An Interview with Matt North

Image courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

Recently, we caught up with veteran drummer, Matt North. Among other things, we touch on how Matt is kicking off 2022, his origins in music, his latest music, and a whole lot more.

If you would like to learn more about Matt North, the link to his Bandcamp page is here. Once you’ve checked that out, dig into this interview with Matt. Cheers.

Andrew:
Matt, as a young musician, what first gravitated you toward music?

Matt:
Kris Kristofferson. I was a 1970s kid in the glory days of Hee Haw and Soul Train, and both shows built my DNA. I remember noticing how Kristofferson wrote songs, recorded albums, and showed up playing characters in films so he made me want to try it all. But as a child, the one record that really lit the fire was the soundtrack for American Graffiti. I can still sing all the songs, and I can still recite all the Wolfman Jack soundbites.

Andrew:
What were some of your early gigs where you cut your teeth?

Matt:
I grew up in Champaign, Illinois. I played drums in bands inspired by The Cars, The Clash, and especially R.E.M. Champaign’s music scene was a treasure. Rolling Stone once called it “Little Nashville.” Before DJs took work away from live bands for private parties, my drum teachers passed down jazz and blues gigs to me, so I began working professionally at thirteen. Allison Krauss was from Champaign, and I grew up playing with her brother, Viktor, who has been Lyle Lovett’s bassist since 1994. My biggest influence was the late Jay Bennett, Wilco’s guitarist on the early albums. Before Wilco, Jay was in all the cool local bands and I’m lucky I got to play with him growing up.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about recent events. Tell us about your new release, Bullies in the Backyard.

Matt:
It’s my second album, and the secret origin of the songs is now a public document in our Federal Courts. I wrote them while fighting a seven-year lawsuit against Nashville Public Schools over violations against my son’s special needs. No, it’s not ten songs about a lawsuit, but each song came from intense periods where I needed an escape. Fortunately, we won the case. Musically, I always say there is no such thing as “solo albums.” Every track has the same core band. Without them, songs are just blueprints. I should point to guitarist, Stuart Mathis from Lucinda William’s band, bassist Chris Donohue from Emmylou Harris’s band, and keyboardist, Michael Webb from John Fogerty and Chris Stapleton. I never try to put a saddle on a mustang, and I told these guys, “Do whatever you want.”

Image courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

Andrew:
From a songwriting perspective, how have you evolved to this point? What’s changed from your younger years?

Matt:
I started writing songs in my thirties. I started finishing them in my forties. I’m a late-bloomer with a forty-year drumming career behind me, so that makes me different. Recording and performing for years with other songwriters taught me song structure, and how songwriters think. I always secretly wrote lyrics, but what’s evolved is how writing became a habit as opposed to something I do when I feel inspired. I write every day even if I don’t feel inspired, and frankly, once a song is finished, I can’t tell the difference between “inspired lyrics” and “sober lyrics.” That’s what’s changed, it’s all about showing up. Easier said than done, but on good days, inspiration hopefully kicks in.

Andrew:
Going back, you worked with Maria McKee. How did you get the gig?

Matt:
To be clear, I produced an album called I Can’t Die In LA for the Los Angeles band, Hail The Size. I tracked drums on all the songs and Maria McKee sang on three tunes and played piano on the entire record. After that, we recorded some demos for fun, but the way Maria and I met is a good story – Maria and my wife had been best friends since their freshman year in high school. When I was in high school, Maria was at the peak of success with her band, Lone Justice. I had a big poster of her on my bedroom wall! So years later, to come full circle and record with one of my favorite rock stars from my teenage years was meaningful. That said, after I married my wife, I think I waited about ten years to tell her about the Maria McKee poster in my bedroom. Timing is everything. [Laughs].

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Matt:
When I was in Los Angeles from 1998 to 2010, I had some success as a screenwriter. I wasn’t a hotshot, but I got a deal with ABC Television and the money allowed me to isolate for two or three years where I just read and wrote every day, nine to five. I read hundreds of screenplays and it led to jobs as a story analyst. Storytelling stands out as a passion for me. Screenplays use techniques so readers can see the movie in their minds. A movie’s first job is to make people feel. That’s a song’s first job, and my favorite songs are the ones that put a little movie in our minds. I sneak in those little cinematic techniques when I’m editing lyrics.

Andrew:
If you had one piece of advice for your younger self musically or personally, what would it be?

Matt:
Musical advice to my younger self: play like you’re in church, make it sound like an orchestra, and for God’s sake, just be yourself.

Image courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

Andrew:
If you could have a drum battle with any artist, young or old, who would it be, and why?

Matt:
Jim Keltner. He wouldn’t try to battle another drummer. He’d make music with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Most drum solos sound like someone kicked furniture down a flight of stairs. I never saw music as a competitive sport, and never understood musicians that do. Drums feel like an instrument that pits musicians against each other more so than other instruments. What I want to see are more bassoon battles.

Andrew:
As an artist, what’s allowed you to progress to this point, and what will keep you moving forward in lieu of stagnating?

Matt:
My favorite “progress quote” is from basketball coach, John Wooden: “Never mistake activity for progress.” It’s easy for musicians to fall into the “activity trap” and feel like they’re progressing. I try to do one simple thing a day to get better. Whether it’s fifteen minutes or several hours, I either write or practice drums or learn new chords on guitar and piano. Forcing myself to do things I have an impulse to procrastinate is the only way I’ve ever progressed. Everything else is mere activity.

Andrew:
Last one. With this new record in the can, where do you go from here? What’s next in all lanes?

Matt:
I have a lot of new songs and a great home studio, so I’m having fun recording new stuff. Live shows are in the future, but it’s a mystery due to COVID. Despite live shows I see getting promoted now, I see just as many getting canceled. The last thing I’ll do is put a bunch of grown-ups in a van and drive four hundred miles to play for thirty people in a room that seats three hundred. That was fine in my twenties, even though it wasn’t fine. All I want to be is a fifty-year-old songwriter. When I’m seventy, I’ll start a boy band called “Matt North and the Hip Replacements.” [Laughs].

Image courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

Interested in learning more about Matt North? Hit the link below:

Be sure to check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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