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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Interview with Matthew Solberg

After posting about Matthew Solberg’s latest albumI Am a Fool” I decided to let him know that I had said something about him online, and to see if he approved of it. As it turned out, he read and liked what I had to say. Furthermore, he was more than willing to share information and material with me, like the picture of his album cover that I included in my introductory post. Long story short, I eventually asked if he would oblige me by answering a few questions that I had, and true to his kind heart, he did. So, here’s my first celebrity interview, and if you think I’m excited, you have no idea how much. Here is the email interview with Matthew Solberg.

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Matthew, thank you for taking the time to answer a couple of questions for me and my readers. Let's get right down to this mini-interview from halfway around the world, shall we?

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well, as I'm sure is the case with just about any independent musician, music is not my main source of income. During the day I'm a pension actuary (well, technically I'm still an actuarial assistant, as I'm waiting on the results of what will hopefully be my last exam). So I'm definitely a math guy, although English was my major in college for two and a half years. Music is without a doubt my passion though.


How surprised are you at being interviewed by someone like me (anonymous fan from a country far, far away...and not "Far Far Away" like in Shrek)? Are you surprised that you have a global fan base?

Ha, actually I probably would be surprised if this was taking place early in 2009. Back in June or so, the blog Bolachas GrĂ¡tis copied and pasted one of my reviews from another blog. My website started getting thousands of hits a day, and I noticed that a very significant portion of them (if not most) were from Europe. So at that time I was a bit surprised that so many of my listeners were non-American, but when you think about it, the internet makes it just as easy for someone in Europe or any other continent to listen to my music as it does for someone in the States. So I'm not so surprised anymore, but it still is a little surreal at times to think about someone on the other side of the world listening to my music.

From your online bio, you've mentioned some of your musical influences being the likes of Nick Drake and The Beatles, but what is the one thing that inspired you to return to playing the guitar and becoming a musician?

It was the song "Working Man" by Rush. It was like an epiphany. I was just listening to that song when I was about 17 or so (at that time I was very in to classic rock and guitar solos), and I just immediately decided that I wanted to learn how to play guitar instead of simply listening to other people play. I think I had been kinda getting the itch to play for a little while before that, but for whatever reason, that song pushed me over the edge. I went into my parents' basement closet right then and dug out my dad's guitar, and I started looking up guitar tabs on the internet. I pretty much became obsessed with the guitar shortly after that. Anyway, I've transitioned a lot since then. For several years I considered myself a lead guitar player and didn't really try to write songs.


In your own words, how would you describe your style of music?

I haven't come up with a very good description yet. I think one reason is that I'm still developing my style. When people ask me what kind of music I play, I usually say it's kinda like folk music, kinda like Paul Simon - mainly just because this seems like the easiest way to explain my music to people.


Out of sheer curiosity, how do you go about the musical tasks of writing the lyrics and putting them to music?

My lyric-writing actually started out back in college as poetry. I never intended these poems to be put to music. I just wrote them as a way to deal with life, and it was very therapeutic I guess. But a few years ago I got to the point where I wanted to start writing songs instead of playing lead, and the first thing I really did was to try to put my poems to music. I gradually started writing new lyrics, but I wrote guitar parts, lyrics, and melodies independent of one another for quite awhile. As I was writing my EP, I realized that a lot of my melodies weren't very good at all, and so I rewrote quite a few melodies before the final recording. Now when I write a song, sometimes I'll sing a melody and then figure out chords, and sometimes I'll come up with a guitar part and figure out a melody to sing over it. But the melody almost always comes before the lyrics now. As far as coming up with lyrics, sometimes I go back to my old poems and see if there's any way I can adapt them to fit a melody, but I usually try to come up with something from scratch. Although, I will say that I think about lyrics a lot. Whenever a line comes into my head that I think has the potential for a song, I'll write it down. Lots of times I'll try to base a song around these lines or phrases I have written down, or at the very least, I try to keep lines I really like in the back of my mind when I'm writing lyrics to see if there's some way I'll be able to work them in.

According to you, how much of creativity is "art", and how much of it is "passionate practice"?

Hmm, I've never thought about this before. I think a lot of my creativity comes from me being a very reflective person. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking. Sometimes I like just staring out the window and thinking about things, and I also tend to write down a lot of things I think about. So whether I'm intentionally trying to come up with something creative, it's when I'm doing nothing but thinking that my mind tends to wander freely. While I do write some things down when I'm thinking, I'd say that most of my creative thoughts end up not being used for anything artful and essentially are just practice for my creative thought process. So from my experiences, I'd say most of creativity is "passionate practice."


What can we expect to hear from you after "I Am a Fool"? Any other projects that you can tell us something about?

Oh yea, I'm very excited about my current project. I'm working on a full-length album right now. I haven't started recording yet, but I'm hopeful that I can get it released by the end of 2010. I'm thinking it will be September or October, but it's hard to say for sure at this point. It'll be a little different from the EP, as I'm going to play more than just the acoustic guitar. Also, since I've really been focusing more on melodies on the new album, I think it may be a little more "poppy," but I don't think it will be too radically different from the EP. Some songs will be fairly different, but some would fit right in on the EP.


What advice do you have for aspiring musicians out there?

Figure out a basic goal. Do you just want to sit in your room and play music or do you want to release your music to the world? Do you want to get signed (and what size label do you want to sign you) or do you want to be independent? Do you want to make enough money to support yourself with music? Do you just want your music to reach as many people as possible for as cheaply as possible? Ask yourself general questions like that, and then once you have a basic goal in mind, come up with a practical marketing plan that fits your specific goal (not others' goals; because there are a lot of musicians out there trying to accomplish all sorts of different things). Are you going to advertise? How extensively do you want to tour to promote yourself? What are you going to sell? And of course, all of these things require budgets and learning how to do new things (like learning how to book shows). So I suppose my answer is more for the business side of music. But I think that the underlying theme of my answer applies to making music too, and that theme is to figure out what you want to do, and do it based on whatever way you think works for you.

Thank you so much for your time, Matthew. We wish you all the best and more in your budding career. Rock on, my friend.

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If you would like to get a hold of Matthew’s album “I Am a Fool” you can download it from his website by clicking on this link. Do give it a listen. I guarantee you it will not disappoint.


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