By Johnny Griffith
Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and go with what you feel. That’s the approach local East Texan Matthew McDaniel takes when it comes to writing his music. After spending a lifetime immersed in music, McDaniel has learned to let the music lead and be an expression of what he’s feeling in the time and the place it decides to flow. A frequent stage presence around the area, Matthew wears a couple of different hats; He has a consistent and dynamic solo show, which we’ll focus on today, and he sits in as lead singer for a local band as well.
I managed to get Matthew to take a break and so that we could get to know him and his work a little better.
Johnny: When were you first drawn to music?
Matthew: My first memory and comprehension of my existence have music, I learned to stand and walk by pulling myself up on the shelving unit that held my family’s stereo system. I was bouncing and dancing to the music – Michael Jackson and Earth Wind & Fire LPs mostly.
Johnny: What were some of your influences early on that shaped your musical direction?
Matthew: I could list dozens but for time’s sake, when I was in my last year of college at the University of Texas in Austin, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Reckless Kelly and two dozen more were hot. They got me into wanting to play and write music. Not too long after beginning to play an instrument and perform my rock ‘n roll influences from The Black Crowes to Tom Petty started to come out in my writing. From there, I dove headfirst into The Doors, Rolling Stones, Little Feat, Ben Harper, and Aerosmith. I have written since I was young starting at around 7 or 8, writing about what I know, how I felt, places I had traveled (I traveled with my family across country in the summers starting at the age of 7). I had many influences outside of music, books, TV, films, art, travel, and relationships. The full spectrum of my life added to my writing from the time I was young until this day.
Johnny: How would you describe your music now and how has it evolved over the years?
Matthew: I like to think of my music as a free space, ‘Music that you can feel’. I am sure people have and will always have, their own opinions about what it is or should be labeled as I don’t write any song with an intention other than the way I feel about it when I am writing it. Even then, it may not end up sounding like what I thought especially after I play it a thousand times. It can become something completely different when I record it. I would say as far as an evolutionary process, I started with three chords and the true philosophy because of the music that launched me and the music I was around, I think simplicity is a huge stepping stone for many, if not most. Now I like to start with a melody or riff or a lyrical concept and build from there. Sometimes I still end with a simple result that can sometimes become very complex. What it all boils down to is what I feel from the song. Having no agenda has been the best policy for me in recent years.
Johnny: Are you primarily a solo act or do you collaborate with other musicians regularly?
Matthew: I have two main projects in my life: my solo acoustic act of Matthew Marcus McDaniel, and my “Rock & Roll” band Thieves of Sunrise. When writing over the years, I have collaborated with other writers and performers but it is usually for a commissioned project or for fun with friends. The songs that I produce as a representation of myself or band are written by myself and musically with any bandmates I may have at the time. In my early years, I collaborated a few times with friends mostly and it was a good way to get started.
Johnny: How much original music do you typically try to work into a set?
Matthew: That is usually dependent on where I am playing and what project I am performing with. A Thieves of Sunrise show will be 95-100% original material depending on the length of the show. My Matthew Marcus McDaniel shows right now are about 50-60% original material unless a venue requests that I play mostly covers. Some nights you have to pay the bills and the venue is the boss. On nights where the shows are short or it is a listening room or showcase, that audience will get 100% original show. I also, at times, try not to play a lot of Thieves of Sunrise. I have lots of material and if I am constantly using a hefty portion of our catalog. It feels like I not doing myself justice as far as my other songs and differentiating my solo act from the band. I do have a lot of crossover material with the band though and I play those nightly. This also lends itself to making sure that I stay on top of writing material strictly for myself and different from my other endeavors.
Johnny: Do you typically play in the immediate vicinity or do you get the opportunity to travel?
Matthew: Most of my solo work in a given month will keep me in Texas and Eastern Oklahoma. In the past, I have rarely traveled outside of Texas for my solo work, but now my region has spread to include Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado. I will be traveling further as a solo act in the future and have been venturing out to Oregon and Washington in recent months.
Johnny: What are some of the challenges of balancing the passion for music with the responsibilities of being an “adult”?
Matthew: I think at some point if you are not one of the chosen few to hit the big time in your early years you must begin to look at what you do as a business. It is the only way to stay afloat if you want to be a full-time musician. You will also most likely have to diversify your skill set. Learn to save money no matter how little you might be making. It is definitely constant work. That is where the trouble comes in, in your question lies some of the answers – you have to learn balance. There is no silver bullet. Find a schedule that works for you and keep working, the time you allow yourself to write and the time you are performing are your time for passion so take full advantage and indulge, soak up every possible second of it.
Johnny: What have been some of your best memories on stage? Offstage?
Matthew: The best memories are when you know that you have gotten through to your audience whether or not they were there for you or you had to win them. Its when people understand what you do and why you are doing it. I have always approached music from the standpoint of helping others, giving people the most positive and enriching experience possible. I write the songs from what I gather from the universe and the world around me and what I put out is for others. When I see people engaged and happy that is the best. The rest of what may or may not happen on stage is a result of the people. Offstage is about travel, seeing new places, eating different food, life experience. Meeting fans and hearing how the music made them feel, hearing about their lives, that just like on stage, is a big one.
Johnny: What have you been most proud of in your musical career to this point?
Matthew: That I have been able to sustain essentially as an independent and full-time musician for almost my entire career. I am still out here, still moving, and I am still full of music. Also the fact I have never had to sacrifice my art or bend to what others thought might be a more popular route. The people I have met, the places I have been, and all of the music I have made are what keeps me going. You won’t hear a lot of my music on the radio and you probably won’t see me walking across too many stages to accept awards but I will keep making music for the people and life will take care of the rest.
Johnny: What do you have in store for the rest of 2018 and looking forward to 2019?
Matthew: For the rest of 2018 I am almost booked up completely. I’m working on solidifying a short tour up to the Rocky Mountains in December. Thieves of Sunrise has a new album that has recently come out called “Let the Truth Speak.” I am really excited about that. Also in December, I am considering beginning work on a new solo Matthew Marcus McDaniel album since it’s been a while since I put one of those out. In 2019, Thieves of Sunrise will be back in full swing, so that will take a great deal of my time. Last, but not least, I am hoping to start on two new projects based out on the West Coast / Pacific Northwest, a west coast style psychedelic project and an acoustic folk duo.