IT is, after a chat with a North London musician…
over to America and the L.A.-based Indie-Folk singer-songwriter, Matt Koelsch. He is, as I discovered, an artist hard to define and rationalise – in the sense his music takes in many different textures and influences. I was scheduled to promote the single, Incomplete, which he talks about but, in the days after I sent the questions, the new song, Thinking of You, has been released. Koelsch talks about Incomplete but discusses the E.P., Thinking of You – and how, invariably, the title song will fit in.
He lets me know about his early life in New England and some dates he has approaching; the albums that have inspired him and what advice he would offer any new songwriters.
Hi, Matt. How are you? How has your week been?
I’m very well. Thank you for the interview!
I am playing a string of shows on the East Coast - and then heading to L.A.
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m an L.A.-based singer-songwriter - originally from New England. My music is in the Alternative-Folk genre – although, my latest record has a bit of an Electro. vibe.
Thinking of You and Incomplete are your new singles. Talk to me about Incomplete. What can you tell me about the song and how it came together?
Incomplete is about falling just outside someone’s radar.
You really enjoy being around them but they are off-limits. I co-wrote the song with one of my music friends, Alfa Bieselin.
We worked on it in person for two sessions and then passed it back and forth through the Internet for a few months.
The catchy vocals and warm cello sounds go together nicely. Was it quite hard getting the sound right or was it instinctual?
I waited about a year to record the song with the full arrangement so I had several pre-production recordings of my performance of Incomplete.
This gave us more time to sit with the song and weave in the complementary instrumentation.
Thinking of You is your latest E.P. What has the reaction to it been like? What kind of experiences and influences went into it?
I’ve heard people react to each song claiming it is their favorite.
It’s hard to tell which one is the crowd favorite since it is available on so many different digital outlets - so there is a different one on the top of each of those lists. It seems like people like it; I don’t really know.
Thinking of You is inspired by leaving the comforts of home and building a new network thousands of miles away in a new environment. There is more time and space to explore and discover when you are in a completely new and foreign setting: removed from the comforts of your close network of relationships. The relationships that formed and/or dissolved during this chapter of my life were woven into the writing of this record.
Are you looking at making more music this year?
I’m always looking to make more music but my budget for recording is exhausted for the foreseeable future.
PHOTO CREDIT: Edward Baida
I know you grew up in New England. What was it like there for a young and aspiring songwriter? Is it a part of the U.S. that has a thriving music scene?
The Boston area has a myriad of colleges and universities: it’s a great place to study music, experiment a bit and get your feet wet in a modest but sincere music scene. There are several places you can branch off to and tour within a four-hour drive: Brooklyn, Burlington, Portland; Providence and North Hampton.
I think the talent level is high and there are great musicians in New England: although, I see a lot of them moving because the opportunities in other music hubs are greater, more diverse - and they’re looking to make connections with the media, management firms and labels.
PHOTO CREDIT: Peter Zuehlke
What kind of artists were you listening to during this time?
I listened to Classic Rock: Led Zeppelin, Guns n’ Roses and Motown.
Later, in high school, I listened to Jack Johnson, Ben Howard; John Mayer, David Gray and Dave Matthews Band.
In college, I listened to more Electronic/House music and Hip-Hop.
Can you remember the moment you gave up your job in finance to pursue music? What emotions were going through you when you quit?
I had recently been accepted into a general business cover band in Boston while (also) working my desk-job in Finance.
I was busy building client relationships, learning new songs every week - and I was overwhelmed. I was in the Boston Commons on my lunch break wearing a three-piece suit and just sat on the end of a park bench with my head in my hand.
I came to the conclusion that I needed to make a change. I did not feel completely comfortable in either setting - the stage or conference room - but something was telling me to give music more of a shot.
I had a few exit-interviews and, also, met with all of my colleagues individually to break the news first. We were part of an extensive training program and worked hard together and partied quite a bit as well; so I wanted the team to hear it from me instead of our managers that I would be moving on.
PHOTO CREDIT: Peter Zuehlke
How easy was it moving and transitioning to music? Do you still miss New England or are you settled in L.A.?
It was a long and windy transition.
I worked for a great music-tech company called Cakewalk which eventually led me to the engineers and musicians who helped me create my first record in 2010.
I miss New England, so I tour there a few times each year and play in New York as well.
I try to stick to locations I can get back to every six-twelve months.
What is the music scene like in L.A.? Is it quite tough getting gigs or are there enough opportunities for young artists?
I like the music scene in L.A.
My friends are pretty involved and people work hard to keep things fresh. For the past year, there has been a mansion in Brentwood along with a staff of volunteers called SunSeshLA - hosting weekly concerts for artists and their invited guests.
The shows were always free; B.Y.O.B - and the theater fits about seventy people. There are places like this in the Hollywood Hills, too. There are tech and film home-owners who want to create a unique experience and support the arts community.
Like any city, there are plenty of places to play for young musicians to break into; but you have to look beyond the expected areas. A lot of the venues on the Sunset Strip are pay-to-play - so we usually don't spend a lot of time over there.
Most of my best opportunities and experiences have been at non-traditional venues or events.
On that note; what dates do you have in the diary? Any plans to come to the U.K., perhaps?
I’m performing on the East Coast until August, and then, I am planning on touring more in the fall. I would love to come to the U.K. and I am open to recommendations for venues.
Camden was a lot of fun the last time I was in London.
PHOTO CREDIT: Myke Wilken
Thinking of You is an E.P. that looks at everything from Wall Street to romance. Do you think that big move and career transition has made you a broader and more diverse songwriter?
I think I have just opened up more as a person and the diverse array of people I have met have influenced my life and writing.
I am grateful for the journey and I think it helped me break some of the patterns I was in.
Over the course of your career, you have sold thousands of C.D.s are sharing the stage with (members of) R.E.M. What has been the highlight and biggest high?
I think some of the biggest moments happen when I am collaborating with other people on stage or in the studio - and everything just clicks into place. It really is magic. It’s so hard to describe the unifying force of a group of people playing music together.
It feels like you are all on some mission and you’re creating the soundtrack to a chapter of life.
IN THIS PHOTO: Porter Robinson
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
Also, check out my friend Alfa’s new record, Spark & Fury. I co-wrote Incomplete with her. She’s doing well: she recently toured the Philippines and just opened for Shawn Mendes.
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be?
Led Zeppelin - IV
Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds - Live at Luther College
Fugees - The Score
I listened to these records on repeat growing up. I was fascinated by them and I would just listen to them over and over and think about them.
Sometimes, a certain record just hits you in a way that is really impactful and shapes the way you appreciate music. I think these were a few records that steered me in the direction of becoming an artist.
What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?
Keep exploring ways to learn new styles; whether it is through other musicians: one-on-one teaching, classroom style; videos, articles; online or books. Try not to limit yourself to the method through which the information is being transmitted to you. One way may work better than others when studying and/or writing music.
Stay involved and collaborate: try not to isolate yourself for too long.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
It would be cool if you could play Alfa’s Incomplete. It’s a nice contrast and produced well.
Thank you for the interview; have a wonderful summer!
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