7 Questions with Matt Cusson
In 2009, Yoko Ono sat in a red leather booth next to Matt Cusson to talk about his winning the John Lennon Songwriting Contest’s Song of the Year award for “One of Those Nights,” a track off his self-titled debut album released the previous year. In the eight years since, Cusson has added more honors by performing and collaborating with Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Brian McKnight, and Megan Hilty. The Massachusetts-based singer/songwriter, arranger, and producer is now exploring his life and expanded musical range in a new 14-track, “genre-less” album, Only Human.
Leading up to its release on May 5th, Cusson took time to tell Rawckus about the album, writing songs, getting kicked out of a New Kids on the Block concert, and seeing a fellow performer poop onstage.
Rawckus: So tell us about your new album coming out, Only Human.
Matt Cusson: To be honest, it's a marketing team’s nightmare. It has everything from R&B to classical, to jazz, to bluegrass, and a lot of singer/songwriter-type stuff. It has an old-school sound, a brand new sound, some orchestral stuff, a lot of horn sections, some synths, and some completely stripped-down solo stuff. That's one reason I call the album Only Human. Another is a lot of people thought I was crazy releasing a 14-song album in an indie world that is mainly releasing EPs and singles these days. Most of all, it's called Only Human because it's the most honest music I've ever written and produced. The songs talk about everything from how awkward life is, to how hilarious relationships can be, to alcoholism, and I even brush upon some time I spent in a mental institution. It's fun!
What is it like making an album essentially on your own from start to finish?
MC: Expensive! [laughs] It's beyond rewarding to have the early idea for the first song, create each tune with some of my favorite musicians and friends, learn and fix things along the way, and then see the final product being listened to by a fresh pair of ears. This one took a lot out of me – some of it was in my back pocket, some of it was painfully ripped from my guts. I had a ball making it, but now I can enjoy just playing the songs live and sharing it with people instead of stressing over the snare sound at 4 am for hours.
What would you say is one of the most “human” things that has ever happened to you?
MC: Every part of me wants to tell you something embarrassing, like the time I got kicked out of Madison Square Garden during a New Kids on the Block concert. But I'm going for the super-duper corn here and say when I got married. In my 20s I was all over the place, much like the new album. I went from winning songwriting awards to spending time in a mental home. But my wife helped me make total sense of everything. She showed me what life is all about. She made me human. I’m hoping for some bonus points with this answer.
You’ve won awards for your songwriting. How do you go about writing a song?
MC: I've always believed inspiration starts the song, and hard work finishes it. For me, every song starts and ends differently. I wrote the guitar lick to "So Long So Soon" probably 15 years ago, and just never created the song until I saw my wife say goodbye to her family to move to NY from LA. I wrote the piano lick to "Leaving L.A." during a soundcheck of a Brian McKnight show in Tampa, FL, then finished it a few days later in about an hour. My brain tends to be too ADD to stick with one song for long, so it can be challenging. I'm much better when I have a real life experience to write from, whether it's mine or someone else's. And who knows? Sometimes it starts with a chord progression, sometimes with a groove, sometimes with a lyric. It's different every time.
What can we look forward to after this album release?
MC: I'm going to do a ton of performing to promote the album. I've been producing and co-writing for other artists, and I hope to do much more of that. I'm actually already working on my next project as well and have a few new songs recorded already, so maybe an EP after this album dies down a bit. I'd also love to put out a piano/vocal album at some point so I've started daydreaming about that as well. I just want to keep it all going and do everything.
Tell us the craziest musical experience you’ve had – on tour, in the studio, anything.
MC: During a show, an artist from one of the other acts who must have been on one of those crazy cleanses or something, while on stage, again, I reiterate, during the show, took a poop that left a trail while running off in a complete panic. 'Nuff said.
Is there a question you wish you were asked more as a musician? If so, what is it and how would you answer it?
MC: Can I give you some money? My answer: yes.