Better Know an Artist (Vol 13): Matthew Gray (Matthew and the Arrogant Sea)

When I first started this series, one of the first big supporters I got in the local scene was Matthew Gray, which was super cool to me, because when I started venturing out and listening to more music, his band, Matthew and the Arrogant Sea, were just starting to get buzz and a lot of airplay on the Local Show and in the local rags. All these years later, and Matt’s taking appreciation to what I’m doing. Kinda cool. So, I reached out to Matt to see if he wanted to play along, so here we are, lucky #13.

Me: For starters, tell us a little about yourself. How did you first get into music? And when did you know this is what you want to do for a living (money be damned)?

MG: I started playing music with my little brother and nephews in Broken Arrow, OK, back in the late 90’s. I grew up in a house full of singers (and pickers). Not a’ one of us had ever been classically or traditionally trained, but that didn’t stop us from trying. Most of my sisters and my mother were wedding singers. I remember at an early age seeing my mother perform at a wedding using only an Omnichord as her backing band. Even then, I remember being astounded at her confidence. It was in that moment that I knew I wanted to be that person on stage taking chances.

Me: How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?

MG: I believe that the only true form of time travel, and exploration of the mind and heart, is through songwriting. It’s an arduous and extraordinary journey. I would say, listen with an open heart. Listen with a head full of stars, flat on your back in the grass. That’s when it all makes sense.

Me: Who are some of your biggest musical influences, and why?

MG: My hero will forever remain with the words of Eef Barzleay. He’s rather underrated, and terribly under-appreciated, but he has a kill shot like no other songwriter I have ever heard.

Me: Which of your songs means the most ot you, and if you don’t mind me asking, why?

MG: When I first moved to Denton, TX, I was pretty confused about myself, and the direction of my life. I spent a great deal of time damning the stars above me. I was a most unique anomaly to myself. Then one day, I dreamt in great detail, a wild and unashamed young man in a pink suit, appearing before my very eyes. He told me: “There is a science to your heart, a science to your eyes, your soul, and every spec of your existence.” I immediately woke up with a bang, and a song in my heart. To me, one of the most important songs I have ever written is a song called, “My Science Fiction Daydream”. The song truly saved my life. I haven’t written a song without the help of my dreams, since.

Me: If you could open for any act, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?

MG: A duet with Ozzy Osbourne. Maybe Neil Young would join us for a solo or two? And after I nail the vocal solo on our duet of “Goodbye to Romance,” Ringo Starr would high five me, and I would wake up. Because….it would be awesome.

Me: Any favorite new musical acts, local or otherwise?

MG: Oh, man. I am enthralled by the talented friends (musical family) that I  have the pleasure of being surrounded by. I recently had the pleasure of peeping the new Cantina album, which of course is AMAZING. I’m a nut for uke-pop songs, and killer harmonies. Listen to Cantina!

Me: What’s your “stranded on an island” record?

MG: It’s a tie between Diary of a Madman and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Hey, let’s do a mashup!

Me: Moving onto the home front, what are your favorite (and least favorite) things about the DFW music scene?

MG: Favorite thing will always be the community aspect of the scene. It really is a big family. Where we love and support one another. That love far outweighs anything I would dislike.

Me: Favorite DFW venue to play (or see a show). Why?

MG: My favorite DFW venue will always be Dan’s Silverleaf. Dan Mojica and his incredible staff will always have 100% of my love, support, and respect. It’s a magical place. That has housed many of my own dream come true performances.

Me: Any favorite local acts people should be looking out for?

MG: Listen to: Felt & Fur, Charley Crockett, Vincent Neil Emerson, Andy Pickett, Cliffs of Insanity, Nicholas Altobelli, Cameron Matthew Ray. I could go on for days. Listen to and support local music.

Me: And for shits and giggle, what’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

MG: I am obsessed with time travel, alien abductions, and David Lynch. I love to write and direct short films, and music videos. I am currently writing and producing a play for the Arrogant Sea. Oh yeah…, I’m actually a certified Sonographer, and full time Cat Dad. Love you guys! Thanks for asking, and for reading along!

Thanks so much to my fellow Matthew for taking time out to hang with us. He truly is an ambassador to our local scene, and look forward to hearing new MATAS output. You can catch Matthew (and Friends) performing a live “reinvention” of his fan favorite album Family Family Family Meets the Magic Christian on Jan 30 at Opening Bell Coffee in Dallas. John Dufilho opens. Refresh yourself on the record below.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1254843107865044/

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Better Know an Artist (Vol 12): James Duffer

James Duffer is a pop/rock singer from Dallas, who, much like last week’s artist, Claire Morales, has pretty much grew up wanting to be a musician. He started at a young age, and has progressed to a pretty polished sound. The piano pop tracks that I’ve listened to reflect on inspirations like Elton John, Billy Joel, or more modern artists like Ben Folds or Tobias Jesso Jr, although his voice is a little more gruff than you might think of those other artists. All in all, I think James is a pretty intriguing package of tools that we could be hearing big things from soon. James took the time to submit to our little game unsolicited, so I’m paying it forward for him. Here we go.

Me: For starters, tell us a little about yourself. How did you first get into music? And when did you know this is what you want to do for a living (money be damned)?

JD: My name is James Duffer and I’m a singer/songwriter from Dallas, TX. I write and perform my songs on piano and guitar and released my first album “Midtown Odyssey” in 2014. I first got into music at the age of 7 when I started taking piano lessons but got much deeper into music at age 11 when I started to discover rock music and my father got me my first electric guitar. From that time on, I knew all I wanted to be was a musician. Later on, I started playing percussion in school bands and began taking drum lessons and then formed my first band in high school with some friends after I gradually learned to sing. After high school, I studied music at Collin County Community College in Plano, TX. This is where I really learned and practiced a lot of my songwriting and live performance skills as well as studying recording techniques and music business. I finally released my 1st album, “Midtown Odyssey” in 2014 and graduated from Collin County Community College in 2015 with an Associate’s degree in Commercial Music, a Certificate of Music Business and an Audio Engineering Certificate. I’m currently performing regularly in DFW and Denton with my band and as a solo-acoustic act and I’ve also been performing in a heavier styled rock band called Space Ape in which I play drums and sing.

Me: How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?

JD: I would describe my music as Pop/Rock. I try to write with varying styles and influences in mind to differentiate my songs from each other. I write up-tempo songs and guitar riff based rock songs, but I also write a lot of ballads and occasionally try to incorporate jazz or other influences into my writing and playing.

Me: Who are some of your biggest musical influences, and why?

JD: I have a very wide scope of influences and musicians I’ve followed. Most of my biggest influences are from a songwriting standpoint. As a keyboard based songwriter, my biggest influences have always been Billy Joel and Elton John. I later discovered other piano based artists like Warren Zevon and Tom Waits, who influenced me greatly. Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Mark Knopfler, Bob Dylan, Steely Dan…the list goes on forever with me but these are some artists who left a major impression on me for their artistry and songwriting. I also obviously grew up on classic rock and all the great bands like Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Who, Rush, Pink Floyd, etc.

Me: Which of your songs means the most ot you, and if you don’t mind me asking, why?

JD: The opening track on Midtown Odyssey, “Without Telling You Why” is one I’ve always been very proud of and never get tired of playing. “Only the Night” and “Death and Romance” I feel were both personal breakthroughs for me as a songwriter. There’s a song of mine called “Never Any Reason” which now holds a special place for me due to my sister passing away last year and the dedication of that song to her. The song that closes the album Midtown Odyssey, “This Strange Farewell” is one of my favorites because it’s also what I close my shows with most of the time and again I remember what a struggle it was to finish that song and how proud of it I was when it was done.

Me: If you could open for any act, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?

JD: That’s a tough one. I’d say either the Rolling Stones or U2 because they always have the most amazing tours and stage set-ups. It seems like it would be the thrill of a lifetime every single night to open for a band like that and you could experience things very few people get to being on the road with those bands and that scale of production. There’s so many other I’d love to open for in more realistic terms though.

Me: Any favorite new musical acts, local or otherwise?

JD: As far as local people, I’m a big fan of Charley Crockett, whom I’ve played with a couple of times around town and I read the interview you did with him. I opened for the Hey Hey’s at the Boiler Room one time and they’re awesome. Obviously, Leon Bridges is undeniably great and a major credit to DFW music.

Me: What’s your “stranded on an island” record?

JD: Another tough one, there are so many I don’t know if I can narrow it down to just one album.

Me: Moving onto the home front, what are your favorite (and least favorite) things about the DFW music scene?

JD: My favorite things about the DFW music scene are the indie record stores and live venues we have which support local artists such as myself as well as the vast amount of talented people performing in the area. My least favorite things about the scene (at least in Dallas) is a lack of community and support between artists and people who work within the music scene. It’s been very unorganized and chaotic and I’ve found the mentality of certain people working in the Dallas/Deep Ellum scene to be much more cut-throat and competitive than communal and supportive most of the time. Also, the support between artists, promotors, venues and publications can be very genre specific, territorial and closed off. I know this isn’t specific to just Dallas either and don’t get me wrong, I know some really great people in the Dallas music scene. I’ve obviously came into contact with both good people and bad people in my time and have been treated both very well and very badly. I just wish there was more general structure and more of a music industry presence in DFW to give artists like myself more oppurtunities to thrive and connect to create clearer objectives to reach larger scale and more diverse audiences. However, having seen some big developments in the scene since I’ve been involved, I’m hoping it’s moving that direction. I thought the 2015 Dallas Observer Music Awards was a great event for showcasing local music.

Me: Favorite DFW venue to play (or see a show). Why?

JD: Unfortunately, one of my favorite places, the Boiler Room, is gone, but for full band shows I love RBC in Deep Ellum. They’ve always been great to me with whatever shows I’ve done there and Geoff is one of the best FOH sound-men in Dallas. For solo acoustic shows, Opening Bell Coffee has consistently been the most supportive venue in DFW for singer/songwriters such as myself.

Me: Any favorite local acts people should be looking out for?

JD: My friend, Mikey Gattus’ new band, Jake Dexter and the Main Street Sound. It’s a great band with a unique blend of Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop and R&B.

Me: And for shits and giggle, what’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

JD: I’ve luckily somehow never broken a bone. (Editor’s note: he forgot to add “Knock on wood”, so uhh, watch out, James, karma’s coming for you)

A big thanks to James Duffer for shooting me these responses. I look forward to hearing more from this cat. He’s got some serious tools in his shed. You can catch James on Jan 26 at Opening Bell Coffee in Dallas. You can also check out his debut record, Midtown Odyssey, below.

 

Better Know an Artist (Vol 11): Zach Mayo (of the Hendersons)

Fort Worth’s the Hendersons are probably my favorite local band right now. There’s just something different about what they’re doing, but they’re definitely onto something. I think this band is headed for some big things in the near future, so I sent the usual questions over to drummer Zach Mayo to find out what’s going on over there. He had a lot to say. See for yourself. BTW’s, that’s him staring a hole into my soul in that photo above.

Me: For starters, tell us a little about yourself. How did you first get into music? And when did you know this is what you want to do for a living (money be damned)?

ZM: I’ve always had music in my life. My mother was the Cantor every Sunday at church and can sing like an angel. My father played guitar, and my grandmother was also the Cantor at her church that we would sometimes visit. So, I always had music around me growing up. My older brothers (I’m the youngest of 3 boys) both were in band and played percussion and the French horn. I, however, decided not to follow in their footsteps and joined the orchestra program in the 5th grade to play the bass. Truly, I joined orchestra because I hated singing those lame-ass songs we were forced to sing in “music” class. But, I immediately fell in love with the bass. I was always a big kid growing up, and the bass just fit me perfectly. I started studying theory and performance, and my chops grew leaps-and bounds over the years. I continued playing bass in orchestra throughout my middle, junior, and high school years. All the while, I taught myself how to play guitar drums and the piano.

When I was in the 7th grade, my very good friend, Justin Elliott, started asking me if I wanted to “jam.” At that point, I had never really played “rock” music. I was only used to orchestra and church song arrangements. However, when i started playing with Justin, my entire outlook on music changed. I started playing drums more often, and Justin would play guitar. He was a madman when it came to the six-string, and I felt obligated to be just as much a madman on the drums. We had our two-man band, the Sugarmen, which was a very blues-heavy, garage rock vibe, much like the Black Keys or White Stripes. At the time, Justin was playing lead guitar with the Josh Weathers band and they needed an opening act. Josh was sick, and he didn’t have the will or energy to play for their full 3-hour bar set, so he enlisted me and J to fill in as an opening act. We played our first show at the Moon Bar to a crowd of people that were NOT there to see these two guys – they wanted to see Josh. By the end of our 1-hour set, we had the crowd in our hands. They loved it. After shaking hands with people and having compliments thrown at me left and right, it was then I knew I wanted to do this for a living.

Over the years, I’ve played in tons of different bands with different roles. I can honestly say that there’s nothing out there better than music – playing it, listening to it, practicing it. Every aspect of music plays a huge role in my life, and I wouldn’t want to change it for anything.

Me: How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?

ZM: The Hendersons are kind of hard to pinpoint and describe. Lots of people have told us that they remind them of the Beatles and the Beach Boys. There are also shades of Harry Nilsson and the Kinks. Nolan is the principle songwriter. He’s been influenced by all of the aforementioned bands, as well as a heavy influence of classical music. If you listen to Indian Summer, you might pick up on all of those. Kind of like a throw-back Harry-Nilsson-meets-Brian-Wilson-with-a-dash-of-Beethoven-and-a-sprig-of-Beatles.

Gun to my head, if I had to give the Hendersons a “genre”, I would say it’s Vintage Baroque Pop-rock.

Me: Who are some of your biggest musical influences, and why?

ZM: I’m influenced by heavy-hitting drummer, Buddy Miles. The man was a beast. He could sing and play drums like a madman! I’m also heavily influenced (drum-wise, that is) by a man named Steven Kleisath. He played drums for a hardcore band called Armstrong, as well as the more-poppy Further Seems Forever. The way he moves around the drum kit showed me that there was much more to playing than just “keeping the beat.”

Nowadays, I find myself watching drum solos all day. Benny Greb, Thomas Pridgen, Mike Johnson, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa – watching those guys has shown me that drums can also have a melody. I know that sounds weird, but that’s the way I hear it.

My favorite bands span tons of different genres: Queens of the Stone Age, Rage Against the Machine, Ray Lamontagne, AIR, Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers, Ween, G. Love & Special Sauce, Otis Redding, James Brown, Menahan Street Band.

Me: Which of your songs means the most to you, and if you don’t mind me asking, why?

ZM: I always love playing “Skid Row.” It usually gets everyone dancing and singing along, and I enjoy that very much.

Me: If you could open for any act, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?

ZM: The Hendersons don’t necessarily fit a perfect bill these days (especially in rock-heavy Ft. Worth), so I’d have to say that I would have LOVED to have been one of the acts at the Monterey Pop Festival back in 1967. But, only as long as we weren’t the ones following Otis Redding. That fucker brought the house down.

Me: Any favorite new musical acts, local or otherwise?

ZM: I’m a big fan of Vodeo (formerly Shake the Moon). Those guys are super talented and have great hooks. I’m also digging what the fellas in Arenda Light bring to the table. They’re super tight and well-practiced, that’s for sure. And even though, they’re not “new” at all, I spend lots of my time in the car cycling through Wilco records.

Me: What’s your “stranded on an island” record?

ZM: Tough call. I’d have to say it’s either between Ray Lamontagne’s Trouble or the Beach Boys’ Friends

Me: Moving onto the home front, what are your favorite (and least favorite) things about the DFW music scene?

ZM: I’m a big fin of how tight-knit a lot of the bands in FW are. Lots of us party together, share the same bills, and sometimes even share the same band members. It’s nice to feel like part of the “crew.” We’re all working together, doing the thing that we all love to do, and supporting each other along the way. There’s also the opposite side of the spectrum, where it can be difficult to crack into that “circle and be considered an outcast – especially if you’re new to the area and you’re trying to find the right group of people to play music with.

Dallas has always been a tough place to get your exposure to the masses. Every time I’ve played Dallas, it’s been for very few people. So, I guess the way to be known in Dallas is just say “Fuck it” and play for the small crowds as often as possible. Who knows? You may just gain a few more fans along the way.

Me: Favorite DFW venue to play (or see a show). Why?

ZM: The Grotto. Hands down. It’s kind of like our “home bar.” We usually can pack the house, even on short notice. We also like that we’re allowed to bring in our homemade Frito-pies or Beef Stew for our fans to munch on during dreary, cold evenings. However I really enjoyed playing on the new outdoor stage at Lola’s/Trailer Park. That place is going to be a mainstay for outdoor shows for years to come.

Me: Any favorite local acts people should be looking out for?

ZM: Some cat named Leon Bridges is doing pretty well for himself – or so I’ve heard. And Oil Boom is pretty solid. Chingalotus is another band that’s incredible. Cosmic Trigger makes my ears bleed (in the good way). Secret Ghost Champion has a record called Electric Neck and the Mercy Skull that I think EVERYONE should listen to. Jake Paleschic is amazing every single time I see him (and I’m super-jealous of his drummer Peter Wierenga’s snare sound.)

Me: And for shits and giggle, what’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

ZM: I’ve been taking ballroom dance lessons with my girlfriend, Sarah Jane, for almost 2 years now. That shit is amazing, and does wonders for relationships.

A big thanks to Zach Mayo for taking the time. I think this is the longest post yet. If you haven’t had a chance to catch a Hendersons show, you’re going to want to do that. I have a feeling they’re about to blow up. You can check out their last record, Indian Summer, below, and keep an eye out for new material due next year. On a more somber note, Zach’s old band mate, Justin Elliott, passed away in a household accident last year. His family has established a scholarship fund to benefit local children in their musical and academic endeavors. If you’d like to donate to the fund, you can do so here. The Hendersons will be performing with Jacob Furr at the Grotto this Thursday, the 14th, if you need to catch a great show.

Photo Credit: Moi (yeah, I’m pretty awesome)

Better Know an Artist (Vol 10): Claire Morales

Claire Morales is an intriguing young singer-songwriter from Denton. A music fan as far back as she can remember, she learned guitar at 11, and started playing shows at 13, so she’s set herself up for the long haul in the scene. Claire released her debut album, Amaranthine, in early 2015. Claire sat down to talk about ice cream and Thai food (I don’t think I asked about those things, but ok) in our Better Know an Artist interview.

Me: For starters, tell us a little about yourself. How did you first get into music? And when did you know this is what you want to do for a living (money be damned)?

CM: I’ve been into music for as long as I can remember. When I was 3, I would force my friends and family to listen to me while I stood on the fireplace and sang Little Mermaid and Carol King songs. I bet there are pictures of this somewhere. My dad would play guitar and I would sing as I got older. I remember insisted that we play “Blowing in the Wind” by Bob Dylan for my 4th grade talent show and “To Sir with Love” for the 5th grade show (a very emotional goodbye to elementary school). I learned to play guitar when I was 11 and started playing shows when I was 13. I’ve always wanted to do this for a living. It was way easier to say money be damned when I was 5, but I’m still trying to follow that little kid dream.

Me: How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?

CM: It is like eating ice cream and both fondly recalling your youth and also vaguely fearing your eventual demise. I’m really bad with genres. I guess I would call it lyrically driven, melodic, unicorn-y dream rock. But that sounds just as silly as the bit I just wrote about ice cream.

Me: Who are some of your biggest musical influences, and why?

CM: I’m very inspired by musicians I’ve seen locally and played shows with. Friends are big influences for me. As far as other acts: Angel Olsen, Patsy Cline, Beirut, the Shins, Sibylle Baier, Built to Spill, REM, Hank Williams, Nancy Sinatra, Leonard Cohen and Laura Marling are some big ones. I’m really attracted to beautiful music with strong lyrics, and I feel like I learn a lot technique-sie from singers I love. i actually find myself being really inspired by literature as well, as far as lyrics go. I find myself thinking of Greek mythology and also some of my favorite authors when I write (Salinger, Camus, TS Eliot, Dostoyevsky). Whew! That was longwinded.

Me: Which of your songs means the most ot you, and if you don’t mind me asking, why?

CM: Hmm. I’m going to say that the song that means the most to me is usually the most recent one I’ve written. I write songs that are very personal. Not all of them are about me or my life, but they are about what I believe in and feel strongly about, so the latest one is usually the closest to where i’m at.

Me: If you could open for any act, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?

CM: Probably Leonard Cohen. He’s just such a wonderful songwriter. I’d love to play an acoustic-y show with him.

Me: Any favorite new musical acts, local or otherwise?

CM: La Luz, Shana Cleveland and the Sandcastles, Courtney Barnett, Oh Rose, and Sharon Van Etten come to mind. There are so many others I’m sure.

Me: What’s your “stranded on an island” record?

CM: Burn Your Fire for No Witness by Angel Olsen. Clearly, I dig her.

Me: Moving onto the home front, what are your favorite (and least favorite) things about the DFW music scene?

CM: My favorite thing about this scene is all the great music. My least favorite thing is not being able to keep all that great music here. I feel like the Denton scene is in a bit of a valley right now. Successful bands tend to leave for bigger towns with better opportunities. There are very few local labels that are able to financially support bands. More and more clubs are closing and struggling in Denton, which means fewer places to play. House shows have died down. The music festivals we’ve been hosting in Denton are really good, but they happen once a year. There isn’t a lot of industry in town, which makes it hard to have a solid day job and be a musician. As a scene, we need to figure out how to keep awesome musicians around. I think a part of the problem is just having fewer people who are interested in seeing live music and especially local bands. It’s a big struggle and a frustrating one, because I think there’s a real opportunity here that’s slipping away more and more. I don’t have clear solutions, but I’m trying to figure out ways to help make things better and bring people out to shows. Hopefully, you’ll see some of those efforts in 2016.

Me: Favorite DFW venue to play (or see a show). Why?

CM: So far, I think it’s Dan’s. I’ve gone there since I was pretty young, and there’s something so warm and intimate about it. Also, the sound is stellar, the art is lovely, the bartenders are friendly, and it’s in walking distance to a couple of excellent Thai food restaurants. I’m very driven by food.

Me: Any favorite local acts people should be looking out for?

CM: A few favorite North and Central Texas acts: Jena Pyle (in all her various musical endeavors), New Science Projects, Daniel Markham, Pageantry, Pearl Earl, the Deer, Jesse Gage, Gollay, the Baptist Generals, Reservations, Lomelda, Dollie Barnes, Spooky Folk, Chinaski the Fury, The Angelus, Danny Diamonds, Ryan Thomas Becker, Grace London… I’m sure I’m forgetting people who are really rad and influential. There are always so many new and cool acts. I’m realizing that more and more. Everyone should just get out and go to shows. You’ll find some great music in no time, I promise.

Me: And for shits and giggle, what’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

CM: Hmm, I hate melon! I think a lot of people know that one actually.

Thanks to Claire Morales for letting us get to the (super) quirky underbelly of her musical soul. Keep an eye out for Claire at the Thai restaurants in Denton, or you know, maybe she’ll play a show, and check out Amaranthine below. Either way, she’s probably, like, your favorite person right now, so show her some love.

Photo Credit: Jasmyne Rose (jasmynerose.com)