The Blue Sky of MATT BESEY

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 649   By: Robert E Martin

15th November, 2007     0

Matt Besey was an artist with a problem similar to that of many young protégée's when they first break out of the starting gate.
He was simply too good.

Fueled with ambition, brimming with talent it takes normal adults years of practice to accumulate, when he first hit the local music scene in the early '90s, Matt became the Talk of the Town.

Finding an early champion & mentor in the form of Larry McCray, mouths dropped  open as readily as ears could digest the immaculate guitar-playing reinforced by the strong and fluid vocal range emanating from this 20-year old wunderkind that seemed to explode from nowhere out of the chicken-fryers of Frankenmuth.

Constant local gigging with The TNT Blues Band and a fateful alliance with Dick Wagner of The Frost and Alice Cooper fame soon resulted in a debut CD on Wagner's label.  Matt opened gigs for Grand Funk Railroad at The Palace of Auburn Hills, Creedence Clearwater Revisited at Pine Knob, only to lose momentum from a barrage of management difficulties, personnel shake-ups, and constant live exposure locally that caused many to take his phenomenal talent for granted.

But as noted in the first sentence, all of this is now past tense.

Armed with a dynamite new CD release entitled Prisoner, consisting of blistering, vocal, and melodically driven original compositions that showcase the strength of Besey's prowess as a songwriter and guitarist; fueled by a core backing band consisting of drummer Mark Dault, keyboardist Loren Kranz, bassist Chris Smith, and backing vocalist & companion Caitlin Berry  - the core unit is equally reflective of Matt's own musical talents. Represented by new manager Evan Beach, whatever dark, sullen, or anguished tones one might traditionally associate with The Blues have been replaced by an aggressive convergence of optimism, melodic force, and a genetic splicing of Rock & Blues idioms as infectious as it is difficult to classify.

Difference in the Details

When the invitation arrived for his recent CD release party at Saginaw's Pit & Balcony Theatre, it was apparent that Matt Besey was embarking upon an entirely new phase of his career.

Elaborately detailed & drawn by cover artist Stephen Hargash, the release party itself set a fresh standard locally for the presentation of newly recorded music, with the band assembled on a full and properly lit theatre stage, and a near capacity crowd focused upon the electrifying performance that ensued from the musicians populating that stage.

As I sit down to chat with Matt days after the heady heights of his P&B CD release fete', there existed a strong sense of pride about these recent accomplishments, coupled with his trademark sense of modesty

With almost a ten-year time span between his debut release and the new release of Prisoner, it's easy to see why it took so long.

Recorded on two-inch reel-to-reel tape in Nashville with Jonny Neal of Gov't Mule and Allman Brothers fame, engineered by Dennis Gulley, and mixed down digitally by Malcolm Springer (who worked on The Rolling Stones' Sticky Finger sessions and also mixed Matchbox 20 and Carl Weathersby) it is obvious that Matt Besey is focused upon an entirely higher realm of professionalism for this latest phase of his career - not for himself so much as in terms of those he works and surrounds himself with.

"The devil is definitely in the details," laughs Matt, as we discuss the decade long gap between product.

"The process of recording is difficult for me," he confesses. "Even on the first CD with Wagner I would listen and hear how something could be better, or something could be done differently. When you're under the gun of a deadline you tend to settle for things. But amazingly, Prisoner was essentially recorded in two weeks. One of the tracks dates back to around 2002, whereas No One Hears the Dead was written days before I went into the studio.  Some of the songs have been around for a while, and some we hadn't touched live until the CD release show. But over that ten year time span, I never stopped writing."

With so many studios in Michigan, why did Matt choose Nashville to record?

"Paul Koch  (Larry McCray's manager) hooked that up," explains Matt. "They have tons of phenomenal studios down there, all reasonably priced. Plus there's a vibe in Nashville that's hard to describe. Mainly, I anted to work with Jonny Neal. And Dennis Gully is a very nurturing kind of guy. He kept me from shooting myself in the head," smiles Matt.

With the evolution of his songwriting so noticeable, especially in terms of non-traditional song constructions that still retain a melodic lift, coupled with his growth as a lyricist and vocalist, it's hard not to think of Matt as the bastard offspring of Eric Clapton.

When mentioning this, Matt laughs. "I don't know, it doesn't feel like I'm doing anything differently because I love the Blues and that's the core of everything I do. But I also like Janes Addiction and a lot of the rock bands from the late '80s & '90s had an influence on me. I never looked at this project as trying to write this or that kind of song. Whatever comes out comes out. I don't feel like I have that much control over what comes out of me musically. It is what it is."

"Perhaps there's not as much guitar flash on this CD as the last one, but that's more a case of what does the song call for and what does it require. Not all of them require a ton of guitar playing, whereas other longer tracks on the CD are more suited for jamming out."

"My brother Chris Besey collaborated with me on a few of the songs and he is a prolific songwriter," continues Matt. "He actually got me writing songs and performing them. The funny thing about a lot of these Blues artists is the fact that so many of them perform covers, or standards. I could never really write a Blues song because I'm a kid from Frankenmuth, you know? Whenever I sat down to write one, it didn't come out that way. So again, I don't have a choice about what I write. I come up with a basic idea and the songs more or less write themselves."

"I will say that I had a lot more freedom this time around, as well as responsibility," reflects Matt. "It's hard for me to say something is good enough. But I did want more of a 'live feel' on this outing. Jonny Neal helped a lot with that. He's a genius keyboard player and when I went into the studio, he didn't want to hear anything ahead of time. I'd just sit and play it and he would smack the keyboard and then you'd start to feel the changes and parts. He's at home in the studio, whereas to me, I'm still trying to figure out what he's trying to do."

Life Lessons & Blue Skies

Obviously, recording is only one side of the platter. Especially in today's market where recordings often serve as an appetizer to live performance, the importance of having a solid band working on the same page is not to be undervalued. On this plateau, Matt couldn't be happier with his current coterie of musicians.

"Chris Smith (bassist) and Loren Kranz (keyboardist) are both phenomenal. It's funny because I first heard Chris when he was all of 19, and Loren just turned 20, so now Mark and I are the 'old guys' in the band," he laughs, reinforcing that difference that a decade can make. "I used to be the baby in the band! Just think Bob, when you and I last sat down to talk about my debut CD, these two were all of 10-years of age!"

"It's one of those things. Sometimes things don't work out how you want, so you come back and make them work the way you want, even though it may take longer than you want."

"But I'm really happy with the current line-up," he continues. "I started talking with Loren when I worked with him in the band for the 303 Collective production of Reefer Madness, and Chris or his Dad Paul, who is also a bassist, have been playing with us for about three years now."

"This core band, this line-up, has no loose ends in it. There's nothing I have to worry about because everybody's on the same page. In the past, that's always been the tough part. Now everybody is focused on the same thing and its not like working with hired mercenaries, because I've been that route before."

"To me the biggest challenge is breaking new markets," reflects Matt. "Even Detroit can be a closed door. You can make some friends that can help you out, but in the end, you've gotta kick that door down."

"In Chicago I'm a tiny fish in a big pond, but if you keep kicking eventually they open the door so you can squeeze your foot in. Here in Michigan I've got a good momentum going and nice fan bases scattered around the state, but the hard thing is going somewhere that nobody knows you. You've got to sell them right now, and I hate to put it that way, but that's what you're doing - selling a product."

"Sometimes you run into that element where they don't want somebody new around. In fact, a lot of Blues markets are 'old school' and react funny about the Rock that we play. It's either too much Rock for the Blues guys, or too much Blues for the Rock guys."

With so much going for him today, I'm curious as to any 'life lessons' Matt may have learned during the decade long gap between projects.
"Be cautious about who you put trust in, and do not be cautious about putting trust in yourself. With the last album, I felt a little lost.

Everybody thought I was supposed to be this great 'Blues Guy', and more of the songs I'm writing demonstrate I'm not that alone. That's okay, because I've learned to be what I want, not what somebody else thinks I should be, or what I should sound like."
To acquire a copy of 'Prisoner' place orders at:
Also check out Matt's page at
Matt will be performing at Rog's Bar in Saginaw on December 8
th and performs regularly at Memphis Smoke in Detroit, Bone Daddy's in the Sawmill, The Green Door in Lansing, and River City Slims in Grand Rapids. Also look for his new CD at local music store outlets.


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