The Hard Way – New to You (Q&A, and more …)

Matt Wilczynski leaves for California at the turn of the century. Full of musical dreams, most of which evaporate.

After 20 years he decided to make one of his dreams come true and he recorded New to You. Five songs that sound like a mix of The Beatles, Queen, ELO, Ben Folds, and Jellyfish.

The road to and the eventual realization of this EP is a special and emotional story.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

Well, this record took me 20 years to make so that’s hard to decipher. In a general sense, I would say that as I was teaching myself how to play different instruments growing up, I would usually just create my music, or add riffs or melodies to songs that I played along with.

I am extremely unsure of my voice, so when I heard the first mix of the first song recorded, and I didn’t cringe, that was a big moment. To make it even more of a “big” moment, I found out that I was going to be a father while wearing the headphones and listening to that mix the first time. My son turned one just yesterday.

How did this record come together?

I moved to California from Massachusetts on January 20, 2001, intending to make a record of the music in my head and become “the next big thing”. Instead, I ended up playing bass in a bunch of Los Angeles bands because it was easier to just be a cog in the musical wheel instead of the engine, and to be honest: I was deathly afraid of putting my music out.

After a stint working licensing music for TV and film (which was depressing), I started the first “Rock School” for kids in Los Angeles which led to the Non-Profit and work that I still do, namely providing music and art as a source of connection, purpose, passion and focus for at-risk and traumatized groups and individuals.

A big part of that gig included “helping” these young people to write their original music, of which there are hundreds and hundreds. That process stripped away the ego and gave me a healthier perspective about what art is.

The record itself was produced by Avi Durchfort, who has been one of my best students since the age of 11 and he was so encouraging – while being brutally honest. A lot of my students (who are now adult, professional musicians) play on the record, which makes it a full circle for me.

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

I’ve always wanted to get honest, opinions about my work. The difference now is that I can hear the positive instead of letting it get drowned out by the negative. Previously, a compliment was an untrustworthy whisper while anything negative was a loud scream. I’m sure many artists feel the same way.

When the Los Angeles radio station KLOS asked to do a segment of my record, with listeners calling in to “judge” my music I said yes and took part. That is something that I would have NEVER EVER done before. Again, life experience, perspective, COVID, and my baby boy shifted my thinking. And, as it turned out, everyone gave it a thumbs up.

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

I mean…I’m a middle-aged guy who made a record that sounds like a 60’s/70’s throwback from the ’90s. The fact that ANYONE has any interest is amazing to me. The fact that people like you CHOOSE to reach out to me to ask about these tunes is beyond satisfying. I’m taking Warren Zevon’s advice, and trying to “enjoy every sandwich”. With that said, my dream is to make a small run of 180g vinyl with the artwork (what you see in the videos are my drawings from my early childhood that my Grandmother put up in her “Matthew Museum….better known as the den). Then, I feel like I had actually “put out” a record. Right now, it’s just more white noise on the internet.

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?

Luckily, being creative is my “day job”, albeit in a very different form as I mentioned earlier. I still write music constantly for myself though. It’s not something I choose to do – it just happens. I feel blessed to still have “ideas”……but the honest creator will also tell you that it can make it hard to focus on the day-to-day when you have a leaky faucet of creativity constantly dripping. The other thing is….and you’re the first person I’m telling this…..I can’t play instruments anymore. This record very well may be the last time I played many of these instruments at this level due to a retiring spinal compression/nerve issue that now has been diagnosed with both carpal tunnel and arthritis. So, I’m especially grateful that I finally put something out,……but obviously, I wish I had done it sooner.

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

My band back home in Massachusetts played our first gig ever on a float being driven during a parade, playing live music through a leaky gas generator. We had to keep putting more gas in between songs. Every time we hit a bump or took a sharp turn, one of us would fall off the “stage”. Our drummer was violently ill, with a bucket next to him for the Exorcist-level vomit that kept coming out of him. All in front of a small-town crowd that came out for a parade. Little kids. Senior citizens. We were behind the mounted police (which meant we were driving through horse crap – and the constant smell of it) and in front of the Girl Scouts. ………I learned a lot that day.

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

‘Never’ sounds about right.

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

For many I think, yes. We recorded these songs “The Hard Way” (…….sorry) though. Real instruments, including violin and cello. The vocal harmonies were done with a group of us doing each harmony TOGETHER around the same mic. The difference is that it was all done at Avi’s apartment. No studio. No catering. No “man behind the glass”. I may have been too nervous to record that way…..I’m definitely too poor to record that way!!!!!

As far as getting it heard…..musicians like to say that “I just did it for myself”. Well, I did. BUT……I really want it to get heard because I think for the niche of folks who are still into the sincerity and work that goes into music like this will really enjoy it.

How do I get it into ears though? No idea. This isn’t background music or party music or music for a beer commercial….it’s music made for active listening by people who are sensitive and “get it”. Tall order.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

If you are an adventurous creator, recording means ANYTHING goes. The less technology you use, and the more you allow necessity to dictate where it goes rather than what app or plug-in came out this week the more of “you” will come through.

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

I’ve only played live in other people’s bands playing other people’s music, which was fun, but ultimately a sexless marriage. I hope against hope that my nerve issues come to pass and my hands allow me to play these songs in front of an audience…….I suppose we have to move past this pandemic as well, eh?

IF my body and COVID allow The Hard Way to perform a concert, we will only play ONE show, and it will be a band made up of former students (who are all now pro adult musicians) and ex-band members. A mix of Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and Concert for Bangla Desh with Polyphonic Spree and ELO. All live instrumentation. I will switch between instruments. That’s the dream……but only one show.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

It’s not a put-on. The music and lyrics are very sincere. No hipster half measures. My life went into this. I moved to California on January 20, 2001. The record came out on January 20, 2021. My son was born on April 11, 2020. The pandemic started last year. I’m hoping that the sincerity and intent of purpose come across. I hope that an active listener can hear my passion and the sweat of over two decades of self-doubt and anxiety being brushed aside for the length of 5 songs.

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