When Music Runs Deep Into Your SoulFeb 09, 2021 01:08PM ● By By Catherine Diehl
Iredell County has a star that has been shooting across our sky for some time, and since September 2020, he has been shining even brighter. Local songwriter, filmmaker, vocalist, and guitarist, Matt Walsh - Statesville , Statesville, NC, is a Statesville native who recently found himself in Nashville, Tennessee to record his latest album, 'Burnt Out Soul,' (Full Bloom Records) at the famous Columbia Studio Record Studio A.
After his friend called him asking if he had enough songs ready to record for an album, Matt jumped at the amazing opportunity and said yes, even though he didn’t actually have any songs written. Who could pass up the opportunity to record in the same studio as legends like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Dusty Springfield, Patsy Cline, Simon & Garfunkel, and others? In two weeks time, Matt had an entire album ready to go and he thinks it’s his best one yet.
A childhood dream
Matt vividly remembers when his love for music became more than just about a song. “The first thing I can remember is singing to ‘Sha Na Na’ into the vacuum cleaner when I was 5 years old, which was one of the first songs that really sparked my interest,” and from there, his love for singing and performing grew. He listened to a lot of music, especially Motown and Stevie Wonder, with his mom just riding around in the car, and when his mom took him to a Prince concert during his Purple Rain tour, it sealed Matt’s path in music. “It made a real impact on me as far as deciding that I wanted to do that. I wanted to play music and entertain people with my music,” said Matt, and now years later, he’s doing just that. His uncle also played a huge role in his life when it came to music. He introduced him to 60’s bands like Jimmy Hendrix and the Rolling Stones and other genres like the Blues and Muddy Waters.
Learning from his mom and uncle started his craving for music. In order to learn even more, he started going to the public library in Statesville to look for records. They had a huge collection of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, and Elmore James, and just all these records, and at the time, you couldn’t find those records anywhere, so he would take the records home and he studied them. Around this same time, he had really gotten into guitar. His granddad was a tennis champion and he would take his tennis rackets and use them as a guitar and he would take bottle tops and use those as picks, and after destroying the strings on his granddad’s championship tennis rackets, it was time for Matt to have his own guitar.
His mom took him to a flea market and there was an electric guitar for $25 dollars and he played it until he was 16 years old, but he never really learned anything. He ended up taking a break from guitar, but when he was 19 years old, his uncle passed away and it fed this desire to pick his guitar back up. “I was drifting. I dropped out of college and I got a job at a little video store out in the country. There would be maybe 5 customers in an 8 hour period during the week, so I started taking my guitar out there and that’s when I really started learning about cords and trying to teach myself how to play. I would sit out there for 8 hour days and practice, and when someone came into the video store, I would usually put the guitar up, but it got to where I thought that I was getting kind of good, so I played when someone came in and used them as a way to rate how I was doing.”
Everything is about to change
Matt met a guy through a mutual friend who was also into old school Blues music, and finding another guitar player in Statesville 20 years ago was rare and it made Matt feel like they were kindred spirits. He thought they were just going to hangout and play guitar together, but this guy was actually already out playing live music and was a semi-professional musician. “He said I sounded really good and asked, ‘why aren’t you out playing anywhere?’ and at the time, it was more of a pipe dream. I had never really thought of booking a gig,” but in a week, that pipe dream would come true. The guy won a Blues competition in Memphis that gave him a lot of accolades and opportunities, and one of them was to be on a radio show in Greensboro and he asked Matt to play with him.
After that, Matt started going out on gigs with him, and as a 19 year old, he used the time to learn from him. Matt learned how he was booking gigs and the business side of everything, and after working with him for a while, he was ready for a fresh start on his own. When Matt was about 22, he met a girl and moved to Nebraska and later moved to Kansas, which allowed him to reinvent himself and he found who he was as a musician. He had a day job at a hat store and would play gigs at night, but his music grew to the point where he was able to quit his job at the hat store and just focus on his music. In 2003, he bought a van and started traveling to different states to play. He eventually made his way back to Statesville and stayed with family while he was home. Statesville became a home base for him and he would travel to Florida, Virginia, and all around the South East. In 2007, he released his first album and then moved back to North Carolina. The album did really well and it kind of made him a ‘known person’ in the Roots music world. He had an album that was number 10 on XM Radio and that album put him on the map. After a few years of playing those songs, Matt got bored of playing the Blues and Rockabilly format. He wanted to get away from anything that felt like formats in general, which included getting away from roots music, so he started his journey to find another map to land on.
Playing to a different tune
At the end of 2012, he met Austin Hicks, who was a part of the creation of the one and only band Matt has ever been in, The Low Counts. It was a hard rock band that ventured off into country, soul music, and a hodgepodge of different sounds. They toured all around the south east and made a lot of headway. They also recorded three albums in three years, but as they were catching a lot of momentum, things quickly changed. Austin sadly passed away in March of 2016 and Matt became at a crossroads as to what he was going to do. He grieved over Austin’s passing for a few weeks and then recording engineer, Allen Laws reached out to him and asked him to come in and record some songs. This sparked a creative burst inside of Matt, which led him to write 25 songs in two months. They narrowed it down to 14 songs, and after a final cut, he put out his 2nd solo release in 2017, ‘Life After Rock N Roll.’
The album did really well, and the sounds of Matt’s music found its way across the ocean and into the streets of Europe, Netherlands, Germany, Australia, and all around the U.S. In 2018, he released his third album, ‘The Midnight Strain,’ which consisted of a lot of music videos, and later that year, he received a phone call that would make any music artist's dreams come true. In November of 2018, his friend called him asking if he wanted to come to Nashville to record at Columbia Studio Record Studio A, which is a historic recording studio that has housed many singing legends since its opening in the 1950's. Matt said yes, unknowing that his friend would be calling him back right after one of his album releases.
Two weeks after the release of ‘The Midnight Strain,’ his friend, Michael Fohn called him and asked if he would be ready to record in two weeks. Matt said he was ready and had songs written, but it was a white lie covered with a thousand good reasons. He wrote eight songs in two weeks and went to Nashville and recorded, ‘Burn Out Soul,’ which was just released along with his music video. His white lie led him to creating an album that he thinks is his best work yet. Matt doesn’t really like to glue himself to a specific genre, but he says he’s Americana and Rock N Roll, so be sure to give his newest album a listen on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, or iHeartRadio.
More than Music
His songs somehow find their way through Matt’s mind and from pen to paper without Matt having to really think about writing or any specific lyrics, and that art has followed him into his other endeavors. Matt owns and operates his own record company, Full Bloom Records. Right now, he’s the only artist under his label, but he is looking to work with other artists in the near future. Matt is also a part of the productions of his music videos and has actually created his own live show on Facebook and YouTube called, ‘The Friday Night Gamble.’ “When Covid hit, it really kind of freaked me out. My purpose in the world was going around and playing music for people and it was put at a stand still. Everyone started doing LiveStream, but I didn’t want to just follow everyone like sheep, so I stepped back and took a break from music and then focused more on making films,” said Matt. Around that time, someone sent him a message about one of his documentaries, and said, “at the end of the day, you’re just an entertainer,” and it was like a lightbulb went off in Matt’s head. Ever since he was young, it has always been about entertaining others and he has used music to do that, but he realized that he can do all of this other stuff too in a completely different way than LiveStream. He wanted to give people an online platform, kind of like a venue, and after the episode, Tony Prestwood, who is now the show’s MC, reached out to him and said, “man, this is fantastic.” The next thing Matt knew, Tony was over at his house with lights and equipment. Their friendship quickly deepened and he has done some great things for the show already.
From left to right: Tony Prestwood, Michael Simmons, Terrell Brown, Bubba Speece, Daniel Deans, Matt Walsh
Small town guy down to the roots
Growing up in Statesville, Matt was able to learn and experience what it’s like to have an entire town rooting for you. Once he made his way through the United States, his name only became more well known around the streets of Statesville. “Local support means everything in the world to me. Of all the places and opportunities, I still love coming to perform here and I get all giddy when I play for places around here,” said Matt. “People around here really appreciate me and they recognize what I have done. It really humbles me when people recognize that and support me. I’m really thankful for y’all. And even if I become as big as Beyonce, I’d still come back and play.” Iredell County has been a part of building who Matt is and everything he learned was from the local library, his mom, his granddad, and his uncle.
If you’re an aspiring artist, Matt wanted to let you know that saying ‘yes’ to everything, even if you aren’t ready, is a huge key to success, and choose the right people to listen to. “A lot of the people I looked up to growing up weren’t really open to other kinds of genres, other than Blues or Rockabilly and I thought that was really funny and I made the mistake of listening to those people for a couple of years. I finally figured out that just because someone is great, doesn’t mean that what they tell you is going to be right for what you’re trying to do. The other thing is to follow your own path and make your own path. Don’t listen to what music blogs say because most likely, everyone else is doing and listening to the same thing. Learn how to be original and how to think outside the box. Stay away from substance abuse, and the biggest one I think is if you’re going to do this for a living, realize that it is a business. It’s an art, yes, but at the same time, music is a commodity and so many people fail in this business because there are people who either have a lot of talent and no business sense, and fail, or people who have a lot of business sense and not a lot of talent, and succeed. Treat it like a commodity, because so many people get caught thinking that it’s art and they shouldn't have to do this, they should be writing songs, but you can’t just be the person who’s just talented and doesn’t know the business side. You really have to be both, and that’s what I’ve taught myself ever since I was a kid. You have to realize that like in any business, it takes money to make money and you have to save money and go into it with a game plan. Your image matters, what you say matters, and you have to get out of your comfort zone,” said Matt.
Connect Iredell is so proud of our local star and we can’t wait to hear what Matt shares with the world next! Head over to your preferred music platform and checkout Matt’s newest album and be sure to watch his weekly live show that’s happening every Friday on his Facebook and YouTube channel!