ONE ON ONE WITH MATT
Matt talks about his background, his music and his favorite artists
1. Matt, we understand that “you’ve got game”—you played college basketball at a pretty high level on a team that made it to the NCAA Tournament a couple of times. What’re the similarities between being an artist and being an athlete? Well there are definitely some similarities. When it comes to touring, being in a band is a lot like being on a team. It takes everybody working together to make good things happen. In fact, the team aspect is one of my favorite parts of touring. Also, there are lot of ups and downs in this business just like in sports. In both cases, the key is dealing with setbacks and challenges in a constructive way.
2. What were your first musical influences? I grew up listening to all kinds of music. My mom had Alison Krauss and Bonnie Raitt albums in the house and my dad had country radio on in his truck. My step-dad had the first vinyl I ever got my hands on and Al Green was on the top of the stack. Some of my childhood was spent in Florida so Buffett was in the air. Back in Arkansas, my granddad had tapes of Johnny Cash, Earnest Tubb and Patsy Cline and I couldn’t leave them alone. And I can’t forget the Heavenly Highway Hymnal we sang out of on Sunday mornings.
3. When did you start playing and writing music? I really started playing in college between basketball practice and rounds of Tiger Woods PGA Golf on Playstation. Once my fingers callused up I really took to it. I fell in love with Texas Country music and most of those guys wrote the songs they recorded. I really dug that so I started writing songs soon after I could play barre chords. Then it was all I wanted to do.
4. If, for some reason, you couldn’t pursue your musical dreams any longer, what might your chosen profession be in place of music? I’ve been focused on music for a while now and I still love it. But if for some reason I chose to do something else, there is really no telling which direction I would go. I was fortunate enough to be able to finish graduate school with a Master’s degree, and not owe any money for it, so I could put that to work. I hope I would pursue something meaningful that positively impacts others the way music can. Recently, I was part of a medical missions trip to Haiti. I got to assist doctors, pharmacists, and nurses with caring for people who truly needed it. The experience was really powerful and I actually thought about pursuing medical school afterwards. I was accepted to a premedical program at Harvard University, so if for some reason my musical plans change, I would strongly consider medicine.
5. You’ve opened for some very established artists like Luke Bryan, Eric Church and Chris Stapleton. How do you compare what you try to do in opening a show for these artists versus what it takes to headline the same show? Great question. Opening a show—especially a big show where the majority of the audience doesn’t know who I am—is very different from playing to a crowd that came to listen to me. In an opening set you only get 45-60 minutes and sometimes less to perform. The main goals are to get people’s attention and get them turned up for the headliner. Usually I try to play the most energetic set I can and have a blast doing it. At my shows I try to do the same thing, but I’m also not afraid to play some of my slower songs and a cover or two. One of the best things in the world is seeing people sing the words to songs I wrote so I make sure to play the songs I know people came to hear.
6. Merle Haggard was very outspoken about his concern that traditional country music, whether it originated in Nashville, Austin, Texas or his hometown of Bakersfield, California was losing its roots. If he were still alive today and had the chance to listen to your music, how do you think he’d react? Well, Merle was certainly one of the greats. Country music definitely means something different now than it once did. It’s more of a radio format than a genre. But then again, the Bakersfield Sound permanently changed country music and now it’s part of its DNA. Now there is a wave of artists that are definitely tied to the roots of Country music so it’s a great time for music. I don’t always fit neatly into a genre or programming format, but I hope if Merle heard my music he would recognize it as an authentic expression of myself and what I grew up listening to. I try to be true to what it is I think is cool, creative, and unique and I like to think Merle would appreciate that.
7. There’s a rumor going around that you’ve been a member of MENSA International, the association of high IQ folks? Yes I’ve been a member of MENSA. Supposedly it has to do with IQ, but I paid for my groceries and left them at the store last week so I have my doubts.
8. I read somewhere you are a frequent guest on a Sports Talk Show? Yes, I was invited by Justin Acri who is the Producer of "The Buzz" , a 3-hour sports talk show, to join him on the show and talk sports. You can't pass on an invitation like that. I love sports and I love talking about sports. We have a lot of fun.
9. What is your take on “Bro-country?” Bro-country is like any other kind of music; there’s good and bad examples of it. It’s made for partying and it reflects a time in life that is full of energy. It’s not usually my cup of tea, but I’ve been to shows where stadiums of people are having a great time to that kind of music so it’s not all bad. And it’s not like the idea of drinking and partying is all that new to country music. It’s a fact of life. I get it that there has been an overrepresentation of it on radio for a while and it’s hard to hear a Country station playing songs that sound like Redneckelback all day. But it’s 2016 and anyone can get on their phone and listen to quite literally anything they want at any time. So I guess my short answer is that I get it, but I’ll be glad when there’s less of it on the radio dial.
10. When asked to describe the broad category of music you create and perform within—whether it’s Country or something like Americana—you’ve been known to tell people that you dread answering that question. How do you currently describe the true category for your music and why is that such a challenging question for you to answer? When pressed, I describe my music as some kind of hybrid of Americana and Country music. I guess I dread the question because it’s hard to answer without feeling like I’m boxing myself in.
11. What’s the most fun you have ever had performing and why? It’s hard to pick an instance, but my last record album release party near my hometown of Morrilton, AR was pretty great. I lot of people came out and had a great time. Also opening for Gary Allan at Lone Star Park was a trip. There were several thousand people there and I won some money on the horse races that day.
12. You recently released the music video for Country Love Song. Was that actually shot near Nashville or closer to where you grew up in Center Ridge, Arkansas and have you been pleased by your fans’ reaction to what you portrayed in the video? The video was shot in my Center Ridge. As a matter of fact the house in the video is my grandmother’s house and the field with the lake is on my dad’s property. I’ve been pleased with the response, yes. We were able to put a little different spin on the traditional country music video. And if you put it on mute it’s still cool because of the truck and the hot girl...
13. What can you tell us about the songs you are now writing for your fourth CD that is set for release later this year? I’m really excited about the new project. I have written a whole bunch of songs that I like and I’m still writing songs for it while I try to choose which ones fit together. I can’t wait to share it soon.
14. Did one of the AAU basketball teams you played on in high school actually play a young LeBron James-led team? What was that like? You’re pretty tall, so did you have the opportunity to match-up against the great LeBron one-on-one? Yes I played against LeBron in AAU back in high school. Actually we played against him twice and won one of the games somehow. It was like in the Little League World Series when a hardscrabble gang of Bad News Bears plays against one of the Central American teams with a “twelve year-old” pitching that has a full beard and children of his own. He was a man among boys. And hell no I didn’t play him one-on-one.