Kelly Matthews is for sure an analytical type, so this conversation got deep real fast. Since I had to split the interview into two parts, this is the finale. If you missed the first part of Kelly’s interview, you’ll want to read it now.
CG: I want to talk about Nashville and Northern Virginia, because you’re living in Nashville, but currently you’ve been in Northern Virginia for some time, preparing for your wedding. Do you feel like there’s any difference in the way that you create or how you’re inspired depending on where you are?
KM: Yes. Although I don't know how much of it is just the different things that I do at the different locations, or the locations themselves. In Northern Virginia my life is fairly family focused, compared to Nashville, as I don’t have any family that lives there. My family probably doesn’t even realize this, but my life pretty much does revolve around them, in at least a broad sense. This last season of my life has had a few other business ventures as well, which I do not intend to plug into this interview *laughs*, and so I’ve been busy doing non-music-related things… trying to work, trying to find a job, trying to prepare for a wedding. So the inspiration for my music has been probably greater. In Nashville there’s so much music around that it’s less about inspiration for me, it’s more about just trying to do it. Also, living in dorms as an RA, there’s a ton of interruption [of] my creative process, and that kind of stalled a lot of thought processes. Trying to keep in communication with my friends, Frani, and my family took a lot of time [previously] in Nashville. Even though it’s a great place to make music (and I’m going to move back there to work on music), there’s something nice about coming back to my home in Virginia, and I feel like less people bother me when I’m working on my music in Virginia. That’s really what it come down to: there’s less interruption.
But, I’d rather talk about the cities themselves...
Virginia is like a beautiful creative hell. I’ve had rare results this last season of my life because I’ve been so busy doing other things. But I think about if I [had been] trying to actually make it as a full-time musician in Northern Virginia, and the difficulty that that would be. Not only just finding enough shows, but the people around here have very bad taste (in my opinion). Not all of them, but as a whole. The things that the kids are impressed by in this area; they don’t seem to be of the same caliber. I don’t mean to hate, but I was one of them. I liked great stuff though.. I liked the classics. I mostly judge that by our radio stations around here. I would think there would be a demand for better radio stations, maybe an independent radio station.. one maybe, but we don’t have any here, at least, in the DMV (as far as I know). Our rock station has gone back to playing mostly grunge and pretty much Foo Fighters every song (with the occasional Twenty-One Pilots). So you have to resort to the pop stations or the many, many mix stations, which also mostly play Twenty-One Pilots, and Rachel Platten, and all this “Jamaican” music.
Speaking of Jamaican music, I’ve heard your opinion of where everything is right now..
It’s escapism, from a violent culture and civil unrest. I think we, as a culture, have turned to drugs and reggae music; I think it’s all kind of correlated. It’s not real reggae, but it’s that influence in the pop music. And although I like other reggae-influenced genres, like ska, this particular version of it (in combination with the dance/electrionic/pop realm) I think is really kitschy. It seems like novelty music to me - I think it’s a fad that’s going to pass. Mark my words: by December, it’s going to be dead.
What do you see coming in to replace it?
I don’t think that’s a thing we can predict very well. You see, before this craze, we were dealing with a pretty minimalistic pattern in pop production.
I don’t know.
I think —and this sounds somewhat overly philosophical— but I don’t think it’s been decided yet. I think people are producing things to be released after this is over, [because] everyone has to take their best aim, and shoot, but at some level it’s not up to me. It’s up to the executives, the radio playlists, and the kids — more and more [the kids], which is a good thing, I think. You know [who] it’s really up to? Mark Zuckerberg.
He controls the internet.
Which is the world. What would you say to Mark Zuckerberg?
I would say we need more drivers. Like, really driving awesome songs.
All these people are so high they need someone to motivate them out of their high-ways. They need highway songs that motivate them out of their high ways.
If we’re in the late 80’s (in terms of cultural concentric circles), we have the 90’s to look forward to, and grunge will be back in style. Um, that sounds terrible. BUT, there’s opportunity for some really good pop-acts, like a new Hanson, or maybe we’ll see an iconic popstar like Brittney Spears show up again. We’ve already had the reiteration of boy bands, but they’ve sounded completely different, so I don’t really see that one coming back. I’m interested to see what kind of female popstar pops up in the next three years, because Ariana Grande has been the biggest one we’ve had in a long time, but there’s something about her… She doesn’t [command everyone’s attention]. I think she’s a great singer, but the songs haven’t been as compelling as they could have been. And, in my opinion, too many collaborations with Nicki Minaj… Collaborations are fine, but I think [Ariana Grande] carved out a style that wasn’t going to take her to the absolute top.
I feel like that’s definitely along the lines of business and music, so what do you think the biggest struggles are when you marry business and music? Or business and art in general?
This is what I told William (he was talking about how he’s always seen [music and business] as things that don’t really mix that well), but I come from the opposite perspective. I’ve always seen them as two sides of the same coin. Ayn Rand, in one of her books, Atlas Shrugged, says something like, “the force that drives the musician to create music or the painter to paint a master work is the same that drives the entrepreneur to create their business.” So she views business as an art in itself; as an art form. Full of expression, creating a product and getting it to the people that can benefit from it; communicating it. Even though I read that recently, I think that’s always been my philosophy. I’ve never been afraid of business. I don’t think it’s slimy, or evil. I think it’s just an art form that people don’t really understand that well.
One final question for you: do you believe there is hope for the music scene in Northern Virginia?
There’s always hope, and I think that’s why I’m always down on it so much.. because there’s so much potential here: we have a lot of young people (not that older people can’t like music too) and a lot of people that would be really into some places if they popped up, but *sighs* there’s a lot of…pressure on the kids in this area to succeed. And success is usually defined as getting the right scholarships to get into school, getting to the right school, if they play sports then it’s being on a D1 team that gets into a D1 school on scholarship. I don’t know if there’s anywhere else in the country that [these things] are as important as they are to these people in these three counties in Northern Virginia. It’s just a cultural value we have here, and, unfortunately, that cultural value does not really apply to being an artist. It might apply to being a superstar, but when you think about the odds of being a professional athlete that is pretty slim, and I don’t think most people are encouraging their kids to become professional athletes (I think they don’t care what kind of job they get after college) but for some reason [the pressure is really high to] get into a D1 school and playing college football, college basketball [or] college soccer. Or, if you’re not athletic, you have to be an engineer. You have to go to Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech, or UVA or something… I don’t know, can you go to law school at UVA? I don’t know what people do; I don’t even go to college. (I wonder if I should say that? Oh well)
There’s so much pressure on the kids that not many of them want to be musicians, and if they do they were probably homeschooled, or probably really special kids. I think that’s probably why we don’t have that many bands from this area. There are some, mostly punk bands. And metal.
Do you think that’s because to go for a musician’s lifestyle around here is a sort of rebellion? Against the culture and possibly also your parents?
Yeah.. I think so…
I was thinking about archetypes and I just want to say, to anyone reading this, especially if you’re from Northern Virginia: Being a rebel punk is so cliche. Don’t do it. If you want to be a rebel, pick a different genre. If you want to be a punk, think of a different archetype. Maybe like a giraffe; you could be a rebel giraffe. Or a giraffe punk band.
[Because] nobody does it. I was trying to think of an actual real archetype that would be cool for a punk band. Maybe like the caregiver punk.