Matthew McCloskey is an indie-pop singer/songwriter based in Nashville, TN. McCloskey combines captivating piano instrumentation with heartfelt lyrics about feeling lost, confused or stuck. Raised in the suburbs of Detroit, MI, McCloskey developed a deep disdain for the ordinary as well a gnawing hunger for adventure in his early years as a musician. “I kept looking around at the people around me, at the 9-to-5 lives they had chosen… and thinking…Is this as good as it gets?”
Your bio describes you as “if Ryan Adams and Ben Folds had a baby”. What is your favorite song from each artist?
I really love the song “If I Am A Stranger” off the Cold Roses album. Wonderful blend of sentiment and dissonance. Relationships are tacky — I can just feel the uncertainty in Ryan’s voice as he sings about his partner and his doubts about their relationship.
“Fred Jones, Part 2.” Hands down. If you’re reading this, stop what you’re doing and go listen to that song. I remember hearing it for the first time when I was 15 and just being absolutely mesmerized. It’s such a moving story and commentary about isolation and aging. There are hearts breaking in the song, yet it’s so delicate instrumentally (just piano, vocals and strings). Top ten favorite songs in any genre, any time period. Hands down.
Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit (I grew up in a suburb of Chicago). What do you miss most now that you’re living in Nashville? I so miss the hot dogs and pizza from my hometown.
Definitely hot dogs! Leo’s Coney Island is a staple up in Detroit — it’s hard to find good chili dogs down here in Nashville. I definitely don’t miss the weather, I’m allergic to snow haha. I’d say I miss being close to family the most; hearing about different gatherings and being almost 500 miles away is hard sometimes. Still, we make an active effort to get together a few times a year from all over the country and throw down. Family’s really important, it’s what I hang my hat on at the end of the day.
What led you to go out as a solo artist after being the frontman for Aivry?
Being in a band is a huge commitment and there’s a ton of moving parts. Especially when you’re just starting out, succeeding as a band requires a lot of things to work out right. If you want to make any progress, there needs to be a shared commitment to practicing, writing, recording, performing, etc. If even one of those pieces is off (e.g. if I decide to skip practice one week), then it hurts the whole project. Being a solo artist, there’s more work for me to do, but the responsibility is centralized. Moving the project forward is my responsibility, booking shows is my responsibility. I definitely would like to bring other musicians in at some point, maybe even form a band. For now though, being a solo artist makes the most sense because it’s more simple. I don’t have to run every decision by a committee to make sure they agree. The art is mine. The decisions are mine.
“The Road Out Of Nowhere”. “This album is a story of despair and redemption. …a walk down into the darkest corners of the soul — and the courage it takes to climb out.” How difficult was it to put these feelings into lyrics?
Writing something this vulnerable can be difficult. On one hand, I want to find the truest, most honest way of expressing how I and others I’ve known have felt. Second, I want to put that in a way that’s artistically compelling; whether that’s speaking in a metaphor the audience can understand or using a particular phrase they may also use. The balance comes when trying to find that honesty without resorting to cliche words that have been used over and over. If I feel like I’m being torn apart, I probably wouldn’t use those exact words in a song because of how overused they are. That’s may be how I actually feel, but it’s not the most effective way of communicating the message.
It needs to be unique, it needs to stand out while still retaining its clarity. I’ve found asking “Why?” over and over when I’m exploring a certain feeling or a difficult topic helps me get to the root of that emotion. I then think of the people who will hear the song and try to frame it in a way they’ll understand. It’s an intense process; getting the right word can take several days; sometimes songs won’t truly be final until I’m in the studio singing and a new lyric just comes out that fits the story. Being aware and engaged in those moments it huge; otherwise, I might totally miss the piece I’ve been looking for….
What message do you have for fans struggling to not lose courage during this difficult time?
You are not alone in this. We are all taking the same test. Stay in contact with the ones you love in a way that’s safe. Now is when we need each other the most. We will get through this together.
You mentioned that movies can be great inspirations for new songs. What songs that you’ve written were inspired by a movie?
The song “I Don’t Want to Lose You Now” was loosely inspired by a scene in Catch Me If You Can (2002) with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. Awesome movie, very well written. The scene happens midway through when Leonardo DiCaprio is pretending to be a doctor and a kid is brought in with multiple serious flesh wounds. Leonardo is initially at a loss for words until one of the actual doctors gives his assessment of the situation. Leonardo coolly considers this, turns to the other doctor and asks, “Do you concur with what your colleague just said, Doctor Phillips?” When the other doctor fails to give an answer, Leonardo storms off, keeping his true identity as a con man hidden.
“Writing time is the realest.” Where is your favorite place to write?
Oddly enough, I do most of my writing in the shower. Being in that environment is really comfortable and, since my basic motor skills are engaged with a standardized ritual, my mind is free to wander.
Since my mind is free to wander, it makes it easier to play with ideas, move pieces around to form the most engaging arc for a song. Also, since it’s a comfortable environment, I don’t feel like there’s as much pressure to come up with something. That lack of pressure helps me write better because I’m not trying to force it. I just let my mind go and see what it comes back with.
Saw your post that Sundays you play board games … any recommendations?
Hmmmmm, it depends on how hardcore of a gamer you are hahaha…. for your casual gamers who want a simple pastime, I’d recommend SushiGo, CobraPaw or Las Vegas. For a medium level of complexity, I’d recommend Libertalia, Arctic Scavengers or Dominion. For a high level of complexity, I’d recommend Nemesis (pretty much Alien the board game), Blood Rage or Forbidden Stars.
Your mom shared bible quotes with you. What is your favorite bible verse?
I actually have my favorite bible verse tattooed on my right forearm. Jeremiah 29:10 — For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.
Favorite drink of choice besides Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale?
You shared what you consider your most obnoxious shirt you own. Which is your favorite shirt?
I really like this grey V-Neck t-shirt I got from Old Navy recently. I’ve started buying small t shirts like this one because my arms fill out small sleeves much better than they do mediums. I especially like this one because it makes me feel like I’m Vin Diesel in the Fast and the Furious. Which, I’ll be honest, has been my real goal over the past few years.
What are you currently reading?