Matthew Ryan is one of today’s best songwriters you probably didn’t know you were missing. In his twelfth album, Dear Lover, Ryan explores the distance in intimacies between men and women. He talked to us about his approach to the creative process, as well as art’s centrality in rehumanization.
Dear Lover and your label, the Dear Future Collective, have been in digital motion for a few months. What have you discovered or learned so far? Where do you want to see things go?
It’s a big blizzard of a world, but creativity and honesty can go far to attract new people to you. It’s beautiful, but scary, because gaining loyalty from listeners can be a challenge. And that leads me to my hope for the future of music: That we as a society slow down and absorb those things that are meaningful to us.
I often get the sense that we are not only an instant judgment society, but also a constant consumption society. I’ve always found work that slowly unfolded for me was ultimately more rewarding. And I can’t help but think there’s a consequence to the slash and burn speed of things.
With Dear Lover, how have you seen your writing and worldview evolve over 12 albums?
It has always been my goal to not only be a life-long artist, but also a constantly searching artist. I feel that I’m getting better at what I do, and I’m just getting started. Great work has a humility and easy assuredness, and that’s what I want to achieve. I’ve been trying to tell a story about the distance between who we are as men and women and who we wish to be. I believe we can close the gap if we converse with it directly and honestly.
How do you approach your songwriting as a storyteller?
I look for the spark of an idea, or the spark finds me. Either way, it has to be something that moves me, and then I just follow the trail to what the song wants to be. It’s almost as if the subconscious is where the really poetry is found. I follow my gut and trust that when I feel content and the song’s finished, that there’s a cumulative emotionalism or message. I try to tell as many sides of the story as I can while being honest from every angle.
You seem to use various genres all within one album. How does that kind of diversity come about?
I view each song on an album like a scene in a movie, with songs arriving within a story arc. Sometimes I feel that I’ve underplayed a song’s traditional strengths to meet my cinematic ambitions. But, I’m proud to say that any of my songs can be stripped to their roots, and you’ll find a perfectly sturdy tree.
What influences your creative process?
I find that my favorite songs are the ones that feel eternally relevant to my humanity and how I view the world. I assume that if something rings true to me, it will ring true to others, because we are more similar than we are different.
What do you enjoy about the creative process?
It’s one of a handful of life experiences that makes me feels completely connected to the moment. But any real moment possesses a thread of primal electricity – love, sex, hate, peace, hope, comfort, and so on. These are the moments we live for. Boredom is a waste of time.
What do you see as the role of art and artists?
The nature of my work causes me to often consider where I’m coming from. The arts can communicate a wisdom we’re not always born with, and an intimate relationship with the arts can help us to avoid the big mistakes.
My work is often received as depressive or dark, but I don’t see it that way at all. To be human means to be confronted by both dark and light. I believe “The Man In Black” by Johnny Cash says it as well as it can be said:
I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything’s OK,
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.
How much do visuals inform your music?
The cinema of life is so important to my work – the color and light of a room, the expressions we make, and all the details that make for emotional weather. A sense of depth, movement, and three dimensions means everything to how we experience the world, and it’s no different with a song.
Dear Lover is filled with the plea for a second chance. Where does this come from?
The human heart is a delicate, open and mysterious thing. Dear Lover is trying to not only close the gap between a man and a woman, but to engage people with themselves and the ideas and notions that originally ignited them. So, I wouldn’t say it’s about second chances – I would say it’s about never giving up. The pleas are directed toward recurring themes in the album, like trouble and discontent that arises while trying to re-enforce the promises you make to yourself and the ones you love.
How did you come to include Amazing Grace in those last lines of “The Wilderness?”
I was singing while writing, and that’s what came out. I’m not a particularly religious person, but the concept of grace is something I can completely stand behind: grace in traffic, grace in confrontation, grace in our politics, grace in all the parts and plots of our lives.
For more information and to hear the new album Dear Lover streamed in its entirety, visit Matthew Ryan’s website.