Matt Powell is one of the most well-rounded talents in the Texas music scene. He writes great songs, can sing his behind off and can wail on the guitar. Mr. Powell has also led quite a colorful life from Bluegrass to Money and the Grass and ending up in Austin, he’s seen it all. Check out Matt in this edition of 20 Questions!
1. What’s new with the Matt Powell band?
Just playing as much as we can. I’m writing for a new rock record to be started in the summer. We’re trying to make enough money to get us on the road full time. We’re looking for a fourth member as well.
2. You’re a left-handed guitarist. There were a couple of famous left-handed pickers from Seattle that played a right-handed guitar upside down (Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain). Did you start out like that? Or have you always had a genuine southpaw guitar? And, in relation to that, have you encountered any other difficulties growing up left-handed?
I’m as left handed as left handed gets. When I started playing guitar at 17 I just restrung it off the bat. I found a picture of me holding a toy guitar on my third birthday. I’m holding it left handed. The only rub about being left handed is finding guitars.
-Cory Morrow – Party.
-Phil Pritchett -Bruising sheetrock.
-Brandon Rhyder -Pine trees.
-Fred Andrews -The Monkees
-Willie Braun -Great voice.
-Steve Earle – The mountain.
-Bleu Edmondson -Fifty dollars.
-Wade Bowen- I gotta calm down.
-Seth James- Hold my drink.
4. After high school, you ditched your bluegrass roots and did the road trip thing. Ending up in L.A. You played for tips on Venice Beach. How scary was that? What’s the craziest thing you saw during that time period?
It wasn’t scary because I was too young to know any better. The craziest thing I ever saw was two boys get into a fight over a young girl. They must have been 14 or so. One kid ran off and the other started chasing him. As they turned a corner the kid who was chasing pulled a nine millimeter out of his back. They disappeared and a few seconds later I heard gunshots.
5. You like to surf. When was the last time you went surfing? And how much has your surfing ability Suffered since you moved to that beachfront mecca known as Austin, TX?
I love surfing and more so the ocean. Everything comes from the sea and I feel really at home when I go there. I go to port Aransas a bit but I don’t own any wetsuits or boards anymore. One of these days I’ll live at the beach again. My musical pursuit just doesn’t allow it right now.
6. You had a “Behind the Music” type tragic ending to your first record deal. Briefly tell us the story behind how that all went down. And, did “The Money and the Grass” record live up to your expectations?
It was all based around me signing a deal without really knowing what it’s content was. I was bored and frustrated and they promised me the moon so I signed. Basically we (Matt, Chris, and Nate) recorded the record with some money that was given to us by a fan. We didn’t have enough to press it so it sat a while. The band then took a hiatus and put together a little blues group for a while. The president of M.I.A. Records happened onto a show and approached me on the spot about a deal. He was a big blues fan and wanted me to do a record. I suggested that I had a record finished already so let’s just use that. Well, he didn’t even listen to it and sent me to L.A. to remix and master. I also added the track, “Rich Man”, in L.A. I took it back to Texas and he hated it. “This isn’t blues” he says to me. I said, “No sh*t, I never said it was.” so they hemmed and hawed and shelved it for a year and a few months. By the time it came out I was already finished with the writing of ten gallon heart and dragonfly. I refused to tour and I just waited out the terms of the contract. When the time came they refused to exercise the option and breached the deal and I got out. Two weeks later the label went under and I bought all of my cds from them.
7. Favorite touring memory of the following towns/clubs.
-Dallas- The backstage showers at Gilley’s.
-Houston- Houston always treats us right. Good friends and fun clubs.
-New Braunfels-River, river, river.
-Huntsville- Ask my manager.
-Ft. Worth- Clubhouse Concerts and the mother f@#%ing La Quinta!
-Amarillo- Driving south fast!
-Lubbock- God bless The Blue Light. God PLEASE bless the Koko.
-Firehouse- Love the Firehouse. If we can just convince the crowds that all Texas music ain’t country!
-Woody’s- Big Buck Hunter and again the motherf@#%ing La Quinta!
-Adair’s- I love Adair’s like the rest of you! Mmmmm… cheeseburgers.
-Momo’s- Momo’s is pretty much our Austin home base. Those booths don’t sleep well, let me tell you.
8. Living in Virginia for a time in the 90’s. You didn’t ever happen across a bartender named Dave Matthews did you?
Actually, the girl I moved to Austin with went to the University of Virginia-Charlottesville where Dave lived and worked. I used to see him by himself much like you guys see me and other writers now. He was very odd then. Kind of hard to grasp. But college girls loved this guy and he slowly put the band around himself and they just exploded. I think the DMB is one of the greatest live bands I’ve ever seen. To see them in a place the size of say the Sidecar Pub was incredible.
9. You’ve had a string of odd jobs to help pay the bills in the past. What was the worst? And what was the best?
I’ve done it all, really. The worst is definitely food service. The best is doing radio commercials.
10. On your “Dragonfly” record you played all the instruments, produced it, arranged it, etc. How fulfilling was that? And will we hear another stripped down Matt Powell record?
It’s fun and fulfilling to hear a song build up as you track it. My newest cd, “Fluke, Luck and Jesus”, was done like that except I had our bass player Nate Rowe put upright bass on it. The biggest advantage of playing all the instruments is I don’t have to pay anybody to play on my stuff!
11. Stories behind the following songs:
– $50 and a Flask of Crown- I was going out one night with $50 and a flask of crown. I wrote the riff while I was waiting for a cab. The rest came later. I just wanted to write a party song and it came easy.
– Saving the Girl- Written for an ex who wanted to get into acting but would never act on it. She wanted to live my lifestyle but it wasn’t going to happen. So i wrote a song about saving her from me.
– The Guy Who Wrote the Song- The guy who wrote the song. Pretty self explanatory. It’s just a stab at mainstream music. An attempt at a wake up call to people who buy into that sh*t. People who look to CMT and MTV for their heroes when they’re right there around them every day. I just want everyone to read the album and the writing credits, you know?
– Drama Queen- The title says it all.
– Ferris Wheel- About a girl who’s always at the show, who’s always around when the lights come on. To some people that may look bad and sometimes it is. But, this particular person is cool yet not someone that you need to get involved with. The music is very Alison Krauss and Union Station inspired.
– Sure Thing- A song about a woman needing more than a man with only a dream can give.
– A Whiskey Shot Closer- Nothing but good advice. This is a song that I stepped out of myself, aged twenty years and wrote for the youngsters.
-Halo- This song is the opposite of “Ferris Wheel”. It’s about a girl you see at the show but leaves directly when the last note is played. Someone you really want to explore but simply don’t have the chance. A very smart girl.
12. 10 albums everyone should own:
These are in no specific order.
1. Rolling Stones – “Tattoo You”
2. Steve Earle and The Del McCoury Band- “The Mountain”
3. Allison Krauss and Union Station- “New Favorite”
4. Guy Clark- “The Dark ”
5. ZZ Top- ZZ Top’s first album.
6. Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder- “Bluegrass Rules”
7. Led Zeppelin- “3”
8. Brian Rung’s first record.
9. Bruce Springsteen- “Nebraska”
10. King’s X- “Dogman”
13. You’re like Texas Music’s version of Prince. Just how many instruments can you actually play? And what kind of rig do you use onstage for all the fellow guitar geeks?
I play guitar, mandolin, dobro, banjo, bass, drums, piano, harmonica, most things besides fiddle and horns. I’m really only fluent on guitar. I can play my own songs and that’s about it on the other instruments. My rig right now is fairly simple: fender vibro-king through a wah, boss tremolo, boss delay, danelectro daddio overdrive.
14. If someone doesn’t mind his manners, will you really not mind a fight? As long as it’s a Friday night in Texas, of course. Can’t be doing that stuff on Tuesdays.
I’m only a fighter if I’m mad. I’m usually level headed enough to solve problems otherwise. if some drunk-ass punk is out of line though…
15. You’ve said that you saw some of the best musicians you ever saw at hometown picking parties as a kid. Did you think about looking up any of those old-timers when you were putting together your band? And have you been back since you’re now a famous Austin musician and picked on the front porch with the amateurs back in your hometown?
I play every time I go home. The guys back home have jobs, families, and real lives. Not the kind of guys who want to chase a dream. I think it’s great. Besides all those people I spoke of are bluegrassers and I’m in a rock band now.
16. You were a sideman in many bands before you started your own. For those that don’t know your story so well, recount what bands you were in and what you played.
My first band was called High Anxiety. That was high school. I played guitar and bass and sang. i was the singer for a spell for a Black Sabbath cover band called Back Sabbath. That was North Carolina. I played bass with a guy named Teddy Morgan for a little while here. Everything in austin was mostly fill in stuff. Blues gigs and whatnot. i filled in guitar for the Greencards a lot. I started a bluegrass group in austin a year or so ago called Blue Junction.
17. What’s more rewarding? Writing a great song and knowing it’s really good. -OR- Performing in front of a receptive, energetic audience.
Now at my age I get more fulfillment from writing. I don’t crave the attention I once did as a performer. It’s still great and it makes me high don’t get me wrong. My greatest pleasure comes from someone I respect telling me they genuinely respect what I do.
18. Rapid fire:
LA or Richmond: If i had to pick, Rrichmond
Wendy’s or Jack in the Box: Wendy’s
Von Dutch trucker hat or something from an actual truck stop: There are times for both. They’re trendy but Von Dutch makes a bad ass cap. Most people don’t even know who he was anyway. Especially Paris Hilton! Truckstop hats are great too if you can find the right saying. I own lots of both.
Favorite sports team: The Honky-tonk Heartbreakers (roller derby girls) .
Maxim or Playboy: Maxim
The Comal or the Guad: Makes me no difference as long as there’s beer. It’s not tex you, it’s not tex me, it’s tex us! beer, beer, river, river, gruene, green…
19. Favorite George Strait song. I know it’s not really your bag, but that’s why we ask everyone this question because it’s so middle of the road and mainstream it’s interesting to see the response.
I’m honestly not familiar enough with his stuff to even say. But, I do like his version of the Bruce Robinson song, “Desperately”.
20. Compare/contrast the music you and your peers are making down here in Texas with the stuff the major labels are releasing.
Well, most major label stuff is meant to cater to the masses. It has to. There are some major label acts I love and some make me want to puke. There’s a lot of great Texas stuff and there’s a lot of Texas garbage. To me it’s all about talent, attitude, and creativity. There’s a whole lot of guys and gals, big and small just rehashing the same tired sh*t for the herds. But it’s not my job to judge or hate. If a major label wanted me to sign tomorrow I would because I want to be heard. I believe there’s a lot of Texas music that can go unaltered and be successful in the big picture. And not just country.