Matt Wertz’s new album, Heatwave, may surprise long-time fans. Its throwback sound is a nod to the days of Bryan Adams and Richard Marx. Heatwave is a collection of songs that embrace the time when “Singer / Songwriter” was synonymous with “impassioned, bold, and expressive.” It doesn’t take long to realize that this sound makes perfect sense for an artist who is known for his no-holds-barred performances.
The songs on Heatwave are far from subtle or understated. They are full, lively and passionate. It’s a natural progression for what Wertz has been doing for years: writing great songs. It’s pretty rad.
NYMM: When did music first show up in your life?
MW: I grew up with a mom who sang as she went about her day. Music was always around. Because I was the only boy with three sisters, my dad and I lost the war against musicals, so I saw The Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof dozens of times. When I was fifteen, I traded piano lessons for a guitar. I wasn’t known as a musician until college. It’s about that time that I started writing songs and people connected to it. I love connecting with people, and I saw writing songs was a way to do that. It went from playing songs in the dorm, to open mic nights at coffee shops, to frat parties, even summer camps, and it grew from there. It was all baby steps.
NYMM: When did you decide to do it full-time?
MW: It wasn’t until my senior year of college. It was never really an option for me to not finish. College was an incredible incubator for me to develop as a writer, without having to make a living doing it at the same time. I encourage people to stay in college and use their spare time to explore music.
NYMM: Tell me about Heatwave.
MW: The guiding light for this record has been a sonic one. I knew what I wanted the record to sound like before I knew what I wanted to say. I wanted a late-’80s singer / songwriter sound like you would hear from Don Henley or Richard Marx. When you dig into that sound, you realize that the songwriting was different back then. In order to pay homage to that era, I had to adjust the way I wrote. Some of that is lyrically, with specific words that recur at that time, and some is musically.
NYMM: “Whenever You Love Somebody” is a great song. Where did it come from?
MW: I was writing with Clay Mills, who writes hit country songs. We came up with a lyric that had that passion. It had that come-right-out-and-say-it ’80s style. The song talks about how crazy you can get when you’re in love; how it can be the highest high and the lowest low. In one breath, you’re cursing this person and at the same time you don’t want to leave. At the time, I was feeling crazy in a relationship, so it kind of validated where I was at the time.
NYMM: How have you enjoyed touring?
MW: I got to do a run of shows with Jamie Cullum, at the height of his career, up and down the West coast. It was really special. I was opening with just my guitar and he was performing with a full band. His audience’s response to me was amazing, which was hard to believe. I’m a very emotional player and performer, whereas he is a very technical artist. So it was very encouraging to be well received by an audience that follows his music.
NYMM: Have you had a really validating experience that stands out?
MW: Early in my career, I got an email from John Mayer. I’ve been a huge fan of his for a long time. He said that someone had played my record for him and he loved it. He was really encouraging. At first I thought someone was actually playing a joke on me, but I confirmed it.
NYMM: Does that sort of thing help you keep going?
MW: Yes, they’re fun, but none of those things really satisfy for long. It’s like you’re running a race, and someone’s there on the side of the road to hand you some water as you’re rounding the last mile.
NYMM: How do you know when your life is on the right track?
MW: When I’m connected to my heart, loving myself, and loving others well. I’ve had to boil it down to that, because everything else will change. If I do those things, then I have a greater chance of living a useful, peaceful existence. The mistake is that we’re always looking outside ourselves for what we already have. I’m never going to make enough money, get enough people to like me, or sell enough records to make me happy. If I can be just as grateful to play for people and be present when I’m writing a song, then I’m doing good.
You can find more Matt Wertz here:
Check out the totally rad Heatwave preview here:
Images by Jon Karr
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