For someone who never consciously planned on becoming a star, Matthew Barber has stumbled into some good fortune.
In just a few short years he went from playing in coffee shops to a cross-Canada tour, wowing critics along the way. Now, fans are eagerly anticipating Matthew's major-label debut The Story Of Your Life, a 6-song EP on Warner Music, due out next week.
In honour of the release of The Story Of Your Life, Soul Shine Magazine sat down with Matthew, and asked about the story of his life.
Chapter 1 – The Early Years
It started in Port Credit, ON. According to his online bio, it was a time Matthew spent "running with the wrong crowd." Ah yes, those evil songwriter-types. They're a mean lot and Matthew was probably the worst of them. All that lyric writing and guitar-playing…yikes! All kidding aside, it was in Port Credit that the future Canadian music darling got his start.
"My first show was when I was still in high school and I played some gigs at this little coffee shop," he says, ironically in yet another coffee shop, this one in downtown Toronto.
"I played my acoustic guitar with no mic or anything, I just wanted to do it. I thought it was a romantic idea."
Ah yes, what a thug.
And when he wasn't devilishly performing unplugged sets in coffee joints, he recorded his own material. The result was a homemade cassette owned by only 50 people.
Shortly after that Matthew found himself in Kingston ON, going to school and working on his live performance. But then some time in the year 2000, Matthew made the switch from Kingston to Hamilton at which point something else started to change…
Chapter 2 – A songwriter is born
"I don't know, I feel like something happened around 2000," says Matthew. What he's referring to is a sort of creative awakening that took him from University-student-with-guitar to serious songwriter.
"I don't really know exactly what it was; maybe it was living alone or moving to a new city where I didn't know anybody but something happened and I felt I was starting to write songs that were a lot better than the ones I had written before."
And he took to the stage more as well. Hamiltonians might remember the now-defunct club The Raven where Matthew often graced the stage. He was now opening for notable Canadian acts Sarah Slean and Joel Plaskett. And with every performance Matthew began to realize that maybe he wasn't just another guy with a guitar.
"So I thought 'I'm having fun with this and getting somewhere and getting some confidence. I might as well compliment this by making a record.'"
Chapter 3 – Means And Ends
Its official release date was June of 2002. First, the debut album shot to number one on the charts at McMaster's CFMU. By July, it was registering on the national charts and Matthew moved from Hamilton to Toronto. CBC Radio embraced the album with open arms and by October most Canadian music fans had been introduced to the young artist. At this point though, Barber was label-less and the first pressing of Means And Ends was almost completely sold out.
Enter Paper Bag Records, who added Matthew to their roster and re-released Means And Ends during the summer of 2003. Lots of live gigs followed, including a NXNE performance, and the reviews came rolling in – overwhelmingly positive. Matthew beefed up his band, The Union Dues, which was now made up of guitarist Paul Kolinski, bassist Julian Brown and drummer Joel Stouffer. During the fall, Matthew toured with another hot Canadian artist, Danny Michel and continued gigging around the country.
But even with such successes as these under his belt, Matthew still occasionally found himself wondering if music was really the direction he was meant to pursue.
"It's usually just that night (after a bad gig), driving home and I get kind of depressed. But I think it's just the reaction to the moment. If the night doesn't go very well it's a tough pill to swallow, but then you wake up the next morning and you think 'alright, it's in the past now. I'm not going to give up because of one bad gig.'"
And so onward he went, not knowing it would be towards much bigger and better things…
Chapter 4 – The Story Of Your Life
Somewhere in between gigs during the Fall of 2003, Matthew Barber and The Union Dues managed to find some studio time, and lay down some new tracks. By this time his music had created quite a sensation in indie circles across the country so Warner Music Canada figured the only logical thing to do next was to sign Matthew to their label.
Reflecting on his success so far, Matthew is remarkably humble.
" With every little new success I've just taken it in stride but not really sought out anything bigger. Luckily, things have just happened; since I moved to Toronto I was fortunate enough to get some good people on my side and then things kind of snowballed. It still hasn't really sunk in, but I'm happy to be where I am right now."
And that place is on the eve of releasing his first major-label EP, The Story Of Your Life. On first listen, it's a remarkably personal album. Anxiety, feeling disconnected, more than a few bad relationships gone wrong, but Matthew insists he's not really writing about one specific person.
"I try not to be too specific in what I write about, but of course inspiration comes from real life. I might be thinking of particular people when I'm writing, but that's maybe just the impetus for the idea, the emotion, the feeling of the song."
To the listener, the feeling translates into 6 well-crafted edgy, bluesy, funky rock songs topped with a dash of old-school reggae (read the Soul Shine review here: http://soulshine.ca/reviews/albumReview.php?arid=42).
And all of this backed with overwhelming support from Warner. E-cards, posters, press releases…there's plenty of hype for the February 17th release of The Story Of Your Life, something Matthew is still trying to adjust to.
"It's spooky for sure to have your name and face out there circulating… when it gets to the point of people talking about you when you're not in the room and handing out your CDs and sending posters out…it's all part of the business but it is a little bit creepy."
The creepy factor is set to escalate as Matthew prepares himself to tour. First through Ontario, then nationally in late March. After which Matthew already has even further plans…
"At some point I'm going to have to start thinking about how I'm going to go about making the next album – a full-length. So I will hopefully get down to working on that in the summer sometime."
When Soul Shine sat down with Matthew, The Story of Your Life was still two weeks away from being released, and already the man is thinking of his next album. As for how this next chapter of his career will be written, Matthew still isn't sure.
"I am looking forward to it, and I think it's going to sound quite different. What's the point in making the same-sounding thing again? I think I'd like to go about it differently, but I just don't know exactly how that's going to be yet."
There's certainly nothing like a good plot twist to keep a story interesting.
Writer: Erica Basnicki