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Matthew Ryan

A Conversation with Matthew Ryan (continued)

PM: What part did music play in your early life, when did it start to take hold of you in some kind of way that literally began to direct what you were doing?

MR: Very, very early on--I mean, it just always made me feel like a leading man.

PM: Ah.

MR: And that was important. And I think for where I was coming from and the kind of kid I was, kind of being one of those fringe people, that was the most profound thing that could happen, to have something make you feel like a leading man.

PM: Wow. I don't think I've ever heard it put like that.

MR: [laughs]

PM: I like that.

MR: Well, it's true. I think that's what music does, and maybe we just don't realize it. Of course, that's what it should do, at least, in my opinion.

PM: Yeah. There are guys of course, if you don't write songs, if you just become a good guitar player, it doesn't necessarily make a leading man out of you, but it makes somebody out of you.

MR: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

PM: You may become a good sideman, but if you're singing the song, and you're writing the song, yeah, it puts you front and center, absolutely.

MR: Yeah. Even if you're listening to a song, if the "I" becomes you. You know?

PM: Right. I love that new record of yours, From a Late Night High Rise. I downloaded it from iTunes, so I lack credits. So let's talk, please, about where and with whom it was done, and how it got tracked, and stuff like that.

MR: It was a real process. I'd started the recordings at home. My brother had been sentenced to prison, and I just started wanting to write to kind of cope with that, because he got sentenced to thirty years.

PM: Right. I heard that in the song, "Complete Family."

MR: Yeah. [laughs]

PM: Damn. That reminded me of my family, holy fuck.

MR: Yeah.

PM: So I hope you don't mind my asking, what did he get put away for?

MR: I don't really like to talk about that.

PM: Okay. We don't gotta go there.

MR: Yeah, it's just contextual. You know what I mean?

PM: Yeah.

MR: There's a fine line I don't want to exploit. They have the internet in prison now, and I get the feeling my brother knows--

PM: Of course, you're right. You're completely right.

MR: I started recording some songs at home, just writing. I didn't know what I was going to do with them.

PM: Yeah.

MR: It wasn't intentional. But there were some good songs coming, and at the same time I was reading a book of poetry that a friend had given me called Against Forgetting.

PM: Wow. Whose book is that?

MR: Well, it's a collection of poems. One of the most famous poems in there is one called "Dulce Et Decorum Est" that really hit me. [You can read Wilfred Owen's poem here; Owen was killed in action a week before the end of World War I.]

And so it just became a process. And at the time I was in a band--a side project called Strays Don't Sleep--

PM: Right.

MR: --with another fellow who had a studio, Neilson Hubbard. [Among other things, Puremusic readers may be acquainted with Neilson as the co-producer and collaborator of Garrison Starr, although he's also made many fine solo discs.]

PM: Neilson, right.

MR: And I played a couple songs for Neilson and asked him if he'd be interested in helping me get these recorded--because I don't pay much attention to the technical side of things.

PM: I see.

MR: And I brought it in, and we cleaned it up, and recorded a few more songs in that spirit. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it. But then a friend of mine...

Well, it was a rough year.

PM: Hmmm.

MR: I felt like I had to do something to honor these people because it's just hard. Yep.

PM: Neilson did a really good job. When you recorded at home, what were you recording on?

MR: I had a hard disc recorder, a T-16.

PM: Yeah.

MR: It's a Korg, very user-friendly. Ray Kennedy had turned me on to it. And I just kept filling up that hard drive and dumping them down, and filling them up and dumping them down.

PM: Now, when you track at home, what do you do, vocals and guitars, or other stuff, too?

MR: Oh, no, man. Basically, half the record is done on one keyboard.

PM: Ah. Wow.


MR: It's a Roland keyboard, and it's got all these great patches. And I run them through pedals. And that way you don't get like one frequency that's just driving you nuts.

PM: Right.

MR: That's where a lot of crappy guitar sounds come from, because I can't record a guitar to save my life. But they kind of work emotionally, you know?

PM: They do, absolutely. I caught myself saying "that's frickin' noisy, but it sounds good."


MR: Well, it was noisy, yeah.

PM: So then Neilson got a hold of the tracks and brought it over to his place.

MR: Yeah.

PM: Who did he use to finish it up, just himself? Or brought in some other people?

MR: Oh, he actually brought in this really, really talented engineer, Andy Hunt. He really cleaned it up, and he really mixed the hell out of the record. And of course, a bunch of friends came in and played, and some of the other guys who were in Strays.

PM: Who is the producer on the record, you and Neilson or--

MR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've got too much of an ego to give it away.


PM: Besides, it all started with you, man. So the players on it are just you and Neilson--and who else? Nobody?

MR: Billy Mercer and Steve Latanation and Brian Bequette, pretty much all the guys that were in Strays. And then there's like my friend Molly Thomas came in and played some violin. She's great.

PM: I met her around town, she's cool. I like Brian Bequette, too. He's a good man.

MR: [laughs] Yeah, he is.

PM: And I'd only really been aware of him as a bass player. And then I saw him playing great guitar with Garrison Starr down at South By Southwest.

MR: We're making another record right now, and he's playing a bunch of piano. I had no idea.

PM: Talented dude.

MR: He really is. He's a pretty good craftsman, as well.

PM: I really like your voice a lot, and the vocal sound you're getting. Of course, it begins with the actual pipes you have. But you probably don't know--since you said, "I don't get involved with the technical shit"--what mics are involved, or what other elements are in that signal chain of the voice, do you?

MR: I think it was an SM-7, I think.

PM: Ah, yeah.

MR: Yeah, the big black mic. [Shure]

PM: Yeah.

MR: Yeah. And then it was a Distressor.

PM: Right into a Distressor?

MR: Yeah. And then Andy did some funny business, I don't know how he did it, but it really, really makes the vocal stuff really good.


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