This Indiana boy is racking up millions of spins without A Major label, but where did he come from? Plus: new music!
“I was 10 or 11 when my Dad bought me a guitar,” Matt Mason nonchalantly begins the story. “This old man at our church began teaching me to play. We had no microphones, which was great for a beginner since no one could hear me”
Matt Mason isn’t a name you may know off the top of your head, but across the country people are streaming his music on their favorite music platforms. You may not recognize his beard, Willie Nelson braids and big glasses, but you probably have heard his popular songs “E” and “Feather In Her Halo”. We sat with Matt for a chat about his music career and the path that he’s taken. “I only needed three chords. Didn’t matter what key they where in, I played those three chords. I played in my bedroom. Listened to the radio. Kinda dreaming. I thought ‘Man, wouldn’t it be nice to be one of these guys’. I didn’t think that was a real job. That was a whole other world. They were superstars and I couldn’t touch that. So, I’d just play in my room. Singing Johnny Cash songs. On a trip to Florida – I was about 16 – my Dad said there was an American Legion having a live Karaoke. There’s a live band, you give them a couple songs and you get up and sing. Dad took me to that, the first time I was in front of a real crowd to sing. I did a couple Merle Haggard songs. The people enjoyed it, but it was the American Legion. That’s their style of music.”
“There was an old man in the audience whose son ran the Eastern State Exposition. It’s the New England State Fair. They do it in September and it’s a huge deal. The really big festival and fair. His son had booked the talent for years and was Vice President of the festival board. He said he had never reached out to his son about an artist, but he said he’d reach out to him to have me come out there. He wanted a CD to mail him. I had to tell him I didn’t have CDs. How do you go about doing that? I thought you had to be a professional to have a CD. We went back home to Indiana. Dad called around and found a little recording studio. We put some songs down and sent it to him and he liked it.”
“We opened up for Charlie Daniels Band. I went from never being in front of people – maybe forty to fifty people at the church on Sunday morning, Very small – to the American Legion that held maybe a couple hundred, to eight thousand people. That’s how many were there for Charlie that day. He’s the festival king. He plays festivals and people flock out. It was nerve wracking but a great experience. That was the first time I met someone in the music industry. I was wearing a cowboy hat and sitting outside his bus, pouring rain. I was thinking this would be cool to do this for a living, to be on that bus and travel. I wanted to get an autograph, but this guy came to the bus door. I told him I’d like to meet Charlie and get him to sign something. He said ‘Nah, Charlie has gone to bed. He goes to bed right after the show.’ I stood there, looking at the bus, and Charlie walked from the back to the front. He told that guy ‘If anyone knocks on our bus, you come wake me up.’ I left there thinking if I get a chance to do this, I want to be like that. Some people see it as an inconvenience to sign something. To take time out of their day. As big a name as Charlie carries, to stop and say these guys put food on my table. It said something to me. I’m a nobody, but I still try to take that approach. If someone thinks I’m a somebody, that’s enough for me.”
“Out of that experience, I was introduced to someone at William Morris Agency. He’s the second Vice President now, but at that point he wasn’t. We hit it off real well, just buddies. I was never signed to William Morris but he was the guy I could call and ask questions. If I needed some advice, he’d shoot me straight. Usually just making me feel better about something I was doing. I moved to Nashville right after high-school and started electrician school. When I wasn’t in school, I’d go down to the clubs. I wasn’t old enough to get into the clubs, but I’d sit outside and listen to the music, chat with the bands. I’d go down there all day. My friend at William Morris got me on stage and I played Folsom Prison and a Waylon tune. When I got done, there were people on other people’s shoulders, cheering. I thought they were cheering for me, but Hank Jr. had walked in. They were not applauding for me at all. For that five seconds, though, I thought I was a king.”
“I stopped going to electrician school and started playing music full time. That’s why I moved to Nashville in the first place. That friend from William Morris called me and told me about a competition show. American Idol was popular at the time and there wasn’t a lot of other competition shows, yet. It was called Nashville Star. There was three previous seasons. Buddy Jewell and Miranda Lambert were some of the previous winners. I said absolutely, though I hadn’t seen the show. I’ve never been much on television. Unintentionally, I’ve had the attitude that if you like what I do, that is great. If you don’t like what I do, that’s just as great. When I went to the initial audition, it was a little place that you could still smoke in at the time. I don’t smoke anymore, but I did back then. I went in, had a cigarette. This was between shifts and I only had twenty minutes. I had to get back to start my next shift. I remember jumping on stage, dropped my cigarette and sang Dixie Land Delight, then put my guitar back in the case and headed out the door. No hi, no thanks or anything. I talked to no one. A month later, the producer pulled me aside and said that is the reason I got on the show. It intrigued them that they were doing a national television show and they thought I could care less of who they were or anything.”
“I did Nashville Star. I made it to the top four. Placing fourth meant I made the national tour. Chris Young won that year and he went on to be successful. I took a nosedive in my personal life. I became a big drinker. Drugs took over my life. During that whole tour, that is what my life consisted of. I was on the road to support my addictions. After that, I toured regularly. A year after Nashville Star, I had gotten so bad I ended up in rehab in Indiana. It was an intensive outpatient program, three to four days a week. My wife and I started dating in high-school, and we’d had a break during all this stuff. While in rehab, we got back together. That kept me clean. I got my head on straight, stopped drinking and left everything. I was pursuing my career for the first time clean. Really trying to make something of it. We had our daughter and our son shortly after that. About the time our son was two, my friend from William Morris calls me again. He said they are doing another show that CMT is putting together. When I got the email, I shut my computer and I said I wasn’t doing this crap. I’m not doing this show. No way. I didn’t want to be the guy who went from competition to competition and turn into a reality star. Not that it’s beneath me, it’s just I’m not in this to be famous. It’s the music that drives me. My wife said “What else are you doing right now? What else do you have going on?” I had to chew on that for awhile. I ended up doing CMT’s Next Superstar. They only did one season, maybe because I was so good. Or the ratings weren’t so good. Not sure.”
“Winning that got me signed to Warner Brothers in Nashville. They put me on a national tour with Luke Bryan. He was starting to do small arenas at the time. Ten to fifteen thousand people a night and I was opener. Me and a guitar player did a twenty minute acoustic show. Par for course, when things start going good I would find a way to nail it to the wall. I’d figure out a way to mess it up. And that’s what I did, again. I got back into drinking real bad. I plummeted again right at the edge of what people think of as successful. At the precipice of musical success, I stopped and ran the other way as fast as I could. My life spun out of control worse than the first time. We bought a conversion van and I was road dogging. Two hundred dates or more a year, three to four years in a row. At the end of 2016, I was touring regularly playing three to four days a week. During this time, a bunch of events happened. I was introduced to Smith Music. My mother called me when I was on the road in New Mexico. Mother’s sometimes tell you what you need to hear instead of what you want to hear. My mom’s famous line was ‘ you’re not going to want to hear this but…’. I would hate to hear those words because I knew I’d have to sit through a lecture again. She told me my wife was going to leave me if I didn’t get things straightened out. I went for a walk. We were staying in this motel in Ruidoso, NM, at the time. I grew up in church. It’s where I learned how to play guitar. My parents are believers, but it didn’t interest me until that moment. I told the Lord ‘I’ve never done this and I don’t know what this looks like. If this is real, I want to do it for real. I want to find out how real this is and I’ll give it all I’ve got. But if this is a big joke, I’m out.’ So I signed to Smith Music and that’s been over two years ago. I played clubs all of 2017. I enjoy playing, always have, but the places I was playing bothered me. Not that I have issue with people going to clubs, but it creates an atmosphere that causes lots of problems in my life. I came off the road late 2017, and in December my distribution income doubled. That was confirmation that I could come off the road, and I have continued to see it grow consistently.”
“I haven’t released new music in three years. Nothing. Now, starting in October of 2018 I went into the studio unintentionally. I love it because none of my career has been intentional. The songs that have done the best for me are demos. I had no intention of putting them out. They weren’t supposed to make it out, but they did unintentionally. We came to Texas in October to do some shows and everything worked out. It just kind of happened. We recorded three new songs and plan for a new song every month through December.”
Matt stepped into ReelTime Audio in Denton, TX with producer and Texas legend Jerrod Flusche to craft his first new recordings after a long hiatus. In April, Matt will also be releasing his first album “The Writer’s Collection Vol. 1” on exclusive colored vinyl. DD
Ricky Smith knows music. His company helped build a scene, now they help build labels.
There are few people who can say they have been apart of a grand undertaking like Ricky Smith, CEO of Smith Music. You may be aware of Smith Music due to their huge music distribution network that includes Bucc-ee’s, the warehouse sized convenience store and gift shops that dot Texas highways. Ricky has been making Live at Billy Bob’s Texas albums since he inherited the company from his father. Now he does more than that by helping artists create their own labels. Over a plate of tacos, we sat down for a chat about his life and where the music business is going.
Q: Where does your music career begin?
A: When I was a kid, around 12 or so, I would fall asleep on the side stage of Billy Bob’s. But when I first started working, – I don’t know if I should say this – but we used to film our festivals and Dad had me go through the VHS tapes and mark the timecode where women were flashing the stage. That way we could censor it. What a way to start your music industry career!
Q: Smith Music has been around 20 plus years. When did they begin distribution?
A: When our distribution company went out of business! We went to work and built a network of gift stores, independent record shops and large chain media outlets to get our music on the shelves. Then iTunes, Spotify and Pandora came along and we had to adapt to those emerging technologies which now dominates the way people listen to music. But don’t count out the physical side, yet. We still sell a lot of CDs in Bucc-ee’s and gift stores. Vinyl has made a comeback. We’re even seeing short runs of cassette tapes being sold. There are still many opportunities for bands to be seen in brick and mortar stores. The key is thinking like the big labels and marketing yourself.
Q: Where is the future of the music business?
A: I couldn’t tell you, because this industry is rapidly changing month to month. But I do know that 360˚ deals only go to a fraction of artists, so the future of the business will be built on independent distribution. Artists are gaining followers that rival some radio station’s listener bases. You have to have someone facilitate getting your music on those services and that is how we help. DD
ZAC STOKES PLOTS NEW DIRECTION AND SOUND WITH RECKLESS.
Zac Stokes is ready and poised. He’s in the studio, guitar on one knee. “Lets get this rolling” he growls. Bart Rose, engineer and producer of Fort Worth Sound, gives the thumbs up that he’s recording. Today, Zac is finishing up the acoustic tracks for his upcoming album, Reckless. The eight song album is coming together, aided by experienced studio musicians and Zac’s new partner, Cold Hammer Stills Records. As in Cold Hammer Stills, the liqueur brand that feature tantalizing pin-up girls and flavors like Chocolate Peanut Butter, Almond Enjoy and Gas Light Cinnamon. Cold Hammer Stills Records was built on owner Dan Vallot’s experiences with another artist, Justin Ross. Dan had such a wonderful experience with Justin on a song collaboration – featuring the brand’s name as the title – that Dan and his marketing whiz, Cliff Thrasher, began looking for their next project.
Zac Stokes became a starting point for doing something bigger, a full length album that fits the edginess of Cold Hammer Stills. They’re taking their hard work to Sturgis, SD for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. That first week of the 10 Day festival, Zac and Cold Hammer Stills will be dropping the new album to the half million people who attend the annual event. Before that, he will be doing a series of release shows up to the famed biker rally, beginning with a hometown show in Fort Worth. Be on the look out for more details on Zac’s social media for those shows.
Reckless features Zac’s Texas Party attitude. A southern rock meets Pantera vibe that will get your fist pumping and your heart pounding. He lets you know its in his DNA on Outlaw in My Genes, wishing he could hang with Dime Bag Darryl, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Paycheck with a screaming guitar that name drops Cold Hammer Still’s popular flavor, Black Widow. Lead guitarist Shane Hudson puts the power behind the track, giving us a taste of his hard rock leanings. He keeps it going through Famous White Line, a swampy blues tune that shows off bassist Patrick Smith’s low end talents and the drumming of Ryan Edwards.
Not everything is melt your face off rock, though. Fans of Shake Music TV will know Zac’s Shake Bootleg Series session, which featured a live cover of Charlie Daniels Band’s Long Haired Country Boy. He revisits the track with a studio version and it doesn’t disappoint as a homage to the original country rocker. Messed Up Mountain is a groovy tune about regretting that hangover, featuring a crunchy riff that comes off as Santana meets Red Dirt. We also get Drinking Away Lonely, a classic Honky Tonk style cry-in-your-beer which will sure to become jukebox favorite along with the love song You Make Me Want More.
Zac gets a little personal on the intimate song, Diana, which was inspired by one of his fan’s struggles with amphetamines. The tune has been receiving lots of praise from fans for addressing a topic that has lost prominence in the media. Zac’s hopes are for more people to be touched by the song and seek help for their addictions.