Matt Kiss is a singer, songwriter, and musician from Brooklyn, New York. Some of Kiss’ earliest memories were of him singing along to Russian tunes with his parents, or banging around on the piano as a toddler. He was enrolled in piano lessons at a very young age, later gravitating to the guitar at 13. After years of playing in a handful of young bands, he decided to go his own route and dove into the world of songwriting.
Growing up which artists did your family listen to?
Growing up, there were several different kinds of music being played in my parents’ house. As a young kid, some days I would hear a mix of Eric Clapton, Elton John, Abba, and Queen. On other days, Russian artists like Alla Pugacheva and Vadimir Vysotsky would be on heavy rotation. But no matter what artist or genre, there was almost always some music being played at home.
Have you since learned to play any of the Russian tunes your parents played?
I definitely have learned to play a a few songs by the Russian artists I grew up listening to. Some of my favorites growing up that I learned to play are “Song About The Friend” by Vadimir Vysotsky and “Million Alyh Roz” by All Pugacheva. In general, a large majority of Russian music is in minor keys and borrows from similar melodic minor structures. And given that I’ve been listening to those structures for as long as I remember, that music is pretty much a part of my DNA.
Playing piano at a young age. What’s your favorite song to play on the piano?
While taking piano lessons as a child, my teacher would normally have me learn classical pieces by composers like Beethoven or Bach. However, one of my favorite pieces I learned back then was actually the theme song to Titanic “My Heart Will Go On.” That movie was HUGE when I was a kid and I loved being able to play the theme song.
After some time playing in bands you chose to go solo as a songwriter. Do you remember the first song you penned?
It feels like a lifetime ago, but I actually do remember the first full song I ever wrote. I was 17 and it was called “Washed Away.” A friend of mine had convinced me to put it up on YouTube on a Friday, and by the end of the weekend my entire grade had seen it (we literally filmed me singing in an empty classroom. In hindsight it was a cheesy teenage love song by a “green as hell” writer, but the fact that people seemed to like it gave me the confidence to keep going.
How did you come to be a session musician?
I first started doing session work as a musician around 2012/13. While I’ve always considered myself primarily a singer/songwriter, I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13 (years before I ever thought about writing a song). As I started performing my own music around New York, I also began to meet and network with other singer/songwriters in the scene. Oftentimes some of those artists that I had met/become friends with would need a session guitarist for a show or recording session, and I was always happy for the opportunity to collaborate or work on another person’s music. I grew up playing music with other people, so doing session work is another extension of that.
Which artists have you tracked music for?
I’ve worked as a session guitarist/bassist with a bunch of different NY artists, both live and in the studio. Some musicians that I’ve been lucky enough to work with include Samantha Leon, Marissa Dwyer, Janeen Tarrana, John Christopher Allen, and Billy Conahan. I’ve also worked on tracked guitar for music that has been on College Humor skits (Producer credit: Nicholas Howard).
First venue you played in NYC? Brooklyn? Queens?
The first venue I ever played in NYC was 169 Bar on the Lower East side. My first show in Brooklyn was at a venue called Spike Hill, and my first show in Queens was at a venue called the Waltz Astoria. Both Spike Hill and the Waltz have sadly closed in recent years, but the Waltz Astoria was a venue that I made some great musician friends at.
Favorite New York venue to date?
There are so many great music venues in New York that its hard to pick just one as my favorite. But, I have played at Rockwood Music Hall on more than a few occasions, and there’s a reason why that venue has so many great artists roll through there. It’s a New York music staple.
What was your first guitar?
My first ever guitar was an Ibanez acoustic guitar that I spent countless hours learning on. I wrote my first songs on that guitar, and I still have it.
My favorite guitar has to be one of my Fender Stratocasters. I have a not so small obsession with guitars and there are quite a few that I enjoy playing. I have a gorgeous black Gibson Les Paul Custom that I’ll never part with, but I’ve always gone back to the sound and feel of a Strat. All of my guitar heroes played Strats (Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, John Frusciante) and all those hours of studying those players made me fall in love with the Fender Stratocaster. I’ve tried other guitars, and I always end up back with my Strat.
Which ones do you want to play?
As a huge guitar nerd, there are tons of guitars I’d love to get my hands on and play. First and foremost, I’d kill to play some vintage Fender Stratocasters from the 1950’s and 60’s! There are vintage Gibson Les Pauls and 335’s that I’d love to try. I recently played some D’Angelico guitars that sounded amazing. I also LOVE John Mayer’s Silver Sky signature guitar from Paul Reed Smith. I played one on a session in Nashville a few months back, and I just fell in love with it. Phenomenal guitar!
For new fans, how would you describe your sound?
For any new fans, guess I would describe my sound as Pop with Soul, RnB, and alternative influences.
Which fellow musicians have most influence your sound?
One of my biggest musical influences has always been John Mayer. It was actually seeing Mayer live in concert on his 2007 Summer Continuum Tour that inspired me to pursue being a musician as my path. I just remember watching that concert and thinking “if he can do it, maybe I can too.” But my sound and style isn’t too close to Mayer’s. I’ve also always been heavily influenced by soul, RnB, funk, rock, and alternative music. So artists like Justin Timberlake and Maroon 5 have also heavily influenced my sound. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention how much both Jimi Hendrix’s guitar playing and D’Angelo’s deep groove (respectively) influenced me as an artist. I could go on all day about this topic.
What’s the backstory to your new song “Hurricane”?
The backstory of “Hurricane” is that I was going through a moment of relationship trouble, and the conflicting feelings made me feel like I there was a storm in my head. But “Hurricane” is not exclusively a song about relationship trouble, even if it was manifested because of that. “Hurricane” is more about the feeling of anxiety caused by strong conflicting emotions. Feeling like you’re being pulled in multiple directions, an intense feeling of an internal storm. And trying to “dance in a hurricane” is an image I came up with trying to describe the chaos that was flying around my mind.
What was it like working with producer Malcolm Fong?
Working with Malcolm was absolutely great. Not only do we speak the same language musically, but Malcolm was possibly the first person I’d ever worked with who could work longer than me. The man is a machine. But beyond his work ethic, Malcolm is truly committed to making the music sound the best it can be and doesn’t ever settle for less. Can the studio, I felt like we flowed well together. We each gave the other person the space top create and try new things. There was always an honest, no BS approach to our work, and that was something I needed badly. Plus the man is a talented multi-instrumentalist, which only compliments his production. I can’t wait for everyone to hear more of what we created.
Being a husband and dad. How hard is balancing those roles with being a musician?
Trying to balance music with being a father definitely has its challenging moments. These days, my time management skills have to be even more on point than before. Luckily for me, I have wife who’s a great partner and an even better mother. We’re a good team.
Will your upcoming EP have other personal songs?
Definitely. Every song on the project deals with some kind of intense emotion as it relates to relationships. Every song has it’s own unique vibe, but they’re all straight from the heart. All I can do is hope they find a way to live in someone else’s.
Read you write solo. What inspires your writing?
My inspirations for writing come from many different places. And inspiration can strike at any time/in the most random moments. Inspiration could come from anywhere: A conversation with a friend, and argument with a loved one, a great movie, a painting, or another piece of music. Artists are defined by their ability to listen to the whispers of their muse, so I do my best to be prepared to catch lightning in a bottle when that inspiration strikes.
Favorite place to write?
Speaking of inspiration, sometimes it can strike in the strangest of places. I’ve written multiple songs while locking myself in my bathroom. I once wrote a song while sitting in my bathtub. It all really depends on where I can get the most privacy and quite in order to successfully capture and expand on an idea. As long as I have an instrument, isolation, pen, and a pad, I’m good to go.
What’s ahead for you this year?
The plan for this upcoming year is to continue releasing new music, as well to write more songs for future releases. I’m always looking ahead to the future. So once one project is finished, I’m immediately envisioning what the next one will sound like.