One of my favorite parts of this blog has been that people send me music. Please feel free to send me music. Once in a while, this can be awkward. I like all kinds of music, but I also have very particular tastes. So if you send me something and I don’t review it on the blog, no offense, but chances are, I didn’t like it. I’d rather ignore it than post negative reviews, that’s just not part of what I’m interested in doing. But once in a while, I make a connection that results, not only in finding great new music, but also in keeping in touch with someone new, even over the years.
Matt Haeck first contacted me through a mutual friend several years ago and sent me his first CD. I didn’t review it. But then he also recently sent me his follow-up EP Western States. I did review that one. Whatever happened between that first and second release, Haeck has grown by leaps and bounds in finding his own voice as a songwriter. I recently spoke to Matt and asked him about this progression.
Were you raised in a musical home?
Yeah, I grew up with parents who sang all of the time. My Dad would play a lot of old gospel songs at home. My Mom would sing Alto in the church, and I remember, hearing her from my earliest days and not understanding what she was doing or why it sounded so good. I just knew that she was doing something different from everybody else. That was one of the first times I became intrigued with music. My Dad had an accordian he would bring out every now and then and play “Roll Out The Barrels.” I think it may have been the only song he knew, but yes, it was definitely a musical home. Neither of my parents were professional musicians or highly trained but they appreciated music and made me do it, made me join band in 5th grade. I played trombone for a few years and they made me join choir in 6th grade and I think I was pretty mad at them for that for a while but that became a good thing after a couple of years.
At what point did you start writing music?
I think the first time I ever wrote a song was in high school. I wrote a couple of typical youth group open E worship songs that were probably pretty bad. I didn’t really apply myself to it until my last year of college and then I didn’t really take it seriously until a couple of years after that, so it’s been pretty recent.
What drew you to songwriting?
That’s a good question. Songs impact me very deeply and I think that at some point I just realized that songs are a type of art that connect with me deeply and they connect with the majority of people. Visual art can sometimes go over people’s heads. A lot of people don’t see architecture as art, though I do. There’s dance and things like that, but songs relate to everybody. Once I started trying my hand at it, I realize that, it is difficult, but it’s not necessarily such an unattainable thing that a lot of people make it out to be so I just started applying myself to it.
Do you have a typical songwriting process?
No, not really. It’s pretty much different every time.
For those who may not be familiar with your work, how would you describe your music?
Dutch Pop? Krunk? I guess “Americana” is the easiest way to get to it; at least to what I’m doing now. I’ve had some ambitions lately to maybe branch out a little bit and start a side-project where I could do something different. But what I do now is definitely based in a very American folk tradition.
What direction would you like to see a side-project go?
Actually, I’d really love to do something electronic! I’ve been toying around with some beats and samples and stuff like that. That would have to be under a completely different name.
No offense to your previous release, but your new work has made tremendous progress, both in writing and direction. What happened?
It took a year to record that first album and honestly, by the time I finished, I’d written a lot of songs that I liked a lot better than the songs on the actual album. By the time I finished, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about that album. I only sold it for a couple of months and then I just stopped selling it completely because it just wasn’t what I was doing anymore.
I’m not sure how the change came about. In the writing of the first album, I was very much trying to see myself as some sort of Christian agitator. But I just didn’t feel right in that skin after a little while and I just realized that’s not what I’m called to do. At the same time, my thinking about music and art began to change quite a bit. I started to simplify. I think a lot of writers go through a phase where you want to write songs that express the deepest, ultimate reality about the world but very few people can actually write like that. I’ve come to find out that it’s better to write simpler songs about more common themes and that was kind of the change in my mind. I wanted to write about things that were a little more concrete, more about real life instead of lofty, heady stuff, which is what I was trying to do with the first album. I don’t think I succeeded, which is probably part of why I realized that wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. I was trying to write a lot headier on that album and it didn’t go so well. I started coming to value simpler music a lot more and I think that, as I’ve done that, my writing has gotten better.
As your writing has progressed, do you find yourself thinking more or less about incorporating your faith into your music?
Honestly, I’m not very conscious of it. I’m sure it happens, I’m sure my faith affects my music somehow but I’m not sure how that happens. I guess I’m still trying to figure out, or even if I see everyday occurrences differently than a non-Christian. Besides knowing that God is behind it all, sovereign over it all, it seems to be me that we experience life existentially. We still experience the consequences of our choices. The existential side of life is really what I want to look at when I write my songs, at least right now.
When I was out on tour with Joe Garner, at one point, we were singing to a bunch of people who were all Christians and there were a lot of soccer moms, it was that kind of crowd. I think we were maybe trying to defend what we do because I think we thought they were expecting “Christian” music, but Joe explained it to them as “human” music. That really helped me. I’ve never thought of it so simply. What I’m trying to do is just “human” music. I think that a lot of the songs that I write could have been written by a non-Christian and yet they weren’t so I don’t really know what to say.
Moving more towards the “Americana” genre seems to have also made some of your lyrics a bit grittier if not darker, have you received any pushback on that from your Christian audience?
Not too much, though I have some friends from my past ask me why I’m writing about these things lately. But for the most part, I haven’t had much backlash, no.
You spoke about the distinction between “human” music and “Christian” music. Why make that distinction, what is “Christian” music?
I don’t know what it is. I know what “Christian” people are but I don’t really understand the concept, why we even engage in this thing called “Christian music.” To me it’s just another way of protecting ourselves from a world we’re supposed to be out “in,” “among,” “engaging.” There’s a lot in human experience, Christian or otherwise that’s shared experience. The best music to me, usually, is music that hits on themes that are shared human themes. I think everyone who’s really honest about life and reality, sees themes of brokenness and redemption in life and that’s shared stuff.
As far as the Christian music industry, I grew up around that, but, I haven’t listened to that music in a long time, so I don’t really even know what’s going on. Maybe there’s some good stuff going on but I just don’t know. I know there are some people in that industry who’ve tried to shake it up a little and that’s great. I really love Rich Mullins and Keith Green. Mostly older stuff, but somebody like Sara Groves, I think she’s fantastic. Her writing is incredible.
While I typically want to say that trying to write songs in “explicit” Christian terms is probably not a good idea, but then I hear people like Sara Groves, someone who is really great at doing that without the cheesiness and they prove me wrong. But that seems to be the exception. Oh, and the Welcome Wagon! They’re probably the best thing out there doing “Christian” music.
I’m on tour with Joe Garner and Randolph Robinson. We’re sharing the bill but it’s not a band, it’s all three of us sharing the bill. We went out in August and November and we’re going out again in March. Joe and I had been talking before I moved out to Nashville. I’d like to begin another record soon and we’ll continue the mini tours every three months or so. I’m looking for a manager right now, I’m at that point where I can’t get to that next step by myself. I’m still learning a lot.
Why the move to Nashville?
I’d been going to seminary in San Diego and I did a year-and-a-half, and in the middle of that I realized that I wasn’t called to be a pastor. Instead, I was being called to do music, so I did music out there for a couple of years. Both of our families live in the MidWest so we wanted to be closer to them and there just wasn’t a whole lot going in musically in San Diego. Nashville is a great hub to tour from and there’s obviously a lot of industry stuff here. Nashville really feels like a community, which I’ve not experienced before.
Here is Matt performing his track “Drug Like The Ocean:”
- Get Western States for yourself