INTERVIEW: Matthew Ryan


“I heard Chris Rock once say that his comedy came from profound sensitivity,” Matthew Ryan tells me during a recent career-spanning interview. “That if he didn’t find comedy he would not be able to deal with what he believed to be his ability to feel what people around him were feeling. And I really identify with that.”

Ryan, a Pennsylvania-based singer-songwriter who has spent the last two decades inspiring countless songwriters with his distinctive vocals as a forefather of the alt-country scene, privately struggled with that sense of identity for years.

“I’ve spent a really long part of my career so far being paralyzed by my sensitivity,” he says. “I’m not saying that there weren’t good songs written or there weren’t good recordings made but I couldn’t quite stand by or tolerate what I was feeling once the work was outside of myself. So I followed that mode for a very long time — too long. It started on my second record, and it didn’t end until Boxers.”

Boxers, his 12th proper studio album, came out in 2014 but by his own account seemed his most unlikely of albums, if only because he’d intended his 11th to be his last. “With Boxers my choices were simple because the record before was, by design, planned to be my last record,” he explains. “I didn’t want to do it anymore. [But] something happened between In the Dusk of Everything and Boxers where I decided that I had to stand by my work in a way that felt more like redemption rather than some form of … I don’t know if I can describe it. But I think the difference is that in some ways I rediscovered the commitment to my work and my characters that I had on my very first record, that I hadn’t had for a very long time.”

Ryan’s currently on the road for his Fall tour, built of a mix of house concerts and venue shows throughout the eastern half of the country. One of those will be a Friday night house show right here on Indy’s north-side, in Carmel.

“Generally what I do is in towns where I maybe had a hard time growing over the years it makes more sense to do a house show,” he says. “Indianapolis traditionally has been a tough city for me, to be honest. But what’s funny is I have some really good long-time listeners and supporters there, so that’s one of the beautiful things about today. Listeners will open up their homes to let you not only have that experience, but to help you continue to do what you do.”

After two decades in the business and a dozen albums, one thing Matthew Ryan has plenty of is experience, and on both sides of the coin, as a major label signee and an independent. That, he says, can be a double-edged sword, though he insists there’s little mystery in why he’s remained inspired to create albums which differ from each other throughout his career.

“I don’t know where I got the idea that that was important, as an artist, but it’s not a shell game! You know what I mean?” he laughs. “It’s just trying to locate weather that feels right to songs that have presented themselves, and it’s really not ‘one size fits all’. But that’s definitely been … I wouldn’t call it an issue, but I can’t think of anything more boring than [insert voice here] to the same record over and over. That sounds like a sentence of solitary confinement.”

Isolation comes up frequently in conversation, particularly when discussing the one song he wishes he could take another crack at recording.

“I have never re-recorded a song, because I rarely have any interest in retreading things,” he told me. “But there’s one song that haunts me, and that’s because I really think it’s one of the best songs I’ve written but I don’t know that the presentation allowed it to be what it could be. And that’s “All That Means Nothing Now” on my album I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall. It’s frustrating, because the guitar part on that song is so sturdy, and usually I’m such a utilitarian player, I wish I would have let that be more of a spine for the song. Plus I was self-recording at the time. That was really invigorating when I did Dear Lover but by the time I got halfway through I Recall Standing I started kind of hating myself quite a bit. It was a very lonely experience. I can’t see me ever wanting to do it again.”

I ask him if it’s a lonely experience recording alone because of the lack of someone to bounce ideas off of.

“Even just the non-verbal stuff,” he elaborates. “When you feel that ignition switch go on between a group of people, it’s not even necessarily about propping each other up but the sensation of being in a room with people when something special happens. Not to be crude, though it is crude … it’s the difference between masturbation and sex! Rarely do you get done masturbating and say ‘wow, you did a great job! Great finish!’ I think loneliness is becoming an epidemic, particularly here in the West, as we isolate ourselves more and more in technology. And I kind of felt like with I Recall Standing that’s where I hit a wall very quickly with my relationship with technology. I was spending so many hours confronting one-self through a screen. I was like ‘there’s something wrong here, I do not feel more alive through this process!’”

As someone who has worked to hone his live performance as a way of connecting with audiences and encouraging two-way communication, Ryan says he finds it to be disconcerting how much of a distraction our technological devices have become at live shows.

“I’ll be honest with you — I hate it,” he says. “every once in a while I’ll check, especially if I asked when I played a new song ‘please don’t upload it,’ and people upload it. That kind of rubs me the wrong way, because I’m trying to share something with the people in a room. This isn’t a broadcast! And it never translates, man. It never translates. Please! Just put the phone down and let’s feel something together. I don’t say this as an attention-whore. I’m not even all that comfortable with an audience’s attention anyway! What I don’t understand is why people feel so compelled to remove themselves from the experience, as if they’re gonna save the experience for later. I don’t think people realize the conflict of energies when you participate in something like that.”

He chooses to focus on what he can do, which is encourage those people at a live performance to remain open for that sense of community and connection.

“It’s a funny thing, because when I watch a performance of somebody else I can be moved by what a performer is doing,” he explains. “But what moves me more is when I see an audience member moved, when I see them helpless with something that has been moved in them. That’s just true of my experience. You can’t go into a situation thinking of ways to move people, but I can look for those moments where we all collectively feel something. And there is a difference.”

Shane Owens proves “Country Never Goes Out Of Style,” gets Randy Travis’ nod of approval


I hear a lot of country music these days, but it only rarely takes me back to the country I grew up on — the Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, John Anderson school of neo-traditionalist twang that dominated before Garth Brooks ushered in the era of pop/rock country. I can tell you, though, I’m keeping both ears out for new information on Shane Owens, a songwriter whose latest single “Country Never Goes Out Of Style” has earned the legendary Travis’ seal of approval. His appearance in Owens’ video for the song is his first in a music video since his stroke in 2013.

“Shane brings it all…vocal, writing, performance, and passion,” Travis said in a recent press release. “He has paid his dues, remained committed to traditional country and brings you a song with a heart and a story.”

Owens spent more than a decade on the fringes of the country universe, indeed paying his dues while playing country nightclubs throughout the south, before back-to-back record deals fell through due to labels folding. The sense is he had the chance to season these songs through those hard times on the road and by tasting failure in Music City, so the resulting album Where I’m Comin’ From — produced by another country legend, former ACM Producer of the Year James Stroud — bears all the earmarks of a potential winner.

“This new song means so much to me,” explains Owens. “It really talks about the way I was raised and the way I live my life today, so it means so much to have Randy join me in the video and talk about my music in that way. It was truly an honor.”

You can see the video below:

EXCLUSIVE: The Quarantined’s “Feeding You Lies” echoes early Rage with almost as much bite

LA’s The Quarantined

Lead singer Sean Martin hasn’t necessarily mastered Zach de la Rocha’s rare brutal intensity, but Los Angeles rap-rockers the Quarantined make up for it with their apparent sincerity. Bringing together this generation’s current rage against the machines of police brutality and governmental incompetence with crunchy guitars and ferocious political thought, the band carries on where The Battle of Los Angeles left off. “They’ll put two in your dome!” Martin growls, while adding a few of de la Rocha’s patented “Oohhh”s, suggesting the band may still hew a bit too close to their sources of inspiration, but there’s a lot here to appreciate. “Feeding You Lies” and the band’s album Antiquate Hate suggest a new generation is ready to competently take up the rap-rock protest mantle.

Stream the mp3 here, and watch the exclusive debut of their video for “Feeding You Lies” below!

INTERVIEW: Good Guy Bad Guy


Good Guy Bad Guy at Birdy’s Battle Royale (credit: Jonathan Sanders)


If you missed your chance to check out Indianapolis punk band Good Guy Bad Guy when they played during week five of Birdy’s Battle Royale, tomorrow will be your perfect chance to hear them and twenty more locals ready to win you over to Naptown’s punk dark side. 5th Quarter Lounge is sponsoring Punk Fest 2015, starting tonight and continuing all day and night tomorrow with more than thirty regional bands all competing for your attention.

I had the chance to talk with Stephen Ajamie, lead singer for Good Guy Bad Guy earlier this week, and he had plenty to say about the band’s past and future, the difficulties in drawing large crowds to last-minute gigs, and why you should make sure to get to 5th Quarter as early as possible for their noon performance.

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First of all, what’s the story behind the band? How did you guys get started?

It’s an interesting story, I guess. Back a year or so ago I was trying to get a band together so I put a posting on Facebook. And then Shane, who is actually our bass player we had for a little bit, messaged me and said “hey, I’m starting this thing out, do you want to come play with us and see what you like?” So I went that route — it was Shane and Amir, and then they also had a singer named Kevin. So we played for a couple months and then unfortunately Kevin couldn’t show up to practice for six weeks in a row, which was awesome. [Laughs.]

But we kept practicing and eventually we did hook up with Phil, our drummer now. I came in not knowing what the music was going to be, but Phil came in looking for a pop punk type band, which obviously we don’t play. We haven’t yet truly established a sound, which is funny. But it was the four of us … me and Shane took the vocal duties because we kept looking for a singer. We’d both sang with a band before and figured we might as well just do it. He left the band last year in April, so we’ve been rolling as a threesome ever since.

We’ve looked for a bass player here and there, but the three of us have good chemistry so I’m honestly not that worried about having a bass player. Having two guitars, me and Amir don’t really play a lot of the same stuff. We’ll do a lot of the same chord stuff together but then we’ll switch it up, alternating the lead. It’d be nice to have a bass player to fill out the sound, but then again when you’re playing with the same guys for long enough, the chemistry we have is so good that a lot of the stuff we’ve written so far just came out of jamming. Amir might start playing something at the beginning of practice, or I play something, and once Phil comes in then we go back and organize it. But I think that’s the best thing I love about playing with these guys.

You said you haven’t really pinned down your sound yet. What influences were you guys bringing to the table?

Oh man … I know Amir’s really metalesque, it seems. And I’m into that pop punk genre, while Phil’s all over the place with his interests. It’s interesting that I think the influences we listen to don’t really end up coming out, if that makes sense. I’ve always said a couple of our songs — “Hello Cleveland” and “We Got Phil” — they almost have an AC/DC thing, which is straight-up rock. And I never really think about them as an influence. But I listen and there it is.

My own musical taste is all over the place. One week I’ll want to listen to Stevie Wonder all week and the next I’ll want to listen to nothing but Michael Jackson. Even though I always joke “I hope they don’t take my punk rock card away,” because the scene can be so “you better listen to this or you’re not punk enough!” Every day though there’s a different influence on my mind, and that should be the punk rock attitude anyway. The whole idea behind punk is to be accepting of variety, non-conformity.

Do you ever find yourself re-writing or arranging your songs on stage?

Only when we’re practicing. On stage maybe by chance we might decide to extend something out, but I don’t think it’s ever by design, honestly. Usually right before practice we’ll get there, and we practice every Saturday so there’s consistency. We don’t have a lot of songs, so we’ll play through our set every week and then we shoot out ideas and just run with it. I think when we’re done with Punk Fest we’re really gonna get the gears going writing new stuff, because we have been playing these same songs for probably the last year. And I’m ready to add a couple new songs to that.

Have you had the chance to do much in the studio yet?

Nope. All the stuff we’ve recorded was recorded by ourselves in Amir’s basement. We’d mic up the drums first, then our guitars, using my iPad which has GarageBand on it. I’d rather go into the studio though because it’s a lot of work doing the mixing and mastering on our own.

But you got good demos out of it.

Yeah and the thing is these days your home studio, you can almost make that into as good quality, with the right microphones and the right setup, as a studio. I’d like to get back into a studio though — I’ve done it once, because when I interned at a studio their reward was that I got studio time. So with my last band we went in for like six hours and I played and did all the mixing and the recording, which would never happen again. It’s just too much, but a good experience to have. At least I kind of know what to do, and even Amir and Phil, we know what we want to hear. So we might as well do it ourselves. Maybe when we hit the big time we can go into a studio.

You played Battle of the Bands at Birdy’s, and you’ve got Punk Fest coming up. Have you had a whole lot of big shows yet in Indy?

We did Melody Inn’s punk rock night in October, and last June we did Morristown’s Summer Music Festival out in Morristown, Indiana. We did Sabbatical once, but that was a last minute gig. That’s the thing too — we keep getting stuck with these “Oh! We need a band now!” gigs. The Battle of the Bands was unfortunate, because we didn’t know until that Tuesday that we were in. So while we didn’t bring many people out, we really couldn’t. Our fan-base is a lot of married couples with kids, so you can’t just tell them on a Tuesday to come out on Friday last minute.

I’m really curious about the Punk Fest because we’re playing at 12:15 in the afternoon. Hopefully people do show up, but you can only tell so many people, you can only throw it out there so much. But from the looks of it there’s not that much else going on this weekend so that might help.

It’s funny that you’re playing just after noon. Any earlier than that and you should probably just say it’s not early but late, an extension of the night before.

Exactly! And I think Punk Fest actually keeps going from there until early the next morning. If someone survives all the Friday night bands, then stays the whole day Saturday, they’re a true fan!

What are you guys wanting to do in the future? What do you want to push yourselves to do — would you rather tour more or write more?

It’s funny because we never talk about it, we just kind of go. So I hate to say there are no plans, but we just keep saying we want to play more. Even if it’s just every couple months, we just want there to be some consistency so people know of us. Honestly, we don’t have plans. As long as we’re enjoying it, that seems to be the goal. When it feels like work we’ll probably be OK calling it a day. But right now we have fun practicing and when we play shows, even if there’s just two people there I feel like we get a good response. Battle of the Bands was a tough crowd for whatever reason, but hopefully that was just a blip in the road. Because I thought we played the best we’d played in a while.

What do you want to say to people who haven’t heard you before but are thinking of checking you out at Punk Fest? What would make them want to get there early?

I think our music is the best thing we offer. It’s simple, you can sing along, and the personality we bring with our music really fits. We don’t try to be something that we’re not. I’d say just come out to the show, see how much fun we’re having while playing. You look at some bands and it’s like they’re just up there going through the motions. That may be their gimmick, but even if you are going through the motions, at least act like you’re interested in it. We’ll definitely interact with you and keep the crowd engaged. If you want to come get heckled, heckle us! We’ll throw it right back. But just coming out, seeing all the different bands too. There’s going to be a good variety. I’ve got a couple bands I’ve kept tabs on because I do want to talk to them after their sets, if I can find them in the crowd.


With songs that cross paths with Flobots, Chris Merritt and the poppier moments of Chris Thile’s solo work at equal measure, I have to call out Sean Fournier for being among my favorite pop discoveries. “Break My Heart” is a perfect example of his Flobots-oriented bent, the Connecticut songwriter bringing all the hooks great pop music demands while layering in dense lyrics Jason Mraz would appreciate. Having heard most of his last two albums via his page on Tradiio, I can say this song is just an example of what he can do. “Broken-Heart Red” fits in with the best of Chris Merritt’s synth-based originals, and “Origami” brings the two influences together even when it relies on lyrics flirting with cliche (“all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put you together again”). He’s been recording for most of the last decade, touring colleges and honing his craft. His latest, Brace Yourself, is available on iTunes.

THE BEST KIND OF COMPLICATED: James McMurtry’s latest, Complicated Game, a worthy listen

We grew up hard and our children don’t know what that means
We turned into our parents before we were out of our teens
Through a series of Chevy’s and Fords
And the occasional spin ’round the floor at the Copper Canteen

Nobody paints a lyrical picture of modern American life better than James McMurtry, who has the balls to open his first album in six years with the positively brilliant lyric “Honey, don’t you be yelling at me when I’m cleaning my gun; I’ll wash the blood off the tailgate when deer season’s done.” This is the man who wrote the searingly honest “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” about the “WalMart”ification of American life, as well as the beautiful “Ruby and Carlos” off Just Us Kids, the perfect love song about the honest love most people experience rather than the Hallmark-style tripe we’re frequently force-fed.

According to a great interview in Rolling Stone Country, McMurty still takes his work seriously enough that he regrets how most fans misinterpreted his song “Cheney’s Toy”:

“People thought that I was saying that the soldiers were Cheney’s toys — I was saying Bush was Cheney’s toy. There were clues like Cheney saying, ‘You’re the man,’ to Bush to pump up his ego, so he’d go out and sell his politics, which I read in the New York Times. Not everybody reads the New York Times it turns out.”

Willing to admit that he erred in making such a polarizing song anchor the album as a single, he’s chosen to focus Complicated Game, his latest album, on songs tied to real people living real lives. And he’s taken on vocal coaching, apparently, which has given his road-weary vocals even more power.

I’m still digging into the album, but so far I hear no reason to suspect McMurtry’s voice is anywhere near wearing out, nor that his lyrics risk losing relevance. Check out “How’m I Gonna Find You Now” below — his latest single echoes back to the frantic vocal percussion of the fan-favorite “Chocktaw Bingo” in its lyrical Molotov cocktail of American experience.

Three decades into a career with no limits, McMurtry’s proving yet again that he’s the best kind of complicated. And Complicated Game is well worth making an appointment to play.

THE LIVE WIRE: Against The Clocks – “Top Floor”


Rockville, Ind.’s Against The Clocks perform during Birdy’s Battle Royale. They won, advancing to perform again in April. (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

When you come from a small town, sometimes half the battle is explaining to fans where your band got its start without having to resort to pulling out the Google Maps app. Against The Clocks, based in tiny Rockville, Indiana, will dispose of that problem when their new album, 47872, comes out hopefully this March. With any luck the album will put them and the town squarely on the musical map, because what this band offers is an ear-catching blend of classic rock and modern pop, heavy on the keyboards and the hooks you won’t find anywhere else.

With two keyboard players sharing vocal duties, the band really hits the ground running, merging the big melodies of Journey with the rock aesthetic of the Allman Brothers, adding the hooks and production smarts of a guy like Ryan Tedder. Everything comes out in the mix to create juicy pop music you’ll want to have on repeat all summer.

The band performed their song “Top Floor” at Birdy’s Battle Royale in Indianapolis this past Friday, winning their competitive round and advancing to perform again this coming April. You’ll want to be there when they do, but you can enjoy the video below. This is the only place to hear the entire song until the band releases 47872 later this spring!