Matthew McNeal is one of those artists that seems to be more and more common in the Fort Worth scene, an artist who frequently gets tagged with the country tag, but rejects it, as his music, while rooted in retro country music, also has ties to the blues, rock music, and R&B. As one of the series’ strongest supporters, I thought it was time to get him in for his own round of questioning. You can check out his 2015 record, Compadre, and catch tour dates at the end. Alright, enough of the fanfare….
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)?
MM: I listened to my mom’s cassette decks religiously since I was a baby. I’ve always gravitated toward music-blame it on being an only child and being cripplingly anti-social as a young kid. I grew up in a small east Texas town and there was never much to do. I first picked up the guitar around 13 and started playing shows within a year or two. I was playing gospel tunes at the church pretty early on, but I jumped in a band at age 15 with some older guys from town and we started playing more and more across North Texas. I ended up starting my own band at 16 and we did pretty well for a few years, but I was writing and playing my own solo tunes that whole time as well. Though it may sound cliché, as soon as I found out that I could pick up a guitar and share music with people and make them feel the way that music made me feel, I knew that’s what I had to do with my life.
Me: How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
MM: Always a tough one. I tend to get thrown in with the country bunch since I reside in Fort Worth and often wear boots and a hat, but I wear my pants a little too tight for people to think that way too long (haha). The band and I always try to bring something unorthodox to the table. We always go under the genre of “Americana”, but that’s such a broad term. I’d call it alt-country rock and roll with some groove to it.
Me: Who are some of your biggest musical influences, and why?
MM: My earliest musical obsessions were with old Motown and funk tapes that my mom used to have. And I had an unhealthy (but platonic) obsession with Michael Jackson’s early hits. I think that’s where a lot of my groove comes from. I listen to just about everything out there and my musical obsessions change daily, but I draw a lot of inspiration from the lyrical depth of the Avett Brothers, the musicianship and vibe of groups like Rayland Baxter, Daniel Romano, and Ray Lamontagne, and the weirdness of early Kings of Leon.
Me: Which of your songs means the most ot you, and if you don’t mind me asking, why?
MM: There’s a song off of my studio debut Compadre called “Imaginary Friend”. It’s about dealing with depression/anxiety/doubt and personifying those thoughts and feelings into something like an imaginary friend. I’ve struggled with that stuff for a while and this song was my way of coping with it and deciding to ‘be bigger’ than those thoughts. I think it’s something that a lot of people deal with, so I want that song to be able to resonate within people and give them something to relate to since that topic isn’t often covered in modern music.
Me: If you could open for any act, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?
MM: I’ve had an obsession with the Avett Brothers for a long, long time and I think they put on the best live show in modern music. If I had to dig back into the past, opening for the Eagles or Bob Dylan when he was backed by the Band would be absolutely insane.
Me: Any favorite new musical acts, local or otherwise?
MM: Denver’s Nathaniel Rateliff has been around for a long time, but his new effort with his backing band the Night Sweats is killer. It’s awesome to watch him finally get the worldwide success he deserves.
Me: What’s your “stranded on an island” record?
MM: Aha Shake Heartbreak by Kings of Leon will always be my jam.
Me: Moving onto the home front, what are your favorite (and least favorite) things about the DFW music scene?
MM: North Texas is just a great place to be making music right now. There are so many insanely talented players up here. There have been so many killer releases in the past year and even more to be released within the next year – it seems like people are starting to recognize their hunger for good music in town. I really believe that people are starting to see how much great music is getting put out in their own backyard. There’s not much of a downside to it all. Since there are so many insane artists around here, it certainly pushes you to be better and better, but I see that as a strength rather than an intimidation or weakness.
Me: Favorite DFW venue to play (or see a show). Why?
MM: I’m a fan of Three Links in Dallas and Magnolia Motor Lounge in Fort Worth. both venues tend to curate killer shows consistently and both have great teams working there. Hard to beat a show at the Kessler though. Cal Quinn, the man behind the board over there, is the best in the business.
Me: Any favorite local acts people should be looking out for?
MM: There are so many. It’s an awesome time to be making music in North Texas. Daniel Markham and Birds of Night both melt my brain. Vincent Neil Emerson, Jacob Furr, and Bad Mountain are all insanely talented. The Quaker City Nighthawks dudes are burning venues down left and right. Kirby Brown (and his Texas Gentlemen Crew) is coming out with a game-changing record later this year. The Misteries are going to take over the world. Leon Bridges is on fire. The world should keep a close eye on what’s going on in DFWd.
Me: And for shits and giggle, what’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?
MM: I’m colorblind. Stoplights mixed with headlights/streetlights are tough. I have a history of wearing terribly unmatched outfits, so that’s why you’ll usually only see me in blue, black, or gray.
You can catch Matthew in a few spots coming up. He’ll be playing the Live Oak’s monthly Song Swap Soiree (4/13), opening for Aubrie Sellers (4/17) at Lola’s with Kevin Aldridge, performing at the EarthDayTexas (4/24) event in Fair Park, and opening for Moonlight Native (4/29) at Sundown at Granada. If you like to travel, he’ll be in Wichita Falls opening for the great Billie Joe Shaver (5/14) at the Iron Horse Saloon. So, he’s staying pretty busy, it seems. Get out and see some music.