Posted On 20 Feb 2018
Matthew Carroll is a singer, band leader, and song writer based out of Birmingham, Alabama. His debut album, Left To Burn, was released on February 1st, 2018.
The album is a mix of 90s influenced Alternative Rock and high-energy indie pop. He brought together some of the best talent in the south east to play on this record and put in the work to make an album he could be proud of. A full year of writing and demoing songs to find the authentic voice for each song has led him to an album with no filler. Every song has been carefully crafted, torn down, and reforged until Matthew was happy with them. A painstaking process that started with over 200 original songs was narrowed down to the 12 tracks that are featured.
For a decade, Matthew performed as a cover musician, playing all over the country in bars, restaurants and private events, honing his skills as a performer and using every song as an opportunity to study what he loves about popular music. When he had a health scare that could have taken his singing voice away forever, he decided he could no longer wait to make the music that was within him. He didn’t want to spend what was left of his voice singing other people’s songs. That is when this album was born in his mind. He spent the next three years planning, writing, and working tirelessly to make his first album a reality. With some help from kickstarter backers, Matthew was able to self fund the production of this album, and he spent every penny he could to make it as professional a project as he knew how. You could say he’s all in on this album, and he is ready to share it with the world.
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Learn more about Matthew Carroll in the following All Access interview:
Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your career? What are you most excited about for this year?
It was the most creatively fulfilling year I’ve ever had. I think the thing that drives me most is seeing a song go from a tune in my head with a loose lyrical idea to a fully recorded and produced pop songs. I’ve gotten tastes of that my whole life, but this year, I made my whole life about that process. I wrote more song than I’ve ever written before. And I took so many so far theough the demo process that I felt constantly gratified by the process. And then to finish an album at this level of production with a cast of musicians that I am amazed to have had the chance to work with was beyond any creative process I’ve ever been privy to. Now What that will do for my “career” will be shown over the coming year now that people are finally going to get to hear all that hard work.
Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? Care to share them with us?
Ha. I made a number of personal ones. Eating healthier, exercising more, reading a book or two. But when it comes to my music, I am devoting this whole year to trying to make sure people hear this album. I really am proud of it, and being an independent artist, it is up to me to be my own label and try to make sure this thing doesn’t just sit in boxes in my basement or sit unplayed on spotify. The transition from artist to marketer is not one that I relish. I think it may be a greater challenge than the creative ones of last year.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
Haha. My earliest musical memory is singing very southern gospel music with my brother and sister. My dad was a preacher and so whether we had skilled at it or not, his children were going to sing in the choir. But the times that stand out is when we sang as a little trio. We were not good but I think we were about 8, 10, and 13 so no one expected much.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your home has affected you and your music today?
Birmingham has a lot of really great players. I don’t know that it has a consistent sound that I draw from. But just playing with such good people over the years and being on long van rides discussing music theory and lyrical theory. That has definitely helped shape me. The collection of guys who played on my album are all kind of Birmingham All Stars. They’ve played in every band in town. They’re those kind of guys you can call with one days notice and they’ll show up and kill it playing four hours of music they’ve never heard. So getting to sit in a room and really dive into my songs with those guys and allow them to really create with me and not be in a rush to just get it done, added a ton to the music on this album.
Next month, you will be releasing your debut album, “Left To Burn.” What does that feel like?
Amazing. I feel a lot of pride for the work we’ve done but I’m also motivated by a lot of fear that it won’t be heard like I want it to.
I didn’t want to throw something together for my first album. I had hundreds of songs that I had written in my life and I considered all of them as fair game. But I didn’t want to stop there. I felt that it would be lazy. So my first step in working on the album was to write. Last January I took weeks off and just wrote. I even spent one week in a cabin all by myself to remove all distractions. So I added about 40 brand new songs to my repertoire and then tried to choose from those the very best. My goal was to get to the point where I was taking songs off that I really loved. I wanted to put myself in a position of having to much material.
Did anything surprise you about the overall process? Were there any unexpected challenges? How long did it take?
Iteration. In English classes my whole life, teachers tried to get me to write drafts. First, second, third, ect. But I have always been a first draft guy. I write the thing and I’m done with the thing. And that’s always served me. Just kinda skate through with talent and minimal effort. But as a part of the selection process, I made demos of every song I was interested in being on the album. So I started with this pile of hundreds of songs. Culled it down to about 35 that I was interested in being on my first album and for every one of those, I recorded a full band demo at my home studio. Some of them fell into place easily. Some I had to record multiple times with different tempos and feels and instrumentation until I felt like I had really found the voice of those 35 songs. Then I went from the there and selected the final 12. Then the last and probably most valuable step, I took these songs to my band. We spent another 2 months in rehearsals building those moments that the demos lacked. Those cool things that happen when you get a band in the room together. That’s where a lot of the life on the album came from. So when we went to the studio, we had a really strong vision for all 12 songs. The whole process from writing to release took about 13 months.
While it may be difficult, can you pick out a few songs off the album and talk about how they came to be? How did they go from ideas in your head to full-fledged songs on your collection? Did you find that you created this album with an overall theme in mind?
The first single off the album, “Heart on Fire” had a fun origin. A local artist named Spencer Roeder and I had a challenge going where I would write a song and he would paint a painting and then we would try to interpret the each other’s art in our own medium. So “ Heart on fire” is based on a painting that he did. Filtered through my own experience and interpretation. I actually had him recreate that painting for the Album cover. The original wasn’t the right shape. But I love what he did for the album cover.
Pilots and sailors was a very different writing experience for me. I am always with my guitar when I am writing. It is always there to inform my melodies. But pilots and sailors came to me on a long drive. I couldn’t shake that first line and melody. “I’m in love with a girl, but she’s sworn to the sea” It just came out of nowhere and I had no time to pull over and work on it so I recorded it in my phone and tried to move on with my day but the song wouldn’t let me put it off. I ended up writing the entire song line by line and line driving down the road. Recording each line as I went. It gave the song an interesting structure. There’s no chorus. There’s not even really a lot of sections that are repeated the same way musically. The chords are all over the place. So it’s always been one of my favorite songs that I’ve written because it’s so different and it just wouldn’t be denied. That song had to come out of me on that day. The emotion was too raw to leave alone.
How on earth were you able to narrow down to these songs on the album when you started with over 200?
Every part of the process led to ones being nixed. And I’d like to think that the quality rose to the top. Toward the end the decisions got really hard. There was a moment near the last days of selection where I could clearly see two very different album. There was version of this album that had a lot more acoustic tracks. There was sort of a Jack Johnson influenced groovy thing happening, but in the end, I had to decide which of those 2 albums I wanted to be my first. I have lots more songs that push in different musical and lyrical directions but I wanted this album , my first, to be music that I would love to listen to. All of my favorite music is fun pop rock on the surface with meaningful lyrics if you take the time to listen. It’s like you can enjoy those songs twice. And over the years you can go back and forth enjoying them different ways. So when I made the decision to lean that way, it fell into place fairly easily. Songs like “Heart on fire”, “She Just wants me for my body”, and “Next One on her list” become what I thought of as the core of the album and all the other styles sort of tug against those songs while hopefully giving the album some relistenability and depth.
What do you think was the biggest lesson that you learned from touring the country as a cover musician?
Man! Every pop song is a lesson. Playing cover music every night was like studying the greats. One song it’s a chord progression that teaches me something. And the next, it’s the way the singer phrases a lyric. I hope that all that has made me a stronger song writer.
What is your favorite music to cover?
I really love all styles. And I’m kind of a slut for whatever the crowd is digging. I’m not really a country guy, but if the crowd is all cowboy hats, I will own “friends in low places. But that being said, I love covering Weezer, Ben Folds, Say Anything, Radiohead. Even if the crowd doesn’t know what I’m doing I will get lost in those songs.
What do you really not enjoy covering?
The worst things I’ve had to learn over the years are special requests at weddings. Some people have great taste and their requests reflect that. But it seems like some people just google father/daughter song and tell us to play the first one that come up. It’s like there’s a whole cottage industry of people writing songs specifically for those wedding moments and those can be some seriously soulless songs. Just emotionally manipulative drivel! Drives me nuts.
What was the strangest request that you had while out on the road?
I showed up at a house to play for this guys small “family” gathering. It was a house in the middle of nowhere Alabama. I played for about an hour while they ate food from the grill. Then strangely all the women and children left. And I guy walked up to me and said. “Hey man.. You can take a break till the girls get here.” I didn’t think much of it. Thought they just had friends coming a little later. I took a break sat around a fire pit drinking a beer and half listening to the conversation. Through context clues I realized “the girls” that were on their way, were strippers, and that I had been hired to play music while they danced. It was a super odd request. I was just there with my acoustic guitar. I don’t think at the time I had nearly a wide enough list of sexy songs at my disposal. So I decided to try to make the most of it. I got some stage lighting out of my car and set the mood in their concrete floored basement and started coming up with a set list. Always aiming to make the show work. Haha. Turns out. “the girls” never showed up. So I sat around a fire pit for 3 hours drinking with the guys then at end they tipped me like $300 in all ones.
Where can people see you perform live next? Do you have any tour dates scheduled for 2018?
Here’s what we’ve got for the next couple months. We’ve got a lot of other gigs in the works but these are the confirmed dates right now. We are hoping to go abck out heavily on tour in July and August of this year.
2/22-Rooster’s blues club-Oxford, MS
3/2-Birmingham Black Market Bar Downtown
3/16-Brevard NC -Oskar Blues brewery
3/17-Wild wing Cafe- Augusta GA
3/18-Chapel Hill The Cave w/ Stammerings and 5 mile radius
3/30-Moe’s Original BBQ Daphne AL
3/31-Talahassee Florida-The warrior
Where do you find that you at your happiest- on stage performing, in the studio recording music, writing songs or elsewhere?
Probably when I’m finished in the studio. That moment that I see a song come together after it was previously just a thought in my head is the most fulfilled I ever feel.
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that your new music is going to reflect these difficult times?
I don’t know that this album really reflects these “difficult times”. I have my own political and social thoughts, but I didn’t want it to be what this album was about. I like to write songs that make people feel less alone. Realizing someone else has been thought the same emotional or relational struggles that you have can make you feel very connected. And we are in a time of extreme political and social division. To steer into the waters of politics, would have done the opposite of my stated songwriting goal. It would have made half the people feel alienated. I suppose my song “love” best represents the way I feel about social responsibility. But I didn’t want to have that song be choosing sides. There were versions of it that did. But theres a line in”Love” that basically says “we should be judged by If we give love, how we get love and if we live love for those we can save from harm.” That’s all the social statement, that I really wanted to make.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music?
Weezer, Ben Folds, Avett Brothers, The Extraordinaires, Ok Go, Say Anything, Cake, Fiona Apple, The Hush Sound, Chris Thile
What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
All of the aboveJ
What do you hope your fans take away from your music?
I really do hope that it makes everyone feel less alone, Whether because they feel connected to the song or because they can laugh with me at the character in the song.
Do you find that a lot of your music has a greater meaning behind it?
Greater than first glance I hope. I think a lot of my songs that feel silly on the surface have some nuggets of emotion and the human condition swimming around in the verses
Is there anything else that you would like to share about yourself or your music with our readers?
Not Particularly. I just really hope people give the album a listen. I think it speaks for itself better than I can do.