Matt Stillwell Live
- Midnight Rodeo
- With Tommy Gallagher
- $8 / $10
"I watched friends do showcases and hope someone would show up," he says. "I watched them being promised record or publishing deals that might or might not happen. So I made the decision that what I needed to do was to eliminate the 'no's, and the way to do that was to go build a following."
A man with a work ethic as big as his talent, Matt did just that, and in this age of American Idol and viral videos, he has built his following the old-fashioned way--one city, one club, one crowd at a time. Now, with the release of his new CD, Shine Deluxe, fans nationwide can experience the magic that Matt brings to bear every time he steps in front of a microphone.
Shine Deluxe showcases the qualities that have brought him to the threshold of national attention--the songwriter's knack for finding the truth in any situation, the vocal chops to do justice to the joy and passion in each song, and the ability to take an audience on a roller-coaster of emotion and leave them better for the ride.
Matt is best known as a performer with a rowdy sense of fun, and that side of him is in full flower on the new CD. Its gem is "Shine," an anthem to the joys of the Mason jar and the moonshine produced in places like Matt's beloved western North Carolina. It's a song in a league with some of modern country's best sing-along anthems, and it is the perfect focal point. There is also "Whiskey Well," about the process of turning heartache into a party, "Sweet Sun Angel," is a feel-good summertime anthem that evokes images of carefree days in the sun with the one you love. and "Dirt Road Dancing," celebrating the outlook that says the music should be loud, the drinks cold and the men and women single and rowdy.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll find Matt's keen eye for the nuances of love and loss, and the twists and turns of a good story. There is "Somewhere Between Me And You," with its unblinking look at a relationship gone wrong, "Go Away," dealing with the aftermath of lost love, "Drunk Enough," a haunting ode to drunk dialing and lost love, and "Moment Of Weakness," a harrowing look at temptation and the decisions that change everything. Matt, who wrote seven of the album's thirteen cuts, also demonstrates his ability to make a song his own, as he captures all the longing in Ryan Adams' "Oh My Sweet Carolina."
Shine Deluxe showcases a performer who can be rowdy and side-splittingly funny as well as passionately engaging, who can get an audience laughing, crying and singing along, and for whom music is simply an extension of his personality.
"My shows are pretty big parties," he says, flashing his trademark grin, "but I also have a lot of serious songs and a lot of storytelling I do." That combination Matt creates is the driving force behind his own festival, Stillwell Shinefest created in 2008 around the filming of his first music video "Shine," at the beautiful Fontana Village Resort in the mountains of North Carolina. The video went on to enter the Top 5 on CMT Pure and Top 10 on GAC's Top 20 Countdown, and the festival is approaching its 4th year and has grown tremendously each year.
"You are at a beautiful resort, surrounded by national park, with no cell service. You don't have to leave after the show and you get to interact with the songwriters and artist while having a great time," he says laughing, "sometimes its pretty hard to recover from!"
Stillwell Shinefest also has a strong music side to it, showcasing some of Nashville's top songwriters that and some of the best up and coming country artist in the country. "It is a very unique experience for the fans and for the artist its a departure from the normal gig," he says.
The road to success for a recording artist is difficult and long road. Matt is no exception, but he doesn't have a problem with that. "There is nothing I would rather be doing. I love working hard for something I believe in and being able to wake up everyday and be blessed with that opportunity is truly humbling."
For Matt, the process of bringing hard work and self-expression to bear on life began early on. It was coupled, then as now, with a sense of adventure and of drawing outside the lines. One of his first memories involves digging with his toy backhoe under the blacktopped hillside drive that crossed his backyard to a neighbor's house.
"They had to repave it," he says with a laugh. Fortunately, his dad was in construction, as are his identical twin brothers.
"Ever since I can remember," he says, "my dad was up at 4:00 in the morning to start his work day. During their senior year in high school, my brothers would go to school half a day and then go and work at their construction business. My mom was a schoolteacher then and she ran the household and got everybody out the door to school and to practice. I don't have to look anywhere for inspiration or for reasons to get out of bed and work my ass off. What I do is easy compared to what my family has always done."
He grew up in Sylva, North Carolina, an outdoors paradise that is home to some of the best bluegrass, country and Southern gospel music anywhere. He sang in church and recalls being enthralled by Lee Greenwood at Magic Waters, a theme park in nearby Cherokee. He was also fond of trying to imitate the distinctive voice of Inspirations tenor Archie Watkins. As he grew up, his list of influences grew to include Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Ryan Adams
and Vince Gill.
Athletics was a higher priority than music during high school and college. Matt was in chorus and in school productions until his senior year, but he left them behind to take part in football, basketball, track, and, most passionately, baseball, heading for a batting cage after practice for other sports. In college, he was an All Conference performer on the Southern Conference-winning Western Carolina University baseball team, playing both infield and outfield. That, ironically enough, led him back to music. By his junior year, he was being touted as a probable major league draft choice, but when that didn't happen he had to look at his priorities.
"I could have chased the dream and went and tried out and played independent ball," he says, "but I thought, 'If I'm going to chase something,' I'd rather it be music."
His first professional experience was singing gospel, but he soon realized he wanted his music to have a broader appeal. During a visit to Nashville, he says, "I took a walk downtown, going to the Ryman and other places. I was supposed to be selling real estate, which was the job I had at the time, but instead I wore blisters on my feet. I couldn't get enough of it. That kind of got my juices flowing."
Three months later, he had an apartment in Nashville and was attending Belmont University, the music business school that nurtured Trisha Yearwood, Brad Paisley, Lee Ann Woman and Josh Turner, among others. After one full semester, he realized he just wanted to learn enough guitar to be able to write and sing demos. Once he did, his family's persistence and his own athletic heritage kicked in.
"I was used to a regimented practice schedule with baseball," he says, "and I was also used to dealing with the frustration of trying to get better. A great hitter fails seven out of ten times. You'll reach a plateau, and then you get inspired again and keep moving up. Those musical frustrations didn't crush me. A lot of people quit at that point. Because of my background in athletics, I didn't."
He began playing in Knoxville and in and around Sylva.
"After a little while, you get pretty good at it," he says. As he developed a following, his wider circle of acquaintances from college and from the summer ball he played helped lure him to new cities, and he drew enthusiastic crowds in Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, Statesboro, Chapel Hill, and Asheville.
"I learned early on," he says, "that keeping people there would keep my employment up," and by that time he had found the secret. Word of mouth about this amazingly energetic, funny and entertaining singer who could also sing serious songs made him one of the Southeast's most in-demand performers.
His lifestyle at first was a Spartan one--just him, his car, his guitar, and the couches of friends in each town. Word spread, the crowds got bigger, and he began opening for acts like Luke Bryan, Lee Brice, Chris Knight, Zac Brown and Corey Smith, and working festivals with the likes of Trent Tomlinson and Jake Owen.
He made use of e-mail lists and text messaging to spread the word--the perfect mix of new technology and classic talent.
"The lists are mainly girls," he says with a grin, "but I knew that if I got the girls to come, the guys would follow."
That following continued to grow and Matt's circle widened. He has toured the entire country a few times now and continues to grow in popularity all over the country. Breaking in on Billboard's Country charts with "Shine" (52) and "Sweet Sun Angel" (58) as a true independent has really set the table for big things to come. "I remember seeing the chart for the first time when "Shine" debuted at (52) and it was awesome! It has really opened a lot of doors for me."
One of those doors was at Average Joe's Entertainment. Home to Montgomery Gentry, Colt Ford, Corey Smith, and Josh Gracin. The label is on the forefront of grassroots promotion and caters to artist who have gone out and built their on career. They signed Matt to a recording contract and he is now working on a brand new project with Shine Deluxe producer Mickey Jack Cones.
He is also getting write songs with some of the best to ever do put pen to paper. "I'm getting to sit in rooms with Walt Aldridge, Jason Sellers, Dean Dillon and all kinds of great songwriters. Its very humbling to be in this position. Working on new music is also a very refreshing feeling for me. I can't wait to get this new album out there to my fans and many more across the country."
"Being out on tour with Corey Smith is also great," Matt says of his 2011 nationwide tour opening for label mate Corey Smith. "His fans are great music fans and being in front of them each night is an awesome and challenging opportunity for me."
Continuing to play his own headlining shows accross the country in between Corey Smith shows, working on new music, and gearing up for the 4th Annual Stillwell Shinefest, Matt continues to maintain a crazy schedule and live his dream. "I love meeting, hanging out with, and entertaining new, old and as many fans as humanly possible," he says grinning. "I want to be able to do this forever!"
Given his abilities as both a dreamer and a worker, there's little doubt one day we'll see it happen.