Matt Hughes interview
Written by Kevin Tanza on May 8, 2023
Matt Hughes is a talented Canadian Hard Rock artist that has a enjoyed a moderate amount of success as an indie artist in recent years. He has been able to create a solo career while recording every instrument and vocals all by himself while applying that classic 80s feel that made Hard Rock so charming during those years.
I had the opportunity to do an interview with Matt where we talked about a wide variety of topics, including his recent single, Rock Me Gently.
First and foremost, Matt, thank you for the opportunity of doing this interview. Welcome to MusikHolics!
Thank you, it’s great to be here and a pleasure to do this interview!
Congratulations for the release of your recent single, Rock Me Gently. I have to say that I liked that one quite a lot.
Thanks so much, I’m glad you enjoy the song! It’s one of my favorites as well.
For people that perhaps are not familiar with your work, what can you tell them about yourself?
I am a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumental musician from Ontario Canada and have been a professional performing musician for the past 30 years playing in various bands across Canada and the U.S. In 2020 I began working on my new album called Revolution and I am now releasing singles from it with Rock Me Gently being the most recent one.
I always like to start from the beginning with these interviews. How did you get into music? What drove you to become a musician?
I grew up in a musical family with my Dad being a guitar player and musician who was always playing in bands, so I was always around music and watching him play. Music was always on in our house either on the radio, on records or with my Dad playing so it was almost impossible for me to avoid!
From a very young age I was fascinated by the drums which is my first instrument, so when I finally got a real Rogers drum set at age 11 that’s when I started to take drums lessons, and at age 12 I was already in my first band with some other students performing live around my area at various parks and schools and we became pretty popular.
At around age 15-16 I got into my first professional working band on drums and began playing the heavy metal club circuit in Ontario with some older professional musicians, and that is where I really began to develop my chops performing in front of large audiences with big sound and light production, and lots more pressure all while growing up way too fast! It was then that I also started playing guitar, and have since played in many bands on drums and guitar over the years in countless venues.
One of the things that stood out to me when listening to your work is how professional everything sounds. Can you walk us through your experience and growth in the studio?
I have been in recording studios many times over the years, so I have lots of experience in them with different projects. My first EP called Discovery, which I recorded a while back, sounds pretty good, but not as good as my new songs do, mainly because I’ve really tried to step up my game and ‘go big or go home’ and not cut any corners. Back in 2019 I started scouting recording studios and I contacted Revolution Recording in Toronto, ON which is a beautiful state of the art studio, so I decided to try it out.
I went in late 2019 and cut a track and it went great, so when Covid hit in 2020 I just went all in and ended up recording 10 songs all through 2020 and 2021, all of which I am slowly releasing right now a single at a time. Working in Revolution Recording was one reason my songs sound so professional, and the other is my engineer L. Stuart Young, who has been with me the whole time and has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, and he is responsible for the great mixes and production. It is also in the mastering by Harry Hess (Harem Scarem/First Single) at his studio HBomb Mastering. He makes the songs sound huge, and brings out all the finer details of the mixes.
You have done session work as well. I’m curious to know how that helped you to develop as a musician.
It helped me learn how to approach playing different styles of music for people’s songs and also helped give me experience working in different recording studios.
The biggest factor which helped me develop as a musician has always been the many years of playing live on stage with many different musicians over the years. I’ve played everything from country to blues, rockabilly, 50s, 60s, 70s, jazz, rock, metal, and even some classical music with orchestras.
Going back to the single, what was the writing process for Rock Me Gently?
Well, with a lot of my songs I can’t remember exactly how I wrote them, but I do know I had the title ‘Rock Me Gently’ for a while and a basic riff that I recorded and I think I just built on the main riff and tweaked it here and there and the rest of the song just kind of came together over time.
The lyrics just kind of came out as they did which is about the long and often lonely road of being a musician and songwriter, since it can be quite tough out there. As for the guitar parts, I usually try and write solid, catchy and memorable guitar riffs.
As for the solos I try to write solos that serve the song, have lots of feeling, some technical playing here and there but are mainly memorable and that will also sound good live. Same with the drums, I try and write parts that serve the song, are solid and have memorable parts and fills. For vocals I try and have a good melody and style that suits the song. As for the bass guitar I try and lock in with the drums and keep it tight.
I noticed a strong Dokken influence in this song. Would that be a correct assessment?
Well, first that is a great compliment, and second, I grew up in the 80s and with 80s Heavy Metal so those influences just come out of me naturally whether I like it or not, so it’s no surprise that you are hearing a Dokken influence.
However people tell me they hear different things such as a bit of Tommy Shaw, Tesla or Def Leppard, so everyone hears things their own way. I think Rock Me Gently is probably the most 80s sounding song I’ve written so far.
How is the process of recording everything yourself? How does that impact your writing methodology?
I think because I have a lot of experience playing different instruments, I just instinctively know what each instrument should be playing and I work it all out on home demo recordings until I am ready to go into the studio and record all the parts. Usually I record the drums first, then add the bass guitar, then all the guitars, then I do all the vocals and maybe add some keyboards later on too.
There’s a very clear 80s Hard Rock approach to the music you make. I’m curious to know if you are going to stay in this lane or are you interesting in exploring other styles.
I definitely like to explore other styles, for example on my Discovery EP I have a song called In The End, which is a techno-meets-rock type of song with a dance/techno sound to it with lots of keyboards. I also have a Christmas song called The Christmas Blues, which is a slow 12 bar blues song in which my Dad also plays guitar on it with me, and a few other guest musicians on bass and keyboards. I also have a slow ballad/love song which I will be releasing this year that is quite different from anything I’ve ever written before so look for that one when it comes out.
Being in charge of everything regarding your music career, what are some of the challenges you have faced so far?
One of the biggest challenges is managing and doing everything myself with all the songwriting, recording all the instruments, marketing, financing and promotion and daily social media engagement. We now live in a DIY music world where people don’t need a record company to market themselves or even become successful, and artists now have full creative control which is great, but the flip side is if you are like me, you don’t have anyone helping really, so you are on your own, so that can be challenging but everything is working out quite well because I am constantly trying to learn and get better at it all.
On the other hand, what are some of the moments in your career where you’ve gone “This is amazing!”?
Hearing all these new songs come together has been really great. I’ve never had this good of production before and the whole process has been so different from any other recordings that I have ever done. Also having people reach out to me and wanting to interview me or wanting to feature my music on their radio shows and then hearing my music on the radio is awesome.
I also recently released a cover of the Sammy Hagar classic track Heavy Metal, which I features Sean McNabb on bass guitar and vocals, Matt Starr on drums and Toshi Yanagi on lead guitar and that was a great experience to have them record their parts and then put it together in the studio. I love working with musicians like that who are in the bigger leagues and are top notch. That gets me fired up because that is what I want to be doing full time.
What ambitions do you have for the foreseeable future?
Right now I am focusing on releasing all of these new songs I have one at a time and then putting them out on CD and vinyl later on and trying to create a buzz with it all. I also want to keep recording and releasing music on a regular basis, and also work with top notch musicians and work with different people both live and in the studio.
Thank you so much for this opportunity, Matt. It’s been great! Any last words for our readers? Where can we follow you on social media?
Thank you for inviting me to do this interview, it has been great! Thank you for all of your support out there, I really appreciate it all! Visit my website at www.matthughesonline.com for more information, and if you also search ‘Matt Hughes Music’ on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok you will find me, as I am on all the social media platforms.