As I type this, there’s a lot of heartache, struggle, and trauma going on all around us in various forms. It’s an immensely challenging time to be alive and figuring out how to navigate this ever-disheartening societal and cultural storm.
But one person who is no stranger to trauma, who I would wager is damn glad to be alive during these times, is Nashville singer-songwriter and folk-soul artist Matt Lovell.
And if that name sounds a little extra familiar, that’s because on January 20th, 2017, Lovell was the victim of an attempted carjacking by a 16-year-old that shot him in the chest and left him for dead. Miraculously, Lovell was able to make it over to Red Door Saloon in the Five Points neighborhood of East Nashville, where he was promptly sent off to Vanderbilt Hospital.
Lovell survived this horrific attack, and has come a long way battling the ups and downs of his recovery process. Prior to the attack, Lovell had all but finished an LP, which he was excited to put out into the world as any artist would be. The vicious shooting incident derailed any and all plans, but over three years later, Lovell’s long-awaited LP Nobody Cries Today, will be released June 19th.
And as a gay man, what better time to release a heartfelt album that almost never saw the light of day than the beginning of Pride Month.
We had the chance to talk to Lovell about that traumatic night in East Nashville, his recovery process, his new album, and much more.
So can you talk about who or what got you into writing and playing music?
I grew up living in between Nashville and Pennsylvania. My parents met in Nashville in the 1980s, and we moved to Pennsylvania when I was 4, and I spent my childhood in a rural area. My parents are both classically trained musicians. So I grew up hearing them playing their instruments- guitar, piano, doing three part harmony, and that was part of our nightly routine before bed. I was just kind of immersed into music at an early age. At age 11 I picked up my dad’s guitar while he was at work, and kind of plucked around until I found chords (laughs) and it just kind of started organically that way.
Do you remember the first show that you played here, and what was that like for you?
I can not even remember what my first show was, it was so long ago. I was actually really shy when I first started playing out. It took me a long time to break the ice and get comfortable with interacting with the audience. And then I ended up loving it. It’s one thing to find your voice as a writer or player or singer, but also finding that live connection with the people, which is probably one of my favorite parts of the process, and I miss it. I can’t wait for the return of it, but of course I don’t know when that’ll be.
What are some of your favorite venues to play in town?
I love The 5 Spot on the East Side. The Basement on 8th. I love The Basement East as well, but of course it’s currently being rebuilt…
So if you’re comfortable with it, I was hoping you could talk about what transpired the night of January 20th, 2017, when you were shot in the chest in an attempted carjacking.
Absolutely. I was with my friend Lee, and we had a writing appointment that morning. It was Inauguration Day, so there was a lot of tension in the air, and we didn’t finish the song, but we just ended up having one those days where you just kind of meander around town and have a little fun. So we went to lunch, did some thrift shopping, and ended our day at 7 PM at Red Door Saloon in Five Points. And I had just left Red Door, and someone attempted to carjack me. It was a 16-year-old kid, and basically when I got in my car he shot me in the chest. I ran back to Red Door to get help, and thankfully was transported to Vanderbilt and was operated on for 7 hours, but I made it. It was a series of miracles.
What were the days, weeks, and months like following your recovery?
My physical recovery was about 6-8 weeks, but my mental and emotional recovery was very drawn out. It took me the better part of two years to really feel like I was in the rhythm of life again. Trauma can be quite a bear to deal with. It was very daunting, and a burden for quite a long time. When I started to turn the corner with that, I returned to working on getting this record out. I actually finished the record just before I got shot. This release has been a long time coming, and I’m just so thankful. I always called it my “long nighttime”. There were just a lot of days that were just grueling. To be on the other side of that with this project is just another vehicle of survival for me. Just very thankful.
So were you hesitant in going back out again both in just enjoying yourself and playing music? Did you find yourself always looking over your shoulder?
Trauma is weird. I always say it doesn’t come with a name tag. It never was really about the shooting. I had very few moments where I had acute moments of fear or triggers related to personal safety or getting shot. But they call trauma a chameleon in the therapy world because it kind of takes on the shape and feel of things and attaches to whatever other kind of stuff you might have going on. For me, I never really feared personal safety. I continued to play out for awhile. I did take kind of a break during what I call my “trauma storm”. Thankfully I was able to get through that.
Well I appreciate you sharing that. So switching gears here, let’s talk about your LP Nobody Cries Today, which is dropping June 5th. Where did you record it, and who was involved in the production?
My record was produced by Matt Odmark. He’s been producing for several years. He’s got a place called Gray Matter. We actually did most of the tracking at a studio called Sputnik Sound. But we did all the overdubbing at Matt’s studio at Gray Matter. And Matt’s been producing a lot of artists that I really love. It’s nice to find a group of people that are really supportive and collaborative, and we have a lot of fun together. I would say that’s like my artistic homeroom. (laughs)
While it may be like picking a favorite child, which song or couple songs on the LP are you most proud of, or most excited for the public to hear?
If I had to choose one, it would probably be “Trouble”. That’s been kind of my anthem for a few years. It’s also a song that people have a lot of fun to when I play it out, and I enjoy that. A lot of my songs are more on the serious side, you know- here’s my story, here’s my sadness, so it’s fun to help people have fun. (laughs)
What are the primary messages and feelings you hope to convey both on this LP and your music as a whole to your audience?
I think one of the overarching themes of the album is self-acceptance and vulnerability. Kind of inviting someone else into your own humanity. To kind of discover that we’re all pretty nuanced and we’re all pretty different, but we’re all trying to come out to one another as human beings. That common thread we have.
What’s your songwriting process like? Is it more structured and regimented or a little more loose and sporadic?
It varies. I’m constantly writing, almost every day. Sometimes I’ll finish a song in one sitting, sometimes I’ll work on a song for months or even years. I think I had the chorus for “Trouble” for about three years before I actually was able to figure out what I wanted to do with the verses. I feel like I’m constantly in the sandbox, and I never do the process the same way every time.
Who would you say are some of your influential heroes that motivate you, whether it be musically or otherwise?
Coming out, my biggest musical hero was Bonnie Raitt. She has that gritty, gravelly sound but but with those soaring vocals. She sings with a lot of heart, and sometimes she’s a little sassy, which I love. And in high school when Norah Jones put out her debut album, I latched on to that and fell in love with that. I also love Father John Misty so much. I love his wildness, and his songs are very bright and lighthearted but can also be dark, and he just kind of explores the edges of whatever he’s doing. I was and still am a big Fleet Foxes fan, too.
Do you feel the pandemic has helped or hurt your creative process?
That’s a good question… I guess… Well I think some of the alone time has helped me get a little more focused. But I wouldn’t say my creativity has really been changed by it, which I’m thankful for. I definitely have had plenty of times where my faucet of creativity goes dry, so I’m thankful that’s not happening.
How do you define success as a musician, and what’s your ultimate yet attainable goal?
I think success is an admission that you’re able to keep going. Obviously there’s all kinds of different metrics or trophies or things that we can judge success by. And I definitely have some things in mind- like I’d love to play The Ryman, or it’d be super fun to play SNL. (laughs) I definitely have a short list of artists I’d love to open for or collaborate with. But for me, in my life, the artists who are the most interesting to me, are the ones who just keep going, and bring you along on their journey. I forget who said this, but it was an interview with some artist my brother had told me about, but the interviewer had asked, “Well what would you be if you weren’t a successful artist?” and they answered,” Well I’d be an unsuccessful artist.” I’ll have to email you and you can quote them. (laughs) But I love that sentiment. It’s just something I want to do that much.