There are not too many people you come across that receive the opportunity to study on an extension programme through Harvard but ultimately elect not to. Back to back number one singles and approaching four hundred million streams does seem to justify why Matt Stell made this decision and things continue to go from strength to strength for the Arkansas native. As the world starts to open up with a run of dates with Old Dominion coming this year, he is ready to bring the huge hits “Prayed For You” and “Everywhere But On” along with the tracks from last October’s EP release “Better Than That” out on the road. Jamie recently caught up with Matt over Zoom to learn more about one of the most interesting backstories to one of country music’s most exciting talents.
How is everything going in Nashville and how are things shaping up for being able to play shows again right now? “They’re good! We’ve been getting busy again which man, it feels great to be playing shows again and stuff, which sometimes are with the socially distanced crowds but the dates are coming back and we’ve got a bunch of stuff on the books, so we’re feeling good about 2021 that’s for sure! As of last weekend, everything here is just completely back open. One hundred percent capacity and no masks. I don’t envy anybody making those decisions because it’s tough looking at whether it’s safe. My whole band and crew have had our vaccines, I’m a believer in that, I know some people are not but I am. Hopefully, we don’t see a big spike in cases but it feels good to have the doors opening back up.” Given that the EP came out in October last year whilst the touring climate wasn’t as open as it is now becoming, how much are you looking forward to playing these songs live for the first time and also being in a position where fans will have had more time to know the songs? “Yeah, “Everywhere But On” went number one at country radio during the pandemic, so we haven’t really been able to tour on that since it’s been a hit and it’s one of my favourite songs that I’ve ever written, so now that I get to go to these places and hear people sing it back to us is going to be really cool.”
How important have tool like social media been during the pandemic as a way to stay connected with fans whilst there was the inability to play live during the last eighteen months? “Definitely. That was just one of the tools that we had to stay connected with folks and I’m glad we had it. If this pandemic would have been twenty or thirty years ago, I can’t imagine, that would have been a lot tougher on people when the world wasn’t as connected without the technology that makes life a lot easier, seamless and touchless. Social media and technology in general played a big part in staying connected with folks.”
You were a part of the virtual Country Music Week last year as your first introduction to the UK fans. What have you heard about the audience over here to get you excited about wanting to reach out to Europe? “I’ve never been over even as a tourist so I’m really looking forward to doing that at some point but if the numbers keep looking good, hopefully that’s something on the cards really soon. I’m always blown away by the support that country music gets abroad and especially where y’all are. It makes me really excited to come and tour, experience Europe as a whole then London and the UK especially because there is such passion. I’ve found that if you share a favourite band in common with somebody, you’re instantly friends with them. It’s the thing you have when common runs so deep because the kind of music that you like, really has a lot to do with who you are I feel and if you have a lot of music in common with people you are instantly closer friends. I’m excited to see what that looks like overseas. My taste in music is pretty indie, I’ve always been the person that not only enjoyed the seeking out of music and yeah, like we said the deep cuts are what matters most so that sounds incredible.” What is it about country music as a genre that drew you to it to make it feel the right fit for you and how did your journey as a songwriter grow? “I’m from the south so country music is kind of the soundtrack and the default setting. I listened to a lot of different stuff growing up but country music was what was typically being played more times than not. I always loved music but I guess I had a passion that was different for it than other people! I thought that everybody just loved music. Then, I started playing and figured out I had the knack for guitar, could sing a little bit and then started writing songs. From there, the writing songs part of it was the thing I wanted to do and I was the most interested in which was what kind of started the journey. The sitting, playing guitar and singing on a bar stool, the listening to the indie records I loved and trying to write songs that affect people the way that my favourite songs affected me. It’s been a long winding road but here we sit.”
The desire for pursuing music must have been something that you were really committed to as I’m sure that turning down the opportunity to study pre-med at Harvard wasn’t an easy decision? “The Harvard Extension School, the pre-med thing came about later, I had already been to school and had my masters. I moved to Nashville to try and write songs, I had some success in Texas regional radio writing songs so I thought if I could do it there, I could maybe do it in Nashville. I moved here to do that and I was here for a couple of years trying to get a publishing deal and nothing materialised. I started looking around and thinking that maybe music was a hobby of mine, I would always write songs and make records but maybe that was it. After going on a medical mission trip to Haiti, watching what these doctors can do for people, I thought if I was ever going to do something else, this is what I would do. I don’t know why, I typically like to do hard stuff but that was going to be the plan and about two months before I was leaving to start school back again, I got the opportunity to write songs. That turned into an EP, “Prayed For You” and it’s a crazy ride how one song can change it all.” I know you are a big sports guy and played basketball in college at Drury, but being from Arkansas you are kind of in the middle of everything so who are you cheering on as a fan in terms of the pro’s across various sports? “In the NFL I root for the Titans as a home town thing and the same for hockey with the Preds but I’m a really big NBA basketball fan. A lot of my best friends live around Dallas and work for the team so it’s the Mavericks. (To which I jumped in and asked why he wasn’t rooting for both my own and America’s team in the NFL when he was cheering on the city’s basketball team?) Where I’m from, everybody grew up liking the Cowboys and I did too! I just happen to live here now and wasn’t a diehard Cowboys fan so it’s a lot easier to support a team where you are. I will tell you this though, about four or five years ago, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City came and played a friendly here in Nashville where ever since then, Man City has been my squad (I resisted the urge to tell him how he had obviously made the wrong choice here too) and I try and catch the Premier League before college football starts. I knew they were in position to win the league and they’ve been kicking some ass. I can’t say I know everything about it but sometimes it’s fun that when you don’t know a lot about something, you can appreciate it for how it immediately hits you so I just enjoy watching the game in a more passive way. Whilst basketball, I grew up playing it so I love it because I know what’s going on but all that being said Man City is my Premier League team!”
Then finally, looking ahead through the rest of 2021, what else can we expect in terms of new music later this year? “I think you can expect new music later on in the year, whether that’s a new EP or just rounding out the record as a project so I’m really excited about that. Making new music and getting in the studio is one of my favourite things and I’m really, really pumped to get to do that again.” The current single “That Ain’t Me No More” from Matt Stell is out now and available to listen to HERE. For more info on his tour dates make sure you check out his Website and you can keep up to date with him socially on TwitterFacebookTikTok & Instagram.
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks