Matthew Carroll is a singer, band leader, and song writer based out of Birmingham, Alabama.
His debut album, Left To Burn, was released on February 1st, 2018.
The album is a mix of 90s influenced Alternative Rock and high-energy indie pop. He brought together some of the best talent in the south east to play on this record and put in the work to make an album he could be proud of.
A full year of writing and demoing songs to find the authentic voice for each song has led him to an album with no filler.
Every song has been carefully crafted, torn down, and reforged until Matthew was happy with them. A painstaking process that started with over 200 original songs was narrowed down to the 12 tracks that are featured.
Can you tell us more about your new album “Left To Burn”? How long did it take to write all the songs?
Well it’s my first album so I had hundreds of songs written throughout my whole life to choose from.
But I didn’t want to be lazy about it so when I decided this was the year I would finally finish my first full length album, I committed my self to writing a lot of new material. I wrote about 40 new songs in January of last year so that I’d have an even stronger pool of songs to choose from. It was actually surprising how many of those 40 made the cut. About half of the album was written this year.
The others were mostly form the last few years. But there are 3 songs that actually go way back. Almost 10 years. So it’s a pretty wide range. I was updating and changing them musically and lyrically all the way up until I was in the vocal booth.
It’s such a cool process to be the writer as well as the producer and performer of the project.
My mind was in a very different place when it came time to record the vocals. I was thinking about global issues with the sound of the track and then suddenly, I was inspired to change a lyric or two that really added a lot to those songs in the long run.
How do you usually write the lyrics of your songs?
I used to carry a notebook but these days it’s become my phones notes ap. Whenever an idea for a lyric or hook pop into my head, I will record them or write them down in this long sprawling note that holds tons of unfinished ideas.
Then I like to set aside time to write. I find a quiet place for me and my guitar and I will dive deep on whichever one of those ideas speaks to me on that day.
I normally like to write at least three songs in a day when I set aside time like that. I find that the quality actually gets better throughout the day.
My favorite of the day is almost always the third. I would try writing a 4th but that would cross 88 mph and I’d end up in 1955.
What is the best verse you ever wrote?
Ooooo. That’s tough.
So many of my songs serve different purposes and I like to think that the verses do their jobs well to support and move along the song’s ideas. There are lots of verses on this album that I love to sing, but I’d probably say “Pilots and Sailors” contains my favorite verse.
Although that song is not easily dividable into verses and choruses, the third stanza which starts “baby I love you, I’m sorry I haven’t called..” and goes all the way to the end is probably my favorite verse. It highlights a strange combination of the holy and the mundane desires that are driving me in that lyric.
I love that it follows a heavy word like crucified and then segues into plain talk about not calling someone and how it can hurt. I think often our higher intentions are not separate from our baser desires.
They are all mixed up. Especially where love and faith are concerned.
What was the soundtrack to your childhood?
Haha. My earliest exposure to music was church music.
Mostly really cheesy Christian knock offs of pop music. Super watered down stuff musically.
Most of my exposure to other music came from the radio so when I think back to the soundtrack of my childhood, it is mostly a barrage of pop/rock one hit wonders from the 90s.
I don’t think I really understood what it was like to be into an artist until I was like 16. It was all just songs.
How did you first get your foot into the music industry?
I’ve been playing as a cover for the last 10 years and I’ve had a lot of success there. But getting into the world of releasing original music and having people that actually want to listen is a brand new endevour.
So hopefully I’ll have a great story of how I broke into the music industry soon.
What has the journey been like up to now?
I’ve been working on this album for over a year now and with the exeption of a couple months of rehearsals with the band, I have been on this journey alone.
A few close trusted friends giving me honest feed back, but the people who have heard the album before last week can be counted on 2 hands.
The album drops in just a few days and it’s like there is all this pent up potential energy.
I love what we’ve made, but people are just for the first time starting to hear it. I’ve gotten a few reviews and a few people who got early copies of the album, letting me know what they think but for the most part I am still waiting. February 1st, get here!
What inspired “Heart on Fire”?
Actually a painting of a local artist, Spencer Roeder, inspired that song. I had him recreate that painting for the cover of the album.
The painting depicts a heart on fire. It’s all scarred up from the flames. Roeder had actually burned the canvas with a torch. But in the center is a matchbook with 2 remaining matches.
Those matches are really what struck me about the painting. It was somehow hopeful and fearful at the same time. To me, those flames represented passion but the scars represented pain.
All caused by the same thing. Love. And the idea that there are these two matches left meant that just maybe you had another chance or two and maybe next time would be more passion and less pain.
But the song is about being scared to light another match.
I wrote folding with a cowriter, Russel Blackburn, and halfway through writing it, we almost stopped because we thought it was sounding too Ben Foldsy. I love Ben Folds so much. One of my favorite writers.
So I said, “Screw it. It probably won’t be usable, but lets write it for fun.
Let’s not steer away from the Ben Foldsyness of it all, let’s steer into it!” For the longest time I had no intention of putting it on the album, it was just a writing exercise that I enjoyed.
But somewhere in the last days of deciding the line up for the album, I listened to it and was taken back by how much I love it. So again I said, “screw it. I love the song too much to leave it off.” Now the lyrics also have an interesting origin.
It’s all about how whether we really have choice or not. It’s more of an existential song than a relationship one. I had just recently watched season one of Westworld when I wrote the song.
That show is all about what makes us human and are we more than just programming. So when I wrote the line, “Is this all just part of the show?”
I definitely had visions of robots falling in love on westworld. Haha.
Are you ever scared of revealing, aspects of your personal experience, to strangers through your music?
I’m more scared of revealing aspects of myself to the people in my life. Haha.
When I was younger, everything I wrote was auto biographical.
These days, I’m a lot more open to the idea of writing stories with my songs. The character singing might be just that, a character.
It might be me.
I like to leave that fuzzy. It makes it easier to have a personal life and write music. In many ways I can be more honest and more raw when I’m hiding behind a character. I don’t feel the need to come off strong or good.
I can be as flawed as we all are and not feel the weight of it.
Do you remember the day you wrote “Backup Man”?
I do. I wrote it along with a lot of other songs when I went and lived in a cabin for a week last year.
I secluded myself off so I’d have no distractions. So the writing was rather uneventful. I remember the day that inspired “backup man” better though.
There was a girl in my life that I was really fond of.
Truth be told, I probably had a bit of a crush on her. But she was in this on again off again, completely consuming, overly dramatic, relationship. So it somehow came up and I said that I wasn’t interested in dating her.
She was incredulous! Maybe because she was a very pretty girl and was used to guys being after that, maybe just because we had been spending time together and it is rare for people of the opposite sex to be friends, but either way, she was so shocked and offended that I didn’t want to date her.
And I just told her, you sort out things with that other dude, give it a little time and then maybe we’ll see. I don’t think we ever hung out again sadly. Still think she’s a rad person.
What is the best show you ever played?
One of the most meaningful shows I ever played was in Ft smith, AR.
I had never played in that city before and so I knew that no one would be there to see me.
In those situations it’s always best to be the opener because folks will leave when the band they know is done.
Through uncontrollable circumstances, I ended up going last. And sure enough, I started playing to a crowd of about 4 people.
After a few songs, there were just 2 guys in the back of the bar. And I started to feel like those 2 were sticking around out of pity.
You don’t want to leave a guy playing to a totally empty room. So I started to wrap up my set early. I just thought the whole thing had gotten awkward.
Then one of the guys, screamed out, “You didn’t play ‘There are things’!” which was one of my original songs I was playing at the time. It turned out, these two guys had seen some online ad for my show and actually checked out the music and fell in love with the songs I had online.
One of them came up after the show to tell me the difference the song had made in his relationship with his girlfriend.
It turned out they had both connected to my material in a really deep way.
I work hard to get my music in peoples hands and it almost always takes that personal connection or meeting at a show to really see someone give the music a chance.
And there was just something so neat and pure about these 2 guys who found the music online and just loved it for the music.
No video, no show, no personal connection.
Just music drawing us together as people and seeing the ways we were the same.