Matt Stell is one of those Country stars who have been quietly making great music for a while but it was the platinum selling number ones ‘Prayed for You’ and ‘Everywhere But On’ which brought him to the notice of the masses. He followed that up recently with the brilliant ‘Man Made’, a song which pays tribute to the fact that whilst many things might be made by man, every man is made by a woman. Now, he has just announced a headline tour in the States but before he embarks on that, Country fans in the UK will have a fantastic chance to see him play in October with three UK dates in London, Glasgow and Manchester where he will play with the outstanding artist Elvie Shane. This is a wonderful chance to catch an artist who will be headlining in the UK for sure in the very near future I’m sure after an outstanding turn at C2C earlier this year and recent support slots for Miranda Lambert, Old Dominion and Chris Young.
I had the chance to chat with Matt recently and I hope his generous answers and the time he took to chat will encourage you to check out his music if you’re not already a fan and book tickets to one of the intimate shows in October.
EP: Matt, it’s been a year of change for you as an artist. You’ve been busy with music, touring and playing to new Country audiences and crowds in different countries. Has it been difficult to get used to all of that…it must feel a lot busier for you.
MS: Yeah, man. I mean it does take some getting used to from right when we started back, but it definitely is a welcome transition, you know, because this just feels much more normal to be busy and be out there playing a bunch of shows, and getting up and down on the road. For me, that’s kind of what feels like home, what feels normal. Having to take all that time off was the abnormal part. So we’re glad it kind of went back to normal a little bit.
EP: Ok, did you feel that the lockdown was good for you creatively or was it a bit of a nightmare?
MS: It was good in the sense that I had more time than I normally would have had to write and stuff. For that part of it in the summer and fall, you get a fair festival season, you’re playing so much and the schedule is so hectic covering a lot of miles in planes and buses. That’s it, it’s hard to write on the road, you know. I get ideas on the road all the time, but I think definitely being able to log in on Zoom and write with folks and kind of getting a learning curve there and getting used to what that feels like, that was a big deal. It was that which was really one of the silver linings, for sure.
EP: Yeah. I think a lot of the artists that I’ve spoken to whether it’s in Country or Indie music have said that because there was that enforced kind of hiatus period, it gave them a chance to sort of take stock of the artist that they really wanted to be and sort of drill down into that. Did you think that was something that you felt?
MS: Yeah, I think so. Really to me it was just more the function of having the time to write once or twice every day. That I guess really kind of exposes what it is that you’re trying to say, who it is that’s trying to say it. That’s definitely part of it. But, it also kind of comes naturally out of putting the time in a little bit; you kind of whittle away at your sensibilities and kind of know who you are and know what you’re aiming for a little bit better, for sure.
EP: Absolutely. I mean, whilst you’re most definitely a Country artist, the genre seems to have changed a lot in the last decade. Do you think that the way that the lines that define Country music have become a bit blurred has suited your style, because I think you like to challenge the boundaries and I guess collaborating with other people during lockdown has maybe made you look at other styles of music and things that you can bleed into Country music a little? Do you think that it’s a good thing that with Country music the edges are a bit wavier than they used to be?
MS: I mean, I think so, you know I’ve got a heart for traditional Country music and the artist side of me loves to hear the form kind of pushed and evolve a little bit. Some of those changes are easier for me to listen to than others, but I think it’s definitely got to evolve, it’s got to change, just like it always has, like every kind of music. And, I think especially now, growing up in the world that I did, you know, when music’s accessible everywhere, all the time; nobody really grew up on one kind of music. I know people have favourite kinds of music but nobody really just listens to one kind. Or if they do that, then that’s the person in a minority. Most people I know had all kinds of different influences from all over from alternative music to rap music to rock music to pop music that’s on the radio, along with Country music, both classic and current. So, I think that is just kind of a reflection of how we’ve all consumed music growing up and how we still do now. I just try not to be very intentional about pushing the form; I’ll let it kind of organically happen, that’s how it feels the most natural to me. I don’t like to try to go in with a ‘let’s make this sound like this’ approach, it’s not always the ticket for me. I mean sometimes you need to guide it a little bit but usually it’s nice when it just kind of blossoms itself out of your influences and, for somebody who has a lot of different ones, sometimes you get something cool, sometimes you don’t but sometimes you just give it a shot.
EP: I guess nowadays people can cherry pick so much more. When I was growing up, you were very much dictated to by your parents’ record collection and what was on the radio, whereas now, you know, the influences are far more wide. Who are your Country music influences and away from Country music, who are your influences in a sort of wider music spectrum?
MS: Yeah, I mean in Country music, I grew up on radio Country, but I also grew up on classic Country. My grandpa would check out tapes and CDs at the VA (Veterans’ Affairs) hospital; it was like a library and so he would always bring it home. A lot of Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline Ernest Tubb, Elvis. That’s kind of where I got my first experiences with music with somebody that was passionate about it. Then, you know, later on, I had other people in my life that loved Jimmy Buffett and James Taylor. Then, later on, I found a bunch of bands in the 90s and 2000s, alternative bands like Oasis. Still one of my all-time favourite records is ‘What’s the Story Morning Glory’. Alanis Morisette, maybe my favourite record is ‘Jagged Little Pill’, Hootie and the Blowfish. That kind of alt world really spoke to me for some reason and I think, if anything, that mixed in with all of the Country music that I was listening to at the time because that was the default setting. That kind of indie streak is something that I identify with in the music that I make, the music that I consume and sometimes it’s a strength, sometimes it’s a weakness…. no, not a weakness, but sometimes it’s a little too indie maybe for some people in my team because I kind of like to follow my views a little bit like my heroes did. l liked all those guys like Nirvana and Foo Fighters like most people did, but my experience was the stuff that I was growing up on was mainly Country music for a while and then I sort of branched out.
EP: I guess the great thing, nowadays, if you edge too far outside Country music, you can just call it Americana and it can cover everything.
MS: Exactly, I think that the Americana Texas Country like that Red Dirt scene, any of that stuff that sounds like a garage band that started in a barn, like a barn band, to me, that’s where my heart is, that’s where my love of music kind of took me to and where I returned to a lot of times. But really, it’s that independent thing that holds it all together because it doesn’t all sound the same by any stretch and and they’re not all saying the same thing. I think a lot of it is just the fact that it is independent and that it is doing its own thing is the thing that makes it special and that’s what kind of holds it together. It’s that sensibility, even if it doesn’t sound the same.
EP: I think that’s usually the strength of Country music, isn’t it? That it doesn’t all sound the same. From the outside looking in, you’ll get the naysayers that say that Country music always sounds the same, but for me as a Country fan, the strength of country music is that it really doesn’t at all. There’s just everything from Johnny Cash all the way through to say Breland. Your song ‘Man Made’ is doing well, although in the Country music scene it’s always difficult to tell how well a single does because everything seems to burn slower, but it’s slightly away from your usual style. What made you want to record it?
MS: Well, that had a lot to do with it, you know. I’ve put out love songs for singles but most of our stuff is not like that; we’re rocking pretty hard and usually the subject matter is a little on the heavier side. That’s what I love because of the music that I grew up with but when I heard this song, I knew it had this great melody and it’s a cool turn of phrase but it also had this positive thing to it and I thought to myself, man, this song has to be special to hit me like this and to be so outside of my wheelhouse of what I had, to that point, done creatively and that’s what made it special to me. So, I went to the studio and cut it and I’ve enjoyed playing it for people and watching people react to it; you know, it’s kind of a fun thing. When you start to have a little traction on a song you can see the crowd more and more know it, depending on the market, depending on the place you’re playing and singing it back and you know, it seems to be something that is really resonating with people and the whole point is to make music that people care about. That was the thinking behind there, how different it was and how it was kind of a departure from what I do and probably from what I will do, but it’s a lot of fun to do those different things and just kind of let the song be the champion, you know, put a great song out there for people and hopefully that’ll matter to them.
EP: I think the dichotomy of the title is great in that it sort of flies in the face of political correctness with an implication that things are manmade but then you listen to the lyrics and you think no, this is not what I was expecting it to be about and that’s the strength of the song. It’s really well written and obviously Matt, it’s a fantastic song but the video is a great video too, it really adds something. Did you have much of a hand in the production of that? Or the idea?
MS: I really didn’t have much in the way of creating that …. I’m not really that. I feel very at home with a guitar and a pen or a phone in front of me. That’s what I feel I could do is write a song and sing a song and produce a song. You know, I’ve produced or co-produced all my own stuff so I feel very comfortable there. Outside of there, I don’t. I’m pretty humble about my abilities to do something compelling visually. So, once the song is kind of there, I’ve got a team of people that I have shot the last handful of videos with, that always do a great job of telling a story based off of the song and really kind of adding that third dimension to it. So, the video part is very collaborative. You know, really I kind of I guess I would have veto power but usually they come with ideas that I think are great and it really helps to add that visual component to a song
EP: They smashed it on that one. You just said that your passion is for writing and maybe producing. Are you happy now that you’re very much front and centre of the music that you’re making? Do you feel happier doing that or did you prefer being the writer and being in the background and writing and producing? Are you comfortable doing both?
MS: Um, well, you know, my producing stuff is pretty limited; it’s only kind of been my own stuff. But the writing, that’s interesting and I thought about that a lot and I tend to want to say that I would, if I had to choose one, choose writing, but at the same time after we had to be off for as long as we did, I realised how much I really do love being on stage and partying with a crowd and the energy that you get and that you give is a really special thing. So, it’s pretty tough to not want to do one without the other. I guess my heart would, if I just had to, choose writing as it is special because you can do it anywhere and all the time. I don’t have to get on a bus or an airplane to do it but there again I get to play music with a bunch of , at this point, family almost; great dudes and I get to go on the road . It’s so hard to choose. It’s like picking your favourite kid I guess.
EP: Absolutely. The reason I asked is that so many great singers seem to happen by accident when they are thrust into the limelight by singing their demos and people realizing the best person to sing the song is actually the writer.
You are coming back to the UK in October with Elvie Shane. That feels like a great match up for you guys to be singing on the same bill. Your music seems to have the same heart to it. Is that something that you are looking forward to?
MS: Definitely. I can’t wait to get back in y’all’s neck of the woods. Earlier this year I had so much fun getting to play in London and Glasgow. It was so much fun. You can see all of the passion that folks have for country music and then I get to go do it with Elvie. Elvie and I are buddies. He’s great. The whole point of this thing is to make music that matters and his first single matters to a lot of people and he’s got a bunch of great songs that are begging to be heard and I’m gonna enjoy playing music and I’m gonna enjoy being a fan and having the best seat in the house right next to him when he’s playing songs.
EP: You’ll get the best of both worlds. UK Country fans pride themselves on being attentive to the music. Do you find a difference in the way Country music is consumed here in comparison to at home?
MS: Yeah, a little bit, it’s regional here, it kinda depends. I think with UK audiences, what I’ve noticed is its kind of a scarcity thing in the same way that when huge UK bands come to America it’s a scarcity thing, a novelty a little bit; It’s something that you can’t get every day. I sort of notice that a little bit and folks are attentive in a different way whereas I guess if you thought you could come see us a couple of times a year …I’m guessing that’s kind of why the attention that’s paid, the way people care about the music and the songs, the way people are not bashful about caring about music which is sometimes a little different from here. Sometimes you can be too cool to care about things, which I’ve never found cool at all, but some people are. I really felt it there that people were ready to listen to music, both the stuff that they were familiar with and the stuff they’d never heard, I really felt that was special, the attention that folks pay.
EP: I’ve just come back from The Long Road Festival and you played C2C earlier this year. Can we hope to see you back at a Country music festival here again soon?
MS: Absolutely, we played C2C earlier this year and that was my first experience getting to come visit y’all so absolutely man. Music festivals are the best, you get to go there and hang out with a bunch of friends in a huge group. Listen to a bunch of music that you like all in one place. They’re the best, so yeah definitely you can expect to see us around.
EP: I’m off to see Breland in October and it’s around the time you’re over. It’s billed as ‘Breland and friends’…. could you be one of those friends?
MS: Haha we’ll see; we’ll see…
EP: So going forward, what’s in the pipeline. Is there a plan or do you just like to give a song its wings and see where it goes and play it more spontaneously?
MS: There’s a lot of songs in the pipeline. The way that music is released now it doesn’t have to be so planned, it doesn’t hang upon physical shipment of things so release dates and plans like that can be a lot more fluid. I do have a new song dropping in a few weeks that I’m pumped about. There’ll be more stuff about that very soon but I’ve got a bunch of songs I can’t wait to play for people and for folks to hear so …
EP: I’ll be coming to see you in October and I can’t wait. Thank you for your time and thank you for your brilliant music, it’s great to see artists like you finding deserved success. Thank you!
MS: Absolutely. We’ll see y’all soon.