Matt Wallin & His Nervous Breakdown "Puppet Strings"
Wednesday Feb. 1st, 2023
Craig Clark: Hello Matt, Thanks for sitting down to talk to us today. The last time you talked to Bozeman Magazine you had just released your last record, Ravens. How did the release and subsequent sales/streaming go for Ravens?
Matt Wallin: It went well. Well, I gave away most of the CDs, but there were definitely a couple of songs that had high streaming numbers. And everybody loved the CD. I see people at shows now and they tell me how the CD hasn’t left their CD player for two years, so that seems like it was well received. One of my favorite shows for Ravens was the release party. Everybody from the Kitchen Dwellers and from the Dusty Pockets played with me and it was truly amazing to get that kind of support from some of the best musicians I know.
CC: Excellent. I’m going to read a quote from Dave Grohl to you: “I still believe that the most important way to ‘promote’ yourself as an artist is to play live. That’s it. Because when a human being sees another human being on stage, ripping, there is this sort of connection.” So this is a two part question:
What do you think about what Dave says, and second, what were some of the biggest highlights Ravens live during the past couple of years?
MW: I agree with Dave. On stage is where my craft comes to life. One of my favorite places to play any show is when I get to play with Jerry Joseph. He has been so kind and such a huge supporter of my craft and what I am trying to do. Not to mention one of the best songwriters. It truly has been a blessing for me every time.
CC: When you chatted with Bozeman Magazine about Ravens a couple years ago you explained how you have a rotating cast of players that all make up the Nervous Breakdown band. Is this still how you approach the shows you play?
MW: Yes definitely. I love all the people I play with and for me it is easiest to do it that way. I did have a somewhat solid lineup for a little while, and I don’t want to say that it didn’t work out, but it didn’t work out. Right now the one person that I really want at every show is my keyboard player Muska. We have a great connection on stage, and he is just such a great human being. He makes me want to get out there and sing for everyone.
CC: Who from the Nervous Breakdown family played on the new recording of the Puppet Strings album?
MW: I had the amazing Ethan Decker on drums. Honestly at this point I don’t think I would be releasing the album if it weren’t for Ethan. He is just such a positive person. I had Tyler Barrett play lead guitar. We had been friends for so long that he knew exactly what to play to make the songs come to life the way I like. We had Tony Boyd play bass. When we started the recording he had been playing with me for a couple of years and was very familiar with the material, so he was a perfect choice. Tyler Shultz was on the keyboards and he was such a professional to work with. Also I had Muska lay down just a couple things on the keyboards too. A couple things he does when we play live worked well on the recording so he is there too. Last but not least we have Torrin Daniels from the Kitchen Dwellers come in and lay down some intergalactic banjo on a few of the songs. When he went to recording Chris was like what the?...
CC: With who and where did you do the recording with?
MW: Chris Cunningham was a really open person when I went and was looking for a few places to record, the main thing I would tell people is that I am a little bit crazy, and I need help on a lot of ends emotionally. If I am recording with you I am going to need you to listen to me, not just on the microphone, but I might need to tell you about some things that are very hard for me to talk about, almost as if he is a therapist. Chris was the only person out of the people I talked to that gave me tons of support with that one question. I don’t know if he knew what I was talking about, but through the process he definitely learned what I was talking about. I spent as much time just talking to him as a human as I did worrying about the record. He is an experienced touring musician, he has had some hardships and some shit go on in his life as well, but as far as anyone giving me a boost in confidence and just sitting down and listening, he would let me talk for hours and he would never open his mouth to butt in. Still to this day I don’t know if he knows what he got himself into, because if I am having a bad day I still text him. After our process he became like a guardian angel to me where never let me down in any way shape or form from recording to talking to where I feel like I can really trust him. He is just a good guy to work with and a better guy to talk to.
CC: Did you have all of the songs written when you talked to him and started?
MW: No, and that scared him. We only had a few days to really get everything done. I wrote two complete songs in there at the studio, and I probably only had two songs that were ready to go out of eight. I did a lot of writing right there, like while we were laying down the bass tracks. Probably 50-75% of the lyrics were written or finished in the studio. It just comes to me at the right time. I always have ideas like a beginning and an end and a climax, to a story that I am trying to explain, but the words have to rhyme and there is a certain way to covey a BIG message with just one line. That’s where I really like to shine is saying a paragraph worth of feelings in a seven word sentence. That is a really tricky thing to accomplish, but once it’s there a four minute song can become a novel. Nobody would know it’s that short by the feelings in the song when you listen to it, seems much larger that it is, but it’s not, it’s simple. I work very hard on the delivery of those words, and that’s where I am at with song writing.
CC: How do you decide how many songs to put on a record?
MW: Ravens had fifteen songs. I had ten in mind for Puppet Strings but we settled with eight. I wanted Puppet Strings to be the opposite of Ravens which is a very long listen, to short, get to the point, punch you in the dick record. There’s no rules with me.
CC: Do you find you ever have too much content?
MW: I don’t even look into the content I have. There are close to 1,000 voice recordings with song ideas and even more notes. I haven’t dug into them yet, my favorite thing is just on-the-spot ideas, like boom right now type of shit.
CC: When did you start the writing process for Puppet Strings (album)?
MW: The actual song Puppet Strings goes back to when I was like ten years old or so. It’s about teachers and authority figures telling other kids not to talk to me, or laugh at me, because if they did I would keep being funny or being myself. I still remember that feeling. No adult should talk to children that way, especially in front of them.
CC: What is your favorite song on the new album?
MW: O Joe. It is a very good song. I started writing O Joe about Joe Knapp and I’s relationship, and I got a few pages into it and crumpled it up. I then started writing a song based on him and how he contributed to the entire community knowing he had a hundred best friends and I didn’t any longer want it to be about him and I, I wanted it to be about him and this area. I am not the only musician who looked up to him and still do, but in that song there is a line that says “You had a way of being everybody’s best friend”. The song is about all of us losing somebody important, not just myself. I always knew how special he was, but he was larger than life.
CC: How do you feel the community is healing and still handling his loss?
MW: We’re all fast paced people, so we are all out gigging and doing wild crazy things, but it is in those silent moments when you stop and think about him that it can become almost unbearable. Other musicians, other venues, and other friends have a huge hole. It is going to take a lot of time to deal with that loss.
CC: What do you think Joe would want people to be doing?
MW: Well, there is this sense of glue being missing. I know that his biggest thing was to always make everybody feel accepted, and everybody no matter what your ability just keep on jamming, keep on playing. After Joe passed away I think there were a few people who thought that they could take it over, but there are people that feel like nobody can. Nobody gave that community vibe that he could. The way I see it the scene got a little nastier. People needed to work together more. There is a huge void. The town is looking for people who can bring people together as one unit, but now there are some people who want to be ‘best’. No artist thinks of themselves as best? The people who do are just completely silly. It should be a family and it turned into friends and maybe even enemies after that.
CC: Thanks for being real about that. I appreciate that. Where can people listen to the new record?
MW: Everywhere, All the online streaming services will have it.
CC: Is there a release party scheduled?
MW: It is going to happen. It is kinda driving me nuts. There is this favorite place of mine in town, that I couldn’t imagine it not happening there, but the vibrations are getting different there and I am trying to find a spot that I can remotely be in tune with and there is not a lot. It is a strange place in Bozeman. A record release for me isn’t about selling a hundred copies or packing the place. It really isn’t about my record, it is about being in a place where I am comfortable and confident, a place where basically I love, and that place is not fun to play at anymore. So I am looking for another spot and we just have to leave it at that. I want a nice intimate place where people can sit and listen to the album and the words.
CC: That sounds great, hopefully that works out. You have been playing a monthly residency with Weston Lewis at Red Tractor Pizza [RTP] called the Weston and Matt Guitar Duel. Could you tell us about that, how did it get started?
MW: It was a long time coming and a really loaded question I would say. Weston and I are great friends and partners. We can see each other the way other people don’t seem to. We admire each other I think. We are also doing it at the RTP, which is a place where we both have a mutual friend that we both care tremendously about, and honestly I got approached about doing this to make everybody feel better. To make myself feel better, to make Weston feel better, to make Adam feel better, and so far we all feel really good about it. The first time I played with Weston without any practicing or anything, it felt good, like home as far as I know what is going to come out of his guitar. I know what his voicings are, and I know his tone. It has turned into a nice side project. It has a source of comfort I was looking for and just an easy no stress gig. We can play and eat pizza and drink beer there. It’s sweet!
CC: What other gigs do you have coming up where people can see you and the Nervous Breakdown?
MW: We are playing Feb 25th at Stacey's in Gallatin Gateway where it was a barn burner last time we played there, and we are playing at Tips Up in Big Sky on March 3oth.
Craig Clark is the General Manager at KGLT FM in Bozeman Montana. He enjoys spending time with his son and daughter and being a DJ on Saturday nights from 9pm-Midnight on the one and only KGLT 91.9 and online at KGLT.NET