May/June 2020 Lyric Contest Winner Matt Dunn Talks “Echo”

Syracuse, New York-based Matt Dunn took home the top prize for the May/June 2020 American Songwriter Lyric Contest for his song “Echo.” American Songwriter caught up with Matt to get the details on the lyric’s inspiration and see what he’s been up to lately.

What was the inspiration for “Echo”?

The times we live in.  The country is so divided and you wonder how we got this way.  And how we somehow still keep it together.  Each person is born with a heritage that influences their perspective, an echo from the past.  It’s human nature to embrace it and use it to assemble a good life.

Have you written music for this lyric? If so, how would you describe it?

There is no music yet.  I’m still experimenting but I hear a Neil Young/Johnny Cash hybrid.

Does it take you a long time to finish songs? How long did this one take?

Most songs take a few weeks or more to complete. Once I have a line or two that I like I get tunnel vision and work on it continually until I’m happy with it.  “Echo” was quick.  I had it in a couple days. That’s rare for me, but it’s nice when it happens.

What keeps you motivated as a songwriter?

I really don’t know. Ideas keep coming and so I write them down. There is a certain joy in the process, discovering new ways of telling age-old stories.  And once I start writing a song something compels me to finish it.  Probably OCD.

Are there any songwriters, artists or events that have especially inspired you lately?

I watched the movie Yesterday recently.  The Beatles wrote so many good songs. It’s intimidating.  But it made me want to grab a pen and paper.

How long have you been writing songs, and what are your songwriting goals?

I bought my first guitar right out of high school and have been writing ever since.  I’m a baby-boomer so that’ll tell you how long without putting an exact number on it.  Ultimately, I’d like to write for an artist.  I’ve never had a fire to perform, so connecting with someone who does would be perfect.

How do you find time to write amid life’s many demands?

I enjoy solitude. Always have. So when the choices present themselves, I tend to pick the tranquil option and let my mind wander into a song.  And I keep a notebook handy because you just never know. One by the bed, one in the bathroom…you get the idea.

What is your idea of a perfect song?

One that solves the dilemma of world peace.  A nice thought.  But seriously, a perfect song to me is one that harmonizes with what I’m feeling at that moment.  It heightens my joy or consoles my sorrow in a way nothing else can; I am one with the song.

Who are your all-time favorite songwriters? 

I started listening to music in my teens and those early discoveries, like many things in life, still have a strong hold on me. Ray Stevens’ Greatest Hits was the first album I bought.  He wrote funny songs like “Gitarzan” and “The Streak” but also “Everything Is Beautiful” and “Misty.” As I got older I came to admire his versatility.  Lennon and McCartney, Frey and Henley, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor and Willie Nelson also come to mind.  They can write songs for any mood.

Are you are songwriter? Enter the American Songwriter Lyric Contest. 


By Matt Dunn

Syracuse, NY

I make no apologies

These eyes from which I see

Blown glass in fire forged

By hands that came before me

He was his, I am mine

Each generation’s son

Shoes to fill with anxious feet

Forever rabbit run

Born am I, this time and place

This skin, bone, heart and face

Perspective tinted shade of race

Primeval walls to find embrace

I make no apologies

These ears from which I hear

Tuned to bells in ancient songs

Sung across a flat frontier

One fleck amongst the flecks

Half darkness and half light

Rising morning discovery

Dissolved into the night

Born am I, this time and place

This skin, bone, heart and face

Perspective tinted shade of race

Primeval walls to find embrace

I make no apologies

These words that I speak

My voice only an echo

Revolutionary antique


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  1. Well, I’m really less confident in this Lyric Contest evaluation than I have been. First of all this is called “Echo”, yet you don’t see the tag till the end of it. It’s a lovely poem, but what does “Perspective tinted shade of race, Primeval walls to find embrace” mean? And that’s the chorus because it’s repeated. Maybe I’m just an everyday man, and don’t have the perspective of the music that would go with these lyrics, but so much of this feels poetic rather than lyrical. The story line is not defined & clear. Plus as a professional songwriter isn’t the job to write something an artist might want to add to their catalog or upcoming effort? Brother Dunn should be proud of getting the win in the contest, but I can’t think of any artist off hand that would want to cover this story line. I wish brother Dunn well in his songwriting, and think he certainly has a way with expression. Well done with this victory brother Matt, but I just can’t see how the collective group of pro writers came to this conclusion though.

    • I have to agree with you Todd. Incredibly short too. Maybe I am to used to Dylan’s songs.

  2. I think what makes these lyrics really cool is the fact that they make you think. For me that makes for a good song. I felt the flow as I read it . To me, that’s not an easy task, I appreciate how you think.

  3. Congratulations, Matt Dunn! And all the best (with future endeavors)!

    Side-note: Isn’t this a lyric contest and not a poetry contest? I believe one of the criteria is that the words should lend themselves easily to music (though this maybe a little vague criterion, perhaps deliberate). Otherwise, they would make for poetry and not lyrics. Making the lyrics conversational (which most songwriting classes will teach you) is not asked for, or else the outcomes could be different, I think. Just an opinion.

  4. I love this. It’s fresh and new – breaking untilled ground and traditional rules. I relate well because I often write in a similar vein. It’s not ‘ooh my baby loves me, yeah.’ One of the reasons Talking Heads was my favourite band in the early 80’s is because they wrote about different subjects instead of the thrashed typical stuff and bent the rules. I can totally hear this as a song. So Matt – dont listen to the naysayers who are no doubt restricted to the confines of the norm. I applaud that you travel the unknown path.

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