Let’s face it, in 2015 country music, or anything remotely similar, often gets pushed to the side. It doesn’t resonate with a lot of the younger population and is often considered more of a mockery than a musical masterpiece.
By Morgan Gentry
The South isn’t giving up on it’s genuine sound and neither is Matthew McNeal. The 22-year-old Americana singer-songwriter has been hard at work to bring the world a fresh and notably unorthodox taste of what Texas has to offer.
From his grassroots start to breaking music barriers, we took a peek into McNeal’s world before his anticipated album release Compadre on June 30th, throws him on everyone else’s radar.
AUSTERE: Your place in the music world started at a young age and this isn’t your first time making music either, what bands were you in previously and how are they different from your solo work?
MCNEAL: I started a band in high school called Hey Jersey that did pretty well. We played all over north Texas and had a pretty large following both online and at shows. It was such a liberating thing to be 16 and being a part of some really incredible shows.
You had a successful grassroots release in July of 2013 ‘When You’re Down’, what actually triggered the move to being a solo artist?
I had started college and realized that there wasn’t any time to waste. I think deep down inside I always knew I’d go off and do my own thing, I just had to make that decision and give it my full attention. I think that’s the thing that really made people think ‘okay, let’s check this stuff out’ because I officially started all of this by announcing that I’d be tracking a full album and that was that. Sometimes you just have to go for it and I’m so glad I did.
How did you and Andre Black start working together?
We went to school together growing up, but we’ve been playing gospel music together for years and years. All through high school. When I started the process of writing for Compadre, I knew that there was no one else I’d rather have backing me than him.
You dedicated a year to writing this album. Did you have any dry spells or road bumps, or did you simply feel it was better to take your time with this album?
I really just felt like taking my time with the album was the right thing to do. I was working hard to save up to fund everything and I was writing constantly. It was a very active year- things were always going full speed, but it was all behind the scenes. It’s really cool to watch all of the hard work come to light.
How did you end up at Redwood Studios with Mckenzie Smith and Joey McClellan?
I went to school in Denton my freshman year of college, so when I started looking for studios Denton was my first stop. I researched them for a while and really liked what I saw, then some buddies of mine in Seryn told me that they loved working with them and I think that’s what really solidified my choice. They’re incredible and I can’t imagine working with different folks. They’ve become really good friends of mine.
Describing your sound can be such a daunting task sometimes, but Americana and garage country have been floating around. Would you say your genre mashups have the ability to reach more ears? (I definitely think so)
I absolutely think so. I think that my sound fits in best with the genre of ‘Americana’, but we’ve got a really diverse following and that’s cool to see. Country music lovers, rock and rollers, pop-music fans, the list goes on. I think that having a unique sound is one of the most important things in the world of music. I’m always looking for artists that are doing things different and their own way, and I’d like to think that that’s the way I’m taking things.
When did you move to Fort Worth and how has it been different from your hometown in Terrell?
I actually just planted my stakes in Fort Worth a few months ago back in November. I’d moved around DFW after leaving Terrell, but Fort Worth just seems like the right place for me to be right now. Terrell is a pretty small east Texas town, so Fort Worth is a completely different world.
You’re only 22! We love young creatives, any advice for those who may be on the road to being a singer-songwriter? Or just a young creatives trying to make a lane for themselves.
I think the most important thing is believing in yourself. You can’t be afraid to meet new people and learn from them, you can’t stop just because things get difficult. The world of art, music or otherwise, is a very strange and unique thing. It takes a lot to really chase after this dream, but that’s the only way to make it a reality- you have to believe it’s possible and get to work.
What do you miss most when you’re on the road and what can we expect from your live shows?
Naturally I miss my loved ones, but I think the more obscure thing that I miss is cooking. It’s really easy to get caught up in subpar food while out on the road, so I always miss being able to throw some good food together and eat well. I perform as a two piece with Andre, but we definitely don’t let that be a hinderance to our shows. We aim to be very dynamic while always keeping a groove. I always try to put on a performance that I’d want to see and hear, so I like to mix things up a lot from show to show.
How was the writing different with “Compadre” compared to “When You’re Down”?
Compadre is much more intentional. It’s much more mature and purposeful. Not to belittle it, but WYD was more of a way to get my foot in the door. I really jumped right into the deep end and made a record in a bedroom apartment with one of my good friends and hoped for the best. I wanted to gain enough traction and attention to be able to follow up the album with a full-production, no holds barred, powerful record. Luckily, things somehow managed to work out and here we are talking about ‘Compadre’!
You listened to 80s-90s Country and R&B (good time for music!) growing up, who were some artist that really stood out to you?
I think I found my love for solid, intentional grooves from Michael Jackson, the twang and heartache from George Strait and George Jones, and (though I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned this in any interview) but I’ve always loved KC and the Sunshine Band as well as Kool & The Gang. My dad has always been a cowboy and my mom has always dabbled in all genres of music, so I think that’s one of the things that really led me to incorporate all of the genres I like and run them through a southern filter.
How do you feel about the music world of today, from radio hits to the talented gems you can discover across the Internet?
I think it’s quite a time to be a musician. There’s a natural ebb and flow in the music industry and I believe we’re at a very interesting spot right now. Modern recorded music really hasn’t been around all that long. We’re looking at about 100 years of music. Some of the greats, the catalysts of certain genres, are doing their farewell tours. People are realizing that there’s more to music than what’s on the popular radio stations. There’s no one specific genre that is taking over the charts. It’s a very weird time in the world of music and that’s what makes it so awesome. There’s no telling where it’s all gonna go. That’s what excites me.
Lastly, what do you think makes your sound stand out? Compared to the gimmicky, pop-infused country music we hear nowadays, you seem to embody more substance in your words and more rock roots.
I think having a raw, genuine feel to my songs is what’s important to me- from lyrical content to musical style. That pursuit of honesty and integrity in songwriting translates well to folks, despite genre preferences.
Intrigued? You can learn about Matthew McNeal and his music at matthewmcneal.com, and join us at his album release show at the Underpass Tavern in Dallas June 27th or on one of his upcoming tour stops!