Mathew V had nothing but time. Left to his own thoughts, like many of us during the pandemic, he began confronting the past and doing crucial emotional work. With his new song “Around Here,” the singer-songwriter shatters past traumas, specifically from his high school days, and finally rises into a state of peace.
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I knew you’d never leave me / Still broken down completely, he calls into a shower of strings, a raw delicacy surrounding him. It’s like I never left here at all.
As he wanders through the halls of his high school, every sour memory comes flooding back. The past still stings, ringing hot on his skin, but he reclaims himself before it’s too late. “Being trapped at home forced me to take myself to any other place. When people are left alone with their thoughts, there’s a lot of interesting realizations that come about,” he tells American Songwriter over a recent phone call.
“This is not nostalgic in the ‘glory days’ kind of thing. That wasn’t my experience. I realized all these places and times in my life, whether it was in school or town, hold significant emotional stamps,” he continues. “As I dove into those memories, or even if I go back to those places and drive by, regardless of what’s happening there now, it carries vivid imagery and emotions. That was an interesting concept for me to realize. All these physical places that are really just dirt on the ground.”
Formative romantic relationships tangle with bruised vines. “Around Here,” co-written with producers John Sinclair (Taylor Swift, MAX) and Philip Thorpe-Evans (former Neck Deep bassist), guides the listener through a dream-like trance, a singer/songwriter core wrapped tightly with lush production.
“Around Here” and previous single “Halo” come on the heels of Mathew V’s sophomore effort, Two Faced, released in 20202, and anchor a forthcoming EP called The Outer Circle.
Often his way, Mathew V boldly walks into the past’s flames to uncover life lessons and recover his self-worth. “I’ve pulled myself out of these situations and learned from them. There is a sting of diving into it and having that initial response to relive these moments that you may not necessarily want to relive,” he explains. “On the other end, it was super healthy to go through and look at all these situations. I’m happy I did it, for better or worse, now that I’m out of it.”
The new project contrasts against much of his previous work. Creatively, he found himself drawn to pull back the reins and lean into his vocals unlike ever before. “It’s a reclaiming of my voice. Pop music is a really wide umbrella,” he says, referencing the vast spectrum from chewy Top 40 queens like Katy Perry to more forlorn indie balladry. “I’ve always viewed myself as someone who can live on both ends.”
With Two Faced, Mathew V struggled with whether the record was “too queer,” he reflects. “I always had that internalized societal fear that I wouldn’t be accepted. I’m happy I went forward and proved to myself that it was something I could do. No one could tell me that I wasn’t allowed to do it or it was too this or too that.”
“Now, I felt a craving to really just sing again without all the shiny bells and whistles. I wanted to emote through my voice,” he adds. “There was a bit of internal pushback. As an artist, there is always going to be an ebb and flow.”
Mathew V crashed onto the scene with his debut record, The Fifth, released in 2018. Across 10 glistening tracks, the Canadian clearly drew upon such influences as Celine Dion and Shania Twain. “They really formed my level of melodic taste. I guess I come from a very loyal Canadian household,” he laughs.
Currently, he finds himself taking cues from country superstar Chris Stapleton, particularly in how he “chooses where to put his runs,” offers Mathew V. “I don’t think anyone would ever associate him with my music, but I think it’s interesting to listen to him as a singer.”
He has also observed the work of a Swedish group called The Mamas, deep-diving into their catalog after watching a video from EuroVision. “I felt so inspired by their emotive vocal performances and big harmonies. They could have been singing any lyrics in the entire world—and the emotion built into those chord progressions and vocal arrangements really touched me.”
Taking stock of his songwriting growth to-date, Mathew V cites “the power of collaboration” as the greatest asset to his transformation. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities to put my ego in check. When I signed my record deal, I went into it like ‘I know everything and how I want my music to be.’ I still know what I want my music to be,” he says, shouting out Fly by Midnight as his favorite collaborators to-date.
“But I’ve leaned into the fact that there are so many talented people out there that have ideas my brain is incapable of fostering from the ground up. Other people’s talents are at my disposal.”