When the topic of favorite music comes up and I mention Matthew Ryan, most people ask who he is. Sometimes I just explain politely that he’s an independent artist, other times I tell an anecdote about how my friend Riche found him on World Cafe or Mountain Stage or something like that years ago and introduced me to his music. Either way, I usually go on to explain that he’s one of the most underrated singer songwriters of our generation.
Paste Magazine recently had an issue exploring the idea of Indie music. Much like the film industry, the indie label has become just that; a label not a definition. Record companies like movie studios create or buy smaller subsidiaries to operate as their independent machine. Matthew Ryan has a record label, a publicist, a booking agent, etc. But he writes, records, performs, and produces his music himself in his Nashville home. He interacts with his loyal fans through Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter. I recently said that Matthew Ryan is unique in that instead of building fans on Facebook he’s building friends. He’s responsive on Twitter not just to mentions of himself, but often interjects himself into a question I throw out to the masses or make a comment on a Bon Jovi joke or classic rock moment of realization. The independent artist has an incredibly loyal fan base, and Matthew Ryan is no different with his social engineering with friends around the world.
A number of coinciding events had me in Portland last weekend. Matthew Ryan’s West Coast swing of his tour supporting Dear Lover was in town. He was playing Berbati’s Pan and a pre-show in-store at Music Millennium on Burnside. Of course I jumped at the chance to see him play at both places. Pulling up to Music Millennium, I’d been listening to Dear Lover and specifically “City Life” as I drove down Burnside past the maxed out homeless shelters, commuters, and the lyrics seem to fit right in with Portland. As I turned the corner of 32nd Avenue, mind you listening to Matthew Ryan, there he was standing on the sidewalk. He was inside by the time I parked and made my way to the store. He played a few songs off of Dear Lover, even pausing mid title track because he was sensitive to there being children in the store and the song called for some strong language.
Between the Music Millennium set and the main show at Berbati’s I met up with my friend Jamie. She had me tell several anecdotes about Matthew Ryan while we walked the few blocks from her work to Berbati’s. By the time we got in the door, Kasey Anderson was already well into his set. Instead of hanging out “backstage” or off in the shadows, Matthew Ryan was standing right near the entrance to the venue greeting his fans, remember, he’s been building the loyalty capital for years and while I seem like a fanatic, I assure you there are plenty of people with just as much enthusiasm as me across the world, including Portland. We shook hands again (we briefly greeted each other at Music Millennium) and I introduced her to my friend Jamie. Jamie said it seemed like I was introducing her to an old friend and that he was very gracious and down to earth. We settled in with a few beers to watch the last few songs of Kasey Anderson’s set. Jamie and I watched Matthew Ryan meet and greet others as warmly as he’d greeted us, and in no time it was time for him to take the stage.
Despite having the support of dozens of friends in the crowd, it’s still hard for a singer-songwriter to command the attention of a venue known much more as a bar that happens to have live music than a hall built for music. No band for back up, just you your guitar and your voice. It was Thursday night and people were out after work to have some drinks not to sit quietly and listen to a musician, whether he deserved their respect or not. Rushed because of two more bands to take the stage that night, Matthew Ryan jumped right into his set and when he couldn’t hear himself over the din of chatter from around the bar, he jumped off the stage and into the crowd to share the rest of his set with the people who were there to enjoy it.
Into the crowd has become a common theme for Matthew Ryan’s performances. It shows the pain and difficulty of being an independent artist, but also that when you surround yourself (literally) with like minded people who love and appreciate your music, magic moments happen. He continued through his songs often getting the whole crowd to sing right along with him, even echoing him where he sang his own background vocals on the studio track. It seemed like he was rushed, and he was, but it felt like he was truly playing for his friends. A few songs that stood out from his performance in the round were “Jane, I Still Feel the Same”, “It Could’ve Been Worse” and closed the show singing U2′s “Running to Stand Still” with a little bit of a Neil Diamond flair to it.
After he’d finished and was packing up his guitar, Jamie and I approached him on stage and invited him to go outside for a cigarette (I don’t smoke). When we got out there, he explained that it isn’t anyone’s fault that the venue didn’t work out. We discussed music, songwriting, Echo and the Bunnymen and cigarette smokes habit of targeting non-smokers. We stood in line to buy some merch from him. I bought a CD I’ve now bought 4 times (but that’s how you support an independent musician, pay them for their music) and with each CD purchase he was giving a poster he would autograph. Jamie bought Matthew Ryan vs. The Silver State and he wrote “Jamie, here’s to beauty and the future.” I bought Dear Lover and he wrote “Matt, genuinely thank you for what you’re doing” on my poster. I assume he’s not talking about telecom product management, but rather doing my part to tell people about his incredible independent music.
Matthew Ryan’s music is available in the iTunes Music Store, AmazonMP3, eMusic, and available in record stores all over the place (if you have one in your town).
“City Life” video with fan/friend participation