I'm going to be open about this - if you don't already know, Kelly Matthews is my brother. However, by challenging me to think creatively and know why I do what I do, he has been a critical influence in my life and my art. So why wouldn't I include him in a series about artists?
In the middle of summer we had the chance to talk and I picked his brain on a few different topics. Since then, he became a husband and moved back to Nashville, but this conversation still holds so much value for me. Since the two of us can talk forever, this entry is part 1 of 2, and will be continued later. Let it trigger inspiration...
CG: What is your medium of choice?
KM: I’d say I’m a little bit on the unique side in that I have a few different mediums. Primarily: songs, music.. Although, I consider how I dress and my ideas to be my mediums as well; the things I say.
So if your whole life is a medium, how did you become involved in the things that you do that not everyone does?
I feel like I always wanted to be a rockstar. It had sort of a relationship to being a soccer player too, they were kind of this similar thing. I’ve always liked attention, but not just for attention’s sake; mostly as a platform to communicate with people. It was probably because of Johnny - he really got me into what I consider competitive music.
Johnny is my best man.. a childhood friend of mine who’s still a friend now. One of those lifelong friends. He played guitar and he was really good, and inspired me to play guitar, and I tried to get better than him. Didn’t really work, but it still got me a lot of practice.
Do you think if you hadn’t been friends with him, you wouldn’t have been into music at all?
I think it would have looked really different.. I think that I was interested in music, and maybe it’s one of those things that’s more nature than nurture, but we had a piano (a very old, out of tune, rickety piano) and I played on it before I ever had piano lessons, before I ever met Johnny. I would play on it and make up songs, and we had a guitar so I would make up songs on the guitar (that wasn’t in tune). I didn’t really know any chords, but they were songs. I took piano [lessons] from Debbie Welchel and she gave me the skills that I needed to actually be able to realize the songs in my head.
Do you find that you have to actively push yourself to grow [as an artist]?
Now I do. Back then I was doing music because I had something else that I was supposed to be doing. You know, school, soccer… I had a lot of other things going on. Music wasn’t my main thing, so naturally it was the thing I spent most of my time doing. I think I’m prone to distraction and wandering in my interests, and now that it’s more of a full-time thing, I think that the day to day can get a little bit monotonous if I’m not pushing myself to grow. I think growth is the thing that keeps it interesting for me. If I were to stay stagnant or sterile I think I would lose interest. So in that sense, change is the way of the artist. [We shouldn’t try] to define ourselves too precisely, even in our marketing, because you can fight yourself into a corner with that one.
What does staying inspired look like for you? Do you have any rituals for keeping things from becoming stagnant?
I have no rituals, except coffee. Coffee in its various forms is probably my only ritual. I pretty much treat it at a sacred level. Beyond that, I have some good, practical things that I’ve developed, [like] managing my inputs. What goes into you comes out of you, so if you want to make good art, you have to have good ideas coming in. Even if I consider myself an ideas person, it comes from a lot of reading (fiction and nonfiction), developing other parts of my brain, and then managing the music I listen to. Changing up the influences I have, and not doing it on a whim so much as trying to be intentional about almost programing my own creativity. That makes it sound kind of static, but I think when you’re doing something day in and day out you start to see it that way. It is art, and it is organic, but it’s also something that you can nourish, or you can let starve, and it’s kind of based on what you put in. Thank you.
Of the projects you have worked on, what have been the most rewarding?
My relationships with people. I’m about to get married, so that seems like a reward. I think we’re just designed for relationships with people. In terms of music projects though, most rewarding: Honestly, anything I finish. There’s a lot of things that I don’t finish. I think the most rewarding songs are the ones that I make for Frani, my fiancé.** Because I finish those.
[**Note: Frani is now Kelly’s wife as they were married soon after our conversation.]
Along those lines, how has the process of planning a wedding and planning for marriage effected your art, or has it at all?
The ironic thing is that I’ve had more to do so I’ve worked on my music more. I’ve realized a pattern in this conversation: that I’ve worked on my music the most when I’ve had the most other things I need to do.
Do you and Frani like to create together or is your art separate from your relationship?
Good question. I can’t really speak for her in this but I’d say both. I think I certainly enjoy collaborating with her, but most of what I do I don’t think of as a collaboration with her, apart from just my life being collaborative with her. A lot of times I’ll say I’m going down to the basement, to the cave, to work on music, and she primarily does calligraphy (@AuthenticFrani), and so that’s her main art, and mine’s mainly music production, songwriting, performance and music dreaming. Although she’s very talented at [all of] that as well, it’s not something she does on the daily basis.
Of all the people that you’ve collaborated with specifically on music and art, who has been your favorite to work with?
I really do like working with Frani, I think that that’s some of the best times I’ve had; collaborating with her on various things. I love collaborating with a lot of different artists... I really enjoy working through a methodical process with Madeline Bayda; the style of things we do together usually isn’t my own style, and I think that’s sort of cathartic sometimes. It’s almost like working in another medium, even though it’s still songwriting. Similarly, with Cameron Boyter, (I feel like I should mention everyone now - I really like writing with those guys, Stephen English, and Bri Holko). I’d say I enjoy collaborating with all [of them]. I think they have a group called Meraki still, I don’t really remember… You never know. I enjoy collaborating with Caleb McFarland, although we honestly talk more than actually get stuff done, but that’s the way it goes. He’s like a thought collaborator more than anything right now. Oh, and you of course (shhhh). You don’t have to put that in there if you don’t want to. You’re kind of a thought collaborator as well, and sometimes a creative collaborator.
I think I really do like collaborating in other mediums, like this. Because I’m a little bit of a control freak when it comes to my own music.
I really like collaborating with Corey Anderson and Peter (Pöém) Moe, and Cole Jarvis, in the realm of music.
To be continued...
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