'All this Great Weirdness has been Hiding:' Bluefield's Matt Deal on Unconventional Mountain Music
"I like my tunes and melodies to be disarming and my themes to be disturbing. It is my exact intent."
And today's interview is with an unconventional singer-songwriter out of Bluefield, West Virginia. This... is Matt Deal.
How did you start getting into music?
Dad got me a guitar when I asked for one at 13 saying he saw it as "an investment.” It paid off because it stuck. and I've never put it down.
Where does your name come from?
My parents gave it to me. Shhh, don't tell anyone.
Yes, of course. But why choose your birth name as your singer-songwriter name? Folks like Iron & Wine and Hiss Golden Messenger use monikers despite their solo act status.
Well, when I first wrote songs like “Our Front Porch,” I recorded them as loud rock songs and put them out under the name Larry's Broken Biscuits. I got the name when I worked at a placed called Burger Boy in Princeton. There was a Tupperware container in the cooler labeled "Larry's Broken Biscuits,” which was from the owner Larry. I just loved that for some reason. But that was back in the MySpace days. I felt like people wouldn't take me serious otherwise. Not sure why I thought they would take me seriously with a name like that.
I didn't always like my own name. I thought it sounded short and simple. Now I think it's a good thing. It’s fairly memorable, I suppose. Also, I think it holds me accountable. If I write it, I better like it, because my name is on it.
How has your sound changed over time (if at all)?
I started off writing and singing just silly tunes for laughs, but quickly realized I was more qualified to write about dysfunction. I still try to slip a joke in from time-to-time though.
Where have you played in West Virginia (venues, festivals, etc.)?
I've played all over West Virginia and Virginia at a number of reputable venues and questionable dive bars. I love both categories equally.
What’s been the highlight of your musical journey?
Well, I did open for Molly Hatchet at a 9/11 tribute show (not kidding). But I would have to say it's been The Can Jam. For the past 7 years in early December, I've organized a charity concert called The Can Jam where a bunch of my favorite friends/bands play a big show, and we charge $5 or 5 canned food items for admission, all of which goes to the Bluefield Union Mission. It’s always so fun, and we have the best of West Virginia and help a great charity. I usually cry at the end of the night when I count the money. Shhh, don't tell anyone.
Your song "Front Porch” is incredibly catchy, but it’s also incredibly relevant given recent talks of climate change and the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. What was the song originally about, and what are your thoughts on it now?
Well, for starters, thank you. It was pretty specifically inspired by global warming and climate change. My daughter, who is about 10-years-old now, was very young then, and the reality of it all was just horrifying to me. The worst part was that I knew that I was, and still am in a lot of ways, a hypocrite about the situation. Society does whatever it can for money. So, while I may have decried politicians and corporations for their impact on the situation and their refusal to change, I was delivering pizzas in a gas-guzzling SUV (a Dodge Durango, to be exact) because that was the only means I had to make money for my child whose future I fear for. The line “in the meantime, I'm thinking about finally trading in my SUV,” was taken straight out of real life. I wish I felt better about it now, but I'm still very fearful, especially after the recent kerfuffle with the Paris Accord withdrawal. I think people will tend toward renewables eventually, because I think it will become the better economic choice. I'm just scared it may be too late at that point. As far as the song, it still feels true to me. I wanted to express that fear and futility of love in the face of impending doom. If the world is coming to an end, that's quite a thing to see, and I guess I'd prefer to watch it with the ones I love from the comfort of “Our Front Porch.” I like my tunes and melodies to be disarming and my themes to be disturbing. It is my exact intent.
What’s it like making music in West Virginia?
It has changed drastically in the last decade, mostly due to social media. There used to hardly be anywhere to play, and original acts were harder to find. Now we're exploding with venues and talent. Some of my favorite songs of the past year have come from local musicians that I am happy to call my friends. It's surreal!
And Bluefield? What’s the city’s music scene all about?
It’s in the process of expanding, honestly. For a long time, there wasn't much of any scene here. A couple of bars had bands occasionally, mostly country and classic rock. But thanks to a couple of places in particular (The RailYard in Bluefield and the Riff Raff in Princeton) and others in Southern West Virginia, there are now venues for a variety of acts. And thanks to some great folks I know, we have a great blossoming metal scene around here. All this great weirdness has been hiding, and now it's coming out of the woodwork.
Do you feel held back by being in West Virginia? Or does it feel like a musically-supportive place?
When I first started, yes. But now I feel like it's truly democratic here. There's no framework in place. Whoever does the work and sounds the best will get their name out there.
What, in your opinion, needs to happen in the West Virginia music scene for it to move forward?
I’d like to see a few more venues that could host larger acts so local groups and artists could get better exposure by opening for them. Other than that, I think West Virginia is on the right track, oddly enough.
Any last words for folks starting to make music?
Be thankful. No one gets anywhere doing this unless someone else gives them a shot. Do your best and make the best of every show/opportunity you get and thank whomever gave it to you.
Matt Deal’s latest release is “Best and Worst.” Keep up with the Bluefield artist on social media as he prepares a new album titled "Keeping Up with the Living." Hear more #WVmusic on A Change of Tune, airing Saturday nights at 10 on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Connect with A Change of Tune on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And for more #WVmusic chats, make sure to go to wvpublic.org/wvmusic and subscribe to our RSS / podcast feeds.
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