Interview ~ Matt C. White

Matt C. White crossed our musical radar in 2018 here at I’m Music Magazine. After a few listens, we thought we knew what he was all about. Boy, were we wrong! He writes the songs, plays the instruments and even produces. If that’s not Prince-like then I don’t know what is! His music is also as diverse as some of the stuff that Prince released. He can go from folky to stoner rock to ambient music in the blink of an eye. If you don’t believe me, listen to his Matt C. White release Wallow in the Hollow followed by Grandpa Jack’s self-titled release followed by one of his Realizer tracks. The North Carolina native cranked out some of the most original and infectious music that we heard in 2018, thus making us big fans. We were able catch this busy guy for a few minutes when he wasn’t recording or writing to talk about his impressive 2018.

Dude, you were busy in 2018!

Matt C. White: Yeah, I was looking back at it yesterday. It ended up being 21 releases and 75 songs.

That’s Prince worthy territory!

(Laughs) I have the things under my own name, and then Grandpa Jack and Dead Seconds are things I put a little more time into, I guess. With Realizer, I just press record, let it go and try and make a pretty sounding guitar track. As soon as I’m done recording, I’m like ok that’s the song. It’s definitely more impromptu. It was definitely a crazy year and what started the Realizer stuff and turning out so much music was meeting this guy. He started a label up state that specializes in peaceful guitar and contemporary classical and stuff like that. He’s really been encouraging me to put stuff out and has been helping me playlist stuff on Spotify and make a little money off of it which is awesome. Spotify is a really weird hustle.

I agree; I’ve heard both sides of the argument and I can see points made on both sides.

I don’t make any money off of Matt C. White or Grandpa Jack, well maybe $5 or something since the record came out. If that was all I had then I would definitely be a proponent of “Spotify sucks.” Realizer has been able to fund those other projects, so I can buy more gear for Grandpa Jack or whatever.

You mentioned that you had been playing guitar for a long time; do you know where it all began?

I don’t know if there was an exact moment, but my mom was always really into music and started that journey for me. She played a little guitar and they got me one when I was ten. I think what really got me into guitar was Jimi Hendrix. I remember the first time I heard a Hendrix song. My dad was going into a gas station and “Fire” came on. It was one of those things that didn’t leave my head for a couple of weeks. I went down that wormhole and bought up a bunch of Hendrix songbooks. I really feel like this year and maybe last year after moving to New York and having a proper job that I am never going to be better at anything else.  I’m not being conceited or anything, but I’ve been playing since I was ten. I haven’t been doing graphic design or working at a coffee shop since I was ten. I realized that I needed to hone in on it more and just push it.

Do you remember the first time you got to perform in front of an audience?

I played in a band in high school and it’s funny because it was a reggae band. It was probably one of those shows so I was probably fourteen or so. It was probably in a coffee shop or something.

Let’s talk about another one of your bands Dead Seconds.

That was my passion project where I played, wrote all of the lyrics and stuff. That’s the first band that I started doing when I got here. Now, five drummers later, I’ve had to pick it up, write everything again and book all of the shows so many times that I’m just kind of let it fall away. I’ve had this whole record of stuff that I had recorded over the course of a year and I just really wanted to put it out.

I think I saw a mention from you about the album taking three years to make.

Yeah, some of those songs have been around for a while now which is kind of awesome because it gave me time to really scrutinize them and rethink parts. It also sucks because I’ve heard them so many times that it’s hard to know if it’s good or not.

It’s hard to separate yourself from a project like that, so do you lean on others for input?

There are asking friends and showing friends, but they’re always going to tell you that it’s awesome (laughs). It was harder with Dead Seconds because I was writing most of it but with Grandpa Jack we just leaned on each other real hard. We’ll all reach a point, especially in mixing and mastering, where you’re not just listening to the vibe but for a random guitar noise or whatever. Then it comes out and you don’t listen to it for a while until a couple of months later. You hear them then and think ‘yeah, these are kind of cool.’

You definitely have many layers to yourself because your releases sound so different. What or who do you credit your diversity in both playing and songwriting to?

I think it’s compartmentalizing emotional outlets. To me, Grandpa Jack shouldn’t have sad songs, so that is an angry or aggressive outlet. Matt C. White is a little more sad or bluesy and Realizer is nothing but optimism. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious thing when I was doing it. It’s finding an outlet for all of the ways that you can feel; a band per emotion if you want.  The other thing is that I listen to a bunch of different kinds of music. I spend most of my time listening to heavier stuff in the vein of Grandpa Jack and Dead Seconds, but I also like hip-hop and all sorts of stuff.

I read that you produced and mixed your Matt C. White release Wallow in the Hollow?

Every instrument on that record is me and since I recorded and wrote it all as well, I technically produced it too. I did everything until I handed it off to mastering.

In a day and age where too many artists are using backing tracks and smoke and mirrors, you are a breath of fresh air. It raises my appreciation and respect for you even higher.

Thanks man; I have a room in my apartment that all soundproofed and it’s where I do my recording and stuff. Other than a couple of the drums tracks on Wallow in the Hollow (which were done in the studio), it was done in there. Wallow started out as four tracks and I decided to make my band my name and things started happening and I didn’t fight it. Then, thirteen tracks, there it was.

You released a music video for “Oath.” Were you coming up with the idea for the video while you were recoding it was it a secondary thing?

It was totally a secondary thing and it was a funny thing too. I have roommates who are filmmakers and they wanted to do a music video. So, I was thinking about the songs and which ones that would lend themselves to visuals as well. I picked “Oath” and I started bouncing ideas around with my roommates and it started to take shape. I ended up directing that music video and that was another first for me. The scenes that you see in the hallway are in my apartment and stuff. All of the actresses and actors you see in it were looking to add it to their portfolio. So, other than a handshake and a sincere heartfelt thank you, they didn’t get paid at all for it.

“Black Spiral” from Wallow in the Hollow is a favorite of mine. Can you give me any insight into that one?

You picked a doozy and that one is crazy! I had that dream, all of the imagery in that song and I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote down the rough idea of it. In that dream, I heard a rhythm and I wrote out scat for how it was supposed to be. I woke up the next morning and thought ‘what the hell is?’ It took me the better part of the day playing drums to get the rhythm that I   heard in my cream. In the dream, I was climbing up a spiral staircase, but there were no steps and it was smooth. When I got to the top, there were kids trying to get to the top so I was helping them. One of them fell off from the top of the spiral and I went down to help them. There were people there accusing me of doing it. There was another person on the ground and they had this sinister look on their face and I knew that they did it. When they could tell that I knew, they transformed into this beast. I fought the beast for a little bit and then I woke up because I wasn’t winning (laughs). That was literally the dream, so I wrote all of that into the song.

Does that happen a lot?

That one blindsided me; it had been a while since I had one like that because I was shaken. I woke up and even in my barely awake state I knew it would make a crazy song and had to write it down. I do have a lot of vivid dreams but not ones that have a crazy story in it like that. I do tend to remember my dreams and I do like to write them down.

Another release you had was Rose Door with Charles Ellsworth. How did the two of you end up making that one?

We’ve been playing together live for a long time and I went out on tour with him out west. Rose Door started because I had been telling him that I had the means to record and that we should do a split. Honestly, with the success that Realizer has had, I wanted to do two tracks with lyrics and two instrumentals. The two instrumentals would be cool, folk, chill vibe types and I think they could do really well. He had the “Rose Door” riff for a long time but he said he could never come up with words for it so I told him not to. We could make it an instrumental track and open the EP with it. I had an old song originally called “Favorite Flower,” but I really didn’t like the lyrics or the vibe so I decided to re-write it. He had one called “Blossom in the Sun” and we realized that we had all of these “flower songs” so the theme manifested and we rolled with it. We didn’t record everything on this one ourselves. We had some friends do pedal steel and some violins and stuff like that. I like that record; it’s not as rough around the edges as Wallow in the Hollow. I think it’s beautiful and I like how everything came together.

“Rose Door” has the coolest, chill vibe flowing through it and it is quite beautiful. It does make me wonder, how do you name an instrumental track?

You just go with it and don’t overthink it! There’s this entire world of instrumental stuff on Spotify and Ambient songs. What’s funny is that there’s even a niche for Christian Ambient instrumentals. There are no lyrics; just a title and you wonder ‘how is this Christian?’

“Foxglove in A Major” was another one that made me wonder.

(Laughs) Ok, so the song is in A major and I like the old, classical songs where it’s ‘such and such in the key.’ I thought, I’m going to do that plus, I just like foxgloves. I think they’re cool and they’re poisonous so that’s cool.

You have definitely been turning out a lot of tracks on Realizer.

I don’t listen to a lot of music that sounds like the Realizer stuff; I typically like more intense music. I get that people want to listen to something and meditate or zone out. What Realizer does for me is I get to do that while recording it. I get this really intense two hours of focus and there are no other instruments so you have to be very dynamic and very intentionally with the way you play. It really forces you to focus and meditate.

Your self-titled Grandpa Jack release totally blew my mind! That’s a lot of power coming from three guys! What’s the origin of the band?

We used to help manage and run this DIY practice space underneath a bar called The Tiger Lounge. Dead Seconds used to practice there along with the band that was before Grandpa Jack which was really them with a different drummer. As drummers are one to do, he skipped town and they hit me up. I started messing around on drums and I had never played in front of anyone before. I love guitar but there’s nothing like playing drums and singing.

You’ve actually been able to do some live dates with Grandpa Jack.

We’ve wanted to play once or twice a month. With Dead Seconds, it was a bit of a struggle to get people to come out, but people want to throw down at Grandpa Jack shows. I don’t know what it is, but people want to party and have a good time. We have some time off because we’re about to record an EP in January. We have four new tracks and we want to get them out there. I’m excited man; they’re very similar to the other ones we did, but they’re not as long as some of the other ones. It’s very meat and potatoes kind of stuff going on.

Do you think living in North Carolina has helped mold or shape your songwriting in a way that maybe New York or Nashville wouldn’t have?

For sure; I think that anywhere you live there’s going to be upsides and downsides and I think the ratio’s probably the same of good to bad, but way more of both in New York. It’s still probably 50/50, but way better stuff and way more bad stuff. There’s a lot of opportunity here and I probably wouldn’t have met the guys that I play with now. I think Wallow in the Hollow, the whole thing, is just homesick North Carolina boy. Who knows; maybe if I would have stayed in North Carolina it wouldn’t have turned out so folky or Southern?

You’re an artist that definitely seems to stay busy and productive. Is there anything coming up that you want to mention?

Well, I mentioned the new Grandpa Jack EP. There’s a dumb amount of Realizer stuff coming up. I have an idea for the next Matt C. White and it’s also going to be an EP. I’m pretty sure I’m going to call it Revenge. It’s fun to have a name before stuff falls into place because then stuff starts to mold around it. I might re-tell old folk stories that have to do with revenge.

One last question Matt and we’ll wrap this one up. We’ve lost quite a few icons over the last few years. If you could bring back any musician to sit down, have a drink with and chat, who would it be?

That’s tough man! If it was a recent musician, it would be Lemmy and we could talk about old Motorhead times. If it’s musicians of all-time, then it would probably be Hendrix. I think he would have some interesting insights. I think what I am coming to terms with and what makes musicians just go for it and end up being globally accepted is their ability to not care what people think. The straight up ability to shed their ego and I think he had that down to a science. When you stop worrying about what the response to it will be, you chase after it uninhibitedly.

By I’m Music Magazine Owner/Editor Johnny Price

CONNECT WITH MATT C. WHITE

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