Best Days… and Getting Even Better
by Ronald Sklar
How’s this for destiny’s child? At five-years-old, Matt White spots and says hello to Bruce Springsteen in a Jersey diner. The meet-and-greet is totally by chance, but contains powerful, earth-shaking, life-changing impact. Not that White needed anyone to be The Boss of him – he was born into a musical family and had been playing piano since he was three-years old. Still, the soundstage was set.
Of that chance run-in with Springsteen, White says, “From that moment on, I became obsessed with him as a musician. I’ve probably been to thirty of his concerts. I would consider him very inspirational.”
With White’s self-titled debut album on Geffen/Interscope (“how do I thank these guys?” he asks humbly), he shows us what he can do, which is much, and where he is going, which is up. It seemed like only a moment ago he was playing for change in the subways and in Washington Square Park, until a friend of a friend of a friend recommended him to an A&R man from the world of the big-time music biz.
The rest, as they say, is a rocky road to the near-top.
“You never know what’s going to be a hit and what’s not going to be a hit,” he says. “You can’t predict it. It’s tough to get a record out nowadays. If you want to do it, you have to do it right. We’re in this together, me and my record company. [Geffen] are innovators. Everyday, something new happens.”
See if you can hear the influences in his voice and in his songs. A great deal of his music here is about loved gained, barely held onto and then lost, alternating between partly cloudy and partly sunny.
His single, “Best Days,” is featured on the Shrek the Third soundtrack, and is getting attention nationwide. He will play over 100 shows this year alone, while tirelessly appearing on pop radio shows (sometimes four a day). In between, he hosts weekly online chats with his fans.
On the rare times that he is home, he calls it New York.
“I love it here,” he says of his pit stop of a hometown. “I love the quirkiness, the 24/7. I was living in LA. That was great too. As long as I have my guitar and my computer, I’m pretty good. I’m on MySpace for seven hours a day. Life is good. I can’t complain. As long as I’m playing every night, I’m good to go.”
They say be careful what you wish for, for White is playing practically every night, to a growing legion of fans who know every word to every song. Of that bond that so few musicians ever enjoy, he says, “Seeing people know your songs is surreal. It’s crazy. It’s really crazy. Very bizarre. I don’t think you ever get used to it.”
His music has plugged into the youth zeitgeist, heard on such offerings as Laguna Beach, One Tree Hill, What About Brian, The Hills, Men in Trees and in the 2005 movie She’s the Man. Talk about best days.
“I encourage legal downloading,” he says of the new digital age that is making him such a success. “The down side for certain musicians is that you’re not selling as many units, but the positive side is that you’re expanding your music to so many different people. If the internet weren’t available, people in Australia and Japan wouldn’t be emailing us. It would have taken years, playing the road.”
That was how his idol, Springsteen, did it, back in the day. And although he idolizes Springsteen, his true role model comes without a Y chromosome.
He says, “If I could follow a career, it would really be like Sheryl Crow. Her first album is a little quirky. There were a lot of little imperfections about it, but it was so cool, which made it perfect. Then she got a little harder, and a little rockier. And then she went more folky and singer-songwriter, and then she came back to pop. [I want to be like] Bruce obviously, too, but that’s like saying I want to be president of the United States.”
He couldn’t do much worse than the current commander-in-chief, but music is his life. It was also the life of his family, who traveled the country as a band in the thirties and forties. In fact, his grandmother, Shirley Kesselman, was one of the first female bandleaders in the country, who even became friendly with Eleanor Roosevelt.
“These are hardcore, unbelievable musicians,” he says of his family. “I picked up piano at a very young age and I went to music school my whole life. My dad was a singer and violin player. My aunt is an opera singer. At every holiday party, somebody is playing something. It was a family of little child prodigies who would travel around in a band and play.”
Even for his young age (27), he appears to have an old soul and harbors a special nostalgia for the singer/songwriter era: “I wish there were more Bob Dylans, Neil Youngs, James Taylors and Van Morrisons. In the sixties and seventies, there were all these singer-songwriters who found their own fans and their own place.”
These days, though, he doesn’t have to look far for welcome enthusiasm and a place to rest his head. The fact that this particular head isn’t too hard on the peepers may also be helping his rocketing career with a boost more powerful than usual. For better or worse, he is becoming the darling of the press, with feature stories in Details and other magazines.
The dreaded comparison to that other pretty-boy with the uncommon voice, John Mayer, is hard to avoid, although one plays the guitar and the other piano. White is a fan of Mayer’s, but is reluctant to make any comparisons with him specifically.
However, he says, “I do sit and I compare. I have this neurotic thing that I do where I make up playlists: ‘Beast of Burden,’ ‘Strong Enough,’ my song, ‘Crazy Love’ by Van Morrison, ‘Born to Run,’ and then a song of mine, and I let it run to make sure that it ‘takes.’ People think I’m crazy for doing that.”
Crazy like an up-and-coming pop star. Yet through it all, he keeps his photo-friendly head level.
“I see the finish line and where I need to be,” he says, “and I know how to get there.”
Born to run, just like the guy in the diner.
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 5, 2007.
|#1 © 2007. Courtesy of Geffen/Interscope Records. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2007. Courtesy of Geffen/Interscope Records. All rights reserved.|
|#3 © 2007. Courtesy of Geffen/Interscope Records. All rights reserved.|
|#4 © 2007. Courtesy of Geffen/Interscope Records. All rights reserved.|
|#5 © 2007. Courtesy of Geffen/Interscope Records. All rights reserved.|