It’s Matthew Ryan’s opinion that Woody Guthrie wouldn’t sound the same if he were recording today.
“So much of folk music is about our humanity within the conflict that we live in, and I think he would have used the tools that were available to him,” the alternative folk rock singer-songwriter said while discussing “Dear Lover,” an album chronicling the highs and lows, the struggles and triumphs, of that almighty devotion. He first released the collection in 2009, recorded with some of the technologies that a 21st-century release could afford. But the storyteller stripped down the sound in a 2010 re-release and brought his lyrics to the forefront.
In his most recent release, this summer’s “I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall,” he returns to the updated tools of the trade, with drum loops and synth tracks forming an ambient sound to underscore his raw vocals and simple melodies. The storytelling is still there, it’s just been expanded – instead of looking at love, he’s analyzing the American experience in music-made scenes, adopting the roles of a host of different characters to express their hopelessness at the ways of the world (with the piercing line “You should never expect too much from us” he moans through in “I Don’t Want A Third World War”), longing for love (his “Summer In The South” ballad begging for “body heat in conversation”), and rage (as one might expect from a song titled “All Hail The Kings Of Trash”).
Ryan will be performing with his band The Red Needles in a double bill alongside The Old Ceremony Friday night at Iota Club and Café. The News-Press spoke to Ryan before the show about writing and collaborating with other artists on his latest release.
LP: With an album so based on tales of different types of people, where do you find the inspiration to tell their stories?
MR: I think it’s about paying attention to the plots of your friends’ lives – I don’t mean that as if friends are experiments, but to really listen to what is going on in their lives. I’m fortunate that I have a diverse group of friends – artists, teachers, scientist, workers. It’s just listening, and watching the news and trying to read as much as I can from as many different sources – and of course my own experience. Hopefully the stories end up revolving around some version of a true snapshot of what it means to be an American right now. In other songs, maybe just a citizen of the world, so to speak.
LP: How do you think you come through, as artist and as narrator, in these stories and songs?
MR: I’ve had a pretty intimate relationship with empathy, and so hopefully there is a degree of a confidant, that’s what I would hope. Sometimes in life as you go through things, you want to know that somebody went through it and survived.
LP: This album features a number of collaborations with other musicians. How do you decide whose sound is right for a song?
MR: An example is on “I Still Believe In You,” which is my favorite song on the record – I wish I would have felt comfortable just opening with it … and then closing with it! A few years ago, I had gotten to be friends with Olly Knights from Turin Brakes and I actually just emailed and said, “hey would you sing on this, because I could hear his voice in it,” and he did a great job. I lucked out on this one. I was batting 1,000 – everyone who sings on this was cast correctly, I feel, and everybody was so giving on their times and themselves.
LP: iTunes has called the album “a career highlight.” Do you agree?
MR: It’s nice to hear that about your work because you work so hard but, if I had to be honest, it’s an ambitious but flawed collection. But I think there is something to that. You can’t be afraid to miss the mark – there is something beautiful in that. I think your missteps are as important as your victories. Each song is a good song, it’s just a matter of whether I got the theme right or the song right.
• For more information about Matthew Ryan visit matthewryanonline.com.