Growing up can be a lot of fun, but it can also be extremely stressful. By the time you reach adulthood, you start to realize the hell you put your parents through, even when you didn’t intentionally set out to do so. For singer-songwriter Matthew Fowler, that awareness was the kind of universal connection that listeners could all relate to, which is why he named his latest album – the first in seven years – The Grief We Gave Our Mother. The album drops on Signature Sounds September 10 with singles, including, “Going Nowhere,” available now.
I recently sat down with Matthew Fowler to discuss filling tanks, leaps of vulnerability, and shooting the shit with people in the know.
Americana Highways: Let’s start with the title, because this is something we have been giving quite a bit of thought to as we transition from being parented to being parents ourselves. What does The Grief We Gave Our Mother mean to you as it relates to this particular collection of songs?
Matthew Fowler: As you said, a lot of these songs come from that place of transition. Growing pains, both big and small in scale. When I finished writing the song “I’m Still Trying”, the phrase “The Grief We Gave Our Mother” kept emphasizing itself in my mind, as it’s ending lyrical line for that tune. I loved how it felt infinitely relatable, but deeply personal. There’s a shifting weight to it. Sometimes, it makes me laugh a little bit, and sometimes it feels very serious. It’s dynamic, and I like that.
AH: You deliver your lyrics with a lot of emotion, which makes the listener feel the beats of each song’s journey as opposed to just standing on the outside looking in. What was your process of making these songs sort of participatory, because in a lot of ways, that is how they play.
MF: I’m pretty forward and confessional with my songwriting. Putting emotions in their place by singing them out loud is highly therapeutic and super vulnerable for me. I like putting myself on the spot. I find it makes others more likely to reciprocate vulnerably in listening. I work a lot on dictation with singing too, which I think helps people catch lyrics the first time around.
AH: The album has been called an “ode to growing up and chasing dreams.” Do you feel like you are still chasing your dreams or are you living them?
MF: I definitely still feel like I’m in pursuit of something, rather than content with my place. I think there’s a lot of good work in front of me, but I’m also trying to recognize more of the good work I’m doing now. So a bit of both chasing AND living my dreams, for sure.
AH: Speaking of growing up…what would the Matthew who first picked up a guitar think of The Grief We Gave Our Mother if he had a chance to hear it?
MF: I think he would really enjoy it. It has more common factors with the music I grew up loving than I probably realize. It feels good to have made a record that I truly enjoy listening to and can get nerdy about. I love the instrumentation on it.
AH: Growing up is a personal journey for everyone and it’s more difficult for some, so, let’s get personal for a minute. What has been the most difficult part of growing up for you? What makes you long for childhood?
MF: Lately, I’ve been longing for that beautiful lack of accountability being young affords you. As a kid, it’s your job to be interested in things, to learn things, to make mistakes, and spend all day doing whatever the heck gets your brain going. The stakes get higher as you get older. I miss not being worried about it as much and am trying to get back to that place.
AH: What are you most proud of with The Grief We Gave Our Mother and why?
MF: I’m super proud of the musical variation from song to song. My last record was very sparse compared to this one, so coming out of the gate again with a really dynamic record feels noteworthy. We really went for a fuller sound and I’m so grateful to the other musicians who played on these songs and filled the sonic space with beauty.
AH: The album will drop via Signature Sounds on September 10. We are big fans of Signature Sounds and many of your label mates. That got us to thinking…how do the songwriters you surround yourself with, both personally and professionally, impact you as an artist?
MF: Oh man, you learn so much from everyone. Both in songwriting, but also in lifestyle. It’s kinda special getting to see behind the curtain and entertain the different possibilities this career can offer. Friends and heroes offer vital reference points and make the world feel a little less alone in tackling an often difficult business. There’s nothing like shooting the shit with somebody who knows exactly what your life is like. Those people feel rare, and holding onto them is important and grounding.
Americana Highways: This was your first record in seven years. Are you someone who has to walk away from music to fill the creative tank, so to speak? Will there be another long wait before we hear more from you in this capacity?
MF: I think the gap in time was more spent figuring out how to fill the actual gas tank than the creative one. I had a lot of adulting to learn, as I was only 19 when I first started touring and making music moves. I knew I wanted to take the time to find the right way to do these songs justice, and to find the right way to focus my energy on doing what I love to do, and how to afford to do it. I hope it doesn’t take another seven years to make a record, but if it does, it’ll be because that’s how it needed to happen.
AH: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
MF: I think I would pass on that offer. Maybe a year or two ago I would think differently, but I’m trying to spend more time being happy in the present. Life is a wild ride, as basic and corny as that sounds, and it’s probably more fun when you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s pretty tempting to look, but I’d feel more comfortable peeking 1000 years into the earth’s future than 10 years into my own.
To learn more about Matthew Fowler and track his tour dates, visit www.matthewfowlermusic.com.