By Nicholas Jason Lopez
With a unique sound carefully crafted to follow in the footsteps of his past musical inspirations like John Mayer, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy, the music hasn’t stopped for Sydney-based pop/rock artist Matt Charleston.
Despite the name of his debut album being ‘Songs For The Weekend,’ it has proven itself to be a statement for a fresh start, exactly what 2021 has been to many people, after a hellish 2020.
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to speak with Charleston about ‘Songs For The Weekend’ and more.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your type of music?
Matt Charleston – I think fundamentally, it is the fact that i’ve managed to really find a way to blend all my favorite genres and inspirations from my listening experience. I’ve always loved the blues and soul genres and I’ve always bonded with pop and rock music. They all manage to tell “different sides of the story” instrumentally to me. Although, since developing my most recent releases, country music has added that “exclamation point” to my lyrics and storytelling. It has now just really enhanced the mood that i’ve been seeking to ignite within my music. The ability now to bond and relate to my audience has started. It’s not just “good music.” It is now a good story, with journey and musical flavor.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Sydney to someone who has never been there before?
Matt Charleston – When there no COVID, it’s vibrant, busy and – although there’s many people, there are very much little “clans” or smaller communities within the population. There’s a group for everyone!
Music Bugle – Which of your songs were the hardest to write?
Matt Charleston – Depends what you mean by “hard.” I guess instrumentally, “Lovers Lane,” featuring Roxann Foley and Kayla Flaxman, would have been. I had gone through the process of learning how to compose music on my guitar with a completely different tuning outside of the generic “standard tuning.” I played around, but in the end, I didn’t write or compose the song with the traditional and theoretical approach, as much as I tried. I guess because the notes had shifted and the time it took for me to understand where my fingering was to going, I threw all the thinking out the window. I just wrote by ear and what sounded nice. Went to the next level of difficulty when I sat with Kayla to compose cello parts and further instrumentation to compliment the song. If it was “hard” as in – tough emotionally, spiritually and ideologically, it would be “Living The Dream,” hands down. The raw reality of that story, the emotions that drove it, the desire not to write a song to hurt someone, but to love and compliment them, was simply gut-wrenching and painful. I’ll be honest – I did shed a tear or two at the end of production. The work and the emotion I had poured into that thing paid off!
Music Bugle – Have you been working on any new music?
Matt Charleston – For me as a solo artist, I have been dabbling. I may release a single or two this year, but not ’til I have something that can really transcend what I’ve released in the past. I think my musical releases should not just be works to give your audience and say, “There you go, listen and enjoy your day.” I feel I want to show them that I’m growing in a facet of my life and in a – not a completed project, but an ongoing one. I have, however, been working with a couple of really gifted artists in Australia – Dimi Poulos and Elisa Villareal. They’ve got multiple things in the works, but I’ve accompanied and worked on a few of their original projects in the “guitar area.”
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Matt Charleston – I’ll cut to the chase and say that I am always listening to John Mayer! The way he is able to not just capture the beauty of the guitar and its voice, but to also capture the voice of our world’s ideologies, beliefs, frustrations and desires is beyond me and absolutely incredible! I’ve been listening to a lot of country music, particularly Kenny Chesney. Hearing how he can use such poetry to shroud the deeper and – most of the time – personal meaning, blows me away. Looking at one line and believing you know what the song is out of the question. Hearing the song from start to finish allows me to understand what real songwriting is meant to be! Finally, 10-11 years ago, I didn’t think I’d say this, but I’ve grown to really admire and enjoy Justin Bieber’s work! I think solely because his music was all the girls would play in my fifth grade classes in primary school, but his melodic expression and creativity is beyond me! Astounded. Amazed at his creativity and genius. What more can I say? “Intentions” is a world class song.
Music Bugle – What was it like making your debut album ‘Songs For The Weekend’?
Matt Charleston – An epic experience, but a real challenge! I began writing all these songs early 2019 and fine-tuned them in studios across Sydney in 2020. I recorded and wrote the album with 55 Australian artists and producers and that in itself was enjoyable! I hit the social media platforms and called out for musicians to join me to produce this work. To be honest, I didn’t believe that there would be much of a take up, but – I believe – a couple of hundred musicians and producers put up their hand and my DM’s were flooded! It was so encouraging to see so many keen to take up my work and see it out in the world! I think the story of the album was such a personal one to me that I found it a real joy to put my story to paper in a personal, real, honest and loving way, but I also felt it was one that was filled with conflict, disappointment and wishful thinking. The album was about me and another person – still a very dear friend of mine – who I genuinely loved. I had never felt love before and so, writing about them in the moment was a joy, but then after the fact, found it painful. See, after all the events that had taken place, I didn’t want to start writing songs blaming and shaming, but ones so that if they heard the music, they’d understand and they’d know, without feeling further pain and or frustration. When it came to working with artists, it was awesome to meet with people that sympathised and understood the context of the collection. They came into the studios throughout Sydney and weren’t just there to “get the job done.” They came, put the time and effort into getting to know me as an artist, how I worked and how we’d effectively portray whatever I heard in my head. They say, “More cooks spoil the broth,” but here in this production, I could say nothing more but strongly disagree. Once the album dropped, the response and support exceeded my expectations! In 2019, I had rebooted my career – took down prior work that I had rushed, hadn’t refined, wasn’t material I wanted up on my profiles – and I believed that my work would simply be isolated amongst my friends and family. To see my music spread across the world and see streams flooding in – particularly in the first three weeks – stunned me. Being tagged in stories from people who spoke other languages amazed me. Wasn’t something I would have dreamed of, but I think since then, it’s just grown the passion to further perfect my work and my art, so that the next time it comes around to release a track or project, I go further.
Music Bugle – Of all the shows you’ve played, which ones stand out to you the most?
Matt Charleston – Funnily enough, it was one that – I could say quite confidently – was made up on the spot just in December in 2020. Live music sneaked back into the Sydney social scene for a moment amidst a crazy year and my best mate, Lucas, grabbed me a gig at his old work place in the Art House Hotel and Bar on Pitt Street in Sydney’s City Centre. I came to support “The Debbies Band.” I grabbed a few boys who knew my material, a few blues and soul covers and who had jammed with me in university/college for the last three years just gone. Damn, did it go off! Opening in a beautifully old and “vintage” set bar, blaring sound system, excited and energetic audience and – with very few mistakes – jammed and made up songs with original “nuggets” in between the soloing and meandering. Great gig! Wouldn’t mind fooling around on stage like this again.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Matt Charleston – I can talk so much about this. I think it does both! I think it helps, because we now have a platform where anyone can literally throw their work up for the world to see, grow their own communities and fanbases around it and inspire. There are so many ways to promote as never before! I love the whole system on Instagram and Facebook, where you can make advertisements or push out your stories so people can see your material, like many people, who never knew you and before you know it, you get messages or followers from people who just love your work! It makes an artist’s day, but it has hurt many as more join. There are so many gifted and talented artists out there that each day, we have new ones join the social media system, growing their own bases and the algorithm can only push out so many artists to the world. I personally believe that there are more artists out there that should have “made it” in the industry than the ones that have. You “get lucky” now just as much as you did back in the “old days.” Once everyone is on it and it becomes part of the norm, your chances are smaller.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Matt Charleston – I don’t think I have, other than the fact that gigs have been limited. There was a time in Sydney where there were none at all, but thankfully, we’ve pulled through the thick of it and shows are slowly creeping in. I missed the stage greatly. I feel performing is – to put it crudely – is like a drug! You crave it when you’re not there or not in it. Then, you get up, you feel a brief sense of excitement and joy. Then, it’s done in a flash and you’re back to craving it again! Thankfully, things are back the way they should be!
Music Bugle – What are your goals for 2021?
Matt Charleston – My major goal is to work on two things in 2021 – work on my vocals and to work on my YouTube presence. I’ve always known that if I were to be a real threat to the industry, I would need to really polish and work my voice, so I’ve decided that I’d be getting some lessons from the Joan Sutherland Conservatorium in Penrith for the next two years. I must say, four lessons in and I’m enjoying it immensely! I know the excitement will, somewhere down the line, wear off – later rather than sooner, hopefully, but I’m prepared to keep my head down and work hard on this area because I’m in this for the long-term, not for short-term gain and a good time, so I have the, “I was in a band once” story to tell.