Interview: Matt Talley

Words by Maddy Howell

Having gradually worked towards making his name in the Baltimore scene since the release of his debut EP in 2014, singer-songwriter Matt Talley's overwhelming passion for music resonates beautifully in everything he creates. Now, returning with his follow-up EP, 'The In Between', the Maryland native seems set to bring his songs into the lives of whoever will listen.

With a religious upbringing sparking a tumultuous internal battle with the concept of spirituality, Talley's intricately honest approach to songwriting renders his work as some of the most candid seen in today's alternative scene. With his latest EP leaning heavily on the topics of religion, mental health and finding yourself within an often difficult world, we caught up with him to talk about the new release and more.

Burn After Writing: Growing up, when did it first strike you that music was something that you wanted to pursue as a performer? Were there any particular artists who inspired your decision to pick up a guitar?

Matt Talley: Oh man, I still remember the exact moment that I said, “I want to do that for rest of my life.” I was a teenager and my favorite band, Switchfoot were playing at the Maryland State Fair. It was the first of many times I've seen them in concert. I was singing along to a song called This Is Your Life, Jon Foreman was hanging from the rafters of the stage holding the mic out for the crowd to sing along and just then a cute girl right in front of me turned around and said, “You're really good. You should be up there.

Set aside the existential and life-changing impact that Switchfoot's music has had on me since I was young, it was getting that compliment from a random stranger that sealed the deal for me. Plus she gave me her phone number... pretty sure she never texted me back though. [laughs]

BAW: You had a pretty strict religious upbringing; how do you think that has impacted on your musical journey?

MT: It really is strange. Had you asked me before this EP, I’d say that it has negatively impacted pretty much every part of my life. But music is like therapy, once it's out of you and into song, it becomes a much more manageable piece of baggage.

I still struggle with the push and pull of what faith and religion should mean to me, but now I tend to look back on more of my experiences in a positive light. It allowed me the chance to play music in front of crowds of thousands. It honed my guitar playing skills and my never-ending quest for the perfect guitar tone. It introduced me to my best friends, all of whom have grown to have a much healthier outlook on faith.

BAW: You recently released your second EP, ‘The In Between’, what’s the response been like so far?

MT: The response really has been great. This EP has gotten my foot in the door of so many great opportunities. Press has been wonderful for it. It’s really great to have validation through a piece of work like this EP. Besides the fact that it's helping my brand grow - whatever that means - it's also incredible to see and hear peoples reaction to the music. When someone reaches out and says, “This song meant so much to me" or, “You put my thoughts into music”, that's the greatest compliment I can receive.

BAW: There’s a four-year gap between the release dates of your two records, why did it take so long to get the second EP out into the world?

MT: I've always hated endings and been terrible at segues. When I was finished with my first EP, I didn't really know where to go from there. I hated the idea of playing the same five songs and the same handful of venues to the same crowds every month. I need progression, but I'm not always great at making that progression happen.

I've learned a lot since then about maintaining steam and pushing on. Forcing yourself to create can be the most difficult thing in the world, but I finally learned how to produce ideas and not just be grateful when a good one popped into my head. I've learned things about myself and the industry as a whole that have helped me set goals without burning out.

BAW: ‘The In Between’ was recorded with Matt Hoopes and Stephen Keech of Relient K and As Cities Burn fame. How was the experience of working with such esteemed artists?

MT: Fantastic. I've been listening to both of those guys for years and I’m still incredibly grateful that they took the time out to invest in my music. They helped me take ideas that I was stuck on and transform them into something so much better than I had imagined.

BAW: The topics you cover on the EP range from mental health struggles to those of acceptance and solidarity – what inspires you to write about life in such a sincerely honest way?

MT: I think it’s just a matter of writing what's important to you, I write that way because I think that way. Dolly Parton once said something to the effect of, “If you're not crying, then why are you singing it?”. I want to write music that matters, that explores ideas beyond what a typical musician might write about.

BAW: The EP also sees you balancing the idea of both the harm and the joy that can be brought about through religion. Do you think you are at peace with your thoughts on spirituality and has music helped you in channeling your growing ideas?

MT: Writing this EP has certainly helped, but I think that I’m probably going to wrestle with religion for the rest of my life. I think the universe/God/whatever you want to call it is big enough to handle my questions, my doubt and my desire to love others the way that every single person deserves to be loved. If not, its probably not a faith worth having.

BAW: The release of ‘The In Between’ has seen you secure some pretty exciting support slots, including shows with Sundressed, Northbound, and CKY. How does the prospect of playing to new audiences, some which are slightly outside of your usual fanbase, make you feel?

MT: Some people like the writing, recording and producing aspects of being a musician, but playing music in front of a crowd is where I’m most comfortable. I'm grateful for the opportunity to play with larger acts whose fans I get to introduce myself to.

BAW: Are there any other up-and-coming bands in the Baltimore scene who people should be checking out?

MT: The list of talent in Baltimore is stupidly long, but the local bands that I sincerely listen to on a regular basis are DRMCTHR, EXNATIONS, The Great Heights Band, Thunder Club, and One Life To Lead. I consider them all friends and genuinely love what they're doing musically.

BAW: What are your plans for the remainder of 2018?

MT: Well, my wife and I are planning on buying a house in the next few months. Once that terrifyingly giant life purchase is made, I'll be building out a studio in my basement and beginning work on some new music that will hopefully be released sometime next year. Beyond that there are rumors of tours in the air, but nothing I can confirm just yet.