Singer-songwriter Matt Hires is making a name for himself. With catchy pop rock hooks and charming vocals people are starting to take notice. It can't hurt that his music has been featured in popular shows like ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice."
I met up with Hires after his memorable set opening for Tyrone Wells in New York. Taking the stage barefoot with his acoustic guitar, Hires captivated the room with his heartfelt lyrics and intimate performance. While songs including current single, "Honey, Let Me Sing You A Song" tell tales of a budding romance, others such as "Turn the Page" are more emotional and beg the listener to make his own interpretation.
Having released his debut album, Take Us To the Start, earlier this year, Hires filled me in on his songwriting process, collaborating with Sara Bareilles and the pros and cons of performing barefoot. Read on for more about Matt Hires and be sure to visit his MySpace and catch a show when he's in town.
I have to ask, do you always play barefoot?
I do. Well, pretty much always. It’s just something I’ve always done since I started playing. There have been a couple shows where there has been some broken glass on the stage in some sketchy places. Or, if it’s an outside show with a black stage it’s really hot sometimes. So, there have been a few shows that I play with shoes on but most of them have been barefoot. There was this one when I was in my old band in Florida called Brer, before I started the solo thing. It was one of those rare cold days in Florida and it was an outside show. I was playing barefoot and there was a tack or something on the stage that I stepped on, but I didn’t realize I had stepped on because my feet were so cold. So, sometimes it hasn’t worked out.
Tell me about your album, Take Us To the Start. This is your first full record as a solo artist. What’s the difference recording as a solo artist vs. your experience as a band?
We [previous band, Brer] had an independent release, so we put it out ourselves. It was mostly just selling it at shows; it wasn’t distributed at all. The recording process with my solo record was much more of me and my producer. We were the creative minds behind it. It was much easier than when you’re working with four different people. The recording process with the full band was a lot more stressful I would say. There are times when you get into fights about things. I’m really happy with how that record turned out, but overall, recording my solo record was an easier process.
It was completely different because we were on a very limited budget with the band record and we only had a week to record the record. With my solo record we were recording it in my producer’s home studio and we had a couple of months to record so we could take our time with it to really make sure it turned out how I wanted it to be. They were definitely two completely different experiences.
You released an EP last year.
Yeah. Actually, when I was out in Los Angeles last summer recording the record I played a couple of shows at the Hotel Café out there. The EP was four live songs from those shows.
One of those songs was on “Grey’s Anatomy.”
None of the live songs were on there. We used the acoustic demos that we recorded in the studio. The way we recorded the record was, we would record the song acoustically first and then build on that with the band. We ended up using one of the acoustic demos on “Grey’s Anatomy” and one on “Private Practice” also.
Did you watch “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” when your music was featured?
I did. With “Private Practice” I watched the whole episode. With “Grey’s Anatomy” my song was at the very beginning of the show so I didn’t actually watch the whole show. It was surreal for sure to hear. “Private Practice” was the first one. The song was in a pivotal emotional part of the episode so it was cool to be able to hear my song used in that emotional way. It was definitely surreal to know that thousands of people are watching this.
Have more people responded to you from your music on the shows?
Definitely. I’ve gotten fans from it. It’s very cool. I’m definitely a fan of music in TV shows.
Your first EP you were compared to John Mayer, Dave Matthews, Mat Kearney. Did you feel any pressure releasing your album to live up to those expectations?
Not really. I like those artists. I don’t necessarily listen to a lot of their stuff so I don’t think my music sounds like them. I didn’t feel any pressure from that.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
I have trouble answering that question. I just try to write solid songs that are as true to myself as much as possible. I feel like they’re influenced from where I’m from. A little Southern influence. There is some banjo on some songs. I love Tom Petty, who is another fellow Floridian. To describe my sound, my influences . . . I love Bob Dylan. I think a lot of influence comes from older folk stuff and also newer things. I try to write songs that have their roots in classic, older artists like that and try to do something new and relevant with that also.
I love the first single off the album, “Honey, Let Me Sing You A Song.” What’s the story behind it?
I wrote the song about a girl I was dating at the time who I had been friends with for a long time, but had a slow attraction that blossomed through that. That’s what the song is about.
Your songs are very personal. Do you ever hold back for fear the person you’re writing about could hear it?
Not that much. I will say some of the first songs that I wrote were maybe a little too personal. I started writing songs after my first real girlfriend broke up with me. I wrote one song that maybe wasn’t necessarily the nicest. The first show I played her parents were actually there and I was like, “Oh whatever, they’re not going to know it’s about her.” So, that didn’t go over too well. I learned to not be so personal.
What is your typical songwriting process?
I used to carry a voice recorder everywhere, but now my phone has a voice recorder on it so I just use that. I don’t have a set process. Sometimes I’m just sitting down with a guitar and strum a couple chords. Sometimes it’s just a line or concept that will come to me. Sometimes it’s the melody or any combination of those things. I try to just let it happen most of the time. My favorite part of songwriting is when it just happens, when a song will come to me and I’ll write it in half an hour. That’s not always the case; sometimes it takes more work than that.
You have a song on the album that you co-wrote with Sara Bareilles. How is co-writing different than writing a song on your own? Is the process different?
Yeah. I hadn’t done any co-writing at all until I started working with my producer. We were working on some stuff together and he had different friends come in. He has produced Sara’s record so he had Sara come in. It’s definitely different because we’re all sitting in a room and you have to open up to the other people. When you’re writing a song by yourself you can come up with the craziest stuff and it doesn’t matter because you’re by yourself. When you’re with other people it can be a little more intimidating at first. Sara is a great songwriter and everything just comes out really naturally for her. She was fun to work with. I’m really happy with the song we wrote together. She sang the background vocals on it on the record too. That was a good experience.
Would you do it again? Any dream collaborations?
Yeah. Dream collaborations . . . Jakob Dylan would be cool. Tom Petty.
Do you have a certain song on the album that means more to you than others?
Well, the two that I’m the closest to would be “Honey, Let Me Sing You A Song” and “Turn the Page” which are the oldest songs on the album. I wrote them the longest time ago. Just because I’ve played them so many times and I’m really close to them. “Turn the Page” was one of those songs that came in half an hour and just came out of me one night.
Do you feel a song comes out better when it’s based on a personal experience?
Sometimes. And sometimes there are songs that just come out and I write them and figure out what they’re about later.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
The first song I ever wrote was called, “Sunshine State Serenade” and it was a song about Florida.
Do you still play it?
I don’t really. I actually did play it at a show earlier this year in San Francisco. I don’t normally play it.
Do you remember when you realized you wanted to be a musician?
I guess it would have been when I was about 19 or so. I was going to a community college in Florida and I had started to play in Brer, the band I was in. I thought that I at least wanted to give it a shot and try and see if I could make a living out of it. Had to have the talk with the parents about the band and school. They were very supportive of me and it ended up working out, so that was good.
The music industry is so hard to break into. What’s your advice?
I don’t know. People email me on MySpace and Facebook and ask me for advice a lot. My experience was different than most because my A&R person from Atlantic randomly heard some of my songs on MySpace and contacted me. I wasn’t actively pursuing or sending stuff to labels, which was pretty incredible. I didn’t go about it the typical way, if there is a typical way. My advice, from my experience, is just to be as good at your craft as you can be and play out in front of people as much as you can.
How are you different from all the musicians out there?
I don’t know if I’m different or not, that’s kind of subjective to the listener. I just try to write good, honest songs from my heart and write as well as I can and try to make music that people can enjoy and relate to.