For years Matt Roy has been a sought after songwriter in Music City. He has written hits such as "Done" by Chris Janson, "Money on Me" by Morgan Wallen, "Loose Cannon" by Jake Owen, "If That Ain't God" by Chris Young, "Never Til Now" by Ashley Cooke and others. He has followed that success writing for others with an artist career that has continued to gain traction with top tier singles "Morning in New Orleans" and "Marlboro Man" and he shows no signs of slowing down. Matt Roy has all the tools to be a powerhouse in mainstream Country Music with his elite songwriting, authentic artistry and energetic live show. I sat down with Matt and talked about his single "Mary & Me", his early days of songwriting and the people who have made a major impact on him in his first years in Nashville.
Get To Know Matt
"I grew up in a little town in New Jersey. It's about 2 square miles. I've always really liked music. My dad used to play Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger and (Tom) Petty in the car all the time and I was drawn to it. When I was 8 or 9 years old I asked my parents for a guitar and from there I never put it down. As I got older, I started to play in cover bands and was doing shows at 12. At about 14 or 15 years old I started getting into Country Music. I was playing acoustic shows a lot at Farmer's Markets’, ice cream stores, county fairs and in some little bars that would let a 15 year old in. Essentially, as I started playing in front of crowds that were my age, I was playing stuff from the 70's, 80's and 90's that was before the audience's time. I needed more modern music to keep going. I didn't really consider Country Music at the time. I had a friend whose parents were really into Country; they would go to the Kenny Chesney concert every year. I heard some Kenny Chesney, really liked it and then I listened to Eric Church and was like "this makes a lot of sense". At the time, Eric Church was the closest thing to Seger, Springsteen, Petty and Jackson Brown. The way he wrote songs, he was one of the closest things to my heroes I grew up listening to. I slowly dove into his records and started to find pieces of other records like Chesney and I would be like "this really reminds me of James Taylor". I began to write Country Music when I was 16 and took trips to Nashville, which was great. When I was 18 I went to school at Belmont down in Nashville. I also played as much as I could and met as many people as possible. When I was in school I had a song recorded on Kane Brown's first record and that really started to open doors for me. I signed my first deal a month before I graduated. I was at BMG for 4 years, had some success there and I've been at Big Machine for a year and a couple months since."
Storytelling Is Back In Style
Matt Roy is a decorated songwriter who can do it all. His storytelling ability and penmanship creates a listening experience I hope all music fans get to encounter. His vocals bring so much life and emotion to his songs and brings out even more of the lyrical content. "Mary & Me" tells the story of two young lovers running on borrowed time. Matt paints the perfect picture of Mary and their blooming young love with lyrics like "she was 1 of 5 and the other 4 were rust belt roughneck boys” and "The day after graduation. we put that town back in the rearview, we were chasing every sunset we could ride a Chevrolet". The best songwriters can take moments in time and experiences and make them larger than life to hook the listener. There are not many who are better in the business. Matt Roy's use of imagery is second to none. "Mary & Me" is a shot of nostalgia for many who have experienced young love that didn't work out quite like we'd hoped. A must listen.
Inspiration Behind "Mary & Me"
Written By: Matt Roy, Produced By: Jared Conrad
"I wrote this song in the midst of writing a lot for other people. I think I had a down week and wanted to write something that I really loved. I had this awesome idea and kind of landed on this idea by luck. I was playing and had that first verse written out and I got to the chorus and luckily ran into the whole Mary & Me thing. I didn't realize the whole "marrying" part until I got to the end and really just lucked into it. I say that, but I was sitting there for 3 hours trying to figure it out. It was natural and organic. It wasn't a time that I sat there and wrote it down before I had it parceled out. I had that verse from a few days before and wanted to pick it up. I really wanted to write a story song that I didn't think I was hearing anywhere else. I wanted to write a song with a true beginning, middle and end and that's what came out.”
Q & A With Matt Roy
Q: What was your "light bulb" moment you knew you were going to pursue music? What were your early days of songwriting like?
A: "Those two questions go hand in hand. The "light bulb" moment for me was, I got into writing songs as soon as I heard Country Music. I knew that was the direction I wanted to go in. I loved Rock Music and Classic Rock and there are a couple guys that stick to a structure, but most guys don’t. Sometimes songs won't have chorus', sometimes a bridge will come out of nowhere and it's hard as a young mind to make the math make sense. At that time I wasn't a musical savant - I'm still not - but I was just getting started and knew the basics, but didn't know the instruments well enough to put all of that together. But when I got into Country Music, I could figure out the math of it. "Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus”. From there, I would write and then go back and make the tweaks that I thought were interesting and cool. The light bulb really switched when I started writing only Country Music at 16. Not so much because it was about dirt roads and beer, but more so just the program of Country Music and how things add up. Once I got the hang of it, I thought it would be a good time to take writing seriously, move to Nashville and try my hand at it. The early songs are horrible... but I think in terms of early writing, Iwas pulling from other people. Much of what you would consider your influences to slowly getting rid of them and adding you. So instead of it being "this sounds a lot like that song" I learned to use my influences, but not be right on top of them. I give myself credit for those early songs because I tried. I always told myself to at least try and write something every day for a few hours, whether it was horrible, different, halfway decent and we will figure it out later.”
Q: Who is someone in the music industry that's made a significant impact on you?
A: "There's a few. There's two writers who really showed me a lot. One is Taylor Phillips. We used to write a ton when I was in college. He was just getting going in town with his career and was further along than I was. We both really loved Eric Church and looked at songs the same way. Taylor rented a little studio right next to Liz Rose. It was the back door of a building; pretty much a closet. Just a thin room with a bathroom. You could only fit a console table, a couch and two chairs. That was it. We would write there almost every day, from when I got out of school to 7 or 8 at night. He taught me a lot, and brought in a lot of people. That is how me and Adam Doleac got to know each other. Brought in the Love & Theft guys at the time. I was a kid who was still very impressionable, trying to learn and figure it out and he was really patient with me. I did my best to be a sponge and soak it all up, particularly because at that time I was writing Country Music. It's a really different game when you're writing for pitch so I learned to get out of my own way at times and worry about what's best for the song.
The other writer would be Brian Carper, who's an awesome writer. I met him about the same time as Taylor. Similar situation. We would write every week. And he was an adult compared to me at the time and took me in. When I think about Taylor and Brian together, Taylor taught me a lot more about writing for pitch and writing with the right lingo and what was hot. Brian taught me a lot about finding myself within Country Music, which was great as well.
On the business side, Courtney Allen was my first publisher and was adamant and aggressive about me signing with her. We both did some growing up in the business together. She was really the first person in this industry who was over the top and really cared. She made it known that she believed in me and always had high expectations for me. Courtney put me in situations which at the time I might not have deserved. I have a lot of love for her."
Q: What aspects of songwriting, being an artist and getting to perform your songs do you love? How do they showcase the art you've created?
A: "I think what I enjoy about writing for pitch - as opposed to writing for my artist stuff - is that when I write for me I look at it as though I have free range to write about anything. I can chase down ideas that may not be applicable to everyone and themes that are important, but don't work for everyone. But when I write for pitch, it's equally as fun for me, because it's like taking a high school test and one question is "let's hear your thoughts on the American Revolution". It's a very vague question, I can do whatever I want. Writing for pitch would be like "let's hear your thoughts on the American Revolution from the perspective of this and it has to be 1 page worth and we only want you to talk about these three battles”. Writing for pitch is like having a prompt where you can write something great, but your direction is defined. Writing for artist stuff, nothing is off the table. It's been a lot of fun to jump from one to the other. If I've been doing one type for 3 months, I'm always excited to jump back into the other. In terms of playing shows, it's awesome because you get to see how the crowd reacts to material that is the most personal to you. When I go to an artists' show that I've written for, I get the same happiness because I'm a big fan of those artists who cut my songs. I get to watch them perform live and see the crowd react. For instance, I went on the road with Ashley Cooke. I wrote a song called "Never Til Now" and when she performed it her parents came up on stage. It was a special moment; the fans had their phone flashlights on and her parents were slow dancing on the stage. It was a great moment for her, her family and her fans, and I got to be a small part of it."
Q: What are some of the most important lessons you've learned since being in Nashville?
A: "Definitely got used to hearing the word “no”. I guess rejection comes at a high level here, which is fine. It's okay to understand that everyone has been told "no". You may write your best song and it could be the best song written in town that day and it doesn't mean it's going to get cut or you're going to make any money. It doesn't mean it's going to be the biggest song of the year.
The thing I try to tell young songwriters who are getting here is to write every single day. I know it is not easy and realize that people come here and have to wait tables, work second jobs. But you have to work the muscle so songs become instinctual. When it becomes instinctual, you can feel where the song is headed before it gets there and you can map out lines that need to be said where. You will never get to that point unless you are writing everyday. Also, I would say write with as many people as you can. Others may not be the style you love, but if someone asks you to write just do it. If you like playing, take any gig. The reason I met Taylor (Phillips) was because I was writing a lot with another guy. That led to us writing together and we've seen a lot of success together. When you're up and coming and you're saying yes to everything, you have to understand that every day isn't going to be a fun day. When it comes to networking and meeting people, everyone has like 5 people they are close with that you will meet rather quickly. One must be willing to take opportunities even when you don't want to."