Matt Hires hit the road last week with Kyle Cox for the Acoustic Wilderness tour and will be making a stop in Pittsburgh, to play CureRock 2017, a benefit show to raise funds and awareness for childhood cancer. You can catch the show (and help an incredible cause!) March 30th at Hard Rock Cafe at Station Square. Matt was kind enough to chat about life, his music and the cause, before hitting the road for tour.
Sound Scene Express: Matt, the Acoustic Wilderness tour is your second tour supporting your October 2016 release “American Wilderness”. You traveled the country with your band, shortly after the album’s release and now your out on an acoustic run. The acoustic shows always have such an intimate, personal feel to them, which is my favorite way to experience live music. But your full band performances are pretty incredible too. It’s really an entirely different experience altogether, for the listener. What are your thoughts on acoustic vs. full band performances? Do you prefer one over the other?
Matt Hires: I really enjoy playing both full-band and acoustic shows because it helps me to be able to mix things up and keep the songs feeling new and exciting to play. The acoustic shows are much more low-key and intimate. I usually keep my setlist pretty loose and fluid and let people request songs, while also just playing whatever I feel like. It’s harder to do that when I play with the band, because they don’t necessarily know all of my deeper cuts and more obscure songs.
SSE: On a similar, but slightly different note, looking at the tour schedule for you and Kyle, it looks like this run is a mix of venues and house shows. House shows are something that I think offer a completely unique and intimate (and probably much better, to be honest) opportunity to experience live music. What’s it like, as an artist, to play these shows, in the living room’s of strangers?
MH: The whole house show thing has been an adventure for me. In a good way. I started doing them about three years ago, and they’ve helped shape the way that I perform all of my shows and forced me to stay on my toes. Every house show is a different experience, because it depends so much on the feel of the room and audience participation and how a room full of strangers will interact with each other. That makes it a lot of fun (for me, at least).
SSE: Let’s shift gears a bit, to the American Wilderness album. I have been a fan of your work for years now and until American Wilderness, my favorite song of yours has always been the lesser played Hurricane, available only as a demo recording on the deluxe version of your 2009 released Take Us to the Start. But last year, you released what is quite possibly my favorite album. You’ll notice I did not continue that sentence to say my favorite album of yours. That’s because it is honestly one of the best albums I’ve ever listened to, from anyone, ever. It has to be the most listened to collection of songs that I own. The overarching religious theme is evident. However, I get so much more from this album about American society and politics, who “we” are as people and it reminded me that I can be the me that I want to be. I don’t have to be the me that society wants or expects. In fact, I’m probably better off if I’m not that version of me. It’s a collection of songs that would have been easy to identify with regardless, but as the months have passed since its release, the relevance to present day America is simply astounding. The lyrics are such that I feel like I know myself better after having listened to them. That album made me more self-aware and for that I must thank you. But, I digress from my feelings about American Wilderness, because I’d love to hear what motivated that making of that album. How were you able to put all of that honesty out their for the world to hear? I’d have to imagine that the release of American Wilderness was equally exciting and anxiety provoking, no?
MH: First of all, thank you for sharing your feeling about American Wilderness. It’s always encouraging for me to hear how my songs have been able to have some kind of effect on people’s actual lives. It gives me fuel to keep making music and touring, so thanks for that. As for the album itself, I knew I wanted to make something different, since this was my third album and first album I was able to make independently. It was the first album where I had the freedom to sing and play whatever I wanted, so that’s what I did. It was definitely scary for me, though. I was digging deep with these songs and saying the type of things that would be a little uncomfortable to say to friends and family, even more so saying it from a stage to strangers every night. But that’s what songs are for. And that’s the kind of album I wanted this to be. As you said, you don’t have to have been raised in the evangelical south to relate to the songs. That’s just my own personal context. The album, in a lot of ways, is more about shedding expectations and becoming something a little better.
SSE: The day before the Acoustic Wilderness tour started, you released a music video for “Don’t Let Your Heart Grow Cold”. That song is truly something special. And the video, with old family photos/videos playing on a projection screen, projected onto you as you sing, couldn’t have been more perfect for that song. Those videos, they have to been your actual family videos, right? I mean, the dad in that video is the spitting image of you (plus a little facial hair), so I have to assume those are truly your parents. How did they feel about starring in your music video?
MH: Yes. I made the video using some old 8mm footage from my parents’ honeymoon. When I first sent the video to my mom, I expected to get an emotional call from her saying how much she loved it. Instead she said she laughed the whole time, just from seeing herself and my dad in their late-20s again. She cried the second time she watched it, though.
SSE: Let’s lighten the mood a bit. You moved to Nashville a few years back, right? And I know, among thousands of musicians, a few of your (super talented) music writing buddies are there as well. What’s life been like for you since that move? I’d have to imagine having a pre-built network of not just friends, but friends that understand the music business has to be wildly helpful with a big life change like relocating.
MH: Our Nashville community is great. Many of us are songwriters and touring artists, so we give each other a lot of support. But overall, we just have a really quality group of friends. I think I can safely say that the two and a half years I’ve lived in Nashville have probably been the best of my life, and the people who I have been able to live it with have greatly contributed to that.
SSE: I have a strange obsession with good covers and really look forward to a cover popping up in an artists setlist during a show because I love hearing someone else’s interpretation of a song…it could be something different to you than it was to the writer, or to the listener and I think is very interesting. As an artist, how do you feel about covering other people’s songs? Is it strange, singing the thoughts and feelings of someone else? Is it easier, than putting your own emotions out there for the world to see and hear?
MH: I usually joke about how I rarely play other people’s songs because I can barely remember the lyrics to my own. The real reason is that I won’t ever play a cover song just for the hell of it. It needs to be one that I can get behind and really sing it like I mean it. There’s a handful of songs that I’ve really loved playing over the years, though.
SSE: Matt, Pittsburgh is really looking forward to having you back for another show! And CureRock is as well! You’ve played the CureRock stage once before, in 2015, which was CureRock’s most successful event to date, from a fundraising perspective. It’s great that you are working with the organization again, for another sure to be amazing night of music! CureRock is not only an event that raises awareness and funds for childhood cancer, but their are childhood cancer patients in attendance that get to enjoy an evening out to dance and sing and just be kids for a change. How does it feel, knowing that you are playing such an important role, and honestly, so many roles (between helping to raise awareness, the funds raised that go to research and also quality of life programs for the kids, but also giving them a night of fun and normalcy) in the lives of these kids?
MH: It’s great! I really love this kind of stuff, and I’m happy to play at CureRock again. That’s what music is for, in so many ways. Songs are able to take you to an entirely new place, if only for a little while, and hopefully these kids and families, who are going through such extremely difficult and indescribable situations, will be able to have a really fun night together. I’ll do my best to help make that happen!
SSE: Pittsburgh is a pretty incredible and unique city with tons to offer from museums, to incredible restaurants, microbreweries, distilleries and more. You’ve been through this city quite a few times on various tours and looking at this tour schedule, it seems like you might have a day off after CureRock. Any plans to take in the city? Anything you’ve enjoyed here in the past, that you’re looking forward to again, this time through?
MH: As much as I’ve toured around the country, I’ve never had the chance to spend very much time in Pittsburgh. I’m really pumped that we have a day off to do some exploring. The one place I definitely want to hit up is the PGH Taco Truck, but aside from that we’ll need some suggestions for things to do!
Thank you so much for supporting CureRock and working in your second performance for this organization on this tour! I love seeing artists give back and using their talent to make a difference in the lives of others. This event and the entire CureRock organization exists only because of the kindness and generosity of the community and artists that support the cause. We hope you enjoy the event as much as I know we will and CureRock would like to thank you, for gracing their stage with your incredible songs. And thanks for taking time out of your day to open up with the us about your music! We’ll see you soon, at Hard Rock Cafe!!