12 June 2003

Matthew Ryan INTERVIEW 04.06.03

Astonishingly this is the first opportunity the UK is getting to experience the exceptional songwriting talent of Matthew Ryan. His third album, ‘Concussion’, is a sublime collection of acoustic tunes and the first to get released outside of the USA. Before the third night of the tour I interrupted his preparation for a breathtaking, but frustratingly short set supporting Jeff Klein, to discuss his love of making music and his dislike of the music industry.

How is the tour going so far?

I really have no complaints at all, it’s been well received. There are so many different elements that go into the kind of communication that music is, sometimes people don’t want to hear what you have to say, but that hasn’t been the case so far, it has been a real good experience.


Do you get annoyed if people talk through the gig, particularly when you are playing acoustically?

It’s like the old saying; if there was always peace you wouldn’t recognise it. Just as often as you can have a show where there are people chatting and not coming along, there are shows that are why you do it, because they’re magical, there is a communication that happens that you can’t create or conjure another way. That being said, if people are talking tonight there’s a chance I could fly off the handle, but I don’t quite have the steam right now for it. The audiences so far have been really nice, we’ve been selling records and talking to a lot of people. I’m just happy to finally get the opportunity to come over here.

Why have your albums not been released before now in the UK?

When I was on A&M Records the UK office didn’t like my records so that’s why they weren’t released. It was really frustrating.

Are you pleased to have left A&M Records?

Yeah I am. I think major labels are well on their way to becoming the equivalent of Burger King and McDonalds.

What is your overall impression of ‘Concussion’?

With a record like ‘Concussion’, as dark as some will view it to be, it’s not, it’s actually saying this is exactly how it shouldn’t be, and sometimes you’ve got to express that. It’s like a movie where you spend half of it with your head in your jacket.

Did you enjoy producing Jeff Klein’s album ‘Everybody Loves A Winner’?

I did. I just talked to Sandy Dillon last night and she asked me if I would be interested in doing it for her too. I only want to work with people that know who they are, because then all you have to do is let them know they are capable of being exactly who they already are, as ridiculous as it sounds, just keeping them focused on what their intention is.I suppose it’s good that as production is only a sideline for you, you can pick and choose and make sure you just work with people you respect.
I don’t actively pursue it, at all. Also, it’s good to get out of your own head too. I find I’m not as hard on other people as I am on myself.

Is it true that you already have follow-ups to ‘Concussion’ set to be released?

I’ve done a record (Happiness) at my house on my four-track that One Little Indian is going to put out here, it’s only going to be available in the UK and Europe. It’s not like redundant, it’s really beautiful because I had no intention of it ever being heard. I was only doing what I always do and I realised, wow this could be a record. And there is another record which is finished (Hopeless To Hopeful).

Have you always been so prolific?

It’s funny because I went through a period about a year and a half ago when I was just so gutted by what I thought the music community could be and what they actually were, that I didn’t want to be part of it. I think that it’s too vain, too driven by ego, and full of one-dimensional self-absorption. I don’t like being associated, so I tried to quit, but I just kept writing and in fact the more I tried to quit the more I did. Making music is a great outlet to vent frustration, so I suppose it is a shame to cut yourself off from that just because you are fed up with people scrambling for success.
Right, exactly. It’s a process that I absolutely love, I love doing it, it’s a compulsion almost when you feel moved to try and dissect or explain something. I think I’m getting better at it, I think that is the most important thing. I’m always amazed, it seems to develop itself, it’s like getting better and better at crossword puzzles or something.

Would you welcome the same level of success as someone like David Gray?

I wouldn’t want that kind of success, to be honest. I don’t think that you can do good work. As an ideal I would love to have a career like Neil Young. Really it’s become my purpose in life to prove that you can do that in today’s culture. The one thing about Neil Young is that when he does anything, there’s no question about what he meant, and I think it’s something to be admired, even when he falls flat on his face, he doesn’t do anything half way.
I saw The Waterboys some time ago and Mike Scott refused to play ‘Whole Of The Moon’, and I don’t think that that’s fair to the listener. As a listener I know that he has a lot of great songs, but for some people ‘Whole Of The Moon’ was kind of a doorway for his records, so you can’t take that away from them.I can understand how someone who has had such a long career as Mike Scott would be sick of playing the same song every night.
You know, honest to God, I’m a huge Mike Scott fan, but I find that arrogant. If you’ve written a song that is as beautiful as that you don’t get tired of it. That doesn’t take away from the fact that he is a fantastic writer, it’s just that I don’t agree with it, there’s always new life in a song. Aren’t songs like photographs some sort of stab at immortality, why would you stab it in the back? I am a tremendous fan of his nonetheless.

On the track ‘Happy Hours’ you’ve written ‘If you had everything you wished for / What would you live for / And what would you lose’. Is there anything in particular that you are still wishing for?

The idea behind that kind of a statement is that if you are far better off with desire than without, because if you didn’t have desire and you didn’t have disappointment, you wouldn’t have anything, you would probably be dead. You just have to learn how to pick your fights.

Someone has put a post on your message board, which explains how ‘Concussion’ soothed their heartbreak after a relationship ended. How do you feel when you get proof of how your music positively touches people?

I’ve realised that the only thing I really care about is the listener. Because the listener is an outsider and I’ve always felt like an outsider, always just on the line between people. Unfortunately the music scene is so fucking vain now, that it’s not about community, it’s about cattle. Really all I care about is to be able to tell a story that is meaningful. If you can tell a story that kind of connects you to the listener, you get the privilege or the honour of being a part of their lives then you’ve done your job. Of course then the conflict is that you want to make a living from it, you don’t want to worry about the mortgage or food.You don’t want to have to get a day job.
As I said, last year I tried to drop the music career and just make music for me. Believe me there weren’t dogs barking at the door saying come on we want your records, but I felt inclined to not cave in. I said no, I’m not going to be one of those people who thinks about who they could have been. Although I have no ambition of being a superstar.
I’m a big Lennon fan, but I’m not a big Beatles fan. I always found McCartney a bit of a clown, with all due respect, because he’s a great writer. There is a great quote from Lennon and it just killed me; “Anybody that you ever heard of is willing to play the ass.” And it’s true. I think there is a real danger in the ego that is the divine world of known pop stars, because there is nothing divine about it, rarely is there anything truly altruistic about it. The exception I do have to say is Bono, he blows me away. I know a lot of people get pissed off because of his politics, but he is so well read on the issues that he chooses.

Gavin Eves


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