The music of Brooklyn-based composer Matt Frey creates intimately sentimental sonic worlds inflected with churning rhythms, minimalist-like textures, and extended moments of restless tension. Matt’s vocal works—comprising song cycles, music-theater works, and opera—explore the interplay of text, drama, and music to make a palpable, instantaneous connection with an audience. Matt’s vocal music has been performed and workshopped across the United States and in Canada at festivals and programs including Fort Worth Opera’s Frontiers, the Crane School of Music, Opera From Scratch, and others.

His instrumental music explores a more abstract approach to narrative, focusing on the concept of tension and release. Often using harmonic or melodic inspiration from popular or electronic music to infuse his compositions, Matt’s music has been commissioned and presented by ensembles such as the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, PUBLIQuartet (in collaboration with BODYART Dance Company), Synergy Percussion, the JACK String Quartet, and many more.

Today, Matt is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to discover the journey this album took from almost not coming to be…

Who was your first favorite artist growing up?

I had a lot of (healthy) musical obsessions throughout my youth, and each contributed something different to my future musical output, but I can truly say there was no one writer/musician I was as taken with as Andrew Lloyd Webber. I’m speaking strictly musically here—not dramatically, which is another story—but musically, his work spoke to me in a language that was fascinating. It was not run-of-the-mill 4/4 meter, I-IV-V harmonic progressions; ALW wrote music full of odd and mixed meters (13/8, anyone?) and rife with dissonance and untraditional harmonic progressions combined with a rock aesthetic that translated to someone who grew up surrounded by the Top 40 hits of the 80s. I spent hours in the high school library looking up every old magazine article about every one of his musicals. I devoured all of the soundtracks, I could play the entire show of Cats on the piano (even giving a complete 15-minute performance of Growltiger’s Last Stand at a recital), and may still be the only person I know who can recite every color of Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the correct order (it was red and yellow and green and brown and…).

When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?

I can’t really pinpoint a specific moment where I realized I wanted to be an artist. For most of my young life I wanted to be an architect. I was obsessed with design, structure, and space. I read books of home plans like other kids read Judy Blume. I’m not sure when or where that obsession migrated to music, but I think it had something to do with the fact that music could encompass those elements in a very visceral way (and maybe also at some point realizing architecture was a very exacting art requiring a lot of science and math). That being said, there were several moments that stand out as being enormous moments of inspiration that set me on my path to creating music: discovering the theatricality and storytelling capacity of music during a middle school class trip to Broadway for the first time; the power of live orchestral music upon hearing the NY Philharmonic play Shostakovich in high school; and the fascinating sounds of new music when discovering Steve Reich’s album Different Trains (thanks to my high school band director).

What is your guilty pleasure?

A guilty pleasure… This is hard, because there’s not much I feel guilty about liking when it comes to music. I know I have attachments to some music that others have strong opinions against. In the musical theater world, for example, it’s not common to hold Andrew Lloyd Webber in high regard, and while, yes, I realize there are a lot of problems with his work theatrically, musically I can point out reasons why his work has value to me. However maybe I should feel more guilty about some of the less-defensible musical pleasures I enjoy. I have a soft spot for very aggressive late-90s dance pop—think Ace of Base or Aqua (you know, that song about living in a Barbie world…)—but there is still something delicious about how simply over-the-top and, I don’t know, fun they are. And it’s great music to run to!

What was your favorite musical moment on the album?

There is a moment in the first part when Jenny and Karim’s voices line up and they are singing the same text for a moment. This is the only time on the album where that happens, and it comes at a climactic point early on. In the studio it was such magic—they just matched each other’s energies perfectly and I remember getting goosebumps. When I listen to it now, I still remember that feeling and it takes me back to that moment in the studio. Sometimes I rewind it a few times when I’m listening to hear it over again, it’s so good!

If you could instantly have expertise performing one instrument, what instrument would that be?

The harp! Hands down. It’s such a fascinating, beautiful, versatile, and intricate instrument and takes so long to learn, so to have those skills instantly–that would be amazing. I’ve also been obsessed with the harpist/songwriter Joanna Newsom for years and I have inextricably linked that instrument to her epically poetic musical style, so… it’s as if I feel that by playing harp I would naturally also inherent this bard-like songwriting capacity.  

What does this album mean to you personally?

This album almost didn’t happen–several times, actually. A crowd-sourced fundraiser that was intended to fund the recording flopped in 2016, after I had already begun to record the instrumental tracks. I can’t tell you how embarrassing and disheartening that was. Probably no one remembers it anymore, but for me it still feels like such a public failure. Did you know you can’t delete a Kickstarter project from their website once you launch it? I couldn’t think about it for a year or so afterward–at which point, the studio files I had already recorded got stuck on a broken hard drive and were almost lost. I had all but given up on finishing the album (and even if I did, I knew nothing about how to get it on a label, or release it!) when I was contacted by PARMA with an offer to help me complete it. So to me, this album represents the completion of something I have always believed in but came so close to never realizing. I’m incredibly proud of this work and the artists who believed in it and have continued to encourage me all along the way.

ONE-ELEVEN HEAVY is now available for streaming or purchase through Navona Records. Click here to explore this new album.