Today’s Feature – December 1-2: Matt York

December 2, 2008 at 2:06 am (Today's Feature)

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Many of us can all relate to Matt York, the soulful folk singer from the north. The Canadian, like many of us, is a workaholic. We here at PensEyeView feel York’s pain when he says there is “a constant feeling of being behind a little bit.” While we’re still trying to catch up, it seems York is already there. He says, “With this album, I think the fact that the music has matured so much and that there’s a lot more road experience has helped a lot. I’ve learned that I can’t do everything and you just have to let certain things happen for themselves. I’m just enjoying the journey now.”

That album Matt speaks of is a collection called “Mine,” a record that displays influences from the likes of Ben Harper, James Taylor, Jamiroquai, Amos Lee and Ray LaMontagne. Following up on his debut record, “Under the Streetlights,” York has upped his game in every aspect, and not just from a musical and songwriting standpoint. The production itself is even improved, something York hopes his listeners notice and appreciate. Matt talks about the collection, “The album is called ‘Mine’ and basically that refers to taking back some of the things in your life that might have slipped away a little bit… Sometimes things float way from us whether it’s our work, our loved ones, our dreams, whatever. This album is a big push to get those things back.”

If you haven’t seen Matt York, there’s no doubt you’ll have your chance soon. He’s played nearly 500 shows over the last few years with the acts like G. Love & Special Sauce, Stephen Kellogg, Ryan Montbleau and State Radio. His show is something different – the man is going to give you something more than what you already have on the album. Check out that record (available now on iTunes), his DVD titled “Midnight Maddness,” and the XXQ’s listed below.

XXQs: Matt York

PensEyeView.com (PEV): Was there a certain point in your life when you realized the music was going to be career for you?

Matt York (MY): Definitely, I was in my 2nd year of University and started to really get into the Open Mic scene which led to a bunch of club shows around Toronto. I remember being on stage at my first show at a little spot called C’est What? And hearing someone gasp when I first started to sing. That moment affirmed for me that I was doing the right thing and I’ve never looked back.

PEV: Growing up in Toronto, what kind of music were you listening to? Do you remember the first concert you ever attended?

MY: Man, when I was growing up I listened to everything but once I hit high school I found my tastes in music really went away from what my buddies were listening to. While they were all digging Nirvana I was into Boyz II Men, Rare Earth and Stevie Wonder. I had a period where I was REALLY into Our Lady Peace but it’ mostly been funk and soul all the way.

The first concert I ever attended was an Ani DiFranco concert at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto. My cousin Andy was her drummer for a while so we got to check out the show which was amazing. I’d say it was a sweet first concert experience for sure.

PEV: What was it like for you when you were first breaking into the music business? Before you were getting press, regular gigs and touring around the country?

MY: Starting out was a lot of fun. Lots of excitement, lots of new fans. I think as I started touring and getting regular gigs was when it got tougher. Once that initial phase of excitement and introducing everyone to your music plateaued it was a lot of work to maintain that level of interest. It’s a constant feeling of being behind a little bit and admittedly I’m a bit of a workaholic so that doesn’t help. With this album, I think the fact that the music has matured so much and that there’s a lot more road experience has helped a lot. I’ve learned that I can’t do everything and you just have to let certain things happen for themselves. I’m just enjoying the journey now (laughs).

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Matt York show?

MY: Pyro! Kidding. Lots of fun, and loads of musical experiences that you can’t get from the record. Some bands go up and play their records note-for-note. We sound like the record, but we don’t play the record if you know what I mean. Each member of the band is so good at what they do that it leads to some pretty magical moments even for us. We have a lot of fun and we think that translates to everyone who comes to see us.

PEV: What’s the first thing that comes to my mind when you step on stage?

MY: Shit. Where did I put my guitar pick? After the initial panic, I like to look into the crowd and be assured that these people are going to go home happy. I get excited.

PEV: How have your shows evolved from when you first started out?

MY: Aside from being full-band shows now (when I started it was all solo) there’s a lot more musical freedom on stage. When I was starting I was so worried about getting through the songs and not screwing up that it really hindered the “performance”. Now the band and I are so in tune with each other that it gives us a great opportunity to let loose and challenge ourselves to put on a better show than the night before. Aside from that, there’s obviously some physical differences like bigger clubs, bigger tour van, bigger merch setups. We have a guy who does our merch now which is a HUGE load off of my mind.

PEV: Any embarrassing or crazy live show stories? Don’t hesitate…

MY: Well, being Canadian sometimes I run into people making fun of my apparent accent or the way I say “about” (laughs). One time I’m in Philly and I ask the bouncer at the club where the washroom is. He quickly replied “HUH?”. So I asked him again where the washroom was. Again, nothing but a big burly blank stare. I finally clued in and asked him where the “bathroom” was and he said “up the stairs and to the right”. I thought that was hilarious and decided to mention it on stage. BAD IDEA. What I thought was pretty funny apparently wasn’t so much and that whole conversation turned into a shit show. I quickly shut up and finished my set.  I’ve also broken a billion strings and I’m notorious for losing guitar picks on stage.

PEV: If you could collaborate with one artist out today, who would it be and why?

MY: There’s a few. I’m a big Jose Gonzalez fan, same with Andrew Bird. Not the answer some people would expect I don’t think but I really dig what they’re doing and I think we could really create something cool. Same with Brett Dennen. Big fan. I think that pairing would be loads of fun.

PEV: As well, is there an up and coming artist right now that you think we should all be looking out for?

MY: There’s a few local guys from the Toronto area who are amazing. One of them is Brian Macmillan. Think James Taylor but with a little more dirtiness. He’s an incredible songwriter and awesome performer. You’ll see him out there soon enough.

PEV: Tell us, what can fans expect from your upcoming release “Mine”? How is this different from other music you’ve worked with?

MY: Well, for those people who bought the last record (thanks!) they’ll be pleasantly surprised I think. The album is much more diverse than the last record. Where Under the Streetlights left off, Mine takes it to a whole new level. The writing is much more mature, the band is tighter, the production has evolved and the overall energy of the record is worlds different than the last one. I think this record will make people think a lot more which is awesome. I can’t wait for people to hear it.

PEV: What was the underlining inspiration for this album? Did you find yourself going back to one feeling or emotion more than others?

MY: The album is called “Mine” and basically that refers to taking back some of the things in your life that might have slipped away a little bit. I’m a big believer in taking control of your own life and on the album cover you’ll see a balloon with the word “mine” on it. Sometimes things float way from us whether it’s our work, our loved ones, and our dreams, whatever. This album is a big push to get those things back.

PEV: When you sit down to write an album like “Mine” what kind of environment do you surround yourself in?

MY: I had a little writing space in Toronto for a while. It was an awesome place full of vibe where I could sit down, have a beer and work on some music. Sometimes I’d just hang out with friends and not play a note and sometimes I’d go in for 8 or 9 hours and bang out a song. “Those Days” was written in about 5 hours in that little candle-lit room. It’s all about feeling comfortable.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Matt York?

MY: I’m a designer. Everything you see that’s designed for the band I do myself. All the merch, posters, album art, etc. I’ve done myself. I’m a big fan of art and design and it really helps to have those skills when working in this industry. Saves you a lot of money!

PEV: How have your friends and family reacted to all your success?

MY: Everyone is so proud of what I’ve accomplished. It’s funny, sometimes you’ll see people from high school you haven’t seen in a while and immediately when they hear you’re in a band people expect mediocrity but when they come to the show they’re genuinely impressed. Then they want to get on the guest list for the next one (laughs).

My family has been amazing. They’re all huge fans and super supportive. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if it wasn’t for all of their encouragement.

PEV: When you are not touring and performing, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

MY: Writing, hanging out with my fiancé, working on design stuff for the band and for other musicians, eating (I’m a big fan), hanging out in Toronto. I also work at a design studio in Toronto (www.filamentlab.com) doing some pretty cool stuff. I like to stay busy.

PEV: How is life on the road for you? Good parts? Bad parts?

MY: Good parts…. Fun. Lots of fun. Going on the road with your buddies to play music is an amazing thing and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love going to new cities everyday and being able to play music for people every day. There’s lots of amazing experiences that I’ve had on the road and I’m grateful for the opportunity. The bad…. Sometimes it’s hard to travel for an extended period of time especially if you’re flying quite a bit. It also gets very expensive especially with a band. Being away from home for a long time can suck so we try and keep a good balance. I’ve had some experiences where club owners wouldn’t pay, where no one showed up, where we lost money, lost gear… all that shit. But you pick up and move on because at the end of the day you’re doing what you love.

PEV:  In your opinion, is there a certain city (US or International) that you find to be the best city for music?

MY: Well, I haven’t been to all of them yet but from my experience Japan was pretty awesome. People in Tokyo were totally into their music. They still had that fire in the belly for new music which you don’t find everywhere anymore. There’s a few cities in the US that I get that feeling in too. I love playing in New York. It’s been a great city for me and the people are awesome. I’m looking forward to hitting Austin and Nashville soon. I’ve heard great things. Also really want to hit Germany, France and Belgium. I’ve got some amazing fan response out there and I can’t wait to go and play – I’ve heard it’s magical.

PEV: Ten years from now, where do you see your career?

MY: Probably in writing. I honestly can’t see me touring for the next ten years unless we hit DMB status where touring is our thing. Ideally I’ll tour for a bunch of years and then I’ll settle down into production or my own label. I’ll always be in the industry, I just think after while touring might be a lot to handle especially since I’d like to have a family.

PEV: As well, where’s one place you haven’t played, you would like to? Why?

MY: Europe. Anywhere in Germany, Holland, France, Belgium… I have friends who have gone over there and especially for the style of music I play there’s a huge appreciation for music in general. I find sometimes in North America we see music as disposable or we’re too cool for music. Out there, from what I’ve heard, music is still treasured and I’m excited to experience that one day.

PEV: So, what’s next for Matt York?

MY: Touring for now. We just released “Mine” on iTunes and it’ll be in stores in January across the US. Lots of promo, lots of shows and lots of fun. We’re on the road in the US for a couple weeks starting November 21st. From there I’d really like to start looking at getting the music into film/television. That’ll be the next challenge (laughs).

For more information on Matt York, check out: www.mattyork.com

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