Artist of the day: Matt Hires
Matt Hires didn‚Äôt believe it. Who would?
Think about it: You work in a cabinet shop. Your small-potatoes local band just broke up. And then out of nowhere a guy sends you a MySpace message ‚Äî not a letter, not an e-mail, but a MySpace message ‚Äî claiming to be an A&R rep from Atlantic Records.
You know ‚Äî Ray Charles. Led Zeppelin. Aretha Franklin. That Atlantic Records.
‚ÄúI figured, what the hell, I‚Äôll call up the A&R dude,‚Äù Hires laughed, telling the story over a beer before a recent show at New World Brewery in Ybor City. ‚ÄúWhen I dialed the number, and the secretary picked up and said, 'Atlantic Records,‚Äô I was like, Oh, crap, this is for real.‚Äù
Yep, it was for real ‚Äî and it was the first step in a year that saw the 22-year-old Tampa singer-songwriter release a live EP, land songs on Grey‚Äôs Anatomy and Private Practice, and open for artists like Dave Matthews Band, Marc Broussard and O.A.R.
(Click the player on the left to hear an mp3 of Matt Hires' Honey, Let Me Sing You a Song.)
On Saturday, Hires will headline a solo acoustic showcase at the famed South by Southwest Music conference in Austin, Texas. After that, he‚Äôs setting sail on the second ‚ÄúMayercraft Carrier,‚Äù a music cruise headlined by John Mayer. And he‚Äôs counting the days until his debut solo album drops in June on F-Stop, an imprint of Atlantic.
Even by plucked-from-obscurity standards, Hires‚Äô breakout year has seemed to go by in a blur.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think I was really prepared for it,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúIt was always something I hoped for, but I didn‚Äôt necessarily have a backup plan, so I‚Äôm glad it worked out.‚Äù
In 2007, Hires was working in a cabinet shop and playing with a local trio, Brer, that was playing to tiny crowds of friends every other week. ‚ÄúIt was kind of a rough time for the band,‚Äù he said.
But Brer had two things going for them: (1) Microwaveable, a preternaturally polished album of singalong singles waiting to happen; and (2) Hires, whose songwriting chops and perfect pop-rock yowl made him sound like the second coming of Counting Crows‚Äô Adam Duritz. When the band broke up, their songs remained up on Brer‚Äôs MySpace page, including Hires‚Äô sweet gem Honey, Let Me Sing You a Song.
Atlantic A&R man Gregg Nadel doesn‚Äôt remember how he first came across Brer‚Äôs MySpace page. All he knows is Honey immediately stuck in his head.
‚ÄúIt just sort of caught me right away,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúI was driving around for a bunch of days listening to it. I couldn‚Äôt stop listening to this one song.‚Äù
Nadel flew to Tampa to meet with Hires, and they hashed out the beginnings of his deal. First up: Live From the Hotel Cafe, a four-song acoustic EP released in October that includes a stripped-down version of Honey.
‚ÄúWe have our eyes on certain artists and audiences that we think will click with Matt,‚Äù Nadel said, ‚Äúpeople that we‚Äôre thinking about getting him out on the road with. We think the Mayercraft is a good opportunity for him to play in front of a captive audience that‚Äôll potentially be fans."
Hires, for his part, is looking forward to heading to sea with Mayer.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs actually over my wife and I‚Äôs one-year anniversary, so I‚Äôm glad it worked that I get paid to go on a cruise,‚Äù he laughed. ‚ÄúI play four shows over five days, and that‚Äôs pretty much. The rest is just hanging out.‚Äù
Two of Hires‚Äô new songs have already made their national debut ‚Äî the passionate, pulsating On a Perfect Day popped up on the Feb. 5 episode of ABC‚Äôs Private Practice, and Turn the Page, an acoustic ballad, appeared on the Feb. 19 Grey‚Äôs Anatomy. ‚ÄúI guess they kind of like my music over there,‚Äù he laughed.‚Äù
Playing acoustic music suits Hires ‚Äî he performs barefoot onstage, and his set at South by Southwest will just be him and a guitar. But the new album is mostly with full band, and will be little poppier than Microwaveable, he said. They‚Äôre looking at promo opportunities, and he expects he‚Äôll be touring a lot this year, either on his own or in support of a bigger name.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve spent the last couple of months here in Tampa; I like just being able to hang out. But I am getting a little antsy to get out and do something,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs cool waking up in a new city every morning, playing music every night. It‚Äôs not a bad way to live.‚Äù
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt* staff writer