Singer/songwriter Ryan wants ‘to invite you in’
By Tom Weber
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
At first, Matthew Ryan would seem like an unlikely participant in a songwriters circle. The Nashville-based singer/songwriter, whose songs have been heard on the “One Tree Hill” and “House” TV shows, is notably reticent about what’s behind those songs.
“I generally don’t talk much about what the songs are about,” he said on the phone. “I’ve never felt comfortable talking about that stuff.”
On the other hand, Ryan’s spare songs belie his loquaciousness. An avid conversationalist whose interests take him from Joe Strummer to Glenn Beck in the course of answering a single question, Ryan is surprisingly outgoing for someone who appears so reticent.
So he’s a willing participant in the kind of songwriters circle that he’ll be a part of at the next Americana Showcase concert, April 15 at Rochester Civic Theatre.
“I like ‘em,” he said of the circles, in which songwriters perform their compositions. “It’s a different kind of theater, really. It becomes more about the songs.”
Just don’t ask Ryan to reveal what’s behind songs like “Your Museum,” “Some Streets Lead Nowhere” or “CIty Llife” from his latest album, “Dear Lover.”
“It’s not so much protecting the mystery,” he said. “But I hope if I’ve done my job and the song is written with some degree of clarity, people will see their own story in it.”
Ryan, who was born and raised in Philadelphia, said his first musical heroes were the Clash, “early” U2, the Replacements, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. “I guess those are my oldies,” he joked.
Ryan didn’t set out intending to make his living in music, although, he said, “I spent a lot of time playing air-guitar.” In fact, Ryan went to college to become a teacher but changed his mind after doing his student-teaching. “I wasn’t sure I had the intestinal fortitude to deal with what kids are living with everyday,” he said.
Instead, since the late 1990s, he’s been recording album after album of intensely personal songs sung in a raspy voice.
“It takes a lot of guts to write like he does, to play like he does, to sing like he does,” said Brandon Sampson, who organizes the Americana Showcase concerts in Rochester. Sampson recalled hearing one of Ryan’s first albums a decade ago. “I was like, ‘What is this?’” he said. “There’s been a handful of music-altering events in my life and this was one of them.”
Early in his career, Ryan was signed to a major record label. But the recording industry has undergone massive changes since then, and he’s now comfortable as an independent artist. “I just try to make the most beautiful music I can create and hope it will find a natural advocacy,” he said. “It’s never ‘I want to sell to you,’ it’s more an idea of wanting to invite you in.”
He’s even been willing to do something he once thought he’d never do: license his songs for television shows and movies.
When the idea was first proposed to him by Mark Schwahn, creator of “One Tree Hill,” Ryan was reluctant. “I said, ‘I don’t know.’ He asked me again, and finally I said, ‘What’s the harm?’ And because of that, it attracted a whole ‘nother group of people to my work. The outlets for music are so few, that you have to take any opportunity you can.”
Even if it includes opening the door just a crack on the meanings of those songs.