Things are good for Matt Stell right now. His main stage berth at the C2C festival in London, Dublin and Glasgow was a triumph (see our review here) and his current EP ‘One of Us’ is his strongest and most authentic music to date. We were thrilled to catch up with him in London to talk all about both.
It’s lovely to see you back in the UK again. You are becoming a regular a visitor to these shores – what is it that keeps on pulling you over here?
First and foremost, it’s the fans. The people. Everybody says this but it is a different thing when you come over here. The Country music fan base is awesome: they are passionate and they do their homework on your songs. I’m always blown away in terms of how much music they know beyond the big songs and the singles. What else can you ask for?
It’s cool also getting to see a little bit of the world at the same time. I still can’t get used to watching people driving on the wrong side of the road though! (laughing)
We don’t have a lot of Busch beer over here so what’s your drink of choice when you’re in Europe?
My adopted drink over here is Guinness. I’ll always take a stout Guinness when I can’t find Busch!
So, when you’re over in Dublin this weekend you’ll be in heaven then. It’s true when they say that Guinness tastes better in Ireland.
People have said that to me and I can’t wait to try one over there, I’m very excited!
You’ve released various EPs and projects over the years which I’ve enjoyed but your new one, ‘One of Us’ is such a superb, consistent piece of work. Did you feel like you had something special on your hands when you were putting it together?
I mean, yeah, for the most part I was really proud of what we achieved here. I really dialled in to what it was I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. I really wanted to use a unified perspective across all of the songs to create something really tied together by the themes of the songs.
The songs are all tied together in a sort of ‘small town – growth – evolution’ type of narrative. Was that very much what you were aiming for?
Yeah, I think so. I tried to cut the EP with those things in mind and being true to where I’m from and true to the people from where I’m from too. Some of the songs aren’t, strictly speaking, autobiographical but they are about people that I know or grew up with and who I thought had a story worth telling to the wider world.
My favourite song changes from listen to listen but it often settles on ‘Shut the Truck Up’. Tell me about writing that one with Jessie Jo Dillon and Chase McGill.
Thank you, man, that’s probably my favourite one as well. We wrote that like our founding fathers wrote the constitution – which is to say we wrote it over zoom! (laughing) Just like back in the old days! It was a pandemic write and as soon as we wrote it I was really proud of it and couldn’t wait to get it out into the world.
As often happens, mainly because there are a lot of songs about trucks in Country music, we decided to sit on it a while right where our single cycle would have been because we didn’t want to put out ‘another’ song about trucks. Dylan Scott, Lainey Wilson, HARDY – all had truck songs out, so we had to let the traffic clear a little before my truck song came out into the world.
I love playing it live and the crowds seem to like it too so I’m glad it’s out there now.
I also love ‘Somewhere Over the Radio’. Such a clever song. There’s a double whammy on that with the lovely cadence of the melody and the cleverness of the lyrics. It feels like a goodbye song until the twist at the end too!
I’m thrilled you like that one, man. I can’t play it live yet because it’s a piano song and we don’t have a piano player! (laughing) That song tells a really strong story. I’m not from Kansas but to make the story work it was better that the character came from there in terms of the links to the Wizard of Oz.
I lived a lot of that song, though. Trying to figure out when you chase a dream, what is worthwhile leaving behind and what can you take with you. Leaving home and moving to Nashville means that there are all sorts of things you have to navigate and so many people do it. The song feels very real to me. My buddy, Clint Lagerberg, who I wrote the song with, he had the title and I saw the song and the story. We often take 3 to 4 hours when we’re writing a song to get something really good, often we have to come back to something later too. We took a good 8 or 9 hours on ‘Somewhere Over the Radio’ and really worked on getting all the small details right.
The vocal that is on the track is my vocal demo from that day, we didn’t go in and change it any. It was a full day of writing, singing and working on the track and my voice was kinda tired by the end of the day but it seemed to add a little extra something to the song.
‘This One’s Gonna Hurt’ was a HARDY – Tyler Hubbard co-write. How did that one find its way to you?
That song was pitched to us – it’s just like a rowdy, party song and you need stuff like that in the locker. It’s what I like to see when I go to a live show, it has such an energy to it that the crowd really like.
It feels like a ready-made concert opener to me.
Exactly. If we don’t use it to open the show it will be the very next song up for that exact reason. That song is just about a party and those guys, HARDY and Tyler Hubbard know how to write a song like that, for sure! I write a lot of songs myself but I always let the songs choose which ones are going to be on the project and that one felt right for the ‘One of Us’ EP.
They always say ‘leave them wanting more’. When it comes to the end of the EP I’m always left wishing it was a full album. Was that ever on the cards?
It’s not a full album unless, well, you never know what happens later on, right? We will definitely have new music coming out later in the year in some shape or form. It might be fleshing this out into a full album or a whole new project. I’m just so excited to be able to put out new music and get to travel the world to people who are excited to listen to it as well!
Main stage at the C2C festival! It feels like your career is on a real upward trajectory.
Man, I hope so! At the end of the day there are lessons that you kinda have to learn in this business. There are lessons that you learn in life too. You have to trust the passion that you have in your music and your own abilities to get you there. It’s so cool watching the songs come to life in a new place and with new people, it’s the best feeling in the world.