Sometimes things just come together perfectly.  A year ago, in February, I brought together a group of six extremely talented young women to make a music video for a song on the about-to-be-released Matt Ryan record. Everything about “(I Just Died) Like An Aviator” rocked.  It’s one of my favorite shoots, one of my favorite videos. You can watch it here.

Then, last Wednesday, I read that Matt would soon be releasing an unadorned acoustic version of the same album.  He sent me a copy, and I immediately turned on the acoustic “Aviator” and before the song was over I knew what I had to do.

The texting began. I started with my Matt Ryan-impersonator Chloe Barczak as she would have to carry so much of the idea I had in my head.  She was in.  Then co-producer Charlotte Beatty to handle the organization.  And the first video’s guitarist Carina Begley, as the guitar was (except for a few piano notes at the very end) the lone instrument.  An acoustic version of the same team, so to speak.

Then I told Matt we were again making a music video of “Aviator.”  He never even asked what we were planning, and instead got American Songwriter Magazine to agree to premiere the video sight unseen.  He sent me the chords and even a video for Carina on how to play a few of the guitar parts.

By Friday of last week we had a schedule and a location.  The same location as the original video.  We all met at 8:45 AM on Sunday, loaded up my Jeep with almost all of my gear, and drove the two tenths of a mile to the home of Dean and Shellye.

As Carina got used to the feel of my Martin acoustic, Charlotte and Chloe helped me set up lights and camera.  By 10:30 we were filming, buzzing from a lot of Willoughby’s coffee, Coke-a-Cola, and salted-caramel Orangeside Donuts.

But this time around Chloe and Carina had their work cut out for them.  My concept was to present the video in one long take.  No cuts.  Just a perfect performance and some precise rack focusing. No sweat.

We worked on blocking the first half dozen times through, as Chloe worked on her emotional delivery.  She felt this version of the song was really sad.  Desperate.  Depressing even.  Both Charlotte and Carina agreed.  I was not about to argue.

We got the blocking just right, the lighting perfect.  And by the twelfth take I started noticing tears in Chloe’s eyes.  That was when I knew we had something special.  We knocked off one take after another, with barely a pause between, and she nailed it.  Take sixteen was fucking brilliant.  Take eighteen was perfect.  We did a few more.  I had a B-camera rolling just in case my impossible one-shot idea would not work.  And after the twenty-fourth take we wrapped.

I got home around 1:30 PM.  I copied the footage onto a drive as I put away the gear.  Then I started editing, going back and forth between takes 16, 18, 12 and 24…but ultimately the fucking brilliant won out.  It would be take 16.  I added titles, the slightest color correction, some film grain, and I exported the timeline.  By 4:30 PM I texted Matt, Chloe, Charlotte, and Carina a private viewing link for the video.

This is what Matt Ryan wrote to me after seeing it for the first time: “My god she’s killing me. I seriously have tears in my eyes.  I love it.  Breaks my heart.  It’s beautiful  Please tell them I love it.  Thank you for thinking to do this.”

His appreciation was appreciated.

Matt stripped down a beautiful song, and allowed us to do the same to the original video.  But this video is unadorned in other ways as well: void of ego, attitudes, rude people (unlike most of the rest of my past few weeks, hell, unlike most of the world we live in). It was just four people working together, all doing what they need to do, having fun doing it, turning a beautiful song in a visual work of art.

Thank you to Chloe, Charlotte, and Carina, my brilliant cohorts on this project. Thank you to Dean and Shellye for again letting us invade their home.  Thank you to Matt Ryan and American Songwriter for the blind trust.

And here it is:  American Songwriter Magazine

Sometimes things just come together perfectly.

“Boxers” by Matthew Ryan

I’ve known Matthew Ryan for about a decade now. I was introduced to him via my wife, who knew I was looking for music for my film YOU ARE ALONE. She discovered him when watching TV one night, ONE TREE HILL to be specific, and a Ryan song came on. She knew me well enough to know how I’d react to that sandpaper and honey voice.

I bought every record, and yes, eventually used Matt’s songs in not only YOU ARE ALONE, but also in FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) and in my latest film BROKEN SIDE OF TIME (for which he wrote the theme song). But my discovery of his music came mid-career. The infectious rockers of earlier albums like MAYDAY had been replaced with haunting introspection. The songs were depressed and lonely, perfect for the films I was making. And albums like FROM A LATE NIGHT HIGH RISE felt like a glass of good Scotch going down. His music was a drinking buddy. It was a Matt Ryan song Sinatra was really talking about when he sang “It’s a quarter to three…”

MR Boxers cover FINAL copy

Then earlier this year Matt sent me an early mix of his new album BOXERS. The songs were like nothing I had heard from him before. Anthems, rollicking and rambunctious. Songs that would not leave your head for days. It was as if an invisible beast had sudden been awoken. And the man who could so easily break your heart with one piercing line, could now rock your very soul.

But I didn’t want to talk about the album then. Why, if no one could buy it. So I kept it on the back burner for many months. Hell, I even directed a music video for the title track.

And then I received the final mastered version of the album a few weeks back, and the record that had secretly been on my list of the best albums of 2014 was even better. The tracks has been re-sequenced, and somehow that made them all the more powerful. Like chapters in a book, telling a tale of greater scope and vision.

And what exactly is that story? It’s Matt Ryan saying “I’m still here. And I’m not giving up.” The title track “Boxers” makes that abundantly clear. A soaring rocker about having your back against ropes. “How do you say goodbye/To a dream that just won’t die,” he sings, adding later, “All our heroes had no choice/Some busted chords and a broken voice.” And those heroes make their presence felt in every corner of the album’s eleven track boxing ring. Matt’s well documented love of The Replacements and The Clash especially can be heard in songs like “Suffer No More,” which would have been one of the best songs on “All Shook Down” had Westerberg in fact penned it, or the brilliant “An Anthem for the Broken” which had to be written with the ghost of Joe Strummer watching over Matt’s shoulders. These are the sort of songs that a lesser musician would build an album around. But the problem here, if you can call it that, it that there’s too much greatest to go around.

“Then She Threw Me Like a Hand Grenade” with its chorus of “You might feel lonely but you’re not alone” is presented twice on the record. And though it harkens back to the Matt Ryan songs I first fell in love with, there’s hope in this world view. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Until you arrive at the demo version of the song which is included as one of two bonus tracks. There, Matt’s voice, bruised and vulnerable, drives us to despair. I actually don’t know which version of the song I like best. They are different animals. One runs free through open fields no longer being preyed upon. The other hides in darkness waiting to fight back. Both are beautiful.

But the masterpiece on “Boxers” is “God’s Not Here Tonight.” This to me is the song Matt Ryan was born to write. It’s the anthem for life in American in 2014, a commentary on those in power, those who feed us the news. On one hand its title is the headline the New York Times secretly screams every day, and on the other its refrain of “I don’t care what you wanted/I don’t care if you’re scared” is the mantra of seemingly every elected official. It’s a song that hooks itself into your psyche, his “Bastards of Young.” It’s a song that ranks as one of the best recorded by anyone this year.

With guitars blaring, this record sounds alive, as if Matt Ryan himself is the boxer up against the ropes. He’s not ready to give up on that dream. In fact he just landed an upper cut to the jaw to pretty much every other rock band around. “Boxers” is that sort of a knockout.