The first time I (Emily) heard one of Matthew Fowler’s songs, I thought I was listening to Damien Rice (and I confess for a while I confused “Beginners” for a Rice song every time until the “La Vie en Rose” strain would slip in). But as I listened to the other songs on “Beginning,” Fowler’s debut album, I was able to hear the unique qualities of his simple folk style, his well-crafted story lyrics, and his open voice. I recommend listening to the whole album through in proper order. Fowler’s beautiful stories of love, tragedy, and an ache for home will reward a careful listen. We’re thrilled to have had the chance to talk with Matthew, and we can’t wait to see where this young but talented artist will go with his musical career!
(Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part interview. Click here to read Part 1.)
Emily Cardé: Your song “Rooftops” involves the traveling musician story. Has touring and performing been a really big inspiration for you and your music?
Matthew: Absolutely. I think when you’re at home, the day-to-day monotony of being home can kind of put you down. But being in all these different places inspires these new emotions. You’re experiencing different things for the first time, especially when you’re touring in new places. I’ve never toured in Europe, but I imagine that’s a whole album in itself.
And you meet the most incredible people on tour, as well. I can’t tell you how many unforgettable experiences I’ve had on tour. I feel like I have friends all over. I don’t ever get a hotel room when I tour. I just stay with friends. I feel so lucky to have this kind of life.
Ethan Weitz: Has anything really wacky happened to you while on tour?
Matthew: It depends on your definition of wacky. There was one time I was busking in Saxapaw, North Carolina, and this guy put a bag of mushrooms in my tip jar. I don’t know what your views are on any of that, but I’m not going to take a strange man’s tip mushrooms.
On the less creepy side, I’ve gotten the chance to tour with some really cool friends of mine, Forlorn Strangers. They’re a five-piece bluegrass band. They’re an absolute riot. They’re the kind of band where everyone is hootin’ and hollerin’ by the end of a show. It’s so funny—my set is bringing everybody down and then their set is bringing everybody back up. But I can’t say how many nights we just stayed up until five in the morning, drinking an entire handle of whiskey and just talking about life and love.
That’s what tour is—meeting these amazing people. You get really good at baring your soul. I take pride in the kind of artist that I am and the kind of person that I am. I don’t have any time for bulls***. If I’m going to meet you, I’m going to put all of my cards on the table, because I don’t have time to hide and skirt around the subject. I like to think I’m a super straightforward and honest kind of person.
I feel like some of my best friends are people that I haven’t even hung out with more than five times—that person that you meet and just automatically click with. And I’ve gotten very good at having those kinds of relationships just by necessity, especially since I tour by myself. I crave that human interaction. Otherwise I think I’d go a little crazy. That, to me, is the most amazing part of tour. It’s coming home and just thinking about all these people that you’ve met, all these lives that you’ve been a part of in some small way—it’s just incredible.
Ethan: What has been the absolute toughest thing about having a musical career?
Matthew: I’ll answer that in two different ways. The most time-consuming and toughest part about where I am as a musician now is booking shows. It just takes a long time and it’s a pain in the ass. It’s a lot of emailing back and forth. I mean, I have a manager, but I don’t have a booking agent or anything else, really. I have a PR agency that I work with sometimes—they help get me interviews and things like that. They helped me get the Audiotree interview, which was just a godsend; it’s such a great series that I was lucky to be a part of. So that’s the hardest part logistically.
The most amazing part of tour is coming home and just thinking about all these people that you’ve met, all these lives that you’ve been a part of in some small way.
Personally, the hardest part about being a singer-songwriter and being a touring musician of any kind is that I often feel a little alienated. And it’s hard to share your life with somebody if you don’t experience the same things. I haven’t had a girlfriend in two years. And it’s not because I haven’t found anybody who is willing to wait for me. It just that it’s like going on a long vacation: you come back and you are a changed person. Your life experiences are different.
It’s tough to keep friendships and relationships with people that you don’t get to see very often. And the bummer about it is not that I don’t want to go away. That’s the thing—it’s hard to explain that. My favorite part of music is touring. So having a girlfriend, saying “I’m going to be gone for three months,” and having that knowledge that she knows that it’s actually what I want to do—I want to leave—it’s a hard psychological thing to deal with.
Like I said, some of my best friends are people that I’ve hung out with just a handful of times. Sometimes I’m envious of bands, because they are constantly surrounded by their best friends. When I tour I tour by myself, I certainly have the freedom to not have to ask for anybody else opinion before I do something. I can drive to wherever I want on my day off—but I also don’t have anybody to talk to for five hours at a time. “Hey, remember that one time we were touring?”—I don’t have that.
I think that’s the hardest thing, just the loneliness. But I don’t think that will be forever. Eventually it will get to the point where I’ll be able to afford to bring more people on tour with me. I’m very much in the beginning of my life as a musician. So hopefully things are only going to get better from here.
Ethan: What has been your proudest moment or achievement as a songwriter?
Matthew: It’s pretty amazing to get responses from all over the world. I mean, I think yesterday I got tagged on Instagram by this guy in Norway covering one of my songs—which is just nuts, you know? I’m playing Playstation 4, and I get a notification on my phone that there’s a guy halfway across the world that liked my song enough to a) learn how to play it and b) record a video of him playing it. That’s just incredible.
It’s also rewarding to see my parents, friends, and family being so supportive and acknowledging me as a musician. You know, when you’re young, people tend to dismiss you. When I first started out, I was 16 or 17 and I felt a little bit dismissed by older members of the music community. So it’s nice now to be in a place where I feel like I’m respected as a member of the songwriting community. People take what I say seriously because I’ve proven that I’m worth my salt.
Another thing that’s really cool about music is that it lasts. I feel like you lose that with a nine-to-five job. I mean, you can work for a company for twenty years and then you retire and you go back a year later and no one knows who you are. So I think it’s cool to have that longevity.
Ethan: What sort of projects do you have in the works?
Matthew: Well, that’s kind of why I’m in town now; I’m trying to figure out recording a second record. I recorded the first one myself, and I think that did pretty well in the grand scheme of things, but I would very much like to do something a bit bigger and better. I want to make a conscious effort to not be limited to what I can do. If I want a full band on a song, I should be able to have a full band. Or if I just want me and a guitar on a song, then I’ll do that. If I want the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, then I should get the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. I don’t want to be limited by my expertise alone.
Ethan: Have you already chosen the songs you’re going to put on that album?
Matthew: Yeah, definitely. I’m going to do “Rooftops” for sure—a different version of it. I’m going to do “Everything That I Could.” I have seven or eight other songs that I’m 99 percent sure I’m going to put on it, and a couple more that I haven’t quite decided yet. So I’m looking at hopefully ten songs—twelve if I’m super prolific in the next couple of months.
I’m not really into EPs. My opinion is that if you are going to figure out recording six songs you might as well figure out recording ten songs. But that’s not popular. I think EPs are the way that a lot of people are going, but I just like the construct of a full album—it’s got more of a weight to it.
I also want to do a live album at some point. I play a lot of house shows when I tour, which is one of my favorite mediums of shows. I think it would be really cool to start recording all the ones that I play, and maybe taking the best of those and then putting out a live record. My album versions and my solo versions are a little bit different, so it’d be cool to have the full spectrum of what I do out there, in that way. It might also help me book more house shows in the future, which is definitely the way that I want to go.
Featured image by Jenn Elrod Photography, courtesy of Matthew Fowler.