Matt Stern makes beautiful music that makes you feel so many emotions and somehow makes you feel seen and safe. I always enjoy conversing with him via social media or text because he is one of the most positive, comforting people I’ve known. Matt is from Victoria, BC but travels often and is exhibits an extensive knowledge of the world, which was what I first noticed about him.I met Matt and his boyfriend Brandon in Palm Springs last year and have enjoyed getting to know him, them, and his music. He is someone who embodies what a musician is, you can tell he truly enjoys creating music, sharing his gifts, and putting it all out there so the world can enjoy his art.You can judge for yourself by our interview:
Q: For those who aren’t familiar with you, tell us a little about how you got interested in music and then how you got started.
Matt Stern: I’ve come to describe music as the thing that always draws me back. I’ve been making up songs since I was little, and every time I do other things in life, after a while (sometimes not very long) I’m struck with a very strong compulsion to write and sing. I was very shy about it at first and spent a lot of time tinkering in my bedroom. Then to get comfortable playing in front of people I started busking in the metro tunnels of Montreal, where I’m from. From that point on I started making musical connections with people and following this mysterious path of bread crumbs that keeps me learning and growing and creating.
Q: Do you remember what it was like to make your very first single and album?
Matt Stern: Yes. First I collected a little package of 7 songs I had written and set myself up to record a demo in the basement studio of my mom’s friend’s friend’s son. I loved hearing the songs fleshed out and full. I used that as a first step and started dropping it off all around town – in phone booths (which were still being used then), at bus stops and in other unexpected spots where people could discover it. I left my email address so that people could send feedback. A couple years later I went back into the studio to co-produce my first professional full-length album with two Montreal producers whom I’ve stayed friends with to this day. We booked two weeks initially and then wound up spending about 2 years working on it.
Q: Tell us a little about the new album ‘Take it or Leave it’? Is there a general theme? I’m sure there are lots of personal songs on it.Matt Stern: This album came out completely differently from what I imagined at the outset, and there were so many surprises along the way. First I thought I would record mostly new songs, but when I dove into the rehearsal studio I found that the songs I wanted to record were real oldies – many songs I had started to write over a decade ago and had left on the back-burner unfinished. Again there was this kind of deep compulsion, almost a responsibility, to not let them wither and die, but to breathe new life into them and update them for 2020. Then I had this image that the album would come out sounding raw and kind of edgy and rough around the edges, thinking about how my younger self sounded singing those songs. Instead they continued to transform and came out sounding very smooth and vibey in the end. I love how many times they changed shape. It really kept me on my toes.
Matt Stern: This music video was a total experiment. I got together with my friend, director Daniel Zemancik, who moved to Canada from Slovakia just a few years ago. It so happened that his good friend, director Lukas Hanulak, was just about to move here as well and was inspired to start a new creative project. We decided to venture up Vancouver Island to a kind of haunting location near Duncan, BC, bringing the song idea and a few artifacts along the way. We didn’t have a script or a narrative to begin with and instead let the story develop as we went. The shoot wasn’t without its own drama – at one point, we were filming in the rain at old abandoned train tracks and I had a full-on panic episode. I was cold and working on very little sleep, and I kind of froze. They handled it well and we were able to get some unexpected shots because of it. The song was also a surprise to me. It was just a few lines at first but it kind of wrote itself while I was preparing to record the album and eventually became one of my favourites. PHYL (Felicity Baker) who does backup vocals in it sounds gorgeous. To me, the song is about changes in life course, shifts in identity, choices that haunt us, and the mystery of fate.
Q: Do you plan on releasing more singles from this album? Any plans for more videos or touring?
Matt Stern: Oh, definitely. There are tendrils in a few different directions. I have some creative connections in Japan and have been invited to perform there in the near future. I always love collaborating with dancers, and have been working with an amazing dancer in California on plans for the next music video. And I am always drawn to touring back on the East Coast, so I have plans to head back toward Montreal and the surrounding area for some special events in and around Toronto and New York.
Q: What advice would you give to your younger self if you could go back in time?Matt Stern: I’d sooner take advice from him! Well, in some ways. I think that he was more fearless than I am now, and I would like to recapture that sense of open, unencumbered discovery of the world. But I would also tell him that it’s safe and good to express himself fully, to be wholeheartedly devoted to what he loves, and to surround himself with people who champion him for it.Q: Who are some of your dream collaborations?Matt Stern: I’d love to have my songs sung by singers that I love, like Lauryn Hill or Bonnie Raitt or Sade.Q: Describe yourself using three hashtags.Matt Stern: #sosensitive #staycurious #whoamiagain?
Q: What would you change about the current state of the music business if you could?Matt Stern: I think the value system is still a bit upside-down. I’d love to see a focus on fostering real artistic community and valuing collaboration rather than over-emphasizing individual wealth and fame. I know a lot of musicians who have so much to offer but suffer from not knowing where or how to share their music because the system can feel really inaccessible at times. I think there are a lot more places in society for music-makers than we realize and I’d love for it to be more of an open system where there are many ‘ways in’.Q: I know you and your boyfriend, Brandon, are avid travelers. Where are some of your favorite places you have visited so far? Dream trips?Matt Stern: We recently made a trip to Banff with Brandon’s parents and loved being up in the mountains. We also loved being in the desert in Palm Springs last year, and have had an amazing time exploring the rainforests here on Vancouver Island. Everywhere we go we find ways to be around nature and animals. I’d love to bring Brandon with me next time I go to Japan, and recently we’ve been talking about making a trip to Europe. He is inspired to go to Ireland to connect with some of his roots there.Q: What’s up next for Matt Stern, his music, and travels?Matt Stern: I’ll be frank: I spent pretty much every last dime on producing this new album, and believe me, I have no regrets! But this next chapter for me will be a lot about building a solid and stable foundation to make my next moves from. I could see myself going to a totally new location to work on an entirely new creative project. Let’s see what comes of that..!Q: Where can we find you online to find out more and keep up with you?Matt Stern: I am on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter all @mattsternmusic and my official site is mattstern.comMatt’s new album, ‘Take It or Leave It’ is available here:
His new video for ‘Full Moon’ can be seen here:
All Photo credit goes to Jerod Thompson.