Photo by Rob Davidson
As Matt prepared in Seattle for his first weekend in Provincetown, GT-NYC's Greg Waagner called from the Cape to catch up with the singer about music and life and the upcoming release of Matt’s as-of-yet untitled second album.
Greg Waagner: I won’t be coy, Matt. I think "Hide Nothing" is a beautiful collection of music, and I have no sense that I’m alone in this estimation.
Matt Alber: Aww, thanks Greg.
GW: Have you been surprised by responses to your album?
MA: Yes, all the time.
GW: How so?
MA: I’m surprised every time people show up for the concert, even after three years. I keep thinking this time it’ll be all over and no one will be there. But they do. They keep showing up…and it’s great, and you all really seem to like what I’m doing.
GW: Matt, thank you. I heard “End of the World” for the first time at exactly the ideal moment for me to do so. I already had the breaking heart, but your song - and delightful video - made it okay to feel all the pain and complicated emotions while still shining that ray of sunlight on the hope for what would come after. The power of the song is that it comes from your own real experience. What’s it been like sharing something so personal?
MA: I wrote that on a bus in San Francisco, remember scribbling on a bank statement as it all came to me, notes, chords… and started to feel like it wanted to be a song. Maybe a good one. It’s been cool how this one song has introduced me to so many people.
GW: Did singing him the song get your guy back up in that giant balloon?
MA: What? Oh, it did not. It didn’t work very well in that regard.
GW: But what a song. Your music resonates with honesty and hope and seems to go hand-in-hand with so many great things we’ve seen recently: advances in marriage equality, the It Gets Better campaign, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. How does it feel to be some part of that, to be making the sort of music that you must have longed to hear as a gay kid growing up in Missouri?
MA: I’m grateful to have survived life as gay kid, to have grown up to be where we are now. I remember, as a little kid, watching a Superman movie and imagining what it would be like to be Lois, to be there in the Fortress and lay my head on a strong man’s chest, to fly with him. You’re right, there is this wave of momentum and it does feel good to be some part of it. It’s good to let young people know that they’re okay, that they have every right love someone, to hold hands. But it’s a little bittersweet, too. It’s exciting to be in the cities of change – New York, San Francisco, Seattle and so on – but in places not at all far away from those cities are other places where there’s nothing for the same kids, except maybe the Internet, with no protections or safety.
There’s a church not far from here that has a program called The Tower of Light, which is essentially teaching young homosexuals that they should “find their holiness” by rejecting what they feel, who they are. It’s outrageous. And I try to figure out why it works and I see how they can suck these kids in and prey on their fears and shame and such that comes of the dark places a young queer kid is still forced to go to find answers, which is usually some cruising spot or Internet sex hook-up website. And all the while they have to sneak around, because ‘it’s wrong.’ They’re told it’s wrong and shameful. And I’m not saying get rid of Manhunt or Craigslist or whatever, those things are fine for adults, but its too easy to click a button and say ‘sure, I’m eighteen’ and find yourself into something more than you were ready for.
GW: I seem to recall at a younger age I really just wanted to talk to someone who felt the same way about things as I did, somebody I could ask all kinds of questions of. Perhaps that’s one of the coolest things about “It Gets Better”, that it is – I hope – something that queer kids can easily find on the Internet that gives them some reason to believe.
MA: Yes, exactly. Dan and Terry hit the nail on the head with this. It Gets Better is so amazing, so positive. We need to keep creating more positive and visible, accessible safe places for young gay kids. We need to keep asking the question, how to make it better. Answering those questions and being part of the change, that makes better futures.
I guess we should be talking about the music more.
[It’s at this point the interviewer wishes he’d had the presence of mind to point out that we were, still, talking about Matt’s music, that he is already creating safe friendly spaces for queers young and old, with his songs about romance and love and heartache and holding hands, songs in which pronouns don’t need to be changed. Songs about self-discovery, like "Monarch," or gay history like "Beotia," in which he pays tribute to the Sacred Band of Thebes and in so doing reminds us there was once a strong and brave army of male lovers who can’t be erased from history.]
GW: Matt, I think we’re all lucky you’ve decided to explore a solo career, but you’ve spent so much of your life involved with chorale groups one way or another. Chorale singing is the sort of powerful experience that sticks with a person. Do you miss it? Are you singing with a chorus these days?
MA: Yes. Yes! I’m blessed to be able to sing with the chorale ensemble Conspirare - which means “to breath together” in Latin - in Austin, Texas. The group was started by Craig Hella Johnson, who brought me into Chanticleer back in San Francisco. In early December there’s a sort of non-Christmas Christmas concert: there’s so very much to celebrate in the season beyond Christ and we have a great time.
GW: Your show at the Crown and Anchor this Saturday is, I believe, your singing debut in Provincetown, but is this also your first trip to the Cape of Cods?
MA: Yes, finally! Ever since I saw the movie “Splash” I’ve wanted to visit the Cape. It’s where he meets Daryl Hannah. So often I’ve wanted to dive into the sea and the arms of a beautiful mer-man.
GW: So Matt, are you traveling with a Field Trip Buddy to Provincetown this weekend?
MA: Yes, my boyfriend’s coming along on the trip and we’re looking forward to it.
GW: What’s on your Must See/Must Do list for the weekend?
MA: We don’t really have a list. We’ll be on the red-eye Wednesday, so at first just a lot of recovery from that, but we’re looking forward to walking around and taking it all in, exploring the town. Saturday is the concert, so most of that day I’ll be rehearsing, getting ready for that. You might find us out dancing at some point.
What about you, Greg? Are you bringing a Field Trip buddy to the show?
GW: Oh, no. Not really. I guess I’m sort of comfortably single these days. But it has been about three years now since the End of the World, so I keep an open mind. For now I’m content to be in love with our whole tribe.
MA: Three’s a magic number, you know. Better bring that open mind on Saturday. Sometimes things happen at my shows, between the people who show up. I’m just saying.
GW: And are there still Field Trip Buddy t-shirts available through your marketing people (or suitcase)?
MA: There are only about ten left, sadly all Mediums. I promise we’ll do another run once we get the new album out.
GW: "Hide Nothing" holds such delightful diversity. What can we expect from the new album in November? Is there a working title?
MA: I have a couple ideas I’m considering. Maybe “These Tall Tales”…o r “Taller Tales.”
MA: Ha, yes. Or maybe “Atoms”.
GW: Like molecules? That’s kinda catchy… and there’s the whole homophone thing. Adams.
MA: …like Atom and Steve…
GW: Yah, like that. Can you tell us about some of the new tunes you’re most excited about, or are you all about building suspense for the show on Saturday?
MA: I do wanna try out some new stuff. I haven’t decided yet. If I’m feeling really brave, you might hear “Old Ghosts”. You may hear “Wallingford.” It’s a neighborhood in Seattle, where Dave Matthews is from. But it’s not about that, but an incredible date I went on there once…
GW: I can’t wait for the concert. What else would you like us to know, Matt?
MA: Whatever I call the new album, I’ll be releasing it on November 15th. Watch my website at http://www.mattalber.com/ for all the details. And come join us at the show in Provincetown Saturday night!
The Crown and Anchor presents Matt Alber: One Night Only.
Saturday, October 8th, 2011.
Tickets are $35/$25 and available online at http://www.onlyatthecrown.com/.
Preferred seating for Central House Dinner Patrons.
The Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial Street, Provincetown MA.