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Interview With Award Winning singer/songwriter Matt Cusson

I just hope I inspire some musicians to really be themselves.

Matt Cusson is an award winning singer/songwriter who continues to wow audiences all over the world.  Born and raised in The Berkshires in Massachusetts, he has worked with many of worlds biggest artist. Whether it’s  playing piano, singing, songwriting, producing, or arranging, Matt has worked with such as James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Dua Lipa, Christina Aguilera, Anderson Paak, Idina Menzel, India.Arie, Dave Koz, The Roots, CeeLo Green, Megan Hilty, Boyz II Men, Javier Colon, mentor Brian McKnight and many, many others. Matt’s debut album released in 2009 was receive with rave reviews and won many songwriter and performance awards including, The John Lennon Songwriting Contests biggest award, “The Maxell Song of The Year”, a Billboard Songwriting Award, and several others.

Matt currently is also the winner of the 2017 John Lennon Songwriting Award for Best R&B song for “Leaving L.A.”. His 2012 Christmas EP is one of the most played each December on Surius XM. Some of Matt’s TV performances include “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”, “The View”, “Christmas in Rockefeller Center”, “Live with Kelly and Michael”, “Live with Regis and Kelly”, “Rachael Ray Show”, and was often the “One Man House Band” on VH1’s “Big Morning Buzz Live”.

Matt has also recently filmed a PBS Special with Megan Hilty. He is currently cowriting and producing a theme song for NASA’s “LRO”, writing and producing the theme song for the latest documentary on Lady Diana entitled “Lady Di”, as well as plenty of new, original music for his own release. HIs newest singles “This Road” and “Better When You’re High” are out now. And new Christmas songs with 9 time Grammy Award nominee, Dave Koz are also available! Matt is also currently producing and writing for multiple Lifetime Christmas movies. New album out this fall!

Lisa: Hello Matt! You’ve worked with artists such as James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Dua Lipa, Christina Aguilera, Anderson Paak and many more. How did it all start for you in the world of music? And please share some experiences with the starts you’ve worked with.

 

Matt: I all started when I got accepted at Berklee College of Music. I met so many incredible musicians there, and made so many friends that I still work with today. One day I was fortunate enough to meet Brian McKngiht who I performed for. As soon as I was done performing for him, he asked me to fly out to his home in LA the next day. I quickly dropped out of Berklee and started that journey. It was an amazing experience to work in Brian’s studio and co-write some songs with him. I ended up touring with him for about 6-7 years after that as his keyboardist and background vocalist. I opened up as well from time to time for a few years. From there it was just a matter of playing everywhere, networking as much as I can, and always practicing and getting better. It took a few years for me to get out my debut album, but once I released it that opened up a lot of doors for me. Xtina was an amazing moment for me because while I sang background for her, my biggest moment was singing the duet “Say Something” with her. Front and center stage, and ending the song holding hands with her under the spotlight. Unbelievable moment for me. 

Lisa: Have you managed to make any new discoveries as the time passed during your creative process? Do you think that at some point of that process your writing approach changed much?

 

Matt: I never really had one process of writing. Every song starts and ends differently. Sometimes it’s a lyric first, others it’s the music, or a track, or groove that kicks it off. Sometimes it depends on if I’m writing for myself from the deepest place in my soul, or sometimes I’m writing for hire and I have to stay away from some of those parts of me. I HAVE learned so much over the course of my writing years, mainly in the technology part of it all. Having a home studio has really made getting ideas down easier and quicker. There’s still nothing like sitting outside with a guitar, or at a grand piano somewhere and letting the chords and feel take you somewhere. But even then, I always find myself pulling out my phone to record the idea. But in the production and mixing of the tunes is where I’ve learned the most for sure. But the approach to the writing is definitely different in almost every tune. 

Lisa: I loved your song “Better When You’re High”. What’s the story behind it?

 

Matt:Thanks! That song was so much fun to arrange and record. Also one of those songs I wish I wrote! It was written by the rapper in the song, Wax, and features a good friend and amazing songwriter herself Krysta Youngs. My good friend Davy Nathan produced the original version of that song. So having all these amazing friends involved with the song was so much fun. Krysta hit me up one day and asked if I could do an a capella version of it. I jumped on it immediately. I’m not sure I ever heard that style of jazz, rnb, pop and hip hop in one song so it was super unique for me and I love the way it came out!

Lisa: What types of change do you feel your music can initiate?

 

Matt: I just hope I inspire some musicians to really be themselves. I spent a lot of my life chasing and being told I had to be the next whoever or sound more like this person. I let that get to me and it wasn’t healthy for me at all. To spend your entire life working on your craft and finding your own voice, only to be told you should sound more like someone else was super damaging to me. So now I just try to do me then best that I can. I’m always happy to write a song that’s inspired by someone else or another song, and I love co-writing and getting another brain and heart in the mix. But I try to stay as loose as I can. A well known songwriter in Nashville once told me that no one does what I do, so don’t leave that too far behind. At the time I was working on what I thought everyone wanted to hear. And I’m finding that was more work for me than musical fun. Now I just want to have fun, I want to challenge myself constantly, and just grow and grow as the artist I am and not the artist other people think I should be, and that’s what I hope I can inspire in other artists. I have a new song coming out soon called “First Me” that says “it’s hard to believe in yourself, when you’re told to be somebody else, why be the second or simply repeat, I’d rather just be the very first me”.

Beyond that I have put out and will be putting out some social justice inspired songs. It’s such a crazy time in this divided world and country, and anything I can do to help promote equality and inspire change for the better, I’m going to do it. 

Lisa: Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when composing a song?

 

Matt: Never. In the co-writing part of it, I always want to make the co-writer feel comfortable and inspire them as well. So I love to see others process in writing and flow with it. It’s been so helpful and eye opening to see how others do it. There have been times where I’ve been hired to write a certain tune, and I will usually start with the music or a track that fits the description, then start writing the lyrics around that. But most of the music I write comes from wherever that song might be born from, if that sentence even makes sense. Different things inspire the song for me, and different things make it grow and eventually finish it. I think I would get bored sticking to the same routine every time I sat down to write. 

Lisa: What non-musical entities and ideas have impacted your music?

 

Matt: Definitely my wife and brand new baby girl. I started coming up with all sorts of lyrics and different things when I met my wife and got to know her better and better. It’s been so fun and inspiring. Love with do that to ya. And since my daughter  was born, she’s 8 months now, I find myself coming up with a lot of lullaby ideas and even a couple children’s songs. 

Society and injustice has definitely inspired a whole lot of my more recent music. Different things hit me at different times. You never really know where it might come from. My last album was full of songs about addiction, some dark times. It’s not all down in the dumps but if anything has been a big part of my life, there eventually seems to have a song soon to follow.

Lisa: You are very busy, producing a theme song for NASA’s “LRO”, writing and producing the theme song for the latest documentary on Lady Diana entitled “Lady Di”, as well as plenty of new, original music for his own release. What was your favorite project so far?

 

 

Matt: Oh I don’t know that I’d ever be able to choose. Terrible answer but I don’t think I have a favorite. Each project has it’s own unique joys and challenges. The sense of pride I get when I finish any project, whether it’s my own or someone else’s is always similar. I could say “my favorite project is the one I’m working on right now”, but I’m literally working on about 25 projects right now, no exageration. 

Lisa: You’ve also filmed a PBS Special with Megan Hilty. Could you tell me more about that?

 

Matt: Megan has come to be such an amazing friend. I’ve always loved her and her voice and musicianship, but playing for her and singing with her has been such an honor and a joy. She’s taught me so much about performing and the business side of things. The PBS special was something we filmed right before Christmas a couple years ago, and it aired a few months after that. I see it on PBS every now and then and it’s always fun to relive it. We filmed it at Lincoln Center in the Appel Room which is easily one of the most stunning venues I’ve ever played in. The backdrop is New York City, a massive window overlooks Columbus Circle. Then add that we’re filming it for a PBS special, it was just a surreal gig to have, and to do it with Megan, her husband Brian Gallagher, and my friends Jack Deboe (drums), Dennis Keefe (bass) and singers Shoshana Bean and Eden Espinosa, it was a musical party of so many of my friends. Definitely one of my favorite gigs I’ve ever done so far.

Lisa: What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?

 

Matt: Well one thing, for sure, as I said in one of the previous questions, be yourself. It’s cliche, it’s corny, but when it comes to art, no one does it like you do. Art is unique to each individual person. There will be business decisions you’ll have to make along the way, but always be true to yourself. I always try to tell singers to learn an instrument, for musical knowledge, to help write songs, so you can gig on your own. Play everywhere! Whether it’s a dive bar, or Madison Square Garden. Network, working with everyone, you can always take something from each artist you work with. These days if you can learn how to record yourself, and afford to get some decent equipment, and learn to use it, the possibilities are endless. I get a lot of work playing, singing, arranging and producing other artists from all over the world. It’s pretty great to be able to just play and send it back. And with that, it’s so easy to work with people all over the world. Being as close as you can to doing as many things that start the process of writing and producing, to getting your song on every streaming or selling platform will only help your career move along better and quicker and at your pace instead of waiting around for companies or other people to dictate how your career should move. I know that was a massive pile of advice slop, but it’s all stuff that has helped me along the way.

Lisa: What is your view on technology in music?

 

Matt: I had a love/hate relationship with it at first. Royalties have gone way down with the streaming and anyone being able to just go to Youtube and listen to anything. And I really miss buying a CD with the jacket and reading all the credits. But with the advancements of the simple home studio, so many incredible musicians have the ability to get out there and put their music out. Musicians that otherwise we may not have heard of. So in that respect it’s pretty amazing. Everyone is getting a chance to release their music, and that’s so awesome. So while some people are spending thousands of dollars to create the song, then getting .001 cent back when someone listens, it’s pretty amazing that so many musicians are getting great music out there and being recognized. 

Lisa: What are your plans for the future?

 

Matt: Just to keep leveling up in my career and in my craft. Right now I’m working on a movie, producing music for a Vegas show, my 3rd album, and about 30 different collaborations with other artists. The Vegas show is new to me, I’ve been a part of big shows like that but never got the chance to produce the music and arrange the vocals. I’d love to work more in movies and television. I’ve had a decent year placing some music and doing some hired work for certain projects, I’d really love to do more of that. I want to continue collaborating with other artists, no matter what genre. And I really want to keep producing more and more, writing more and more, getting better at each thing. I’ve been learning about mixing a ton over the last couple years and I’d love to continue to grow in that field, then start to tackle mastering a song. Just growing, I know it’s a corny answer but I just want to keep going and keep leveling up. More unique projects, more touring, more of everything 🙂

Thank you!

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Written by Lisa

Lisa is an undergraduate at Universitá Degli Studi di Roma, she is currently studying course in modern pop culture. She loves to write about and live for the music.

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