Matt Alber | Hide Nothing
Silver Label | November 18, 2008
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In November 2008, singer Matt Alber released “Hide Nothing” on the heels of five years, seven albums and two Grammy® Awards as a soprano in America's premier classical a capella ensemble, Chanticleer.
“Hide Nothing” is a touchingly personal, autobiographical and sentimental collection of lush, dreamy love songs reminiscent of singers like Ben Folds, Iron&Wine and Imogen Heap (the album includes a moving cover of her “Hide And Seek”), all of whom Alber counts as influences. It is an emotional tapestry of beautifully crafted songs that glisten, glow, and gently–and sometimes grandly–unfold; vocals lingering and lyrics resonating long after the songs (and goose bumps) have faded.
From that fuzzy third grade crush (“Field Trip Buddy”) to the headiness of new romance (“Slow Club”), love unraveling (“End of the World”), personal awakening (“Monarch”) to a trip into the mists of Greek history in the legend of the Sacred Band of Thebes (“Beotia”), Alber's “Hide Nothing” is more a collection of secrets told with piano, harp, strings, bassoon, (and Matt's old house keys) than a pop album.
MATT ALBER | BIO | PDF
HEY MICKEY, YOU'RE SO FINE
As child of The Eighties, both Michael Jackson and Carousel Roller-rama were pivotal discoveries. I'd ditch the Couple’s Skate to practice break-dancing and perform my own music videos in the mirrored tiles under the black lights. When I'd memorized every vocal nuance and riff, I'd write my own vocals for the musical breakdowns—and then I'd choreograph them. The eight-year-old with the moves began to draw crowds next to the skate-rental.
I owe this soulfulness partly to LaTonya and LaShonda- my 4th Grade Double-Dutch teachers and best friends. They taught me how to roll my eyes at my teachers and sing louder than the white girls in choir class. I was a lucky white boy to be adopted by the coolest girls on the black-top.
Singing in choirs has been the only constant in my life. It’s the place I learn the most about myself and how to be with others. My first choir tour was to Japan with the St. Louis Children's Choirs where they didn't have Wal-Mart, ate raw food and took baths together. We sang with the world's best young singers and made fast friends. They showed us how to catch noodles from a bamboo trough—we taught them how to break-dance. I sung in those choirs until I was 18.
I didn't take a voice lesson until my first day of college. I went to Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri (www.truman.edu) and Wal-Mart, Dairy Queen and the all-male residence hall were my first stomping grounds. As a music major, I spent about fifteen hours a week in choir rehearsals, where I had the great honor of singing in Dr. Paul Crabb's choirs. He routinely led us away from the mundane into the sacred place where music happens. He taught us to regard each other as instruments. If only our presidents did as much.
SETTING DOWN THE CROSS
I was the only openly gay member of Campus Christian Fellowship: an off-campus Christian club. I’d been an evangelical all through high-school and it seemed like the right place to hang out at the time. I sang on the worship-team for two years, singing heartfelt solos while they passed the plate. But they became the largest social group on campus and the leadership had to deal with the gay boy on the stage.
They rather awkwardly asked me to leave, citing some bullshit Bible verse from 2nd Timothy. They had a hard time kicking me out, though. I'd done my homework and invited them to debate their position that I was somehow “living in sin.” Thanks to the writings of Prof. Elaine Pagels (The Gnostic Gospels, The Origin of Satan) and Daniel Helminiak (What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality) I was more than equipped to educate my fellow Christians. We tackled every verse they could find about it and my answers made more sense every time.
Every time I hear "you're not allowed to ask that," I dig deeper. Check out www.aliveandwell.org and www.soulforce.org. That shit will blow your mind. Uncovering the bullshit and calling out the truth can be a full-time job with it’s own benefits.
The Kansas-boy/pop kid/choir geek who'd never smoked a cigarette landed in San Francisco with wide eyes. It was truly the land of the free and the home of the brave. They were waving my flag on every corner. I gave up "just say no,” and fell in love on the Golden Gate Bridge.
I was also the newest soprano of the elite professional classical men's ensemble, Chanticleer (www.chanticleer.org). Singing was no longer just a passion, but my full-time job. The group is limited to just twelve men; there was one spot open when I auditioned in 1998. It took three auditions, but I won a seat in the group. I've never been more challenged physically or mentally than singing with this ensemble, but it came with great rewards. We toured the world 150 days a year performing the most difficult repertoires ever composed for voices. We sold-out stadiums and concert halls and became brothers.
In my five years with Chanticleer, we recorded seven albums, two of which won Grammy® Awards. Our director Joseph Jennings pushed us hard with genius, vision and southern perfectionism. In thirty minutes he can transform a mediocre high school choir into a working ensemble with vibrant sound and spark. (And in three hours he can bake you a cake too heavy to take home.)
YOU GOTTA HAVE SOUL
Because of my choir teachers, I’d been given a great gift; the ability to find the soul in any brand of music, be it Michael Jackson, medieval opera, shape-note singing, or Gregorian chant. My harmonic language had been so far stretched through performing and mimicking soul music, styles I was finally immune to musical prejudice.
It was time to start writing an album. I turned my bedroom into a home recording studio and learned to use a Mac. I was starting from scratch on the mechanical side of things, barely knowing where to plug in my large diaphragm condenser. The first year of home recording was a lot of yelling at audio equipment and then feeling ridiculous for yeling at audio equipment. It was an intimidating learning curve in engineering and sound design. Thank god I found Jeff Crerie.
MAKING A RECORD TAKES PANCAKES
Jeff Crerie is an audio space cowboy with an intuition and musicianship unmatched. His studio, Utmosis (utmosis.net) is perched on a San Francisco hilltop overooking the Castro. After sitting side-by-side mixing and recording these songs (and savoring some of Jeff’s famous pancakes) I would walk home in the drizzling rain listening to what we’d just created out of thin air.
I feel like I'm just scratching the surface with songwriting. I don’t have hundreds of songs. I don’t even have 25 songs. These are my first cracks. Maybe I’ll write some more.
1 Matt, “Hide Nothing” is one dreamy, swoony album! How would you describe your music?
I don't know, how about "Great to listen to with both ears," or "Great to make out to." I'd rather just hand you my headphones and let you decide for yourself. The best I can do is tell you that I have a hope: when people listen to my songs I wish for them to get that feeling you get when someone close to you confesses they aren't strong enough to do this alone.
2 You went from singing classical a capella choral pieces with Chanticleer to messing around with country to “Hide Nothing.” How did your sound evolve? Did you know you were producing the album you’ve produced?
I don't know that I have a sound. Somebody told me one time that I'd never make it because my voice sounds different on every song. I guess I try to find the sound the song is inviting instead of sticking to making sound in one way. Sometimes that means whispering to a river and sometimes it means calling across the Grand Canyon. If I'm really going to hide nothing, then I have to let you hear everything in between.
3 You live in LA, but used to live in San Francisco, where you wrote and recorded your album overlooking The Castro with your co-writer and co-producer, Jeff Crerie. How did you meet?
I first met Jeff when I was looking for a web-designer. When I walked into his quirky San Francisco bachelor pad way up on the hill above Noe Valley and saw that he'd subjugated his bedroom to mounds of recording gear, I asked him to play me some of his music. He'd been working with several self-taught singers and had a knack for evoking incredible sounds from them. When we were done with the website he invited me to set up a writing session, and we started in.
4 What was a typical recording session like? You mentioned Jeff’s great pancakes in your bio. Did you mean euphemism pancakes, or pancakes pancakes? And, in either case, were they your fuel or reward for a good recording session?
First off, Jeff's pancakes are undeniably the best I've had. And after 7 hours of adjusting volumes and reverb, they taste like magic. Jeff approaches songwriting with absolutely no preconceptions. Meter, form and tonality are always negotiable. We wrote a song in 13/8 and didn't know it until we went and counted the notes. On our first song, “Nonchalant,” he tried a technique I'd never heard of. I would sing random syllables over the instrumental music we'd created, just to give the melody some form. Then he would listen back to my nonsense and extract a word here and there... "It sounds like you're saying, 'brush of a hand,'” he'd say. And we wrote the song around those anchors. Jeff is in tune with the world in a way I've not encountered in anyone else. I'm a lucky guy to know him.
5 The album opens with “Monarch,” which is also your first video and currently on LOGO and YouTube. One can almost envision that song sung live with a back-up choir (Chanticleer?). Who or what inspired the song?
My good friend Peter Elliot took me on a fieldtrip in Monterrey, California to see the Monarch butterflies nesting in the redwoods. It really is quite a sight to see them all clinging together, weighing down the branches of those ancient trees. We took some photos and wandered beneath them for quite a while and marveled at them. I learned later that Monarch butterflies have rather miraculous little lives. They migrate each year between Monterey, CA and Alaska. It takes 4 generations of Monarchs to make the journey north. The 5th generation, however makes the entire flight back to Monterey in one lifetime. Though they make the trip alone on simultaneous solo journeys, they arrive at the same grove of trees, the same specific trees and the same places on the trees where their great great grandparents started. It makes me wonder which lifetime I'm living in.
6 “Field Trip Buddy” has to be about the sweetest song about a boyhood crush ever recorded. Is there a real story behind the song?
My first crush was on my buddy Zach in 3rd grade. We were on the same soccer team. My dad was the coach–awkward. In 5th grade, it was John Gisi I was completely in love with. He was so tall and was great at math, like me. David Clark was my church youth group crush. He was a tall redheaded violinist who loved basketball. Just getting to sit next to these guys was enough to give me the goose bumps. Those moments when you're wondering if their elbow is lingering on the armrest against yours just by accident, or if they are getting goose bumps too–well, that is what the song is really trying to capture. “Fieldtrip Buddy” is for anyone who’s had a crush on a friend and had the guts to tell them about it. David Clark, if you ever read this, thanks for being cool when I told you about mine.
7 “Nonchalant” and “Slow Club” (named after the San Francisco restaurant) are so damn romantic! Goose bumps! What songs by other artists make you swoon?
"Say Goodnight and Go" by Imogen Heap (this has got to be the sweetest song about a crush ever written. It always makes me smile on the inside and I literally cannot hear that song without singing along.)
"To Be Alone With You" by Sufjan Stevens
(If Sufjan was in my church youth group…)
"She's Got A Way" by Billy Joel
(I sang this song to my best friend Lisa Neubauer on my senior degree recital in college. That man knows how to write a melody that fits every single syllable like a glove.)
8 “Rivers And Tides” is a stunningly beautiful, quiet, melancholy song. What is it about?
About 10 years ago a good friend introduced me to the poetry of Hafiz, a mystic poet from Persia (Iran) whose poems are to this day are the best-selling printed books in circulation. Unfortunately it is quite rare for Americans to know about Hafiz. I'm hoping to change that. Hafiz, a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, is known to blur the lines between himself, ourselves and God. “Rivers & Tides” is the description of a vision I had after reading some of Hafiz' poems in the collection translated by Daniel Ladinsky called "The Gift."
9 In 2006 you performed “Beotia” at the Gay Games. In a nutshell, what is “Beotia” about, why did you write it and what was it like performing it in a stadium full of queens in pink angels wings and Speedos? We heard Megan Mullully (Karen on “Will & Grace”) loved you.
It was quite an honor to sing to the world's gay athletes in Chicago, and especially that song. “Beotia” has quite a story: in 338 B.C. an elite army of 300 male lovers existed and were feared throughout the known world as an unstoppable force. Due to their ardent bonds, the pairs of lovers were known to fight to the death to save their lovers' lives. This was a time when embracing love for another man was not a campaign issue or a perceived threat to “family values.” The 300 men were known as The Sacred Band of Thebes. Their last battle was against Alexander The Great and his father Philip II in a place called “Beotia”. The Band of Thebes was abandoned by their allies, left to fight Alexander's massive army alone. This particular battle was significant because it marked the beginning of Alexander's ultimate rule and final conquest for Rome. However, when the battle was over and Alexander discovered whom he had just slaughtered it is recorded that he openly wept and exclaimed, "Perish any man who rumors that these men suffered or did anything unseemly." He ordered a monument to be erected in their honor, which still stands today. ”Beotia” is what I imagined a duet would be between two brave warriors of the Sacred Band the morning of the battle against Alexander The Great. Knowing they would most likely not survive the day, what would they have spoken to one another?
10 OK, proff, more importantly: You ever pick up, er, date anyone you met at one of your shows?
I'm usually too busy tearing down the PA system or lugging my shit out the door to get a "date." Though to be honest, I'd say I've been on a date with at least a few of the guys in the audience. I keep hoping Jake Gyllenhaal will show up some night. I'd definitely make him help me carry the gear out.
11 You do a beautiful cover Imogen Heap’s “Hide & Seek,” so obviously a big fan?
I'm not hiding it–I think Imogen is the bee's knees. She offered up a sound no one had ever heard before with this song, and I've been singing it in my head (and in the shower) ever since. I worked up an arrangement of it on a nylon (acoustic) guitar and tried it live here in LA–people really dug it so we decided to include it on the album rather late in the game.
12 And what’s the song about, anyway?
Her imagery seems purposely vague, like there is a hidden message in it. Whenever I sing it I picture people jumping from the burning World Trade Towers, a coliseum full of families displaced by a hurricane, an Iraqi family being murdered in their own home, and I wonder, "Where are we? What the hell is going on?"
13 Any famous fans?
Oh, I'd feel like a heel answering that. This guy Juan wrote to me recently and told me he liked to paint while he listened to my songs. That means a whole lot more to me than celebrity. I supposed by friend Armistead Maupin would slap me for saying that.
14 Who’d you like to duet with? (Clothed!)
Imogen Heap, Annie Lennox or George Michael
15 OK, and clothing optional?
Did I say Jake Gyllenhaal yet?
16 When not performing solo or as Matt Alber & His Gentlemen Callers, you perform with a cover band, albeit a super-classy one. What are some of your favorite songs in the repertoire? Any particularly high-profile gigs you wanna mention?
I moved to LA 'cause I knew there were great singing jobs to get me going until my record starts selling. I've been lucky enough to join a company called West Coast Music in a band called Impulse. We're a 12-piece band with brass that gets hired to play 4-hour sets at private parties on the weekends. Singing with these professional studio and touring players is a freaking blast. When you're singing Stevie Wonder and a real horn section kicks in just a few feet behind you, it's pretty intense. We've actually played alongside Stevie Wonder and Harry Connick Jr. at private parties for people like Charlie Sheen, Jim Carey and Billy Crystal. It's kinda cool going to work at Robin William's house.
17 Who’s rockin’ your iPod?
Someone stole my iPhone in San Francisco. And then I got a call a few days later from the guy who found it–a SF cop. It really restored my faith in humanity. This band called Copeland has me closing my eyes and singing along, making up harmonies all over the place. My brother's music is always in my ear. You'll want to check him out: Bryce Alber. We're starting to write together. We might be in each other's bands soon.
18 “Hide Nothing” basically has “boyfriend material” written all over it. You cook? Keep a good house? Know how to look sexy lying under the kitchen sink?
I can make Eggo waffles and quesadillas. That's about the extent of my culinary prowess. As far as plumbing goes, I'm an idiot. But I did recently install an airlift compressor system by hand on my Bronco II. Not sure if that qualifies as something boyfriend's look for.
19 Dude, you look good, man. You work out?
Jeez, thanks. I taught 6th grade after-school music and dance all last year at JB Middle School. It was me and twenty-two 11 year-olds for 3 hours a day straight without a break. Who needs a trainer?
20 Last and obvious question. (Answer it carefully, ‘cause you could potentially break some hearts): Ya single or taken?
I've been single for a year and half. I've been lucky in love before. Definitely up for meeting the right guy, but it takes quite a bit of energy and time just doing what I'm doing.
Always More To Hear (blog)
Baltimore Gay Paper
Frontiers (LA, feature clip
HX New England
Gay.com (Prop 8 Rally blog)
Healing Medium (blog)
MusicWhore (blog) Favorite Edition 2008
Out In Asheville (NC)
Quest (WI) cover
Time Out Chicago
TomBlog (#1 Gay Blog in Italy)
Windy City Times review
Windy City Times feature