthew Ryan has chosen health over hustle.

The intersection of art and commerce is awkward for any musician who seeks to meaningfully engage in any sort of balanced way, but in today's ever-shifting industry, the digital world places greater demands than ever. The never-ending administrative tasks, the pressure to stay in front of fans, the need to stay connected to 100 apps, and the required space to, y'know, actually write and record—it culminates in a cycle that sucks the life right out of any impulse to create in the first place.

Matthew Ryan has seen this cycle through on numerous occasions, since 1997's May Day, so he's decided to do something about it. He's rejecting the hustle. He's choosing health. He's "regathering" himself at home these days, a decision that's led to a "generous" outpouring of new songs in his life. He's still releasing music and touring on occasion, but the terms are different.

The earliest fruits from this new season have been given to fans in two parts this year: a maxi-single that released this spring for "On Our Death Day" that included two other tracks and the brand new EP Fallen Ash & Embers. Together, the seven total songs will be packaged into The Future Was Beautiful by year's end.

It was high time we caught up with Ryan once again to hear the results of inhabiting this new creative season and what it means for his music going forward.

Analogue: I know from our earlier conversations that you've been writing more than ever. Can you take us behind that and why you've carved out so much time to just create?

Matthew Ryan: This culture that we're in... it's funny. You see these car commercials saying it's honorable to never take a vacation, how it's honorable to work 7 days a week. We don't rest. We don't quit. We don't give up. That's bullshit. We require time to reassess our road and we require time to reassess our dreams and our actions and our commitments to each other, each in the infinitely smaller worlds that we know and in the larger world. This car chase culture can turn you into an android or something that's only operating with the goal of productivity.

A year ago, I'd essentially done two records closer than I'd planned, so I'd essentially toured for five years, in and out. It was five years of planning, rehearsing, touring—everything that a DIY artist has to do. I won't list it all because it sounds like I'm whining, but I can only assure that you only see the very tip of the amount of work.

"I started to realize that I was doing things in the pursuit of security rather than being alive."

The long and short of it is that I started to realize that I was doing things in the pursuit of security rather than being alive. Almost exactly one year ago, I put the brakes on and said, 'I will not occupy my time with anything other than those things I feel compelled to do and creativity.' I wanted to reacquaint myself with the creative life rather than a hustling life.

Analogue: Has that season provided what you hoped it would?

Matthew: Well, it's brought a lot of clarity about the things that are important to me. While it's been a productive creative period—the writing has been generous—life is also funny. During this time, I've had some hard personal stuff to navigate. I'm grateful because I'm having to confront it head on. I don't have the time to say, 'Well, I can't focus on that right now.' Right now I am focused on getting those things well and also being creative.

Really, in some ways, I'm hoping my listeners, all these friends I've made over the years, understand that. Even though I still want to try to tell a story with the music I've made this year, I'm not interested in the hype or the hustle. So I'm hoping to have a conversation with listeners that's more organic and more unencumbered by any kind of desired outcome other than the work exists.

Analogue: What does a conversation like that look like?

Matthew: Well, I think it's part of what I've been doing. It may not appear so. I have more of a hate than love for social media. It's corrosive to all of us. But I also have the knowledge that the only way I still have a career is because of the internet and social media and my ability to communicate and people's ability to find me. What I have been doing is rather than posting a whole lot online, I've just been writing emails and messages to listeners. That sounds creepy. [Laughs]

Analogue: So it's become a personal enterprise.

Matthew: Yeah, it's just a direct communication. I think what's interesting that's going on with the arts right now is that people are going to find out is that this economy of the arts is going to widen. The internet is going to absorb what we used to view as fields of occupation and expertise. I think as writers and artists and journalists and photographers, we have to communicate that we cannot allow for our entire world to become these weather patterns of opinion. A journalist does specific work that's needed and can glean facts and parts of the story through expertise, work and experience that we at the buffet aren't necessarily going to glean. As indulgent as it can sound, an artist does the same except that it's dealing with the internal landscape, the internal country.

Analogue: You described the writing as 'generous' earlier. I took that to mean quantity, as in you're writing a lot of songs. What about quality? Has this time off changed anything there?

Matthew: I don't know. When you really look at it, you get seven hours of sleep. You spend 30 minutes to eat. You have some days of cleaning, so maybe that takes a couple hours. But we end up with a lot of time on our hands. I find the more time I have and the more time I set aside, the more whatever my particular wire to all this visits.

It's been beautiful. It's a little frustrating because my income obviously drops when I'm not out there hustling, so I'm trying to figure out how to make a full-length in these circumstances. I really have no interest in teaming up with a corporation ever again. That's not something I'm interested in. I've always found you end up hearing no more than yes and creativity isn't reasonable that way. It will require patience but I have faith for this process I'm in. I feel more alive than I have before in my life. I feel more connected to the people I surround myself with.

It is a tragedy in some ways that our lives are oriented around work. Now I'm not saying work is bad. I'm saying the imbalance is bad, you know? Work is obviously good. There's a sense of accomplishment and dignity. I wouldn't say that I'm not working, however. I'm just not hustling. [Laughs]

Analogue: No, I get it. It's in the very language you use, which show the power that words really have. You call it hustle.

Matthew: And it's rewarded! Sometimes I look and see people bragging about how many days in a row they tour or how many nights in a row they drove to some other event they had scheduled. I guess there's a thrill in that, but I don't see it at this point in my life. I'd rather take my time and enjoy some quiet.

Analogue: Has this time away from the hustle shifted anything in your opinion about art and its role or responsibility to the culture or times we're in?

'The Future Was Beautiful' cover
'The Future Was Beautiful' cover

Matthew: I think that art has always needed to be subversive to what was perceived to be how things were. A period of great obedience was followed by a period of great protest. A period of great protest was followed by a period of great corruption. A period of great corruption was followed by trickle down economics. My job or any artist's job at this point is to be protective of our interiors, of our quiet. Each of us has our own declaration of independence regarding that. I don't mean that in a libertarian way. I mean if we can find peace within ourselves, we can find it in each other. That sounds really hokey but it seems clear to me that all these Scud missiles aren't heading anywhere good.

Analogue: I like that you said it was hokey. It might come across that way, but it seems a noble place to plant a flag.

Matthew: I guess so, but it's funny to hear it that way.

Analogue: I would lament the word choice there, although I totally understand what you mean.

Matthew: I was talking to a Mexican friend the other day and he'd mentioned something I'd written. I said to him that I was so happy that he received it the way that he did. We have an awareness now of what we're going to be celebrated for and attacked about. We're living in this world where we're treating our lives as if they're brands and we're going to say things that might damage our fucking brand. That's absolute madness, but we're being coached by the culture at large to view it that way. So I think when I say things sometimes and I mean it, I'm immediately aware that cynicism will view it this way and I'll respond to it even though you didn't offer any into our conversation.

Analogue: Given the creative time you're in, what should people be looking for in the coming months?

Matthew: I have no sense when I'll feel compelled to do more or when I won't. I know what tends to happen is when something visceral comes and you feel it can contribute something beyond a whisper, you then have this energy to get it out there. I think it's pretty clear to anyone who has an awareness of where I'm coming from or what I've been doing that I could have made better decisions if they were based on business. [Laughs] Basically I'll feel compelled to do what I want to do when I feel lit up in that way.

Right now, however, I feel lit up in this quiet. I'm really enjoying it. I don't engage with my phone for the first couple hours of the day and I've found that by doing that, it makes the rest of my day better. I'm not letting other voices in. It's insisting I have my own piece of mind in the center of this chaos we're experiencing.

Analogue: That sounds really healthy. Do you feel healthier than you have in a long time?

Matthew: I feel more in tune with my life. Yes, that's beautiful. That feels good. Rather than chasing or hustling or running to whatever is next which pushes all of these things to the back burner... I think it's healthy. It's really healthy. I have to say that I worked really hard to get to a place where I could do this. I wasn't born wealthy and I'm certainly not wealthy but I've worked hard to be in a place where I can take a breather. So I say that to mean that I don't take it for granted nor is this some luxurious experience. It's a good, quiet experience. [Laughs]

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