Interview: Matty Carlock

Written by Laura Curry

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Middletown, NJ native Matty Carlock has leapt across the parkway to explore a career as an acoustic singer/songwriter. As the former singer of the New Jersey Hardcore band Back and Forth, Carlock decided to branch out from the head-banging, fist-friendly scene of hardcore music to the deep contemplation that acoustic offers. His transformation is evident in his first solo album, Loveless, which graced the ears of his fans on March 4.

This album blends together the genres of indie folk and rock music with elements of country. His heartfelt and personal songs explore an array of struggles from heartbreak to violence to confronting death. However, listeners cannot deny the uplifting energy contained in each song, as it makes them feel determined to push through the darkness and “come out on top.”

How did you go from the hardcore music of the band Back and Forth to the indie folk rock sound of your record Loveless? How did it come about that you wanted to explore this genre of music?

Well, what a lot of people aren’t aware of is I was creating music like this before. I was raised in a household full of Springsteen, Dylan, CCR and just rock ‘n’ roll music in general. I got my first acoustic at like 6 years old. I never let it go. I would lie there and dream with it. To me, that was it. A few years later, my cousin Georgy showed me a band called “Shai Hulud” and told me they hated the human race. That’s a pretty heavy thing to say to a 5th grader and it intrigued me because I looked up to him and often felt I wasn’t accepted. Later on, like many, I got into skateboarding and grown into being quite emotional. I was extremely angry and hardcore became an outlet to express my anger. It saved my life because at that time, I was having stretches of violence, and just overall pure insanity—at a pretty young age, mind you. It put me with people that could guide me towards a positive path forward. All while I was in Back and Forth I was writing on my acoustic guitar in the van on tour, I never stopped. To me, there’s no difference. Loveless is extremely angry and broken. There are true stories about violence, heartbreak, brotherhood, family, drug addiction, death, and just over all defeat. I found those topics in Springsteen / Dylan records; I still do to this day.

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What inspires your songwriting—is it all about past experiences and reflecting on your life and feelings? Or is it more about telling a story? Or do you combine all of these elements?

I still to this day cannot identify the songwriting process. I don’t know how it happens. I’m so incredibly inspired by truth and romance. I tend to write a lot about what has happened to me personally. A lot of heartbreak always ends up in my songs—the human condition, you know? Whatever is moving me. Almost as if my songs are a diary. Like I said earlier, songwriting is an outlet for my personal problems. I would say I’m pretty emotionally unstable at times and it fuels my songwriting for sure. Overall, I would say I combine the two elements.

It seems like there’s so many references to your past in this record. Each song sounds so personal and heartfelt yet there are undertones of something darker. Is this an accurate conclusion for listeners to make?

It is spot on. I put all the blood I had on this record because when I was making it, I didn’t have the idea of even releasing it. It was without a doubt one of the darkest periods of my life and I had nothing to hold onto to survive except making this record. I lost everything and everyone, everywhere. Almost as if from the moment I was six getting that acoustic, to the first chord of this record, all in between was erased and wiped away and destiny put a gun to my head. It was super intense, and I’m fortunate to have this outlet to help me stand up when I am knocked down.

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Would you say that there’s a theme shared by all of the songs? Have you looked at this album as a concept record?

If it is a concept, I would say personally, it is to keep fighting to be the best human being you can possibly be. Standing up for who you are and what you believe in. If you suffer from depression, you will come out on top. If you suffer from addiction, you will come out on top. If you suffer from heart break or anything at all, YOU WILL COME OUT ON TOP. You just have to believe. When you overcome, you become stronger. I guess it’s a record about fighting off your demons and then keeping your doors unlocked because you fear them no more. Try me, let’s see what you got. Here I am, unbreakable.

There’s something both uplifting and nostalgic about “Rest Stops.” What is the story behind this track? What is this song about, and what do you want listeners to take away from it?

It was written during a time where I was touring full time in BACK AND FORTH. No money, good ol’ DIY basement tours all over the country. At this time, there was an absurd amount of violence in my life. I couldn’t escape it, I’m not sure if I even wanted to, and I think that makes me a bad person looking back. But we had a community, a family, and it was beautiful. It’s a story about friendship. Companionship, and the alleyways love, desire, and passion take you down. A test of will for the ones you love. A call to arms, a celebration that no matter what, we have each other, and we’re gonna be alright. We have to be, because we have love and that’s all that matters. That fact alone is so beautiful it could bring me to tears.

I can’t help but to ask what you mean by the lyrics “New Brunswick love affair” in the song “Sirens?”

I was seeing a girl for years that was unfaithful, living a second life behind my back within a community I grew up in. It gutted me severely, and it made me lose my sense of home. I survived though, and I am doing well now and things like that make me laugh. I am fortunate and blessed with my current state of mind and the love that surrounds me on a daily basis. Sometimes dark, heart-breaking things such as betrayal are completely necessary because you recognize self-worth. You just have to fight for your heart, put back together some pieces, and destiny comes into play. I believe I am on that path, so I have nothing but a string of “thank you’s” for those who were involved.

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I really like the acoustic sound of “The Dead Kids & the Middletown Diner” and how it leads into the “heavier” ending. Is there a significance to this built-up ending? Did you mainly focus on telling a story in this song?

I have a special place for that song. To the general public, that diner is called the “New Monmouth Diner” but if you’re a true local you call it The Middletown Diner. It’s on the cover of Loveless for that reason. I grew up going there with my Pops and it became the hangout spot. “The Dead Kids” are all of us. We are dead in society. We are off the radar. We live weird lives where we are never home and always on the road. We hangout in diners instead of pubs. We hangout and blast our favorite records while 10 of us are stuffed in a small car driving down Navesink River Road. We are, and always were pushed aside street kids. The hounds that escaped from the pound. That diner is home—it’s the period to all sentences. There was a time where all of us, including my sister, were all going through a stage of heartbreak. It was so strange, and we would just hangout there and get coffee together. I really valued it for some reason. I mention the jukebox, for our love for music and how it’s our shoulder to lean on.

The heavy cinematic ending’s significance for me represents the true electrical emotion of that first spark of warmth. Revving the engine, putting it in gear, and smashing through the gates into eternal bliss. It’s one of my favorite parts of the record. It makes me laugh, cry, dance—all at the same time.

“Cowboys and Indians” has a clear country sound to it due to the chiming guitars. I also really like the use of trumpets and the harmonica, since they add a folky feel to the song. Is this the sound that you were going for?

Yes, it was the exact sound I was going for, within the respect that the song has its own life to live. I was trying to tap into that sound hard. I was touring relentlessly in the south and was infatuated by Woody Guthrie and Dylan and what not. I also specifically remember listening to a lot of Chuck Ragan, CCR, Cassadagga by Bright Eyes, Lucero. Mainly a lot of Dylan though.  I wrote that song in Georgia, in February a few years ago. It was freezing in NJ and the first show was in GA and I remember thinking, “Wow I haven’t felt this warm without my lady’s arms in awhile.” I had a mental breakdown that night while performing, it was dark.

As soon as I heard the first couple seconds of it, I decided that “Nights of Sin” is one of my favorites. I think it’s the layering of the guitars and lullaby sound that I like so much. Also, it has a love song feel. Did you combine these elements for the purpose of making it sound like a love song? Or are you simply capturing how you feel when you reflect on this part of your life?

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We should be friends, you just get it. It is a love song. Where I am from, we have a lot of beaches, not much authority, a lot of drugs, and just overall chaos in a Romeo and Juliet kind of way. Two high school rebellious lovers who are both suffering from addiction, with no care to live but for each other and one final summer night. They stay out all night running from the cops, creating havoc. I was inspired by my earlier years in my town. I was always Straight Edge, but none of my friends were. We were reckless. We’d stay up all night at my friend Kait’s house because there was never any supervision. People would drink till the sun came up, find love for the first time in dug outs, make bonfires on the beach, fall in love, get heart broken, and just explore life for the first time. Friends of ours were going to jail, friends were overdosing, friends were dying in car accidents. It was a truly chaotic time, but I cherish them because we all did the best we could.

Did touring with Sammy Kay for a month give you the chance to pick a favorite song on the record? If so, what is it and why is it your favorite?

Sammy is my dude, I love that cat. I would say it made me love “Meet Me On The Parkway” the most. I would play it really soft, make it very intimate. When you’re far from home, its nice to have a reminder from where you come from and that song reminds me of my dad, who I take pride in coming up under.

Would you say that this is the sound you’ve always been searching for? Is this the music you want to keep making?

MC: I am never happy. I am never satisfied. I am a music explorer, in a restless way. The minute you’re satisfied, you stop growing. I am here to create, and grow, and to try new things. I also have my hand in a lot of Hip-Hop, I am about to embark on a 6-week sold out European tour singing for Shai Hulud which is a hardcore band, and I am currently producing another hardcore band. I am extremely proud of Loveless, and I feel my goal has been met, but for 25 years my feet haven’t stopped moving so there will be new things in the future. I owe it to you guys to progress.

And now, the new Matty Carlock video…”Little Bones”

Laura Curry is a Rutgers University graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Media Studies. Interviewing bands and writing about music is her passion. She is a frequent concert-goer, whether they’re happening in New Brunswick basements, Asbury Park venues, concert halls in NYC and anywhere in between. Alternative rock is her go-to genre (i.e. Kings of Leon, Cage the Elephant, Foals, The Maine and lots more). When she isn’t writing for The Pop Break, she works at the North Brunswick Public Library, which offers plenty of Fantasy/Adventure novels to quench her love of reading. Additionally, she takes on creative projects from dream catchers and scrapbooks to paintings and jewelry making. She’s always happy to talk about her furry Maine Coon cat Austen and his knack for playing fetch and hide and seek. Just try not to ask about her next career move, because trust me, she’s working on it.