A lot can be said for something as simple as a singer and his guitar. Up on stage nothing other than his instrument of choice separates the musician from the rest of the world. His words are not masked with sound effects, backing musicians or gimmicks. They leave the singer’s mouth and come directly to you, floating on strummed chords. This is the power the singer/songwriter wields. He or she offers a mainline to their heart and soul. It’s a glimpse into good times and bad times, hopes, longings, desires, a therapy session, spiritual healing and gallery showing all rolled together with a stool and a mic thrown in.
Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Nick Drake, purveyors of the coffeehouse open mic, helped romanticize the notion of the acoustic troubadour. They made it cool to be open about your feelings. But they didn’t just break down and cry on stage. They gave us their honest emotions through play-on-words, poetry and the love of language.
Fort Wayne native and singer/songwriter Mathis Grey can be added to the list of singer/songwriters helping to keep the coffeehouse tradition alive. He writes introspective, acoustic folk-pop that connects on several levels with listeners. He’s what you’d call “the real deal”
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Grey started out by playing in the school band in 6th grade. Like building blocks, he began that climb to introspective songwriter through the trial-by-fire known as school band. Eventually band would lead to finding a songwriter’s voice, even at a young age.
“I started writing music in the 7th grade,” he says. “It started with poems, then small songs. Then I started to write songs that took time, and I put a lot of thought into them.” What started as strumming some chords and writing simple poetry turned into a lifelong love of music. In the years leading up to and including his current release, Mathis has released five albums. Leaking, Deeper Now, Before the Door Opens, Simple Favorites and his newest, Two Steps from the Road, are a testament to Grey’s need to share his art through melody and word.
Talking about current artists who have helped shape his sound, Grey says, “I really like Grant Lee Phillips, Howlin’ Wolf, The Killers and David Gray. I pretty much listen to everything. Music is a big part of my day, whether I’m listening to it or playing it myself.”
On his Reverbnation page, he also touts Amos Lee and John Mayer as musicians he sounds like. I can hear the Mayer similarity on a song like “Midnight Angel” off of Two Steps From The Road. It’s a mix of folk and blues rock that would definitely make any Mayer fan happy. With Grey’s soulful rasp he could give Mayer a run for his money.
Soulful. That’s the word that comes to mind (my mind, anyway) when you hear Grey sing. He takes a bit of everything and puts all the right amount of ingredients to make his very unique brand of acoustic folk rock. But let’s hear what Mathis has to say about his sound.
“My music is folk rock with a sprinkle of soul in it. I think I have a song for every emotion. I try and just let all my emotions out in my music so people can really feel it when they listen,” he says.
Feel it they do. Mathis recorded his latest album at T. Bush Recording in Syracuse, and you can tell in the tight mixes and tasty guitar licks throughout. It sounds like Grey and Tim Bushong are a good match; Bushong helps bring Mathis’ voice and poetry-to-music from the coffeehouse to the arena.
I wondered how a guy like Grey writes. Does he write five songs in an evening? Or is it a slower, more painstaking process? Class Clown Spots a UFO or Chinese Democracy? Does he always record in the lush cornfields of northern Indiana with Mr. T. Bush, or does he ever go DIY at his home and set up a mic in the bathroom?
“I write some songs fast, and then sometimes a song can take me months to get out. It just depends on how I’m feeling at the time. I have recorded at home, but all my latest works have been done in local studios.” Lush studios and home recording. He serves the song, not the songwriter.
If you follow Grey on any of the social networks, you’ll know the man is busy. He’s not at home waiting for something to happen. He’s out hitting pavement. From Milwaukee to New York City, Grey is spreading the word. He’s not content to just play locally. He knows that the success he seeks is far beyond the Allen County line. It lies in the urban cityscapes of Chicago, the dilapidated coffeehouses of the East Village and the sunburnt stages of Austin. With guitar case in his hand and a map (or GPS) on his dashboard, Mathis is making tracks all over the country.
“I am headed all over the U.S. soon to play shows in New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and many more places. I will be opening up for American Idol vocalist Brooke White at the Starry Skies & S’more Fundraiser [near Syracuse] on October 13.”
So what’s up next for Mathis Grey, travelling acoustic troubadour?
“I have a new album coming out later this year called Handsome Mysteries, and it’s gonna be pretty good,” he said. Touring, writing, recording and Handsome Mysteries – Mathis Grey isn’t waiting for success to find him. He’s got the van loaded and the songs ready to go. Success, Mathis Grey is coming for you.
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