Writing for #NightWalk
I’m not the kind of songwriter that can sit at a desk and turn out a few songs everyday. Whilst I really respect that disciplined approach to creativity I just can’t see how I could come up with something worth sharing that frequently. I’ve certainly had electrifying rushes of creative energy that have produced songs very quickly - those songs are true God-sends - They charge you up like nothing else - you’re on cloud 9 for a week or two if that happens. But for me, it rarely does - and that’s more than ok.
For the most part I chip away at songs in my own little private world. I piece my songs together as this great life I lead informs them. Here’s an example.
On my new album there is a song that is particularly special to me…
In 2010, I was sitting in my room one night before band rehearsal staring at the silhouette of the city and messing around on guitar when I felt the urge to sing “I can see you, by the clearing…” over an E chord. On the surface, it wasn’t anything special - I had heard that chord a million times before - but something about that moment, that chord, the stillness around me, indicated that something had happend. My spine tingled. It was a clue. I kept singing it, “I can see you, by the clearing..” What could it mean? But that’s all that came at the moment. I packed up my guitar and took off to band rehearsal.
About a month later more came… “I can see you, by the clearing, where the light is most appealing, in the place where our house should stand.” This time I played a c# chord after the E. That sounded right.
And a few weeks after that - “There are children in the distance, they have your eyes and my insistence, that you can never have what you want.”
I wasn’t sure why, but I was in love with this song - and it wasn’t written yet. Yet it arrived from another place - perhaps deeper, devoid of day to day thinking and worrying. All the best things come from that place.
At that time, I was still waiting to release my debut album, Farewell Youth (and it would be another year). I had no intention of making another record - yet, this thing arrived. It was the beginning of the next cycle, and I knew it.
But after that - nothing else came. Nothing. Not for a year. I kept tinkering with it - tried to finish it a few times - but I knew it wasn’t done. The idea was undercooked. The chorus wasn’t memorable. It wasn’t realised.
In mid 2011 I took off on a songwriting trip across the USA. I had just signed my first publishing deal and it felt like a good idea, and plus for the first time in a long time, I had a little money to spend. I had a blast in Austin, TX - it was one long party. Not much writing though. I know It was important that I went there. It’s brimming with a rare sort of creative energy. It did something. In Austin, I met the insanely wonderful Ruby James by chance at Romeo’s Italian Restaurant (sadly now no longer there.) It was the only place I could get a regular gig. Almost nightly I played for tips at this obscure little place off the beaten track - people listened though - and they fed me and watered me quite generously and let me stay in a caravan in the neighbouring trailer park for next to nothing.
When Ruby heard I was heading to Nashville she said - “You have to meet and write with John Hadley or I will kill you!” Typical Ruby - love her. John Hadley had written some incredible songs with Ruby - he’s a Nashville songwriting veteren, in his 60’s I believe, and has written for just about any big country act you could name (Yes, The Dixie Chicks). Intrigued, I called John as soon as I landed in Nashville, he had a free week to write starting the next day. Perfect.
John has this fantastic writing room just outside of town filled with music, model aeroplanes and paintings. His walls are adorned with platinum records that he has helped write. He’s creative on another level. It seems like the creative flow of energy doesn’t stop for him. If he isn’t writing, he’s sketching. If he’s not sketching, he’s building something. To be in his presence is to be in the presence of a songwriting master - you just know it.
As soon as we sat down to write I knew I wanted to bring this idea that began in my bedroom over a year before. It was the first thing that hit my mind when I picked up the guitar to begin the session.
So I sung him what I had. I had some chords for the chorus and bridge then too - a progression I really liked. But no words that would stick. None that would ring true.
He immediately grabbed his songwriting book and began scribbling things down. Within a 10 minutes he said, “Here, so what about this for the chorus”…he handed me his scribblings and I read these words:
“You can work your whole life long, to build a place where you belong, out of the shadows deep, behind your eyes.”
I knew where he was coming from in just a few moments…And he had known exactly where I was coming from.
Right there and then, I sung the verse and chorus out loud and for the first time ever, I heard the song as it was always intended to sound - It’s fullest potential.
We quickly finished that and wrote 3 more that week. John is an incredible guy, with an incredibly life story. It was one of the great privileges of my life to write music with him. I learnt a lot from John about songwriting, but most of all I learnt to trust the journey songwriting takes you on. It seems ridiculous to think that I had to go all the way to Nashville to finish this one song - but now that the song is complete and strong and moving to me - I can’t imagine it being any other way. I couldn’t have planned it either and I love that.
I decided to call it Perspective -
It’s a wonderful example of how all the songs came together for this new album that I’ve almost completed writing (ahead of recording towards the end of the year.) Some songs took moments, some weeks, others months - Perspective took over a year to complete and it was worth every moment of frustration while I waited for it take form..All of them have their own unique journey of being realised. The life I live informs every aspect of my songwriting - it’s not separate and it never has been. All the forms around me contribute to a deeper understanding of who I am. Whether the forms are other people, or events, or dreams: it all connects with the songs that swim around in my head every night and day.
You don’t write the songs, the songs write you.
For as long as I’ve been writing songs I’ve taken long walks at night to ponder my ideas and choices in the songwriting process. The writing of this new record was no exception. Hours and hours were spent trekking across the my two favourite cities, New York and Melbourne over the last three years - allowing the lyrics and music to take shape as I took in the world around me by night.
I’m proud to announce that I’ll be calling the album NightWalk for that very reason.
I look forward to recording it a little later in the year.
The Vacant Heart EP
I trust in the creative process endlessly. Moreover, I trust in this creative life to lead me to every possible opportunity to create art at the right time. The greatest projects are never planned - instead you throw yourself wholeheartedly, fearlessly into a process and perhaps there’s moment half way into it when you say - “I’m doing this, right here and now.” It’s happening and you know it, and you could never have planned for it to be as wonderful as it is.
Creating the Vacant Heart EP was one of the most fruitful creative experiences of my life. Last year, around Spring, I arrived in New York City having just parted ways with Universal Music after what felt like a 4 year battle uphill. I had flown in to do some songwriting, and the plan was to head to Nashville for the summer and make a record. The day before I left Melbourne, it seemed like it could have fallen through. There was an issue with the budget (My publisher Peer were paying for this record), and the proposed producer had a very particular way he wanted to go about it. On a rainy Spring morning at JFK airport, having only just walked off the plane from LA a few moments prior, I was told the recording was not going to happen.
Why then, had I flown half way across the world? I wasn’t happy. So I put my bags down where I was staying, and caught the subway into Union Square and got a much needed walk up to Central Park. As the beautiful chaos of New York City swirled around me, I began to feel ok. I was free. Free for anything spectacular to walk into my life. No fixed plans. Not a lot of money. One thing was for sure, I felt done with music. Not in a negative way. I just remember thinking - “Well, if it’s not happening, it’s not happening.” Beginning to let go…
My friend McGowan Southworth, a producer and songwriter based in Sunset Park, Brooklyn had kindly let me stay in his studio/apartment on my way to Nashville. We had written a song called Years Ago , a few years prior in Melbourne. McGowan is most well known for working with Ben Lee, but his solo stuff is in a league of its own (check out his band Sugarwolf). A few days into my trip I had a show booked at Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side. McGowan and his lovely wife came along. They joined the other 5 folks that had sauntered in as the sun set on the Lower East Side. I breezed through my solo set and had a beer with McGowan afterwards. He told me that one of his prospective projects in LA had just been postponed, and all of a sudden, he had some free time to throw himself into a new project.
Removing yourself from the story - the idea of how you think things should be - and instead loving what IS - is one of the most liberating and rewarding things you can ever do.
Back in Melbourne (a few months prior), in my little bedroom studio, I had been working on building songs without an acoustic guitar. The aim was to change the way I wrote songs. I was tired of emoting with an acoustic guitar - it had stopped feeling genuine - stopped feeling true. For instance, Vacant Heart was built on a kick drum loop - To Die Young on an organ loop - Electrical Storm began with found sound, and distorted keyboard and synth meanderings. These bedroom recordings were an escape from the acoustic singer/songwriter rut I felt that I was in.
Over the next 6 weeks, in an old art deco studio/apartment in Sunset Park, McGowan and I began piecing together and making sense of these bedroom demos. And…Spring in New York! God I love that place. We worked late - writing - laughing - drinking Guinness. When we felt like we needed more space to capture our ideas, we were blessed with the generosity of Arun Pandian (Lauryn Hill) & Devin Greenwood (Norah Jones to name one) at the Honey Jar Studio in Brooklyn. Put simply, I let go of all the things I thought I should have been doing at that time and arrived in the moment - capturing the spirit of the songs in a way I’ve never done before on a record. I let go of intellectual thought - and just sung from a different place - the words and parts arrived as they needed to. This is the first release time I’ve taken a more active role in production and really heard the songs reach their full potential. Just like I imagined.
On my days off I would catch the train from Sunset Park to Wall Street and just walk UP through that crazy city and feel truly grateful for everything - past and present. It’s amazing how connected or isolated you can feel in New York City. The place is a huge mirror - that reflects your inner state right back at you. After letting go - I just felt peace. That sense of peace has not left me since.
I’m enormously grateful for co-producer McGowan Southworth - this EP would not have been made without his talent, generosity, expertise and vision. I’m also indebted to the wonderful Devin Greenwood, Arun Pandian and Jason Molina for helping realise our vision for this EP.
I’m so thrilled to be sharing this with you. I hope you can get lost in it.
The Vacant Heart EP - Available from Bandcamp
NASA on Tumblr, http://n-a-s-a.tumblr.com/
I love space.
Anonymous asked: is not exactly a questiona but is , well, i dont know what it is .... when i listen to your music i feel the story inside of the song... is something amazing like if you could turn on my senses is nature, i cant explain that ... i just trying to say , please don´t drop your art. your art is important
Thank you for reaching out. I could never drop my art. I am my art - my art is me. It remains one of the most beautiful things in my life - although it’s not everything - I feel incredibly lucky to write and share music with you x
sskeletontiger asked: Hey Matt, I was just wondering if there was a site that currently has your lyrics available from all the songs on your past EP's and album to read. If not, would you mind posting some of them on here? I'm looking forward to you future creations, the world needs more musicians like you. Ashlee x
hi there Ashlee, my youtube account - youtube.com/mattwalters85 - has all the lyrics underneath the songs x Thanks for reaching out. x
Anonymous asked: I absolutely love your music :) Will you ever come to Sydney for touring/concerts/gigs? Please come here will love to see you live!
Will soon xx Thank you for reaching out.