PAUSE: Full name?
Matt: Matthew Stewart Wertz.
PAUSE: How about all that good info that we always ask for?
Matt: Oooh… I’m 28 years old. February 17, 1979 is my birthdate. Born in Kansas City, MO. Spent my childhood in a little town called Liberty, MO, which is just north of KC, one of those little towns where everybody knows what’s going on with everyone else. I moved down to Nashville about 6 years ago, and I’ve been there ever since.
PAUSE: What brought you there?
Matt: I went to Nashville because I wanted to be in a city that had a scene, that had an industry, but I didn’t really want to do the LA or NY thing. Nashville was more my speed. I was trying to decide between Austin and Nashville, and Nashville won out because I had a friend that was already there, and then a buddy I went to school with was moving down there, also. So, even though it was still transitional, that made it easier. It’s been a really great place to be.
PAUSE: I was just talking with Cary Brothers last week, and we chatted about Nashville a bit. He mentioned how much he wanted to be there but, L.A. won out in the end.
Matt: Cary’s a great dude, man. I love Cary. He and I first hung out in Boulder for a summer. But Nashville… there’s just something about it. It’s got this charm. I’ve heard people call it a “big small city.” It’s just got this really manageable feel to it; it’s still pretty inexpensive to live in; traffic is minimal, and there’s just a lot of energy, a lot of creative energy that’s happening there and people move there because they are trying to make it. Whatever that is, whether it’s in country music or as a songwriter. The artistic community is blowing up down there. There’s a lot of photographers, a lot of designers. So because of that, you just get this swell of creativity. It’s cool.
PAUSE: How’s the community as far as friendships and that sort of thing?
Matt: Yeah, that’s awesome too. For me, that’s the reason that I stay. There’s a lot of places I would like to be, but the only way I’d do that is if all my friends moved with me, and that’s probably not happening anytime soon. The community there is really tight. I hang with a lot of people who aren’t necessarily musicians or artists, so it’s nice. When you’re around folks that like you all the time, it just gets stale, and conversation just gets so myopic, just about the same things. I just like to hear about what’s going on, you know? The big picture. So I just have a pretty diverse cross-section of friends. I really appreciate that about Nashville too.
PAUSE: What was your first real Nashville experience?
Matt: I went and saw Phil Keaggy, the excellent guitar player. When I was there, I ran into some guys who were in a band from Kansas City where I grew up, and I had actually opened for them years before. So we connected on that, and it was just one of those things where reuniting with them led to a lot of things, one of which was me getting connected with Ed Cash, who has produced my last two records. It also had a hand in my friendship with Dave Barnes, who’s one of my dearest friends now, as well as a tour with those guys. S,o I guess the reason why that’s a Nashville experience is because it’s such a small town. You run into people all the time. By now, I should expect that that’s going to happen, but… I just feel like my story, with these divine encounters along the way, I just couldn’t have scripted the way this could turn out. It’s not even like I made it big, it’s just really cool to see how those things happen. I just wouldn’t have planned it that way at all.
PAUSE: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Nettwerk and Handwritten?
Matt: The reason I’m through Nettwerk is really because of Dalton Sim, my manager. I got connected with Dalton through my booking agency through Tim Beeding, my agent at CAA. Tim works with Dalton on Guster, and I’m a big Guster fan. I met Dalton a couple years prior to us working together, because a manager that options out of the same building that he does was courting me for management. We met up and he showed me around the office where he introduced me to Dalton. I was totally honored that this manager was showing me around, but I wasn’t really feeling him. But when I met Dalton, it was like “I want to work with this guy.” Also,Guster was one of my favorite bands. I liked the way that they interacted with their fans. I really feel like they have this cool dynamic. So, I knew that whoever managed them must get it and get where I want to come from. It just so happened that Dalton was with Nettwerk, and Nettwerk has these same global ideas that I do and that he does. Really what Nettwerk was trying to do was take the power away from the major labels, and not really take the power away, but rather show a different way to go. I think that a lot of what they’re trying to do is going to set the mark for what people are doing in the future in the music business.
PAUSE: What specifically are they trying to do? The only other time I’ve even heard of Nettwerk was through Anathallo. That’s where I made the connection. What is Nettwerk’s role in what you’re doing, and what your label’s doing? Where do they fit in?
Matt: They pretty much staff my label. Handwritten, at this point, is just a name, and Nettwerk staffs that. They have a management company, but with that management they’ve hired publicists, film and TV people, in-house design, etc. They have distribution through Sony. They’re basically capable of operating as a label. The thing that they don’t have now is the money to really do a big push. What they’re going to be really great at is taking bands like Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne, who have benefited from the millions of dollars invested in them by major labels, and when their deals are done, Nettwerk is there to help them ride off into the sunset. So when they put out a record, they may not sell two million copies, maybe more like ten thousand copies, but they’re making $6 per album instead of 75 cents. That’s a pretty major thing. And as you get older, when you’ve been putting out your art for long enough and you know what you want to do, you’ve seen a lot of things that don’t work and I think you just get stubborn in your old age. I’m stubborn in my young age, and I just haven’t found a major label situation that wouldn’t make me give up my independence. The interesting thing is that we’re talking to a company right now that looks like it may actually be a good fit.
PAUSE: What do you look for when you’re looking for a good fit?
Matt: What I need is the radio element. I need to feel like the songs that are right would be successful on the radio at some level. We need the opportunity to make that happen. We’re looking for a label that has a good radio team and has a good track record of breaking new artists, and a label that believes they could do that with me. Also, a label that understands where I’m coming from, from my career thus far and will support what I’m already doing. We’re not looking for any big change, we’re just looking for some extra opportunity. We feel like we have the best thing to offer a label at this point. I feel like labels are getting hip to it, finally. We’ve done all the market research. We’ve proven over the last 6 years that this works. We know who our audience is. We could tell you this, and if you could help us get through to these people, this thing’s going to work. They don’t have this luxury signing a 17-year-old off the street. There are some people who are so phenomenally talented that it’s like “We gotta sign this guy right now. This is like Stevie Wonder 2, this is gonna happen.” But of course that doesn’t happen very often, so if I’m running a company, I want to sign the guy that I know has a proven track record, with some traceable statistics to show that this works. For what we have to work with, we’ve really done a good job of fostering a little grassroots career.
PAUSE: An independent career?
PAUSE: So why make music?
Matt: I think it’s because of the fact that music has always moved me. Something resonated in me from the beginning, from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to U2’s “Rattle And Hum,” which is forever one of my favorites albums. It took me forever to admit that “The Joshua Tree” was a better record. For some reason, I liked the live album. I also bought “Rattle And Hum” on VHS, so back in the day I watching this, like… have you seen “Rattle And Hum?”
Matt: It’s really beautiful. It’s just all this behind-the-scenes of U2 traveling across America, going to Graceland and the Bronx, and all these American institutions, kind of experiencing that as Irish rock stars. And something just resonated there. Fast forward to college: I went to school to be a designer, I didn’t go to learn music, but music is just kind of what happened as a result of just needing to get my head out of school. That was my outlet. I found guys to play with and I wanted to be in a band. We had a band in college, and we played at frat houses. By the time I graduated, I couldn’t imagine getting a job, and maybe it’s because I’m an idealist. I just couldn’t see myself working for anybody. I wanted the freedom to be able to do whatever I wanted to do, and I also wanted to make as much money as I wanted to make.
PAUSE: That’s kind of funny, because that’s exactly why I started the magazine.
Matt: Yeah! And I think that one generation ‐ I don’t think it was our parents ‐ but some generation had a similar thing, where they were just like “Why not?” And there was also the mentality of “If I ever want to try this, now’s the time.” So it’s kind of snowballed to the point where it’s like some days, I love doing this, while other days I just feel like I’m so far in where I’m like “Where else could I be?” I think that’s how any job is. I don’t think you’ll ever really escape that. There’s no perfect job. There’s no dream job.
PAUSE: So what’s interesting you in music right now, or in art? Who is catching your eye?
Matt: There’s a bunch, and we talked about one in the car. I love the Kanye record. I’m not a hip hop aficionado, but I was just blown away by the vulnerability that he possesses, writing the lyrics. And I think it’s what we were talking about earlier… the more I listen to it, the more I realize that the majority of it is talking about a materialist industry, like with Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs, which I admittedly… it’s like trying to figure out “What is this? What’s behind all this?” Marc Jacobs is on the top of everybody’s list of top designers who matter, you know?
PAUSE: But why?
Matt: I don’t know. And I’m trying to figure it out, because the aesthetic matters to me. I’ve always been interested in beautiful things, whether it’s print or objects. I can’t listen to too much Kanye because I’ll get to the point where I’m like “I need to get a Louis Vuitton trunk” (laughs). It’s ridiculous. That record surprised me though, because I wasn’t really into any of his previous records. I kinda felt like he took a step out with this one though. As far as other artists go, I’m really impressed with John Mayer, man. It’s almost frustrating how much he just proves himself. He just put out a new single that’s going to be in this movie “The Bucket List.” It’s coming out around Christmas, and it’s got Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. But anyway, this song ‐ he goes from his pop thing with “Room For Squares,” and then he comes out with “Heavier Things,” which was his attempt to come out with more heart-level writings. It wasn’t as wildly accepted except that he had that one song “Daughters,” which in like the eleventh hour saved the record. And then, he put out “Continuum,” which kind of re-earned him respect and even got him respect for the first time with some people. “Continuum” was kind of this throwback bluesy record that still had this pop sensibility. I mean, nothing on there was terribly radio friendly, but they were all great songs, just timeless songs. Now he’s putting out this new song “Say” for the movie and it’s this full orchestration, blockbuster-type theme song. The chorus is “Say what you need to say”, and it’s talking about just getting it out and dealing with it. The thing that blows my mind is that he’s able to so poignantly communicate truth. I’m coming at this from the perspective of a person of faith, and so as I’m in this spot hearing him, where I don’t think that’s the case, I’m just thinking “How in the world are you writing these songs?” It just blows my mind that so much truth can come from someone who doesn’t have the same “due-North” that I do, and I’m claiming to be kind of with the Way. But he kind of ‐ without knowing it ‐ keeps pushing me to be better.
PAUSE: Without knowing it. But maybe he will after this.
Matt: Maybe. There aren’t a whole lot of timeless artists coming out. I think that fact is just a byproduct of our culture, and that’s sad. I feel like I’m tempted to go that way too. I feel like there’s a force out there that’s greater than my ideals, like there’s something that’s telling me “Just go out there and get the easy money. Just burn out fast and do it.” I mean how do you sustain a career, how do you do it?
PAUSE: Well, the labels are only looking for the one hit.
Matt: I think it’s having a vision for what you’re going to do after that one hit. Like the vision that asks where you’re going to be in five years, and I never had an answer for that, because it’s always been a day-by-day thing for me. But I think it serves people well to know that “This is ultimately where I want to end up.” So I gotta start working on that.
PAUSE: Well, what if that doesn’t happen?
Matt: Well, that’s the thing, because I found that most of the time, the things that I want don’t happen anyway, at least in the way that I think they’re going to happen.
PAUSE: Well, thanks for you time Matt.
Matt: Thank you, man.