Matt Nakoa - Exclusive Interview
Matt Nakoa is an award-winning songwriter, singer, and multi-instrumentalist. Matt was born on a small goat farm in New York State, but today he makes his home on the highways and concert stages of America and appears regularly with folk music icon Tom Rush.
Your latest album, Casting Shadows, has been out for almost a year! How has it been received?
To be honest, I don’t really know! Nobody’s thrown tomatoes or anything, but I also don’t obsessively read reviews. Copies seem to fly off the merch table at shows; I’ve signed a couple thousand of them, and audiences know the words and sing along so I take it it’s done well.
Take us through the writing of a song.
I’m on the road a lot so it looks different than it did when I was living in Brooklyn cafes with a Moleskin. Nowadays, if I get a visit from The Muse it’s flying down I-95 or at 3 a.m. when I have to get up for a 7 a.m. flight. I try to capture the initial feeling in a memo to myself, to be revisited on a day “off.” It doesn’t always work, but either way it makes for a different process than the days when I could write until the pencil shook out of my over-caffeinated hand.
What was the hardest song to write?
The hardest ones to write are still lost causes. It’s amazing to me how you can build a fine-looking song, give it bones, a circulatory system and a nervous system, put hair on its chest and boots on its feet ... but in the end it still won’t pick up and live. The living breath of a song is a complete mystery.
On Casting Shadows, the song “I Can’t Hold You” was just music, no lyrics for about ten years. I hadn’t the slightest idea what it was about. Something about being frustrated, I supposed. Truth was I hadn’t lived the right flavor of frustration. When a friend committed suicide a few years ago, I went through an intense confusion of emotions, a one of them was anger. I wound up channeling that the best I could into the song. That process was harder than all the waiting around for the song.
What is a band rehearsal like?
My band is based in NYC, so we all meet up at a dingy rehearsal space, coffees and bagels in hand, and we get to work. Mostly brushing up on things we know, but sometimes I like to add something new or re-invent something old. That can be an hour of me being wishy-washy about what I want. I tend to defer to my band because I trust them. Besides, the way things feel in rehearsal is not always a good barometer for how they will feel live. There’s no substitute for live trial and error
Tell us about the live show.
Well, we try to make it an experience for people, not just a recital of musical notes. There’s a healthy amount of improv. New songs, older songs, unexpected songs. The amount of humor or severity, softness or blistering loudness, is tailored to the moment - to the size of the room, the sound, the lights, the crowd’s energy or lack of it. Each show is a unique experience.
Check out Matt's live performance of "Sleepwalking Away", Live at TCAN:
You’re releasing a full concert on your YouTube channel?
Yeah, a lot of people have asked for a live album. I figured we might as well film it too! An entire show will be posted on my YouTube channel, one song at a time. It’s a great marker of where we were that one night in August on the Casting Shadows tour. Subscribe to my YouTube see it and hear it. Then come see us in real life for the real thing!
What is the biggest challenge facing independent musicians today?
Well, it must be different for everyone, because every artist has their talents and tolerance for pain. Some artists, for example, really thrive on social media. There is an expectation that a musical artist master all aspects of a music business: branding, PR, design, web design, social media management, accounting, booking, travel, sound engineering, trucking and transport ... oh yeah, and still give a shit about creativity and fans. It may be that the most brilliant artists of our time don’t play that game and are therefore never heard. Alternately, they DO play the game and a generation of work is distracted and watered down. Food for thought.
Let’s finish on a high note. What has been the high point of your musical journey?
Hmm. Darjeeling, India was about 7,000 ft.
Where can we find your music?