Singer-songwriter Matthew Ryan has reunited with his former musical partner, Neilson Hubbard, as Strays Don’t Sleep to release a new four-song EP titled A Short Film For a Long Story (out 10/30).
As each artist’s solo career began to take off, Strays Don’t Sleep proved to be short-lived ended up being on the backburner. While Ryan and Hubbard gained more and more notoriety individually, Strays Don’t Sleep — the eponymous album they’d recorded in Nashville, released on Bjork’s record label, and supported with plenty of touring on both sides of the Atlantic — only grew in renown. A cult favorite and critical triumph, the album became a commercial success during the streaming era, with the single “For Blue Skies” racking up nearly 4 million plays on Spotify alone.
Most of us know Ryan — already an accomplished songwriter whose albums mined the intersection of folk, punk, and blue-collar roots-rock — would go on to release 12 acclaimed recordings over the next 14 years, mixing sharply-written autobiography with character-driven songs about heartbreak, hope, and humanity. Meanwhile, Hubbard’s stature as one of Nashville’s go-to producers, engineers, and photographers would grow to greater heights during the 2010s, a decade that found him working with everyone from Mary Gauthier (on the Grammy-nominated Rifles & Rosary Beads) to John Prine.
But what brought Ryan and Hubbard together as Strays Don’t Sleep after the band ended so abruptly 15 years ago?
“I think we both thought in the moment that we wouldn’t make music together again. But it’s funny how time has the ability to give us perspective and educate us about ourselves. I think we both have been so busy doing our individual careers (Matthew’s solo career, and my production and video work) that we were able to grow individually,” says Hubbard.
“I think we recognized in time that we had shared something unique. It’s difficult to find true collaboration with someone, but that was what we had 15 years ago and as time passed we felt our friendship mature, we started to sense that pull to make music together was still there. I feel like we see certain things differently from time to time, but ultimately we view making art with such a shared vision. I know Ryan truly believes in the power of art and beauty, how it has the ability to heal, and transcend us through our connection to it… And each other. I feel the same way. I think we knew the second we started talking again that we would kick the tires again. At least I know I did.”
The recording process during this pandemic made things a bit tricky as pre-production was done over FaceTime as Hubbard would play and Ryan would sing, causing one to hear the other’s voice delayed. But in the end, it made getting in the room to record easier because they had worked tirelessly to feel the songs in their own controlled environments.
“Ryan and I have such a great working relationship in the studio,” adds Hubbard. “I feel like he gets so excited when a song starts coming together. That excitement is infectious to me. It makes it feel easy to me to do the work to land a song. There’s always a point in every session where we hit a wall though, where we get stuck or lose the song for a moment. We then enter what I call it the “mute everything period.” It’s when we have to deconstruct a little, we have to peel everything away to see where we went too far or wrong or something.”
While there might be many themes to grasp onto in 2020 for inspiration- BLM, elections, pandemic -most of us are sick of the “news” themes. Hubbard and Ryan cut to sing of their own way of finding personal freedom and self-realization without interference from uglier interferences.
“I feel at the heart of this EP there is a story about looking in the mirror to find the way out. Modern living has told us we are participating in a story that we don’t have control over, that we must believe certain things to find our value and belonging. Ultimately we have the power to walk away from self-destruction. We can choose to love ourselves and each other. “I Walked Away” begins by exploring what we must turn away from inside ourselves to even hope for “peace.” The rest of the EP follows what is possible, a kind of reclamation. Like everything though, there’s a cost. But still, maybe something like freedom,”
Now in 2020, A Short Film for a Long Story brings Ryan and Hubbard back together for the first time in 15 years. Glide is thrilled to premiere Strays Dont Sleep’s EP in its entirety (below). This ravishing autumn collection of four tracks are indeed as hopeful as they are mysterious. Graceful instrumental interludes and hush vocals create an intimate world that mirror’s Bill Callahan’s finest statements.