Matthew Sturm - Living the Dream
By Sean Smith
The Fort Wayne Reader
When singer/songwriter Matthew Sturm decided to move to New York a few years ago it didn’t come as any great shock.
After all, this was the guy who had grown up in the shadow of Ghostbusters and by his legal drinking days was showing up for costume parties dressed as Dr. Peter Venkman, complete with homemade proton pack assembled from everyday household items. No wonder when he first visited the city that never sleeps he found his way to the firehouse where scenes for the movie were shot sans map. That’s right. Call it a sixth sense or great intuition. Sturm would probably tell you that he simply felt at home.
So, in November of 2006 he made it official and if there was any doubt that leaving his friends, family and supportive fans to fulfill his dream of living in the Big Apple was a bad idea, it was done away with the day after he arrived. “I moved out here on the 1st, so by the 2nd I knew it was the right decision. I knew that it might not last forever, but it was definitely the right thing to do. It was time to move on and try something new,” reveals Sturm.
Though the move wasn’t surprising, the fact that his music got placed on the back burner was. Sturm had already found an apartment before his uprooting and quickly secured himself a job with Apple. As comfortable as he found himself with the city, it was still a bit tricky figuring out the subway system and adjusting to different living expenses. The cliché of settling in began to settle in and his muse must have either gotten lost along the way or was a tad on the homesick side, because Sturm just wasn’t writing songs like he used to.
Realizing that the music wasn’t happening, Sturm turned his attention to another passion: comedy. “I had always told myself if I moved out here that I would get involved with Second City Theatre, because I knew that they had a training center in New York and then realized after moving out here that they weren’t really doing anything with it anymore. Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre was kind of filling that void, so I chose them,” shares Sturm. “It was a fantastic experience and something that I will continue on with. I’m working on a two man improv show that will start up this summer. There are two locations that we are talking to about doing this. It will be a half hour show based on audience suggestions. The zenith of comedy gold.”
While training in sketch comedy and improv theatre, part of his education included seeing other improv actors perform at least once a week. “It was great because you got to see people who were at the same level or maybe a little further along. In some cases, like Asscat 3000 at U.C.B. on Sunday nights, people who were much further along,” declares Sturm. “I got to see very recognizable names in comedy. Amy Poehler, Horatio Sanz and Jason Sudekis.”
Then last September, Sturm found himself out on his patio with his guitar and before he knew it he had written two brand new songs. Then when December came around, two more songs. Where did this sudden surge of inspiration come from? “I don’t know. With a lot of stuff that I write, there’s a lot of truth to it, in regards to what I’m going through at the time,” admits Sturm, “So, it’s difficult when I’m in a situation that doesn’t have any resolve to it, even if that’s not what the song is about. Having gone through a few different things since moving out here and seeing those things wrap up, its been easier to find some way to complete these ideas that I’ve been tossing around for awhile.”
Now that he’s writing again, Sturm says he has close to a dozen songs for an upcoming album. “There are 10 right now. I was just going to do an E.P. and then I thought there was enough to do a short full length. So, I just wanted to get started and do it in one really big push, instead of piecing it out. So, I was trying to carve out time to get started on it, but then I started writing a couple more songs and now I’ve got one more done and two more that are halfway done. I’m going to wait to record until after I get these done. I’m not going to rush through to get them on there, but I’m confident about getting them on there. So, it probably will end up being 12 tracks.”
Given that he utilized a band for his last album, fans might expect more of that full-bodied sound for this upcoming record. But, due to the hectic, random nature of New York musicians and a decision made some years ago, the album will consist of the bare essentials.
“Very shortly after I did the last record, I wanted to do something stripped down. I’d spent a lot of time playing and performing songs with just a guitar and none of that ended up on the album,” he says. “I’m solidifying how I want the overall sound to be on the new album. I just basically want a guitar, a microphone and a big, echoey room. Almost like a Jason Molina kind of thing. I’m doing it all on my own. I have a couple people who have had some really incredible experiences with engineering and mastering. They’ve worked with some pretty big names and they’re going to help me out with post-production. All of the tracking and recording, I’m doing that at home.”
Sturm hopes to have the completed album ready by the fall and in the meantime he continues to play gigs as often as he can. He’s had a handful of shows at Reservoir and has upcoming performances at Karma Lounge and Googie’s Lounge, which is upstairs from The Living Room where Norah Jones was discovered.
But for now, he’s gearing up for his second homecoming show in as many years, taking place at Mid City Grill on April 3rd. The Matthew Sturm Band will once again be playing well into the night with plenty of surprise guests and maybe even a new song or two.
Local singer motivated by meaningful tunes
By Steve Penhollow
One of the bands that has had the biggest impact on singer/songwriter Matthew Sturm is the Beatles.
Which is ironic, because he has spent much of his life shunning the Fab Four.
“My mom was really into the Beatles. So, of course, I thought they were stupid - for old people. They weren’t like Vanilla Ice or Sir Mix-A-Lot.” Sturm, puts a sly, self-deprecatory spin on that last part. About three years ago, Sturm discovered the merits of musical craftsmanship and precision songistry, and embarked on a career as a musical troubador. These days, Sturm lives in Monroeville, attends IPFW part time, and finds that his best musical ideas come to him during the long commute between home and Fort Wayne. “Most of my songs have been written after pulling over to the shoulder on U.S. 30,” he says.
Sturm, performing Saturday at the Dash-In, is a study in contrasts. With his song sideburns, duds reflective of clothes consciousness and chic wrist and finger accessories, Sturm looks more like the frontman of a sneering rockabilly combo. But Sturm, while often hilariously sarcastic, is basically a sweet, humble, and spirtual guy dedicated to being the best (not to mention most employed) musician he can be. In addition to The Beatles, Sturm also lists current global faves Counting Crows, Radiohead, and Oasis as the tetrad of reasons he got involved in the first place. And he has a number of local musicians to thank for keeping him in the thinck and thin of things.
Sturm says he has been taken under the wing of slightly-older-and-somewhat-savvier stalwarts as Sunny Taylor, Rick Callender, and Michael Schwarte. “We are all helpful to each other in many ways. We’ll say to a club owner after a gig, ‘You should give so-and-so a chance.’ We spread the word around about each other.”
It’s a cadre that uses Toast and Jam coffeehouse as its ground zero. Every Wednesday night, they all gather at 426 E. Wayne St. to take part in that career-christening ritual: open mic night. Sturm says open mic night doesn’t mean the same thing at Toast and Jam as it might mean at other venues. “Some people thing that open mic nights are an excuse for people who don’t sound very good to get up and play, but it’s not like that at all. These are some of the best performers Fort Wayne has to offer.” Sturm says Wednesday nights at Toast and Jam are like a living room jam and a potluck supper where the contibutions are musical instead of edible. “Toast and Jam is really the only listening venue in town. There’s no such thing as backround music there.” Unfortunately, it is often tough for a guy with a guitar in Fort Wayne to make a dent in listeners’ foregrounds. So, Sturm has started to make plans toward an inevitable end: a backing band. His first hire was his 24-year-old sister, Libby.
“Five years ago it wouldn’t have happened. We both had a lot of maturing to do. Going our seperate ways helped out alot.” Another project on the boil is a full-length CD.
Sturm made a demo disc a while back to send to radio stations and record labels. Friends and fans began badgering him for copies and he was glad to oblige - until it occured to him he had cranked out about 150 copies. It was a wake-up call to the necessith of getting something a little slicker into local music shops. Sturm had a similary bracing recent experience with his Web site (www.matthewsturm.com). A sleek redesign by Capitol Records webmaster, Chad Paulson, enabled him to find out how many people are loggin on daily. He was suprised to discover that the average number is about 150 to 200. Of course, not all - or even most - of those surfers show up to concerts. But Sturm is not easily discouraged by the exigencies of playing original music in a town where Pat Benatar appearances are still considered papal bulls. He doesn’t crave framed gold records, just the satisfaction of knowing he is making a meager-but-unaugmented living. “As long as I have enough money for gas and food, and strings on my guitar, I’m all set. I’m not looking to have lots of spending money.” If anything about the crooner’s life falls short of expectation, Sturm says (somewhat satirically), it is the much vaunted attention from the opposite sex. “My friend says, ‘You always complain about how hard it is to meet girls. All you have to do is just pull out your guitar and go to the park.’ That really hasn’t been the case. The whole 'girls dig guitar players’ cliche baffles me. “I tend to get into doomed relationships anyway. Maybe subconsciously I suspect that if I was happy, I couldn’t write good, sad songs anymore.” Writing songs that have some emotional effect on the audience is the most satisfying part of being a singer/songwriter, Sturm says, and trouble from that quarter is the only thing that would make Sturm consider hanging it up. “When my music stops affecting people, when it doesn’t make a lick of difference to anyone, thats when I’ll quit.”
by Chad Paulson
Listening to Matthew Sturm simply puts one at ease. As the day goes by and you are consumed by the ball of stress that is your life, simply pop in Matthew Sturm’s CD Outside Dreams, and you will be put to ease with Matthew’s sly chord progressions and relaxing lyrics.
Hailing from the Chicagoland area, Matthew is definatley far beyond his years when it comes to writing and arranging. He compares to the likes of Elliott Smith, The Counting Crows, and even the awe-inspiring Ben Folds Five. For years Matthew has been digging trenches with his 4 piece band, and you can definatley tell that the years of hard work and dedication paid off. Starting as a solo artist, Matthew has been clubbing and giging for years, trying to find the sound he has been looking for. I’m not sure if he’s found that sound yet, but I definatley found the sound I was looking for when I poped Outside Dreams in the CD player. From song one, Matthew gives an unbelievable performance that literally cannot be described in words. His vocal stylings and unique chord progressions truly speak for themself, as they are true forces to be wreakoned with in the indie rock world.
His first single, “Outside Dreams”, is a masterpiece. Combining guitar, piano, chimes, and even an accordian, Matthew really deserves an A for effort and originality. The song starts at a fairly slow and subtle pace and soon creeps up on you before you can say uncle. Just when you think the song is going to go a certian way, Matthew throws the road map out of the window and takes a sharp turn the opposite direction. His up and coming single, “Far Away From Here” is a chilling solo piece that really puts you at ease and gives you the overall “Matthew Sturm experience”. Not since Kurt Cobain’s rendition of Leadbelly’s “In The Pines” did a solo acoustic piece give me the chills as “Far Away From Here” did. Much like “Outside Dreams”, “Far Away From Here” starts out in a totally different mood than it ends up. Slow and without much “agenda”, the song builds upon many chord progressions until it bursts with tension with the few final bars.
All in all, Outside Dreams is a must have for any true indie rocker. Get your stocking stuffers now ladies and gentlemen, and check for Matthew in a town near you this summer. If you happen to catch him in person, that is an experience in itself. Matthew has been known to give an excellent performance, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind autographing your copy of Outside Dreams if your really nice. I’m still working on mine, but I’m sure it’ll come through.
Best New Solo Artist 2000
Can you fairly be called a Best New Artist when you’ve been plying your trade in area coffeehouses for nearly four years? Perhaps the answer hardly matters when you’re as dedicated to your craft as is Matt Sturm.
The Monroeville native, 20, picked up his first guitar at age 16, taught himself to play and began writing songs soon after that. Since then, he’s been a regular at Legends, Toast and Jam, the Pfeiffer House, the Munchie Emporium, basically anywhere that acoustic music can be heard.
Sturm plays a mix of originals and cover tunes, in a style he describes as a mixture of Counting Crows, Radiohead and the Beatles.
“A lot of my stuff is very melodic and melancholy. I jump at the chance of playing my stuff whenever I can, although sometimes it doesn’t go over too well in a bar. That’s when I whip out an old Beatles tune or 'Runaround Sue,’ which I really enjoy playing,” Sturm said.
His influences include Lennon and McCartney, Noel Gallagher and friend Erik Mackey, who first inspired him to learn guitar and write. And every time he hears Sunny Taylor or Michael Schwarte play, he ends up grabbing a napkin to jot down some ideas.
That style of writing, Sturm said, comes from a natural inclination toward the substantive and introspective.
“This is the music that really affects me. When I hear something that’s peppy and upbeat, I really enjoy it for a short period of time, but the songs that really move me are very emotional, like 'Long December’ by Counting Crows or 'High and Dry’ by Radiohead. It seems you can relate to them no matter what mood you’re in,” he said.
The next step is to finish work on a CD, a compilation of acoustic songs and songs backed by a new band that Sturm is ready to begin work with. The band, still unnamed and missing a bass player, will play rock n’ roll “with a funky edge. It’s all going to be about having a good time.”
It seems Sturm can have a good time no matter what mood he’s in.
Sturm Band Going down Rosy Road
By Steve Penhollow
The Journal Gazette
Some call it the graffiti dungeon, this place where the bands that perform at Columbia Street West wait to go on.
It is not an actual dungeon, of course - it lacks manacles. But that is about the only discernible difference.
On this particular Thursday night, it is emitting a funk so palpable that someone from management comes down the stairs and lights a stick of incense.
The incense comes up short, but so would a stick of dynamite.
Thom Grant, one fourth of the evening’s entertainment, thinks the stench is apropos.
“Isn’t that all rock 'n’ roll?” Grant says. “Stinky, disgusting and not enough light?”
One doesn’t often use the word supergroup to describe any formation of Fort Wayne musicians, but the band that took the stage later that evening certainly wasn’t lacking in proven talent.
It’s such a strange configuration of players, it shouldn’t work at all.
The Matthew Sturm Band is three former members of infamous area rockabilly acts (guitarist Grant of the Red Ball Jets, drummer Jaime Simon and bassist Jerry Sparkman of the Blue Moon Boys) and one former (or dormant) mellow folkie.
Sturm was working the coffeehouse circuit, singing “laid back, melancholy” songs, when he andSimon had an impromptu bull session one night at the now defunct blues club The Hot Spot.
Sturm had a stash of “heavy aggressive” compositions he’d stockpiled for an ensemble setting.
Once Simon was on board, the ensemble coalesced quickly.
But the songs didn’t stay aggressive.
“We fixed them,” Sparkman says.
The Matthew Sturm Band is generally funky and bluesy, with periodic forays into alt country and power pop.
It is still feeling its way, but the band’s nimbleness, dexterity, versatility and chemistry are investments that promise vast returns.
Great things should be expected. As a songwriter, Sturm is not in the least bit afraid of the word catchy.
A CD is in the works that should debut in the fall.
The members of the Matthew Sturm Band agree that the Fort Wayne rock scene has fallen on hard times recently.
“The mentality right now is to go out and dance to the hot mix,” Sturm says. “It’s so sad to come down here on a Tuesday and see how empty it is and then see how packed karaoke night at (O'Sullivans) is.”
Sturm wants to build a band that is so strong, it not only leads the horses to water, it makes them drink. So to speak.
“When I first started to play out, Tuesday and Thursday nights at Columbia Street were packed,” Sturm says. “Now, it’s hard to draw a crowd. I did a lot of promotion for this night. I want to see this place packed again.
"We’d love to get in here on a Friday night. They want to see us draw a crowd. I’m confident about it.”
Seeking to buoy his confidence with intimidation, Sturm turns to his band mates and says: “Unless one of you guys screws it up.”
“I will let you down several times tonight,” Simon says.
“What it all boils down to,” Sturm says, “is we want to make good music and we want to make make people happy.”
“I’m with you!” Sparkman says.
Adds Simon: “I’m near you!”
Best New Performer 2003
By Mark Hunter
By the time the best new performer award was announced, I had made too many trips to the bar to think or act in anything resembling a professional manner. Matt Sturm recognized this immediately.
“How much have you had to drink,” he asked.
“Plenty,” I replied. “Driscoll’s buying.” I proceded to mumble a few questions the answers to which I can neither remember nor decipher from my scribblings.
But then again, Sturm may have been on his way as well. At least that’s what he said when I caught up with him at B-Sharp Guitars. He also answered my questions, again.
“It’s a great honor, to be honest with you,” he said of winning. “I was thinking Brown Bottle Band or Definitely Gary. I thought any bands that can draw close to 200 people on a Tuesday night should definitely win.”
Sturm, who’s joined by guitarist Thom Grant of Red Ball Jets fame, and drummer Jamie Simon and bassist Jerry Sparkman, both formerly of the Blue Moon Boys, is also in the unique position of having won the Best New Performer award, twice, a fact he finds entertaining.
Sturm, a Monroeville native, is one of the many talented new musicians who cut their teeth at local coffee houses, Toast & Jam, in particular, during open mic nights, where learning to play in front of an audience is for many young performamers tantamount to openeing their heart. It’s a lesson Sturm learned well, well enough to play with the likes of Grant, Simon and Sparkman.
“That’s really the best part,” Sturm said. “They make it worthwhile and fun and exciting and a great experience.”
By Emma Downs
Fort Wayne Magazine
With his shaggy haircut and week’s growth of beard, Matt Sturm looks every bit the rock and roll star. Bent over a grilled cheese sandwich at a local coffee shop, the 23-year-old singer/songwriter adjusts his black T-shirt (extra points for the ironic saying - “Future Millionaire” - emblazoned across the front of it) and, like an old pro, prepares to be interviewed.
“Remember,” he tells me. “There are no stupid questions. Just stupid answers. I’ll provide those.”
See? Rock star. I tell him so and he cringes. Turns out, Sturm is not so cool. Hever has been - at least according to him.
“Just the opposite,” he says, reminding me about his love of Spider-Man comic books. “I think the nerds would even think I’m a nerd.”
See him on stage and you’ll wonder what he’s talking about. Sturm, a guitar-strumming fixture at local coffee shops and bars since he was a student at Heritage High School, has the onstage presence and unspoiled songwriting ability it takes most musicians sever years, a few failed marriages and half a dozen trips to rehab to capture. Of course, tell him this and he’ll shrug it off.
“There’s no real mystery to it,” he says. “My writing is probably best described as free-association. I begin playing - figuring out a chord structure, thinking about a melody - and then I just start singing out loud. Of course, my moods - the things I’m going through at the time - all affect the music.”
It’s these lyrics - paired with Sturm’s emotive singing style - that strike the listeners first. Deeply personal, his songs ive he impression of reading excerpts from a private journal, one picked up on a whim, but filled with the kind of longing and truth that lingers long after the journal has been buried back under the piles of paper on a desk.
Currently, Sturm is working on his first full-length album of original music, “Unspoken Conversations”, a 14-song opus (three years in the making) filled with the indie pop-rock, alt-country infused sound fans have come to expect from the songwriter. The album is avaliable at all Wooden Nickel locations, Sam Goody and B-Sharp Guitars, the shop on Getz Road where Sturm does his 9-to-5 gig. Sturm’s future performances can be found on his Web site, www.matthewsturm.com
“It’s taken years to get it right,” he says. “There were plenty of false starts with this album - finding the right musicians, the right producer. Finally, we all sat down and wrote down exactly what we wanted the album to sound like - a combination of funk, rock, folk, alt-country. Something for everyone.”
Sturm stops talking and finishes his grilled cheese sandwich.
“Ok,” he says. “Can we talk about comic books now?”
Emma Downs, a native of Fort Wayne, recently returned from New York state and continues to write her column “First Person” for The News Sentinel, where whe previously worked as a features writer.
Unspoken Conversations Review
By Jason Hoffman
Matthew Sturm has been kicking around the Fort Wayne music scene for the past few years, polishing his stage presence to a razor sharp edge. When he decided to move from the coffee houses to the clubs he wisely surrounded himself with musicians even more talented than his formidable self. It just happened that Jamie Simon and Jerry Sparkman (bass and drums) of The Blue Moon Boys had their schedules free, as did guitarist Thom Grant of the amazing Red Ball Jets. Starting your band with an established rhythm section is like learning to drive in a Mercedes, but Sturm has never been one to do things on the cheap.
For instance when the Matthew Sturm Band went to record their first album, they went to the most prestigious studio in town, Sweetwater Studios. Producer George Conner found their first takes too polished and decided to record the band live, allowing them to give vent to their natural raw edge that often only finds expression through a live performance.
And just like their live shows, the 14 tracks on Unspoken Conversations span a variety of styles while maintaining a warm, fun and friendly feel. The album roars to life with “So Tired,” although the roughed up modern guitars and energetic pace are anything but lethargic. “Runnin,” and “Placid” have appealing hints of Matchbox 20 that effortlessly bring a smile to your face. “Atlantic” surprises us, with Sturm showcasing his admirable skill on the piano as he passionately sings this sad ballad. The Dave Matthew band gets the nod in “Stories,” a quiet song that builds to an incendiary guitar solo. Speaking of solos, “Girl Crazy” takes a bluesy riff, pumps in a bit of 70s R&B for a solid groove and then lets everyone take a solo. “Ahhh” starts off with piano, sounding a bit like a Ben Folds Five song, but quickly takes off in its own direction, compliments of the very inventive bass line. The Barenaked Ladies get their day with the breezy rockabilly of “The Previously Unsung Story of Joey Licciano,” which has the great line of “I’ll tell you the story of a guy that you once knew / Though you never, ever wanted to.” Although many artists have been mentioned, Sturm doesn’t resort to ripping off any particular sound. His skill at songwriting is so well developed that he’s able to effortlessly incorporate these myriad influences into a new and very enjoyable creation.
Unspoken Conversations will give even dedicated homebodies a chance to hear why this band was awarded the “Best New Band of 2003” Whammy, in addition to being selected for two Essentials CDs (both songs from these collections are included as unlisted bonus tracks). It’s mature rock with instant appeal backed by solid musicianship. What are you waiting for? Get off yer duff and get thee to a Wooden Nickel post haste!!!
Matt Sturm is a mess. His sad, round eyes look sadder and slightly less round than usual. His on-the-verge mutton chops fade into a three- or four-day growth. His red, faded T-shirt with the words “Where Am I Going” in small, fractured black letters hangs on his tired frame. And his hair … well … his moppish hair is matted to his head in patterns usually found under motorcycle helmets. He’s got a slight wheeze and a case of the sniffles.
“I’ve had a cold for two weeks,” he tells me as we stand in the showroom of B-Sharp Guitars, where Sturm pulls a regular shift. As we talk he sips tea from a stainless steel mug that says Matthew Sturm on it.
His cold has him beat, he says. But it has not prevented him and his band from being a hot ticket around town. In the span of a week the Matthew Sturm Band held a CD release party, played a block party on the landing, took part in a Rolling Stones tribute and played a gig in Indianapolis. Then there’s the nuisance of a full-time job to pay the bills. No time to worry about a cold or the particulars of appearance.
The Matthew Sturm Band now have a regular gig lined up for the summer. Beginning June 11, and every other Friday night after that, Sturm, Jerry Sparkman, Jamie Simon and Thom Grant will play at Fort Wayne Botanical Conservatory’s Starlight CafÈ series. The bi-weekly events are an attempt to draw more people to the conservatory by way of the terrace garden, an island of greenery in the heart of the city. Matthew Sturm Band will open each evening at 7 p.m., and will be followed by local bands such as The Humanity, The Wailhounds and Definitely Gary on a rotating basis. All ages are welcome, and the five buck cover will get a bottomless cup of coffee or pop.
When thinking of Sturm and band mates Simon, Sparkman and Grant, one central question keeps popping up, in the form of a joke: What do you get when you combine three rockabilly fugitives and folkie on the lam? A cover band that plays originals. Like most jokes, it’s not funny. Then again, it has a point, however small. The convergence of Sturm, Simon, Sparkman and Grant hardly seems a recipe for success in a town that values conformity in rebellion, moderation in jubilance and familiarity in entertainment.
Sturm began his musical life playing acoustic guitar and singing at the Toast & Jam in 1997. At that time, Simon and Sparkman comprised the rhythm section of The Blue Moon Boys and were touring the country and Europe. Grant played guitar in the Red Ball Jets. Both of those bands enjoyed wide appreciation for their raucous rock n’ roll.
From the outside, the formation and success of this band seems unlikely. It seems that way to Sturm, too. But he’s not complaining. The band won the Whammy for Best New Performer in 2003.
“I never would have believed I’d be playing with them,” Sturm says. “I’m a hack. I’m the first to admit it.” Self-deprecation coming from someone drinking tea from a mug with his name on it and who leads a band with his name on it is a little tough to take at face value. But coming from Sturm, it somehow seems genuine.
“It’s embarrassing,” Sturm says of the mug and the band name. “I cringe when I say ‘Matthew Sturm Band.’”
Leaving the mug aside, the eponymous band name has a purpose, he says. Band names, like The Acrylic Muscles or Impossible Fanatic, for instance, tend to hold musicians hostage to a particular style of music, Sturm says. “We can get away with more variance on stage,” he says. “Bands have to focus on style more.”
If avoiding a pigeon hole is on Sturm’s to-do list, he’s done that. Though taking the slot of the cover band for the Starlight CafÈ series, the Matthew Sturm Band has much more to offer. Unspoken Conversations, the band’s first release, covers a lot of ground. All Sturm compositions, the 12 songs on the CD range from pop tunes to rock ballad, from alt country to love driven angst.
Recorded live at Sweetwater Studios, Unspoken Conversations, was produced by George Conner. Sturm says Conner grasped immediately what was needed to give the songs the slightly smudged appearance they needed. “The original takes were too polished, too clean,” Sturm says. “George came in, used every microphone they had and recorded us all at once, instead of separately. That gave it more of a live, edgy sound. He nailed the sound we were looking for. More of a Ben Folds, Ryan Adams kind of sound. We’re really happy with it.”
Sturm took three years to write the songs, all of which would fit nicely into a set of covers, especially when the covers tend to be obscure to begin with. “I’m thinking we’ll get away with playing some of our originals,” Sturm says. Playing covers is fun and is a good way to get a crowd going, Sturm says. But the real focus of the band is on original material.
And if the response at the CD release party last month at Columbia Street West is any indication, the buying public likes that focus. “It went well,” Sturm says. “We sold 75 percent of the CDs we had.”
Sturm says the future of the band looks good. Though he’s not harboring dreams of superstardom, a certain amount of recognition beyond the Summit City would be nice. As long as they all keep having fun, more than a modicum of success is inevitable.
“We’ve had a great deal of success in the short time we’ve been playing,” Sturm says. “We learn from each other. They all have great stage presence. I mean, they’re really good players, and they’re professionals. From me I think they’ve learned to not over do it. Pop music, which is basically what we play, should be taken a little less seriously.”
Whatzup Best of 2004
“I had the first rehearsal with the boys in December 2002,” Matthew Sturm said in reference to his band’s beginnings. During their short existence, though, Sturm and “the boys” have accomplished a lot - Whammy Award for Best New Performer in 2003, the release of their first CD Unspoken Conversations (runner-up for Best Local CD Release this year) in 2004, performing as part of the recent Flatpick Music Revue, sharing hosting duties with Mike Conley for who’s with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and a continued presence in area clubs.
Sturm has surrounded himself with something of an all-star lineup: former Red Ball Jet Thom Grant on lead guitar; former Blue Moon Boy and 2004 Best Jazz Performer nominee Jamie Simon on drums; and newest member Andy Pauquette, considered by many to be among the area’s finest bass guitarist. It’s no surprise, then, that the Matthew Sturm Band have now moved up from Best New Performer to Best Original Rock Performer.
“That’s a bit of a misnomer,” Sturm said. “I’m an original artist who, unfortunately to pay the bills, plays covers. We oftentimes do perform and are expected to play a certain amount of covers. However, when it seems as though we’re dealing with a pretty open-minded crowd, we’ll work the originals in. Nine times out of 10, they go over well. We’re always trying to incorporate more originals into the set.”
Original music is what the Matthew Sturm Band does best. Unspoken Conversations is comprised exclusively of Sturm’s original compositions, and he credits producer George Conner with making the project what it is.
“We started the album in August, 2003,” he said. “We finished about four tracks, and all of us were pretty unhappy with the way it turned out. We started from scratch and had George come in, and he did some really amazing thing with mic placement, giving it a very live sound. Very rough around the edges.
“The album has been very well received. It just so happens that I wrote about six song after the CD release party that I am very happy with. I’ve now got enough material for another album, and we’re starting to make arrangements to make that happen.
“It was also good to be nominated in as many categories as we were [Sturm was up for Performer of the Year, Best Live Performer/Solo, Best Local CD Release, Best Singer/Songwriter and Best Country Music Club - yes, you’re reading that correctly - and his band was up for Best Live Performer/Band] and it’s good to finally win one. Not that Sturm is new to Whammy Awards; besides winning last year’s Best New Performer Whammy, he was named Best New Solo Performer for 2000 This one, however, means the most.
“Probably the biggest honor is that it was for Best Original Rock Band, because we really do try to focus on the original songs, and it’s paid off.”
All of this is great news for the Matthew Sturm Band, and Matt will probably have to make further arrangements to attend next year’s Whammy Awards as well.
Whatzup Best of 2005
Matt Sturm is a regular guy with anything but a regular talent. Sturm and the band he fronts, the Matthew Sturm Band, is, likewise, more than just a regular band. As winner of the Original Rock Performer Whammy two years running, Matthew Sturm Band has proven itself again and again with engaging live shows and a fine CD, Unspoken Conversations.
The band has changed bass players a few times since the CD was released but the rest of the stellar lineup remains. With Sturm on guitar, piano, vocals and auxiliary triangle, Thom Grant on guitar and vocals, Jamie Simon on drums and Damian Miller on bass and vocals, this is one hot band. (Simon and Miller play in Legendary Trainhoppers with Sturm. Grant played with Red Ball Jets when that band was lighting up stages around town.)
Sturm, it seems, is also the proud owner/proprietor of a very small country bar residing within him, near his pancreas, perhaps, or his gall bladder. It is apparently a popular club (though likely A-list only, given the out -of-the-way locale and limited seating) placing a distant second to the Rock-N-Horse. He likes visiting New York City, selling guitars and watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development and Smallville His favorite Beatle is Paul. When hungry he’s likely to head for the nearest Panera for a Chicken Olivada sandwich. His favorite color is blue. He might like walks on the beach at sunset and Champagne-filled hot tubs, too. I don’t know about those last two. I am not sure I want to. When he is not doing any of the above he is writing songs, thus the “Original Rock” nomination.
Sturm has fronted this particular band for three years, though he says he has been a musician for 25 years, a claim that is beyond dispute, really. He should know, right? “I think I came out of the womb singing,” he said. From the womb he headed to the coffee shops of Fort Wayne, quickly earning a reputation as a gifted player and singer. He taught himself to play guitar at age 16 and began writing songs shortly thereafter. He has not stopped. When he was starting out, he cited as influences Lennon and McCartney, Noel Gallagher, and many others, including local talents Sunny Taylor and Michael Schwarte. These days Sturm is well on his way toward finding his own voice, a process that is as difficult as it is rewarding.
Of his current Whammy win, he cites surprise as his overriding emotion. “I can’t believe we got it,” he said. “If there is an award to win, this is it. This is why we do this. This is what it’s all about.”
Matthew Sturm : Lucky Guy
by Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
It’s rare that Matthew Sturm channels his energy into interests without getting bored. He used to be the self-appointed number one fan of television’s ‘Alias’, but these days he’s not quite sure if the show is in it’s fifth season. One thing is for certain, he stopped watching somewhere around the third season. He once wrote a screenplay, ‘Time to Leave’, lined up local actors and scouted locations, only to have his attention torn away by the same thing that always wins out in the end: music.
Time and time again, year after year, music has always been the driving force in this man’s life. Since very early on, age 3 or 4, Sturm was singing in the church choir and trying his hand at the piano. Fast forward to his sophomore year in high school when he got his hands on a bass guitar, he no sooner had that figured out than picked up an electric guitar. He used “a little logic, but guessing too” to write a song the very first day he picked up the instrument. He had what he calls “a knack’ for it. We are all the better for it.
Sturm still cannot believe his good luck. He sometimes feels like Wes Anderson, a onetime unknown director of the small budget film Bottle Rocket, who now boasts such stars as Bill Murray and Gwyneth Paltrow in the credits of his big budget (yet still quirky) films.
Sturm remembers trying to get the courage up to play at Toast and Jam, after having gone and sat in the audience to watch such greats as Michael Schwarte and Duane Eby. He doesn’t remember how he got the courage, since these shows were not simply ‘open mic’, they were truly evenings where the best of the best played and sang along. After he played, he remembers Schwarte inviting him over to his house for a jam on the following Sunday. When Sturm arrived, he was met by Schwarte, Eby, Dave Carthol, and Phil Schuger (a fellow who would end up playing in Sturm’s band seven years later) with open arms. It was an incredible feeling of acceptance and camaraderie.
He also noticed a “skinnier version of Noel Gallagher” standing nearby; the fellow turned out to be Elton Bishop, who invited Sturm out to his studio to do some recording, free of charge. These recordings led to some local plays on the radio and eventually Sturm was asked to attend a taping of the Morning Sickness show, which was hosted by J.J. and Chad on, “the edge or extreme.” The show gave Sturm the chance to play one of his songs live on the air and have a pretty good chance to skip school, since all of this was happening his senior year of high school.
In 2001 Sturm was kicking the idea of a band around and started rehearsing with several musicians. Mike Clem, Hubie Ashcraft (now of Twelve and Two), Eric Mackey, Matt Gates and Cale Reese all played along with Sturm in several rehearsal settings, but things never gelled and nothing ever materialized. This led to more solo shows and after awhile Sturm thought his idea for a band deserved a second shot. This time he chose to play with Tim Beeler, Kent Klee, and Thom Grant. This collective never quite gelled as well and it was apparent that the intentions were different. A show at Columbia Street had already been booked, but unfortunately it fell through. The next incarnation consisted of Dave Taylor, Mike Deppisch, and Reuben Brenneman and this group actually did appear live on the stage at Columbia Street. The band quickly dissolved, but not before recording a track titled, ‘Breathe’, for inclusion on the Edge/Extreme Essentials volume 6.
In the winter of 2002, Jamie Simon ran into Sturm and asked him how things were going musically. His innocent query ended up putting him in the current line-up of Sturm’s band as the drummer. “I really love having Jamie in this band. He’s my sonic brother,” says Sturm. “There is a lot of common knowledge between us, a sort of shorthand, that is a total result of him being such a professional and seasoned player.”
Jamie brought Jerry Sparkman along to play bass, and Thom Grant filled out the band on electric guitar. Within two weeks of coming together, the band rehearsed twice and then played their very first gig at Pierre’s to promote Sturm’s song, ‘Breathe’, off of the Essentials compilation.
The band has undergone some changes since then; Thom left for a while to pursue school, but is now back and better than ever. “Things that would have needed to have been corrected or worked out kind of took care of themselves in the time that Thom was away,” says Sturm. After the departure of Sparkman, Andy Pauquette took over on bass. He has since moved his attention toward other musical opportunities, and these days Damian Miller is plucking the fat strings.
Sturm considers himself lucky to still be able to do something that he holds so dear. He’s also finding inspiration in others on the scene. “Lee Miles … I love him, but I think it’s out of pure jealousy. Kevin Hambrick, Sankofa, and Left Lane Cruiser. Those are all musicians that I hear and get stuck in my head. I just have to say that I really miss Violated By… and that has nothing to do with John Cheesebrew being in the group.”
Sturm’s future plans include keeping music his front-and-center passion. “It’s a career. Not a profession. That means that yes, money enters into it. I simply want to be able to make a living at this. Tour and make records. I don’t have any lofty dreams of selling platinum, although that would be nice. But, it would still be something I would take in stride. Making enough to live off of and having it be a means to an end is really all I’m looking for. Anyone that thinks they shouldn’t be compensated is selling themselves short.”
He also plans on recording another album. But first he’s going to have to stop re-writing Pete Yorn or Josh Rouse tunes. “I swear I’ve written three songs in the past couple of months, after I listen back, I think, ‘That’s just a Pete Yorn song, only slower and with different words.’”
Difficult as it may be sometimes, Sturm wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s the only thing that has held my attention all these years. I literally don’t know what I’d do without music.”
We shudder to think.
Sturm’s strum is acoustic refined
By Gregg Bender
You probably won’t be heading a lot of acoustic standards when you catch Matthew Sturm’s act at night spots around Fort Wayne.
No “Fire and Rain,” no “Country Roads.” Maybe nothing you’ve ever heard before depending on your age and influences.
What you will hear are more contemporary covers and originals that reflect a catalog targeted to 20-somethings.
“Oasis, Josh Rouse, Counting Crows, Weezer, Pete Yorn, I try to play a lot of stuff that people aren’t regularly exposed to,” the local musician said.
“There is so much music out there,” he said. “I not only want to play songs people want to hear, but that I like, too.”
“If they want to hear a Dave Matthews tune, I might pick one that is a little more obscure.”
And the 25-year-old Monroeville native attracts a following whether he’s playing solo, with his own band, the Matthew Sturm Band, or with the Legendary Trainhoppers.
Growing up, Sturm was exposed to music all his life. His dad played the accordian, and his mother, Marlane, is the music director at Aldersgate United Methodist Church.
Sturm took up piano early on, but switched to guitar when he was about 16, and never looked back
“I was playing out that fall,” he said.
Sturm has recorded his own CD, “Unspoken Conversations,” with The Matthew Sturm Band, and another CD, “Ramble On,” with The Legendary Trainhoppers. Both are on sale at Wooden Nickel, B-Sharp Music and other local outlets.
Both also spotlight Sturm’s songwriting prowess with 12 of his own originals on “Unspoken Conversations” and more of a collaborative effort with members of the Trainhoppers.
Sturm said the Trainhoppers started as an excuse to jam with some friends from other local groups, the Brown Bottle Band, and the now defunct Go Dog Go.
“We got together to play and maybe put out a record, but got an opportunity to record with some financial backing, and the CD is selling,” he said.
“Everyone is the band had an idea; some were bringing country, I was bringing some pop rock and we fused the two…it is kind of an amalgam of different influences,” he said.
“We recorded it in a week in California, it was a great experience,” he said. “Kind of a Traveling Wilburys, The Band, type of thing would be one way to describe it,” he said.
Sturm said he loves playing with the different bands but also enjoys the freedom of doing the solo thing, too.
And when catching Sturm’s solo act, don’t be surprised when you hear four-part harmonies and several guitar parts coming from one guy.
Sturm uses a relatively new to, The JamMan, when playing. It allows the musician to record a track while playing, then sing or play along to the recorded part when it comes back around, building choruses as the song progresses or adding more guitar parts. It’s really cool to watch.
One recent night he played the Joe Cocker version of “The Letter” and by the time the song was really going, he had built the background acapella part - “my baby wrote me a letter” - and was belting out the trademark Cocker gravel-throated grunts and groans.
“I’m a sucker for harmonies, and it’s great to see people’s reactions,” Sturm said of the device.
You might also want to take a look at Sturm’s customized 1998 Gibson J-45 acoustic.
We’ll file this next part in the “Don’t try this at home” category.
To get the sound he wanted, Sturm said he burned the finish off by rubbing it with alcohol and setting it on fire. He then sprayed it with a lacquer-based polish to restore and protect the now-bare wood.
“It allowed more opportunity for the wood to vibrate and I basically took it back 30 years,” he said. “There’s a good chance that I ruined it, and I would be devastated, but if I get a good 10 years of it sounding like I want, it would be worth it.”
Sturm has no illusions about his future in music, although he admitted it would be great if one of the projects he was involved with took off.
“If I get to play, have fun and sustain a decent living, I will be happy,” he said.
New York next scene for pop-savvy Sturm
the Journal Gazette
Matthew Sturm saved my life once.
Now that is a great lead.
And I wouldn’t have been able to use it a couple of weeks ago because, at that point, Sturm hadn’t saved my life!
But more about that later.
After a decade on the local music scene, Sturm is leaving northeast Indiana to try his luck in the Big Apple.
He will perform two more Thursday shows at Mid City Grill, 1802 Spy Run Ave.
But the one you’ll really want to attend is the bash Oct. 26 which will be characterized by cameo appearances, many weeping, free flowings of brotherhood and booze, and gifts.
“It’ll be two days before my birthday,” says Sturm, will turn 26 on Oct 28. “So I expect everyone to bring a present.”
Sturm started his Summit City stint as a folkie, morphed into the unlikely frontman of a toothsome rock band, then brought his pop sensibilities to the roots-minded Legendary Trainhoppers.
He won some local awards, released a fine solo CD and made his mark in most of the dozen or so scattershot was a hardscrabble local musician has of making his mark in this town before he decides he’s sick of me describing him as a “local musician.”
Sturm isn’t sick of that, not that he’ll admit it to me anyway. But he has decided to move on.
Sturm says he’s been obsessed with New York City since he was a kid.
“Since I was like 4 or 5,” he says. “It’s completely unexplainable. I loved 'Ghostbusters,’ I loved the Ninja Turtles. As a kid, it made perfect sense that anyone who likes those two things should like that place.”
He probably doesn’t want me to reveal this, but the thing that really tipped the scales was an episode of the sitcom, “Full House.”
“Uncle Jesse was complaining about not having a record contract and he said, 'I’m 24, and I’ll be 25 next year,’ ” Sturm says.
“Can you believe Uncle Jesse was supposed to be 24?”
All strainings of credulity aside, Sturm empathized with Uncle Jesse’s sense that time was running out.
He will be leaving the last weekend of October, and as of mid-October he had no dwelling or job lined up.
But what he and his girlfriend do have is a lot of money saved up, enough to prepay a years worth of rent for an above-shabby one bedroom apartment in any of the five boroughs.
I first interviewed Sturm 6 ½ years ago and we sat in more or less the same booth at the Dash-In for the last interview as we did for the first.
During the earlier chat, Sturm, then 19, said: “As long as I have enough money for gas and food and strings for my guitar, I’m all set. I’m not looking to have lots of spending money.”
Sturm cringes when he thinks of that quote.
“That’s still true for me,” he says. “I still fell that way. But if I could go back in time and sit at the edge of the table here, I’d say things to my younger self like, 'Oh jeez. You’ve got some stuff coming up my friend.”
Sturm was a fixture on Toast & Jam’s acoustic music scene when Toast & Jam saw to the care and feeding of an acoustic music scene.
Local folk booker Brad Etter recalls that Sturm took it upon himself to address the generation gap in the place.
“Matt served as a bridge of sorts between the younger musicians and the older musicians,” he says.
“While the house was full of all kinds of musicians (for open stage), Matt would usually request that the older and much more established musicians, such as MIchael Schwarte, Dave Kartholl, Duane Eby, and John Minton, join him and accompany him for his open stage slots. Matt would map out and choreograph the arrangements, and he would excel in his role as band leader and arranger for these impromptu sessions.”
Sturm’s aspirations took and unexpected turn when he was approached by drummer Jamie Simon at the defunct Fairfield Avenue blues club, The Hot Spot.
Simon had been a member of the rockabilly band the Blue Moon Boys, maybe our most successful act, not just in terms of making waves outside Fort Wayne but also generating the longest-lasting ripples.
Sturm couldn’t quite tell for sure, but it seemed as if Simon wanted to form a band with him.
“If that hadn’t happened,” Sturm says, “I don’t know what would have happened.”
As improbable parings go, this may have struck some people as on par with James Taylor teaming up with Lee Rocker. But the Matthew Sturm Band, comprised initially of three former rockabilly musicians plus Sturm, made a persuasive case for its composition in its compositions.
“Unspoken Conversations,” the group’s first CD, is a timeless acquisition.
I have included links to my two favorite cuts at the end of the Web version of this column.
Another seemingly improbable project was Matt Kelley’s alt country supergroup, the Legendary Trainhoppers.
“When the idea was put in front of us, I thought it was a fun idea,” Sturm says, “But I didn’t think it was going to go over to well. Boy, was I wrong about that.”
Sturm says the Ttrainhoppers’ packed-to-the-rafters CD release party in the Indiana Hotel lobby and the recording of that CD in California with Grammy-winner producer Scott Mathews are two of his pre-Manhattan highlights.
“I am desperately going to miss getting up on stage, not really wanting to play, looking over to see Matt Kelley grinning ear to ear, and thinking 'OK, we’re good.’ ” Sturm says.
“People have asked who we’ll ask to replace Sturm in the Trainhoppers,” Kelley says. “For me, it’s like that line is 'Say Anything’ - 'Do you want somebody? Or do you want me?’ And the answer, of course, is that I wanted Sturm. So there will be no replacement.”
Kelley says Sturm brought a certain pop savvy to the Trainhoppers that was needed.
“Matt has a pop sensibility, in the best sense of that word, that changed the sound of the Trainhoppers in a very cool way. There was a lot of push-pull in the collaboration, and I think it was always created a more interesting, vital sound. It helped us reach that 'past modern’ vibe (Kelley’s term for forward-thinking roots music) that we were after. Without him, our next album will probably sound more like Pete Seeger than Pete Yorn.”
Sturm says Kelley impressed upon him the importance of forgoing rock star posturings, whether they are intended or not.
“He tought me that, in your dealings with people, you respect everybody as you’d respect yourself,” he says.
Sturm says his shyness has been misinterpreted as rudeness over the years. But he knows shyness, however it is interpreted, is not going to get him anywhere in New York City.
He is no Pollyanna when it comes to his prospects out there, either.
“I am in no way going out there to seek fortune and fame,” he says. “I don’t expect an A&R man to walk in and say (Sturm affects a British accent), 'You are so great. What are you doing playing in a coffee house? I just happen to have a contract right here in my pocket…’ ”
“I intend to play music to put myself in a better place to succeed,” Sturm says. “I have no delusions.”
If things don’t work out the way he hopes they will in New York, Sturm says he probably won’t return to Fort Wayne. But he doesn’t rule out the possibility.
“The options are limitless. Nothing’s impossible,” he says. “I’m young enough to still believe that.”
As for the afore-discussed lead for this piece, it happened as we were walking back to our respective cars.
I stepped out into a crosswalk and was almost hit by a vehicle trying to surge through the intersection ahead of an impending red light.
Sturm shouted me back from certain disaster. Somehow, I don’t think promising to buy his next CD will square things between us.
But if I could persuade all of you to promise to buy his next CD…
You can keep up with all things Sturm at www.matthewsturm.com.
A very special thank you to Steve Penhollow, Sean Smith, Emma Downs, Gregg Bender, John DeGroff and Mark Hunter.