OKLAHOMA CITY – I recently had the chance to sit down with Matt Stansberry to ask him some questions about his newest album, Crash Landing. It is dropping with a CD release concert this Thursday, June 12, so it was very cool to chat with him on the eve of its release! Here are my favorite parts of the interv-
Wait, what? You don’t just know who Matt is? Impossible. Well, just sit back and I’ll catch you up. Then, the interview.
Matt Stansberry is a talented musician and artist. His music has been featured on MTV and at the Cannes Movie Festival, and his graphic design company (Nominee Design) has provided style for a multitude of artists, both fledging and established. Basically, he’s a guy with a knack for creating great stuff.
His early musical projects include three albums with the Matt Stansberry Band and a solo EP titled Self Portrait. His last album, Brighten It Up, saw Matt begin work with his largest band yet, the Romance.
The Romance is a 9-10 piece band with a full horn section, backup singers, rhythm section, and his brother Joe filling in with a little of everything. While the vibe is retro (the band has a 50’s-60’s flavor) the lyrics and overall tone are decidedly current.
Now that you know who Matt is, let’s get on to the interview. One last thing – it should be noted that Matt spent the first half-hour of our conversation asking me about one of my recent controversial pieces. I was there to interview him, and we ended up talking about my work for thirty minutes. He is that kind of guy, thoughtful of others. Anyway, here are my favorite excerpts from our conversation.
Q. The last album was titled Brighten It Up. This album is Crash Landing. What’s up with the change in lyrical tone?
Matt: This whole period from the last one to this one, life experiences and observations (caused the change in tone). Not everything I’m writing I’m living through, but I’m vicariously living through everything on there if I’m not living through it. This album does get a little more “real.”
It’s a little more vulnerable, I’m a little more out there. Because while life and relationships are often good or even great, sometimes they’re not, and there are periods where things get a little darker. I wrote a majority of these songs when I was seeing a lot of that.
Other songs I wrote weren’t like that, but they didn’t make it on this record. I was drawn to ones with darker-toned lyrics or that address little issues. And some of the songs are really lighthearted about it, like “The Runaround.” “Crash Landing” is actually writing about observing friends go through a divorce, so that’s really heavy.
Q: I also wrote a song about seeing people get divorced once. I barely even knew the people! But, it really affected me.
Matt: Right! It affects people. I don’t think people always realize the impact they have on others around them. It’s not always fair that it’s like that, but it’s how it is. This record is just a lot about that. But, none of it is angry, and I don’t think it’s going to come off as being a depressed record or sounding down. It’s just more of a “real life” record.
I’m allowing myself to explore new areas with the Romance and be okay with it. I was talking with Heath (the sax player) about it – he said ‘You know what I like? I think this (darker tone) fits the band because any good romance isn’t just living on the high part of it all the time. There’s depth to it. You’re going to go through hard times and come out ahead.’
And the silver lining is, the overall theme is, if you listen to “Crash Landing,” the plane doesn’t crash into a ball of flames. It was a rough landing, but it did land. Think about it – a normal landing is gravy; those happen all day long. But when it gets rough and you land, the rejoicing at the end of that’s pretty amazing. You weren’t going to make it, but you did. So to me, that joy is even deeper than the positivity on Brighten It Up.
Q: So when you say this one is more “real,” do you think the first one wasn’t “real”?
Matt: That’s a good question. (Laughter) Brighten It Up isn’t a naïve record – I think there’s a time and place for songs that encourage people. But I don’t think that’s where people live their lives all the time, saying “this is all great.” I think more “real” means more people can relate to these issues rather than relate to being “up” all the time.
Q: Did you know you were going to do this album while you still working on Brighten It Up?
Matt: No, the first one lived on an island. The whole Romance thing formed around that album. We were recording and I hadn’t even met Myra and Chanda yet. I met them in the studio to record, so it was not a true band yet. So, I would be lying if I said I was already planning this second one because I didn’t even know if the first one would ever really get done.
What’s funny is I’m already writing a third record. I started that one before I’m even done with this one. I’m writing a ton! I was even writing songs today; I’m writing like crazy right now. But that was not the case with the first one. It was its own little thing, very isolated. Otherwise, it would’ve been like me being a genie thinking ‘I can be really ambitious with this!’ – I didn’t think that at all. It was very conservative even though it was a big project.
Looking forward, I’m very excited to have all three albums. Maybe I’ll even do a little box set! Something cool about each record is, theme-wise, they each have their own color. The first record is kind of cream, almost white. This one is black, and the last one is going to be red.
Each album will cater to its own color, which sounds weird to say, but colors have themes and moods to them. Like, when I heard these songs (for Crash Landing), I knew the album had to have a black backdrop. On the other hand, the songs I’m writing right now really fit red. Pretty interesting.
Q: Cool stuff! So, I noticed some of the songs are a little edgier. Was it a conscious decision to branch out from the straight 50’s vibe on this album?
Matt: That is a mix of intentional and accidental. There are some things where, right at the beginning, I would talk (with the band) about things that would be nice to do on the next record. I want the process to be organic, so I try not to do that too much, but I’ll get with Jeff (drums) and Raul (bass) and we’ll talk about things, like having more of the groove on the bass and drum ends. Stuff like that.
But I really evolved a lot since the first record. I got some new gear, I was listening to some different things, and I was playing differently. So much so that there was no way I could play like I did on the first record anyway.
(The change in sound) is something I talk with Joe about a lot. We talked a long time ago about how it would be cool to do a little bit more funky stuff, like a James Brown kind of thing. So some the new and different stuff is intentional, but it can also be unintentional. Like on Game Over, there’s some “surf” guitar stuff that was never intended to be on there – it just happened in the studio.
Q: I noticed a new sound. Bari sax!
NOTE: Matt and I had a funny conversation about the inclusion of bari sax on this album. Unfortunately, I ran out of space on my iPod and the recording stopped for about ten minutes before I realized it. Rookie mistake!!! Ugh!! Thus, I don’t have Matt’s exact words. But – I remember him telling me that he was really excited for the bari sax, and that he must’ve said “bari sax” about a million times during the project. So there you go; there is bari sax on the album, and it was a fun addition for everyone involved. Next time I’m NOT going to run out of storage. Grrrrr……..
Q: Did you write all the songs? Or did you have a co-writer?
Matt: Joe did change one of my lyrics. On “Crash Landing”, there’s a line where I was saying ‘the wheels are crashing down, the wheels are falling off.’ He said “I think it would be cool if it said ‘the wheels are crashing down, the wings are coming off.’” That seems small, but that is a big change. He took it to a whole new level. He’s so good with ideas.
Also, sometimes Chanda and Myra will add lines on the fly. Like, Chanda will come up with lines the girls will sing, often in the studio. I will sing them a melody line (hums a riff) and she will say, “Cool, what about this?” and have words on the spot.
I think it’s very important for any group to have a core songwriter. Like, Coldplay has Chris Martin, the Beatles were rare with two, Keith Richards writes a lot for the Rolling Stones. So you want to have that kind of core person that brings the content.
But, while this is a band with one primary songwriter, you can’t have the sound of the band unless the whole band weighs in on it with their signature sound and style. That’s one of the reasons everyone likes being a part of the group, getting to share their distinct flavor.
Q: What do you want from this record, career-wise?
Matt:The day I stopped worrying about a career is the day I started really liking music a lot more, and good things started happening on their own. So, my goal right now, career-wise, is just focused on the art of it. I’m not 21-years-old trying to get a big, fat record deal. I just want to create the art that I want.
My dad once went to a concert where Stevie Ray Vaughan’s brother Jimmy Vaughan was playing. My dad knew I was a big Stevie and Jimmy Vaughan fan, so he went and got Jimmy’s autograph for me. And on the autograph it says “Matt, play the music you want to hear. Jimmy.” And that was the first time something had been dumbed down like that for me.
It seems like “Okaaaay” like it’s so simple, but then you realize how many times musicians aren’t doing that. Like, sometimes I realize I’m not doing that. And you don’t even know it! I’ve tried to make an honest effort to follow that advice since then, and I feel like the Romance stuff is what I’d probably want to hear.
Also, this is the stuff that I want when I have grandkids one of these days. I want (them to see the album) and say, “Oh, that was cool!” It is a part of my life, and it impacted people. And I don’t care whether it’s 5 people or 5 million – I don’t care how many I’ve impacted. As long as I’ve had an impact.
Still, I do want to be able to tour a little more with this, and I do think it would be cool to get signed to a label, but only if it makes sense. But overall, I feel content right now because I’m not trying to force any big career moves. I don’t care. I just care if people like what we’re doing.
If we’re doing the right thing and people are into it…you can’t go wrong with that formula. I don’t know what the future holds, but I feel like it’s in a good place right now.
Grant Stevens has wittingly become the greatest music writer in the world with one single interview. When not winning Pulitzers for his nuanced critique of the aural arts, he writes about movies, books, video games, and a host of other stuff. Also, he’s really into apologetics, and he is the founder of the Use Ironic Correctly Society. And, believe it or not, Grant has an album. Craziness. Listen to it here.