On his newest recording, the Grand Rapids artist aimed to “write something different.” He’ll perform those genre-spanning songs and more compelling material along the lakeshore in coming weeks.THE ARTIST: Matt Gabriel
THE MUSIC: Acoustic folk, blues, rock
WHERE YOU CAN SEE HIM: 7 p.m. Thursday at Macatawa Bay Yacht Club in Holland; 7 p.m. Friday at Hennessy’s Irish Pub in Muskegon; 8 p.m. Saturday at Oddside Ales in Grand Haven; 7 p.m. June 2 at Boatwerks in Holland; 8 p.m. June 3 at Grand Armory Brewing in Grand Haven.
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It starts fast and energetic, coming at listeners with a country twang, like an Old West train robbery.
That was the scene that West Michigan singer-songwriter Matt Gabriel envisioned while writing the first track on his new EP, “Fiction.”
That renegade image fits perfectly – not only with the song, but with the entire album – because Gabriel refuses to let himself be pigeonholed into one style or genre.
“I’m always trying to write something different,” Gabriel said. “I’m surprised how people don’t get bored, staying all within one genre, not even branching out simply for their own enjoyment.”
The 27-year-old Jenison native’s EP is versatile in the tone of its songs, an impressive feat considering there are only three tracks on the recording. The first, “True North,” is a faster-paced, upbeat song, full of country twang in the guitar licks. The track’s lyrics deliver a message about breaking ranks with what should be, in favor of following your own path instead.
“And I will find ‘True North,’ when I lay my compass down,” Gabriel sings on the chorus. “And I will find ‘True North,’ if it is fated to be found.”
Gabriel – who’s also spent time as a musician in Seattle and Denver honing his craft – traveled with his crew all the way to Blackbird Studios in Nashville to work with sound engineer Joe McCarthy on “True North.” They recorded it in one day and drove back that night.
The song is dedicated to Gabriel’s father, who always has encouraged him to follow his heart.
In a way, that message drives not just the songs on this album – chosen from Gabriel’s impressive arsenal of original work – but also the singer-songwriter’s approach to music.
VIEWING MUSIC ‘AS ALL ONE LANGUAGE’ WITH DIFFERENT ACCENTS
“I feel like I might have more fans if I settle into one style or genre of music, but music strikes me as all one language, and genres are simply different accents,” he said. “The last song inspires the next, and it keeps you moving forward. If it’s in a different genre, so be it.
“Variety is always huge. It might make it difficult, but I grew up on the idea that, if you have 12 different songs, you should make it sound like they are from 12 different bands.”
The second track on the EP, “Santa Fe,” takes a different tone, with an upbeat, almost bluesy, electric guitar introduction. The final song, “Heart of Gold,” was written about his fiancé, and the future he cannot wait to share with her.
“ ‘Heart of Gold’ was kind of difficult for me, keeping the same steady rhythm throughout the entire song,” he said. “It was difficult, actually, fighting the urge to add more in, or make changes along the way. It’s the same progression.”
Gabriel said he considered it a test, a statement of his constitution. “The song was about its simplicity,” he said. “It’s perfect the way it is, don’t mess with it. Being able to maintain that – keeping it the same – was soothing to me.”
The singer-songwriter stopped by Local Spins Live this week to play one of his new songs, “True North,” and talk about his music. Listen to the podcast here.
PODCAST: Local Spins Live with Matt Gabriel
As Gabriel sees it, musicians have “to make time for inspiration. In the real world, you have to sit down, to focus on songwriting. It’s huge to be able to find time to pick up your guitar, to find a quiet place, and to make time for the muse to strike.”
Part of that inspiration comes from the lakeshore, something reflected in the artwork for the album cover. The piece, created by Grand Rapids artist Randi Ford, shows a secluded spot on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Gabriel said the lake always has been a source of inspiration and he does much of his writing at his own secret spot by the water.
And he has plenty more material to share beyond this EP.
“For this EP, I chose three out of the 15 to 20 new songs I had ready to go,” said Gabriel, who released his fourth album, “Questions Comments Concerns,” in 2014. “With the way music is going now, I like the idea of releasing more music, more frequently – on a regular basis. Maybe a few every few months, if you have enough time in the studio. Put your best stuff forward, I think.”
He added: “If I were to settle and get tons of applause and support for songs I’m not proud of? That would be the worst. I’m doing what I’m proud of, writing the music I’m proud of.”
VIDEO: Matt Gabriel, “True North” (Local Spins Live)
Video by David Specht
Copyright 2016, Spins on Music LLC