Matt White

matt white 2013
Piano-wielding pop singer-songwriter Matt White was born in New Jersey, but came up on the streets of New York, busking in Washington Square and performing in the folk clubs of Greenwich Village. Since releasing his debut EP Bleeker Street Stories in 2006, he’s been an Artist To Watch by Rolling Stone, and toured with Sting, Sheryl Crow, Counting Crows, BB King, and his hero, Billy Joel. We asked White about his latest album, Shirley, his approach to writing songs and more.

Videos by American Songwriter

The video for Gimme What You Got” is pretty racy. Tell us about filming it and coming up with the concept.

The concept was to do something racy and a little different then what I had done previously. Most of the contemporary songs on radio talk about being “players,” etc. We flipped this and exploited me instead.

How would you describe Shirley?

The album really focuses on the piano as the central instrument. I think it’s a little more stripped  down then my previous albums. but I am a piano player and felt more comfortable.

How would you compare it to your last album, It’s The Good Crazy?

The last album had a lot of analog recordings, and I also think I had more time to write this album, to experience more.

What do you need to survive and strive in the music business? A great manager? A certain personality? 

You need to work really hard, and you really need to love it. Having great people around is also a must.

Where do you fall on the streaming music debate? Are musicians being fairly compensated by services like Spotify?

I think it is fine. I do wish the musicians got the money instead of the record labels, but you cant control evolution and you cant misread the public.

How about the recent lawsuit against lyric sites? Have your lyrics ever been mis-translated online?

I am happy a lyric site cares enough to even translate my lyrics.

Who are your songwriting heroes?

Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, and Billy Joel.

When did you start writing songs? Were they good right away, or did that come later?

It took a while to really refine it. I practiced over and over again. My first songs were 12 minutes long.

What was the first song you ever wrote?  

It was about my grandma’s cooking.

How do you go about writing songs?

I try not to overthink it, If I obsess about something too long I know I’m not going about it in the right way. A lot of it is just luck.

What is your approach to writing lyrics?

Lyrics are always the hardest I think. It is difficult to fit words into a certain melody and make them sound sincere and real.

What’s a lyric or verse on the radio right now that you admire?

Lorde’s song “Royals” is particularly brilliant, when she says, “I’m not proud of my address, no post code envy.”

Is it easier, or harder to write songs, the more you write?

I think it gets easier, but in some ways that freshness and vulnerability in a new writer gets lost sometimes.

Are there any words you love or hate?

None I can think of off the top of my head. I have never loved the word “sweat.”

What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?

“Gimme What You Got” seems to resonate with guys more then girls, and “Love and Affection has resonated with the girls, I think because it is a song about having to grow up.

Do you ever do any other kinds of writing? Did you excel in writing classes when you were a kid?

Writing was always my favorite subject in school. I didn’t really excel in school in anything but music unfortunately.

If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?

Elvis, or Billy Joel.

Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?

I always felt Paul Simon should be up there with the Bob Dylan. Also Billy Joel is a hero of mine and his song catalog is jaw- dropping.

What do you consider to be the perfect song?

I always felt I identified with “Born to Run,” by Bruce Springsteen. I grew up in New Jersey and Bruce is our President. It really perfectly balances the reality of life and having dreams. Lyrically it’s as good as it gets.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Makin’ Stuff Up: The Circuitous Wobble Of “Wagon Wheel”