Exclusive: Matt Stell Finds His Lane on ‘One of Us’ EP

Country singer/songwriter Matt Stell enlists the help of the Nashville songwriting community for his upcoming project. The six-track EP One Of Us, available on February 10, features three songs Stell co-wrote and three outside songs. American Songwriter premieres the project’s accompanying track list below.

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“This project is definitely me getting in my own lane and being comfortable about who I am and what I want to do,” Stell tells American Songwriter of his collection of new music. “I feel like I’m finding my stride in making the music that I want to make.”

The Arkansas native moved to Nashville in 2014 to be a songwriter. He introduced himself as a thoughtful songwriter and equally compelling artist in 2019 with back-to-back No. 1 singles “Prayed for You” and “Everywhere but On.”

While the RECORDS Nashville artist served as a co-writer on both, his follow-up singles “That Ain’t Me No More” and “Man Made” sees Stell embrace Nashville’s A-list songwriters. It’s a concept he incorporates again on the six-track EP One Of Us. Stell says his records are a snapshot in time of what he’s doing and One Of Us is no different, whether he wrote the song or recorded a song someone else penned.

“This EP is pretty special,” he says. “To me, it’s got a mix of songs that I’ve written, and I’m passionate about, and other songs that I’m passionate about that other people wrote. I cut some outside stuff here. I always think it’s a good thing to stay open.”

A complete track list for Stell’s One Of Us EP follows:

1. “One Of Us” (Gavin Slate, James Barker, Jim McCormick, Travis Wood)
2. “Shut The Truck Up” (Matt Stell, Jessie Jo Dillon, Chase McGill)
3. “Man Made” (Brett Sheroky, Ian Christian)
4. “This One’s Gonna Hurt” (James McNair, Michael Hardy, Cameron Montgomery, Tyler Hubbard)
5. “Roots In This Ground” (Matt Stell, Randy Montana, Nick Walsh, Joe Fox)
6. “Somewhere Over The Radio” (Matt Stell, Clint Lagerberg)

American Songwriter discusses One Of Us with Stell, below.

American Songwriter: You’re known for writing most of your music. What was it like looking for outside songs for this project?

Matt Stell: I always try to treat the song as the end all be all. The song is king regardless of whose name is at the top of the lyric sheet. I moved to town to write songs for other artists, and that relies on people listening to outside songs. Now that I’m in a position of being the artist, I’ve wanted to stay true to that.

I’ve always got my ears open. I’m always looking for songs that hit me. Those songs come in a lot of different ways. My management will send me songs. My label will send me songs. My publishing company will send me songs. Songwriter friends will send me songs. One of the perks of being an artist is getting to hear so many great songs.

AS: The title track is one of those outside cuts. What was it about “One Of Us” that made you want to record it?

MS: The ones that I end up wanting to cut are the songs that jar me from the beginning. When I first heard this song, I was like, “Man, this is a great song. It’s gonna work great in a live set.” I thought it was just such a well-written song. … It has some sentimentality to it.

The second verse talks about losing a friend in a car wreck. That happened to me when I was just out of college. I lost one of my best friends, one of the best guys that I know, his name was John. When I heard that [lyric], all I could think about was him. I bet other people have been through similar things. That was a different song for me. I thought, “Wow, this song has got it all.”

One of us got hitched to a girl he first kissed way back in fifth grade
One of us ain’t got no settle down in him probably never gonna change
One of us been gone since he got called home, drove right off the road in his Chevy
Any one of us could have been shotgun so we still drink one in his memory

AS: “Man Made” is another outside cut. What made you decide to release it as a single?

MS: The team brought it to me. I knew that it was a great song. It’s got a melody you want to sing, and it also has a positive vibe to it. I’m not always a positive vibe guy when I’m writing songs, even when I’m listening to songs. The single that changed my life was a positive vibe song. But honestly, even though it’s my biggest song “Prayed for You” is probably not the most representative of what it is that I do.

AS: What song best represents you as a singer/songwriter?

MS: Probably “Shut the Truck Up.” I wrote it during COVID. I wrote it over Zoom with my buddy Chase McGill. He’s one of my favorite songwriters here in town. He had that title and I thought it was so interesting to try to write that song.

When I first heard that title, I thought that song would be about something else, or it might be silly. The way we turned it [and] put some meat on the bone of that song. …  I was really proud of that the way that it came out, and how different it looks on the page from what it sounds like. It was pretty special.

AS: “Somewhere Over the Radio” was very clever and heartfelt. What’s the story behind that song?

MS: My Buddy Clint Lagerberg had that idea. We sat down just he and I, we wrote that song all day one day. I tried to get it right because it’s such a cool title, and I want to tell a story. It’s not [about] me but it could have been me if I was from Kansas. I love story songs that tell a story of how music changes lives and so does love.

I think one lyric that hits home for me is I knew you’d be goin’ places baby / I just wish those places weren’t so far. I’m talking about leaving home. When you’re from a real small town in the South … leaving home is tough. Almost all my family lives in the same county that we grew up in so leaving was a big deal and it wasn’t easy. Ultimately, I’m glad that I did because I wouldn’t have been able to come to Nashville and be around songs and make a life out of music if I hadn’t. But it didn’t mean it was easy. I thought we did a decent job of spelling that out in an interesting way.

AS: How has your songwriting evolved?

MS: I always want to make music that I’m very connected with on a personal level. When you have some success, you see what other people connect to. It’s trying to find stuff that’s both; trying to write stuff that people connect with that also I connect with on a personal level. I hadn’t always done that, because it’s not easy. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make that Venn diagram overlap more than it did previously. I feel like I’ve gained ground doing that.

AS: What’s the best advice on songwriting you’ve received?

MS: The most actionable advice that I can give is, if you love to write songs, you have a passion for it, then write a bunch of them. If you can’t get to Nashville, find people in your community that are like-minded songwriters, and be around other creative people that have that same bug. It’ll keep you motivated and writing songs. And listen to music. Listen to all kinds of music.

AS: What do you love most about songwriting?

MS: I still get so excited when we nail one. It’s almost like fishing. … You show up, and you put the boat in the water. You put in the work. Some days you have something that you’re really, really proud of. Those days are worth it. There’s nothing like it, and then you get to do that for a job, it’s just the best. I never get tired of songwriting. I get burned out sometimes, but I never get tired of songwriting.

Photo: Wide Open Music / Sweet Talk Publicity

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