Blues rocker, Matt Tedder, set to release his first EP, California Mercy Me

 Photo: Kaye Askins

Photo: Kaye Askins

Having lived in both Nashville and Ft. Worth, Matt Tedder has been around music his whole life. Tedder’s wicked talent and genre-defying music carries a unique story. Having played guitar since he was 7 years old, to appearing on the ever-popular TV show, “The Voice,” Tedder blends together blues, rock and folk on his first and upcoming EP, California Mercy Me, that hits iTunes October 7th. Leading up to his album release party this Saturday at Three Links, we had the pleasure of catching up with Tedder to learn what paved the way to this moment in his career.

You’ve been playing since you were seven. How did you get into playing so young? Were your parents very musically inclined?

Yes. They really had more of an appreciation for music, they didn’t do anything professionally. But my dad kept acoustic guitars around the house and would play 3-chord Hank Williams and Merle Haggard songs, just really good classic country. My mom is from Turkey and she has that influence on me. It sounds like the Beatles to me, all that Eastern music, it just sounds so beautiful. I don’t know if it’s evident with my music now, that I took influence from my mom and dad — I probably need to cultivate that more — but I just went my own way. I hope to incorporate Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and the Eastern side of things more next time. But this EP was more of my random path of going off on blues for some reason.

When I got interested in guitar...I think what did it for me was going into a guitar shop one day and hearing my teacher of three years, Dennis Dullea. He started playing, and it was as if a dog whistle went off, like, woah, what is that?! I went over to him — I was about 10 at the time, just learning the basics. We shopped around a couple teachers at the time, just feeling ehh, ya know. But Dennis was back in that guitar shop sounding like Freddie King, true Texas blues. It just hit me somewhere, and I knew that was what I wanted to sound like — the sound I was looking for. I said, “Hey man, do you give lessons?” And he was like, “Yeah”, and threw his card.

I called the guy. I went over to his house every Sunday for three years. I learned so much from that man. Not in a here’s your sheet music way — it was visual and sonic. He would play a little riff that sounded like BB King or Jimi Hendrix, he knew it all, and he’d expect me to play that same way. I would look, I would watch, find the notes, play the notes. “I found the notes! Next riff…”, I’d say. But no, he would play it again, and again, and again. And that’s when I learned to put feeling in it — not just the notes that you’re playing. He was looking for me to actually mean to play the notes. He wasn’t so technical, he more wanted to hear my heart in it.

So he’s obviously one of your mentors. Do you have any other artists in the scene that have mentored you or helped you out along the way?

Yea. So he came from Honey Grove, Texas. His name is Tyler Bryant and I met him when he was 17 — and speaking of *’Thunderstruck’ playing in the background* — he just got off a tour with those guys, AC/DC. I lived next door to him for a year in Nashville and watched how hard that guy worked. Every time I got home, he was not far away, I could hear him. Every time I woke up, no matter what time of day, this guy was cranking ‘em out, all the time. I would go over there every now again and just watch him do demos or record, but he was definitely a great mentor.

He does it with such purity. In the industry I feel like people can get detoured by so many things, but he’s so dead set on the biggest stages there are to play—and he got it. I watched his passion, his drive. He worked harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. I got off the phone with him the other day, talking about how I’m in this weird living situation where I’m not writing enough and he said, “When you stop creating you die.” And I’m like, (sigh) “You’re right, I know...I know!” (laughs). He’s such a cool influence—really positive all the time—very hard working. So, Dennis and Tyler I owe a lot to.

So you were recently on The Voice. What made you go for that show and what was that experience like?

Nothing (laughs). They reached out to me through a YouTube video. I will give them credit for a lot of things, especially for putting a Muddy Waters song on TV. I was really happy to be embraced as a vocalist, I never really thought of myself as one...always more of a guitarist. But the vocal coach there was really sweet, Trelawny. They say Adam or Blake is really your coach, but Trelawny really grinds out and brings out your vocal strength. I never really had vocal training before that show so it’s definitely something I take from it. But, I never really practice my warm-ups as much as I should (laughs).

I think the coolest thing to take from it was the contestants and making friends with them. You know, you just live with these people for three weeks or so, and you’re all just locked in this hotel — sequestered is the word they use. You have the ability to go across the street to get McDonalds, but nothing more than that.


We saw you at Oaktopia Music Festival at Petty Fest. That was amazing. What was that like to share the stage with all those artists playing?

I was invited up there by the Texas Music Project, this organization I’ve been working with since I was 10 years old. They’re a non-profit that puts instruments in band classes, like guitars and basses, not like a trumpet. But they had me open it up, playing three songs or so, and I just had a harmonica player. I got done, and it was right before the whole Petty Fest started, and I did not expect to share the stage with them. It was just the opening thing that I was down for, but Norah Jone’s band came up to me afterwards saying, “Hey do you want to play Honeybee with Jonathan Tyler?” And I was like, “....Yeah!” (laughs). We hit it off right away, Jonathan Tyler was a really nice guy right off the bat. Alright let’s do this. It was kind of unexpected, but I just loved the entire Wildflowers record and kind of religiously listened to that. It was a surreal moment to be up there.

So let’s talk about your first EP that’s coming out. For our readers out there, what can they expect to hear on it?

I’ve been playing music professionally since I was 10, so it’s kind of the culmination of every influence I’ve picked up along the way, along with me trying to figure out my own thing. It has blues, rock & roll, an americana singer-songwriter vibe, and touches on some soul.

So this is your first chance to put out an album. Are any of these songs you wrote a while ago or is it pretty much a new collection?

Some of them are pretty old. The youngest one, I wrote it just before we recorded the EP. The oldest one I wrote when I was 17. It just kind of has hung on as a fan favorite. Everywhere I played, people would be like, “We dig that song”.  Although I’ve played it so many times that I want to move on, but as long as people want to hear it, I’m down to do it.

What song is that?

That’s "Good As Gone", one of those songs I’ve done for a long time. I tried to put a little bit of everything I’ve been influenced by on this EP, which is really hard hitting rock & roll to much  softer singer-songwriter elements. After living in Nashville and being exposed to those kind of things, I heard a lot of really incredible singer songwriters who would be able to captivate an audience with just their guitar and lyrics. So I took something from that….Obviously growing up and being a huge lover of the blues, there’s some blues on it too. I tried to add a little bit of everything I’m into at the current moment.

I feel like things will expand a little bit more because I have a really weird taste in music. I will get down to some DeAngelo and then rock out to AC/DC, then I’ll want to hear Norah Jones, and then I’ll want to hear Elliot Smith and I want to cry. It’s just all these different influences...I feel that any genre of music can put across sincerity and heart. From hard rock to really heart-felt singer songwriters, it’s evident and you can hear that emotion in all the genres with certain artists.

What was it like recording at Modern Electric where a lot of great local artists have put out some great records? Everything I’ve heard come out of that studio has been an amazing album. What was the experience like working with Beau and those guys?

Man, that’s another reason to thank Tyler. Tyler introduced me to Beau. He invited me out to the studio while he was visiting Dallas. He was like, “Hey come out to the studio and hang out”. I met Beau, and immediately thought, gosh I love that guy. He just radiates such enthusiasm for what he’s working on. He makes sure that he carefully makes his decision on what he’ll work on.

He’s got this selective nature where he only works on something he enjoys too — which is very humbling to me. We were hanging out at Petty Fest listening to tributes and watching Norah Jones sing, and he leans over saying, “You can write a record like this”. I’m like, dude come on, I love you but… He’s just so motivating like that.

The great thing about working with Beau is he makes things sound so good so quickly. I had a drummer and bass player that I hadn’t really rehearsed with before. We go through the songs about 4-5 times, and it doesn’t take them long because they’re great musicians, Beau’s back there the entire time making little adjustments so it’s going to sound great when you walk back to hear it. As soon as you get done playing it sounds like a record—it makes you excited and want to work more. I couldn’t ask for a better person to work with.

Make sure to catch Matt Tedder this Friday, October 7th at Three Links for the California Mercy Me EP release party.  For the latest news and shows from Matt Tedder follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Amy Mrstik