“Matthew Ryan’s In the Dusk of Everything marks a distilled reclamation of his more primal Americana/Folk roots. With the bluntness of punk and the evocative rhythm of poetry his lyricism shines amongst these twelve deceptively simple songs of perseverance and closure via a clarity that operates in layers amid a world of struggle, beauty and sublime epiphany. The timelessly modern and spare qualities of these songs move with an earthy cinema with Ryan’s vocals front and center, while the music ebbs and flows like stark scenery in a grainy butsaturated film.”
As Matthew readies new music to be released this year, he performs this upcoming Saturday at a benefit gig for musician Matt Klutka. My thanks to Matthew for taking the time to participate in this edition of First/Last.
The first album you ever bought?
I took a bus by myself to Kmart when I was a kid with some money I had earned from chores. Last time I’d been there with my Mom I noticed a bin full of LPs that seemed reasonably priced. I was about 11 or 12. I had seen U2 on MTV at this point, I believe it was ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ live at Red Rocks. It was the first time it was ever cool to be Irish. My family was proud of our blood. But there was always an almost stiff chinned apology for it. As a kid that’s just something you feel. You don’t understand it. But these sorts of things are handed down in such mysterious fashions. U2 made me feel unequivocally proud to be Irish. As a kid from a rough area they gave me a strong sense of right and wrong and implored a certain heroism. Those feelings meant the world to me in contrast to what I observed in the city where I grew up in, a city in transition or more to the point, decay. People sometimes inhabit rather than fight the struggles that persist around them. In Chester, PA where I grew up, there were many casualties to a changing economy, corruption and the hardness change can affect. Anyway, when I was rifling through the LP bin at Kmart, there was “Under a Blood Red Sky”. It was set at a bargain price, I believe it was $4.99, maybe $6.99, somewhere around there. And just like that my life was changed. Between the bus ride and the album I was broke, but I can only recall rare instances when I felt so damn happy. Art can tilt the world into a different light, open up new strength and community. I don’t think that work and result via the arts should ever be overlooked when discussions of the value of art are thrown about, particularly in these days of new “intimacy” through the internet and its evolving epidemic of loneliness.
Your last album bought?
The last album I bought was a repurchase of “Horsebreaker Star” by Grant McLennan. Just a beautifully written album. A little too clean sounding, but ‘Coming Up For Air’ is one of my favorite songs ever written. Reminds me of so many friendships. We all reach that age when we start losing people in our lives. If you’re lucky you get further in before that starts happening. Such permanent losses leaves you with a yearning for simple things like phone calls and conversations. Hopefully it teaches us to commit to those that are with you in the now. Sadly Grant is gone too. I love his voice. His writing. His strong and brave vulnerability.
Favorite album of all time?
Hard to say. The easy answers are “Blonde on Blonde”, “Achtung Baby”, “Sandinista”, Leonard Cohen’s “Songs of Love and Hate”. But all the music that I’ve listened to has shaped the entire cinema of what I want from a song. So for different reasons I would throw The Jesus and Mary Chain in there, or The Ramones. Shane MacGowan. Paul Buchanan and the gang in The Blue Nile. Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Even Glasvegas, Frightened Rabbit, Gaslight Anthem’s “59 Sound”. They all remind me of what I love about music. Steve Earle’s “El Corazon”, Lucinda’s “Essence”. Sinatra “The Capitol Years”. “Mule Variations”. It just goes on and on. The Replacements’ “Let It Be”. The Stones, The Pretenders, Woody Guthrie, Tom Petty’s “Hard Promises”. You know what I mean. It’s hard to single one out.
Least favorite/most disappointing album?
My least favorite albums are the ones that value success and insidious innocuousness above all else. These types of albums should come with warning labels. Maybe saying something like “This music will lobotomize your heart, mind and soul.”
First concert attended?
Bob Dylan with The Alarm opening up in the late 80’s I believe. My dad took me. It was cool.
I haven’t been to a show since opening for Paul Weller last summer. God he’s great. Was so much fun. Hard to see another show too soon afterwards but I’m due. Marah gets to Pittsburgh pretty regularly, I’m gonna catch one of theirs soon. Great rock n roll band. Reckless and beautiful.
Favorite concert ever?
Probably The Cure on their ‘Disintegration Tour’ way back when. It was so unapologetic and cinematic. The Pixies opened and they were great. I was right near the front and I loved it all. I was also at an age where I didn’t have as many defenses, I believed everything I was seeing. As we get older we have to walk that line between what our ethos will allow and remaining open to being surprised. It’s a tougher waltz than I thought it would be.
Least favorite concert?
No use getting into that, except I’ve seen some bad ones. Sometimes by accident, sometimes out of curiosity. Though I have to say, I’ve never seen an actual artist give a horrible concert. With artists it’s always some version of the truth as they see it on some particular night. Now that can be dangerous, and Dylan and Van Morrison are notorious for confounding people. And I love that. Even Kanye West, I love that his talent and expression is challenged by his ego and emotions. What I like the least are machines that seem dedicated to smiling and waving flashing shiny objects with one hand while digging through the pockets of their audience with the other hand. What confuses me even more is that they’re are huge audiences complicit in those medicine show.
Favorite thoughts, experiences about Pittsburgh?
Been here a couple years now. It’s a tough city to understand. It’s very welcoming, but very sectioned because of the hills and rivers. I’m not in my 20’s anymore so it’s been a slow process of getting to know it intimately. But I love the way it looks and feels. It’s a rarely unique place in a country that finds itself more and more at war with homogenization. It’s part of what attracted me here. I can’t express just how beautiful it is here, the intersection of the past and the future. There’s friction and hope here and you can feel that in the people and the landscape. The next album is strongly influenced by that heat I see here, it’s called “Boxers”. It’s a record about and for fighters. A lot of that Pittsburgh guarded optimism that comes off as grumpy pessimism is in these songs. There’s a stark humor here, I love it. It’s amazing how a place changes you, it forces you to define yourself and it seeps into you. Still haven’t gotten used to french fries on everything, but I’m getting there. I do love potatoes. I mean, it’s like soul food to me.
Thanks, Matthew. I second that Marah love. Been a long time fan. Matthew Ryan Website
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