Meet the Artist: Matt Simpson

Name: Matt Simpson

City: Toronto

Genre: Rock / classic rock / indie rock

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A bit about myself:

I grew up in Alderville, Ontario, a reserve located a few hours northeast of Toronto. I think my reserve experience was atypical. Our land is divided down the middle by a highway and is closely surrounded by non-indigenous communities. It is not nearly as isolated as many others in our country. I think because of that, we experienced a greater loss of our traditional culture in the 20th century than if we had been located more remotely. To this day, only one person that I know of on our reserve can speak our language fluently.

It was a bit confusing growing up there as a kid. I remember someone asking me about my culture and my response was, “… the only culture I know is pop culture.” I had a certain rebellion towards it because it felt like so much of what made us who we are was lost forever.

Years ago, when people in our community started expressing their heritage again it felt clumsy and manufactured to me. Like we were a people with amnesia trying to remember who we were. Thankfully, a lot of that has changed for the better over the years. We started having pow wows, and there has been a resurgence of interest in our history, language and traditions. It feels positive.

I think that those themes come through on my album The End. Many of the songs are about how people deal with change and loss on both a personal level and as part of a greater collective. One of the lines on the album is “is it the end? or does it really set you free?” It is about the decisions that you make when your whole world collapses. Deciding what to salvage, and what to leave behind. I think that First Nations people are in a unique time in history. They have experienced a traumatic ending to their entire way of life in a very short amount of time, and it has been devastating. Now they are deciding where to go from here.

Album artwork is done. This thing is just a few weeks away from drop! #theend

A post shared by Matt Simpson (@mattsimpsonmusic) on

Musical influences:

Too many to count, but here are a few: Ryan Adams, U2, Tom Petty, The Cure, The War on Drugs, The Beatles, Oasis, The Smashing Pumpkins.

The first album I bought:

I don’t remember, but I’m sure that it was something decidedly uncool. Although I had an older brother and sister who were exposing me to the major players of rock and pop music on the sly, I was raised in a Christian home in a time when rock music was thought to be a bad and worldly influence. So when I came of age to actually buy an album, I remember perusing the Christian Book Store of all places and buying something based off the album cover.

The first concert I went to:

The first real concert that I remember buying tickets to was The Barenaked Ladies at Massey Hall in Toronto. When their album Gordon came out, I loved it. I wasn’t big on their campy songs like If I had a $1,000,000, but something about their melodies had me hooked. I’m a sucker for a good melody.

The last concert I went to:

The Great Lakes Swimmers. I didn’t even know their music before I went. My girlfriend and I use Jukely, a concert subscription service. It gives us an opportunity to get out to see a lot of shows of artists that we might not otherwise get to know.

The last song I listened to:

Kurt Vile – Loading Zones.

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My favourite song of all time:

How do you pick just one? I remember having this conversation with my brother, who is a phenomenal drummer and musician in his own right, awhile back. He suggested Aerosmith – Dream On. At the time, I couldn’t really argue with his logic, so I’m gonna steal his answer. I love songs that seem timeless and hard to categorize. Steven Tyler’s vocals are transcendent in that song. He creates a timbre that you don’t hear a lot of in the rest of his music. It has such a cool guitar riff and instrumentation. If you listen closely to the end of the song Tom Hamilton is doing chords on the bass but it doesn’t draw attention or sound out of place. It is just a masterpiece.

The one song I wish I’d written:

Radiohead – Paranoid Android. That song is amazing to me. I can’t think of a more out-of-the-box, original song, that was actually a bestselling single. It occupies a very rare space of high concept art with mass appeal. Thom Yorke is an alien.

My dream gig:

Maybe it’s the early influence of my Barenaked Ladies concert, but my dream venue would be to play Massey Hall. I think it also comes from my deep love of Toronto. That venue is such an iconic piece of musical history in that city, and the whole country for that matter. Both Bob Dylan and Bob Marley played there. Enough said.

Myself in three words: 

Forgetful, forgiving, and … oh yeah, forgetful.

Best piece of advice I’ve ever received:

The serenity prayer may not be categorized as advice, but one can take it as such. As advice, it would sound more like:

Accept the things you cannot change,
have courage to change the things you can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

I have never attended AA, and I am not a religious person, but this to me is such a potent and profound piece of wisdom distilled into a few easy-to-remember sentences. Within it are the keys to being a happy and healthy human being. I do my best to live out the essence of it everyday.

Beatles or Rolling Stones:

This is such a great question because you can analyze these two groups by so many different dimensions. The Stones get major points because I greatly respect not just their songs and contribution to modern music, but their longevity as artists. If you read about Mick Jagger’s daily workout routine at his age, it’s amazing to see how much work he puts in in order to be able to keep making music. I think our society has some weird ideas about artists. We are like vampires that only feed on young blood. If you are old, we don’t want to hear from you! People treat you like a joke if you don’t burn out and die young. I love to see people fly in the face of societies’ conventions. “I can’t be a rock star at 76? Watch me!” It is truly inspiring.

Ultimately though, I would have to choose the Beatles. They understood the craft of songwriting like few other popular musicians of the century in my humble opinion.

What I do to pay the bills:

At the moment I do IT. I like computers a lot.

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When I’m not making music, I’m …

Petting my dogs, playing squash, learning Spanish, being unproductive.

Something people would be surprised to learn about you:

I’m not sure. Most of the time I don’t know how I’m truly perceived by anyone. It’s a boring answer I know, but I try my best not to think much about what other people think of me, so I don’t know what would surprise them.

What I’m currently working on:

Writing songs for my next album. Writing and producing The End was a long process for me and it took all of my creative energies for months. When I was getting close to finishing it I realized that I was starting to get a little anxious because I didn’t have a project to be working on. I knew that making art is a bit like launching a space shuttle: it’s easier to stay in orbit than it is to land and relaunch. So I started writing songs for the next album before this one was finished.

If my life were a song, the title would be …

Live and Let Die. To my understanding, the essence of life is change, growth, and evolution. Everything from microbes, to plants, to humans, require the death of something else for their vitality and growth. On a personal level, it is about choosing the things to let perish in order to make room for new life.

For more on Matt Simpson, check out his website and follow him on Instagram. You can get his music on Spotify, iTunes and Soundcloud.

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