If the only Matt Stell song you know is “Prayed for You,” then you don’t know Matt Stell. A rocker and a scholar, a poet and a partier, a songwriter and a sinner – it all plays into who the rising country music star is at his core.
And yes, he’s the first to admit he has been dealing with a bit of an identity crisis as of late.
“’Prayed for You’ changed my life,” Stell tells American Songwriter during a recent interview about his chart-topping debut single. “That being said, our live show is a totally different perspective of what we do. We rock pretty hard for a country band and we really get after it. It’s important to me as an artist that people realize that ‘Prayed for You’ is something we do, but isn’t all of what we do. What we really do is actually a little more Saturday night than Sunday morning.”
Certainly, it’s a dichotomy that has lived within the threads of country music for as long as the genre has been around, and a distinction that makes Stell even more of an interesting character in a land of copycats and cookie cutters. In fact, in an industry filled with far too many young artists looking to fit into some sort of box, the sheer multi-dimensionality of Matt Stell makes him down right delicious.
And yes, he’s got us craving more.
Stell gives us a whole lot more on Better Than That, the new EP co-produced by Stell with Ash Bowers that provides yet another listen to the already diverse flavor profile of the towering country singer who just might soon have his second number one hit on his hands with his current Top 10 and rising single “Everywhere but On.”
“Well, that’s certainly a nice thing for you to say,” says Stell about the song he co-wrote alongside Paul Sikes and Lance Miller. “’Everywhere but On’ definitely had the most painless birth when it comes to the writing of it. It was rather autobiographical for me. I had lived a lot of life writing and recording it and lived a whole bunch more life after it was out. But yeah, that song immediately crystalized once we had the bones of the song down.”
And while Stell can certainly have some fun rocking out on songs such as “If I Was a Bar,” he’s also a sucker for a heartbreak country song, making ‘Everywhere but On’ a virtual no-brainer in the singles department.
But it’s just a taste of things to come.
“This EP is just a snapshot in time,” says Stell, who has already amassed over 340 Million cumulative streams across his catalog worldwide. “I mean, that’s what happens every time you put music out. It’s a snapshot of what you were doing at the time and it gives listeners a sense of where you were creatively.”
But some songs on the EP do begin to raise the curtain a little more on Stell, including the vocally endearing song “Better Than That.”
“Right now, when I sit down with my guitar, that’s the one I look forward to playing,” explains Stell, who is exclusively debuting the “Story Behind the Song” video for “Better Than That” on American Songwriter Friday (Oct. 16.) “I always like to take a familiar thing but put a new take on it.”
This EP also gave Stell the chance to let go of the songwriting reins for a bit, and for the first time, the Arkansas native worked with outside writers on three of the EP’s eight tracks.
“I have basically had a hand in writing all the music I have released,” Stell says. “But if you love songs, as a songwriter, you must let the best song win. Songwriters in Nashville can’t exist without artists cutting outside songs. I’m lucky to be at this point in my career that people are sending me incredible songs and I’ve learned to get more comfortable with being the person lucky enough to sing their words.”
One of those songs off of the EP not written by Stell is the intriguing song “Sadie,” a lyrical puzzle of prose written by Nate Cyphert, Sam Roman, Parrish Warrington and Diederik van Elsas.
“It wasn’t a departure sonically or grammatically from what I usually do,” he says. “It was still cohesive to who I am, but the sparse lyric intrigued me. There was not a lot of words in there but the ones that are there really do take you to a special place.”
But while Stell continues to somewhat steer his career into new stylistic directions, there is no denying that the guy knows how to sing a love song, and yes, this EP contains yet another tearjerker that just might blow away “Prayed for You” in the charts department.
“Songs like ‘Look at Me Now’ don’t come easily,” Stell says of the song written by Joe Fox, Seth Ennis and Thomas Finchum. “I find it easier to write the love and loss thing than the love gone right thing. To find an incredible song about something actually positive can be the hardest thing to do. I hate to use the word ‘masterpiece,’ but yes, it’s really special.”
And so is he, and so is this particular moment of his career.
“There is a certain amount of confidence that comes when you are a writer on a number one song, and a writer possibly on another one,” says Stell. “That’s empowering. It makes you believe in yourself.”
Photo credit Dustin Haney)