Located in beautiful Leicester, England, is a brilliant musician named Matt Steady. Matt is an expert in his craft, as he composes all of his own material for his songs. He has an excellent singing voice and also plays many different instruments. However, I don’t think you could meet a more humble musician or genuinely kind friend. After being recently introduced to his music, I had to find out some of the secrets behind his art work and creative process.
Meet the fabulous Matt Steady.
You are a gifted multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and composer. What instrument did you learn first and what compelled you to begin playing music?
Do you count voice as an instrument? If so, then my early years growing up in a Salvation Army family meant I was singing pretty much from the word go. I certainly remember not really being able to read the words of the hymns! Otherwise, it was when we came back to England – I started learning violin and piano in primary school. My abiding memory of my early music lessons was actually that my piano teacher used to give us a Malteser at the end of a lesson if I’d done well! (Do you know Maltesers? Little round chocolate coated honeycomb)
How many different instruments do you play now?
My mainstays are guitars and violin. There are lots of other instruments that I get by on well enough to record what I need for my music – piano, bass, uilleann pipes, mandolin, banjo. To be honest I feel that any “finger instrument” I could probably have a mess about with for a few hours and come up with something half-decent. I don’t play any brass or woodwind (I don’t count the uilleann pipes as you don’t actually blow into them!) but there’s always time… I’m not that good on drums though!
In many typical “band settings”, the bass player writes the bass parts, the lead guitar player writes the lead parts, and so on. This is different for your music, as you write and record all the different instruments on your album (except for drums?). Because you are the sole composer for the majority of your songs, how does this influence your writing?
It’s very freeing in a way – I can treat it a little bit more like writing an orchestra score. I have full control on the balance and shape of the song. I try and weave instruments in and out to give a sense of flow and movement and variety. I move the instruments and sections of the songs around a lot as I write – it is a very fluid process. If I had people playing all those instruments I would drive them mad with change requests! You’re right – drums are the main instrument that I delegate out, to my good friend Niklas in Sweden. I create rough MIDI drums to help me write and instrument the song, and to give him an idea of what I’m after. Sometimes he does something similar – sometimes he surprises me and does something completely different. In those cases I have to firmly remind myself that I’m a musical control freak, take a deep breath and listen to what’s he put together about 10 times in a row. After that my brain forgets what I’d been expecting and catches up with his vision and without exception he ends up blowing me away. His drum tracks add so much to my songs!
What inspires you to write new music?
It’s quite often something in my own life or in that of friends or family. I don’t normally write lyrics exactly specific to a situation, but it forms a kind of “emotional foundation” on which the song is built. I also credit the BBC news website for two of the songs on the upcoming album! They have some amazing articles that are so inspirational. There’s one about a grand piano in Gaza – an incredible tale of survival and hope, and another one that is about cave divers going back into a terrifying situation to retrieve the body of one of their friends. It would be hard for me to make up a story as inspiring as those real life ones!
Give us some insight into what your creative process is like. Where do you begin when you write a new song?
I need a bit of inspiration to hang my hat on. Either a fragment of a lyric, a sound or riff I’ve been playing with, or an instrument. Sometimes I use sounds of nature too. Zikara’s Lament was improvised on the fiddle over crashing waves on the sea-shore, and Skogr was developed over forest and camp fire sounds. I record as I’m writing (and I record EVERYTHING! If you don’t you can guarantee you’ll play something amazing, forget it and lose it forever). I find lyrics the hardest piece of the puzzle – and often the part I’m most proud of as a result. I’ve been playing instruments for donkey’s years, but I’ve only been writing songs for 2, so it takes more hard graft compared to the music which generally comes together fairly easily. Unlike a lot of song-writers, I don’t generally write lyrics then put a song to them (yet) – I find it easier to write them as I’m creating the melody.
Do you find that there is a routine that you follow for songwriting or is each song it’s own journey?
I don’t really have any kind of routine at all yet! With my day job and family and training, my music is fitted in when I can. The beauty of having a home studio is that I can dip in when I have a free hour. I’ll quite often have a bank of phrases, chord sequences, sounds etc. that I’ve been playing with and could be used when I feel they’re appropriate for a particular song. I get to the end result by different methods pretty much each time. Hopefully as I start to put more time into song-writing I’ll get a good routine in place and it might speed up a bit!
I hear Celtic, Blues, Singer/Songwriter, and even Rock roots in your music! What genre do you feel that your music is associated with the most? What musical path do you see yourself following in the future?
I think “roots” is a good description. Celtic, blues, country – they’re all roots just from different places. Rock is really just blues that’s been turned up, and blues is pretty much old-time spirituals with guitars. I do listen to all those genres (and more), and a lot of rock too. I love so many types of music – they all appear somewhere in what I play. I write what comes out and run with it rather than trying to write songs in a certain style to hit a target audience. I’m a marketing nightmare from that point of view, but I know that my music has come straight from my heart and means more than if I were coldly calculating a song using a formula designed to be appealing to radio. What I would say is that the listeners I’m interested in are music lovers that seek out new sounds and experiences – and they don’t care about genre either. While having brain-washed masses who “listen” (perhaps “hear” would be a better description?) to popular radio could certainly be more profitable, it isn’t really my cup of tea. Sorry – rant over! I don’t have a destination in mind for my future direction – I’m just going for a gentle ramble in the countryside enjoying the sights and sounds. I could end up anywhere!
I recently read a scientific study documenting the effects of “sad songs” on the human brain. The study found that listening to sad songs ultimately brings a feeling of comfort. Does this resonate with you – as a listener or composer?
Yes I read that article too! Gretchen Peters said that “melancholic songs make me happy” and that really resonates with me. “Sad” songs tug my emotions in ways that happy songs don’t. Even happy songs need a bit of longing or looking back over the shoulder to have meaning and make you feel something. My wife teases me at times because my songs tend to be on the more melancholic side. When I play live I often have my daughter Indigo singing with me – she brings a bit of balance and we sing a lot more upbeat tracks. She’s the Tigger to my Eeyore!
Tell me how you use major and minor chords to incorporate specific feelings into your songs?
That’s an interesting one! I don’t actually think about major and minor at all. I do have a classical background and know my theory, but I play what needs to be played rather working out what it should be. But the majority of my songs are in a minor key to get that true Matt Steady melancholic tone!
You released your debut, “Blood is Thicker Than Gold”, a full length album in September, 2015. What are your plans for your next release?
The next album I’m scheduling for October 2016. It’s unnamed at the moment – but I’ll tell you now the name won’t be as long – I’m fed up with typing that out! I’ve released a couple of singles from the album which seem to have gone down well. I’ve written and recorded 10 songs so far and I feel it needs another one or two to finish it off. I’ve recently been having some vocal lessons which have had a big impact on my singing – to the extent that looking back I need to re-record some of the vocals from the older tracks. Then it’s the long process of mixing and mastering, artwork, distribution etc. I’m planning on releasing it on CD again as well as online. It costs me more but I feel that having an album in your hands is really important. It’s a real thing that has to be completely finished and done and then is set in stone. Digital releases are great too, but there’s nothing like having the real thing.
You are in essence, “quitting your day job”, this fall to further pursue your music career. Do you have any advice for musicians who are pushing against the grain to keep making music?
I’m in a interesting situation. Music isn’t the reason I’m leaving my job (I won’t go into the details!), but I’m using this opportunity to become my own boss and do something I love. I want to make a difference with what I do, and I feel that I can do that in this area. I often get people writing to me to let me know that I’ve touched them with my music, and that’s something that I’m increasingly less able to do in my current job. I will probably end up doing some contract work on and off to pay the bills, but I’d love to get to the point where I can go full-time. It will be a mix of making my own music, session work and production/mixing/mastering other people’s projects too. it’s incredibly exciting, but also very scary! My wife is very supportive in this venture and fortunately has a good job. It feels like now-or-never – an opportunity to take a jump and see what kind of splash I can make! In terms of other people… perhaps I should wait and see what happens first?
Advice to others trying to pursue their own dreams?
There are so many voices telling you that you can’t. Friends and family, the media. Society forces a message on us of get a “proper job” (cue train-spotting quote). Your own brain tells you that you aren’t good enough, that what you create isn’t good enough to expect people to pay for it, that you could fail miserably and end up bankrupt and embarrassed. That you don’t deserve it. But you do! Be clever about it – plan and have a fallback and do it gradually. But do it. Set yourself goals and write them down. Review them. Prove them wrong. Prove yourself wrong!
Don’t Let The Music Stop has an ongoing playlist of songs that are chosen by the interviewed artists. Is there a song (or two) that has helped you get through hard times in life that you would like to have included on the playlist?
Yes, please – Gretchen Peters’ “Everything Falls Away”. Yes, it’s melancholic. Yes, it makes me happy. 🙂
I’m very grateful to know you and really appreciate you taking the time to do an interview with me! I wish you all the best and a brilliant future!
I feel privileged that you’ve asked me! Many blessings!
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Never give up, never give in. You are needed, you are important.