HAVE A BEER WITH MATT WERTZ
Meet Matt Wertz, a Nashville-based musician who has been a force in the singer/songwriter scene since 2001. Over the past twelve years, Matt has released multiple EPs and six full-length studio albums, including his debut Somedays, the fan favorite Everything In Between, and Heatwave, his most recent release that promises listeners a punchier, more beat-driven version of his sound—and even an on-stage appearance from a kickass embroidered jean jacket.
We caught up with Matt over some 312s before his gig at Lincoln Hall on Friday, October 18, and chatted about the Nashville scene, his recent obsession with ‘80s-inspired pop music and the ways that gratitude can change your perspective on life.
Also be sure to check out Matt’s involvement with The Mocha Club, a project that promotes giving up two mochas (or lattes or cappuccinos) a month and donating that money to the Village of Hope—a safe haven for African women who were once sex slaves of the militant rebel group in Northern Uganda, LRA. I’m planning on giving my mochas up, are you?
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: We’re a site that loves to drink. What's your drink of choice? It doesn't necessarily have to be beer.
Matt Wertz: It's impossible for me to ever pick one of anything. I'm the worst at superlatives.
Kristen: Okay, how about a few top drinks?
Matt: So, a Vieux Carre is at the top of my list. Second is this drink called Hayride. It's rye whiskey, apricot liqueur, apple cider and simple syrup that's infused with cinnamon and all-spice. Basically, it tastes like the fall. Third is a Moscow mule, especially if somebody makes their own ginger beer and it's good. Anything with ginger beer, I'll drink it. Lastly, I love a mojito in the summertime. I kill those things. I'm going to sound like an alcoholic. Beer is so heavy sometimes and I can't drink wine because it puts me to sleep. Red wine...I'm asleep in like thirty minutes. I kind of have to do mixed drinks.
Kristen: Usually that’s the case for me, too. So, you're based in Nashville. How long have you lived there?
Matt: Twelve years. I love it in Nashville. I'd be there if my career didn't benefit from it, but it's a good strategic place to live for that reason. The people are awesome, the traffic is minimal…It's a very livable city. People come away from visiting Nashville and I think it really makes an impact on them.
Kristen: So, why Nashville over L.A. or New York?
Matt: I'm just not an L.A. or New York kind of person. I'm more laid back, and both of those places stress me out. I love visiting them, but I wouldn't want to be there longer than ten days.
Kristen: And if you feel stressed out, it does a number on your creativity I'm sure.
Matt: It is a good creative boost though to just go there. The cost of living in both places is so high. L.A. is so spread out and trying to sustain friendships and relationships there is really tough...That’s what I’ve gathered just judging by friends who live there and what they've had to say about it. I own a house in Nashville...Ten minutes away I'm in the country...There's a lot of creative stuff going on there, too. I don't really feel like I'm missing anything from being there as opposed to on either coast.
Kristen: What do you think about the Nashville music scene? When you were first starting out did you feel differently about it than you do now?
Matt: Yeah. When I moved there twelve years ago it was primarily country and Christian music; that's what the industry was, and I'd say those are the two industries that are prominent still today. But there are so many bands that are starting out now that aren't either one of those. It's very Williamsburg [Brooklyn neighborhood] in that sense. There are a lot of hipster bands starting in Nashville, and some of them are getting recognized. Because Nashville has made such a mark, people are looking to see what's coming up there. It's crazy how much it has grown, and it feels very alive and vibrant. When I moved to town, it was before Taylor Swift—BTS, so to speak—so the country music industry was a little sleepy. She hit in 2006...and things started to get interesting. Lady Antebellum sort of came around that time, Paramore, Mat Kearney…There were a lot of Nashville-based pop acts that kind of broke through the scene, and because of that, the city started to feel really vibrant and alive.
Kristen: On any given night in Nashville, where would we find you? What bars do you like?
Matt: I'm definitely a creature of habit. I live in a neighborhood called 12South. There's a bar there called the 12South Taproom, but it's primarily beer. And like I said, I'm kind of over beer…I say as I drink a beer. But there's a place over in East Nashville called Village Pub that does “Mule Mondays,” from six until ten pm and you can get half-priced mules for like $3.00. So, that's killer. I don't really go get drinks that much I guess. Sometimes we'll go to The Holland House over in East Nashville, and there's a new place called The Tippler and they've got mule drinks. If you can’t tell, I love Moscow Mules.
Kristen: Let's talk music. You came out with an album at the end of August called Heatwave, which is what you're touring on now. What was the creative process like for that album?
Matt: A lot of the songs were written to drum grooves that I programmed on my computer. A lot of times I would hear songs and I liked the way they felt and I’d start to study them. I’d ask myself, "Why does this feel so good?" or “Okay, what are the kick and the snare doing here?” I would mimic those songs, find out what felt good and write to the groove. And it's funny, I was listening to an interview with Haim—I don't know if you've heard of them…
Kristen: Yeah, I love them. Saw them play here at Lincoln Hall for a Lollapalooza aftershow.
Matt: No way...Well, they actually wrote their record the same way I did…to grooves. The first song that was written for Heatwave is called "Get To You," and that's the first single on the record, the one that we did a video for. That was the one song that set the tone for the record and served as a guide for other songs on the album.
Kristen: This is your sixth full-length, right?
Matt: Is it? I don't know...[counts with his fingers]. Yeah, and I did a Christmas one, too. So if you count that, there have been seven. And EPs, I've done a couple.
Kristen: With any of those albums or EPs did you ever feel like, "This is getting really hard to generate content and keep things fresh”? I imagine that would be really tough.
Matt: It's hard. It was intimidating after Twenty Three Places. That was my second record. To make the third record was really intimidating because I had toured on Twenty Three Places for so long and that was the record that a lot of people were introduced to my music on. After that, there was a lot of pressure to deliver. My third record, Everything In Between felt more like a sophomore record than my actual sophomore record because that was the one that people found out about me on. And I look back on Everything In Between...that record was hard to make but I mean...If I were to do a "Greatest Hits," Everything In Between has like four of my best-loved songs on it. Trying to go back and recapture the magic that was happening in the time of life that Twenty Three Places was recorded was hard.
Matt: When we made that record, I was brand new to town. It was just me and my buddy Dave Barnes—who was part of the production team—and Ed Cash—who I was a fan of forever, both as a songwriter and a producer…We were just living it up, and I was making a living doing what I wanted to do. At twenty-two years old, I had zero cares in the world. It was a special time and it was impossible to recapture that. But this record, Heatwave, had a really similar feel to making Twenty Three Places because we took our time with it. We had a really high threshold for quality of song and we really scrutinized stuff. We were very meticulous about making sure it was right before we put it out. When you do that and when the record comes out, you have zero regrets. There's nothing I would change on Twenty Three Places, and there's nothing I would change on Heatwave.
Kristen: That's a really good thing.
Matt: And then you go out and play and regardless of whether or not people are picking up on it or not, it's like, "Well, I like it. I did everything I could." You hope that every time you do that, it's matched with equal energy from the audience. I've found that my fans love Heatwave. That's been a fun thing that's totally unsolicited, and this time, I don't need it. There have been some records I've made where it's been like, "Do you like this? Are we okay?"
Kristen: It's like a relationship.
Kristen: What's the hardest thing about being on tour?
Matt: The hardest thing about being on tour when you're out consistently is feeling totally disconnected from friends… It's easy to lose grip on reality because you're the center of the universe on tour. It's not really healthy to be in that spot for very long.
Kristen: I don't know how people do it for a year without going home.
Matt: I could see if you had the momentum going and you were killing it...You have to strike while the iron is hot, but I mean, golly. The longest tour I ever did was three months with a week “off” mid-way through and I came home and I made a video. So even that week was not a week off. I came off that tour and I was spent. I had a pretty good tour opportunity come up after that and I turned it down because I just couldn't do it.
Kristen: I think you know yourself and what you can handle, and if it's not going to be healthy for you or your music, then what's the point?
Matt: Yeah, it's really disorienting, and I've never done a bus tour. The thing with buses—from what I understand—is that you drive through the night, so you're waking up in the city that you're playing in. You can actually explore and feel a little more grounded.
Kristen: What's the least rock-'n'-roll thing you've done in the past year? Uncool, nerdy...
Matt: Oh my gosh. I have one, but I'm trying to decide if I should tell you this or not. I'll say this. So, I have a hernia right now and I don't know how it happened. I don't know if I've been singing too hard. When I sing, I have to wear a brace. It looks geriatric. It looks so geriatric. It looks like an adult diaper so that I don't freaking strain my hernia. Isn't that ridiculous?
Kristen: That's the best.
Matt: Yeah, that's really un-rock-'n'-roll. It helps a ton. I'm also doing vocal warm-ups two hours before I go on. Those two things together are like magic.
Kristen: Maybe pretty soon you won't have to wear the diaper.
Matt: I'm kind of likin' it. I have to get surgery; I'm just trying to figure out when I want to do it.
Kristen: What are you listening to right now?
Matt: A lot. I'm loving anything that's kind of '80s-inspired pop music: I love Haim...I love Chvrches, I love the Tegan and Sara Heartthrob record.
Kristen: Have you heard of St. Lucia?
Matt: Would I like them?
Kristen: Yeah, they opened for Haim at Lincoln Hall.
Matt: I’ll check them out. Lord Huron is also a big one recently. I freakin' love Lord Huron. They’re really cool. Also, take a listen to Foy Vance’s album Joy of Nothing. It’s amazing. I've really enjoyed discovering music lately.
Kristen: What's the best advice you've ever received?
Matt: You know what's funny...I realized it here, at Lincoln Hall, the last time I played. It all centered around gratitude and being grateful. Gratitude really kills comparison. I can really easily compare myself to other people or even compare myself to previous versions of myself, and the quickest antidote to that is taking a survey of what I've been given and being really grateful for it. It's hard to compare yourself when you're living in gratitude. With comparison, you just can't win because you either find yourself one-upping somebody and it's this prideful ego thing, or you find yourself not measuring up and you feel bad. You can never win. But being grateful for where you are and what you have has no relationship to anybody else or what they're doing. I'm alive, I get to do something that I love to do today, I'm healthy and I'm with people I enjoy being with. I have to remind myself to be grateful often or I’m screwed.