Matt Butler is a folk artist, a rock’n roller, and a storyteller. Weaving personal experience with a timeless style, Butler brings honesty and openness to his classic approach to songwriting.
Matt Butler first gained notoriety as the lead singer of the New York based band Reckless Sons, who released two Eps, ...
Americana/Roots | Rock
In the recovery community, a key part of the process is sharing stories, often harrowing, about the incidents, obstacles and realizations that lead to life-saving decisions. It’s been no different for Matt Butler. What sets Matt apart is that as a songwriter and singer with a gift for crafting vivid narrative, he’s able to transform his experiences into songs that dig deep to get to the truth. Every song on his debut album Reckless Son, coming out September 9, is a chapter in a life that went off the rails and had to be righted. It’s an album that’s unsparing and matter-of-fact about what brought him to this point.
“I try to take a literary approach to songwriting,” Matt says. “I want there to be a narrative arc in each song, to give every listener a sense of being somewhere with me. If you set a scene honestly, with detail that makes it real, you can make a profound connection.” He does that on songs like “Good Friday” (the album’s lead track and, in a way, the thematic centerpiece), a painfully truthful recollection of a low point in Matt’s period of self-destruction.
The songs on Reckless Son were all written after Matt decided to pull himself out of his downward spiral. Prior to that, sometimes he would take half-hearted measures in order to placate people, friends and members of his family, who were concerned about him and wanted him to get well. By 2014, he was finally ready. “I was determined to get sober. I’d been through a lot, and it just had to be done. It was as if there was a boulder in the middle of the road and I had to move it to unblock everything.
“It took me a year to write these songs, and I wasn’t really thinking about how they would be put across musically. I started by trying to make them as lyrically honest as possible. Musically, that was a different kind of challenge. I’d always played in rock bands, and loved groups like the Replacements and The Clash, as well as more mainstream rock like Springsteen and Tom Petty, obviously. So recording a big rock band sound was the initial approach we took, but as we listened to the tracks, it felt like the stories were getting lost in the production. I had to step back and ask myself, ‘What’s right for these songs?’”
Matt credits Jason Isbell’s Southeastern album as a revelation, and an influence on how to deal realistically with dark, personal subject matter and frame it in a way where the music matches the intent. There were two books that helped clarify the creative angle for the new songs, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces and Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Matt realized that the arrangements had to serve the purpose of the songs and not blur the message. So the music got pared down, both for the album and for his live performances. Today, most of his gigs are just Matt and a guitar, and the intimacy of the setting makes the songs, and his candid explanations of their background, all the more powerful.
Stories on Reckless Son like “Young Man’s Prison,” describing the cycle of alcoholism and incarceration, and the title track that recounts how his father feared for Matt’s survival, are inseparable from a life devoted to his own recovery and helping others dealing with the same illness. Recently, he wrote and recorded the end-credit song for the film Generation Found, which documents how the city of Houston has come together to battle addiction among young people. The film’s executive producer Greg Williams is starting a #YouthRecoveryRevolution, and Matt’s song is an integral part of the movement. “Good Friday” will be released as a digital single on August 3, and Matt will be playing a free show that night at Rockwood Music Hall (196 Allen Street), Stage 2. The album Reckless Son comes out this September, which is Recovery Month, and a number of special live performances are being scheduled in conjunction with the album release.
In a way, Reckless Son is like a first novel, or a collection of interconnected first-person essays capturing a specific time and set of circumstances in the author’s life. It was a necessary and cathartic experience for Matt, but it’s only an introduction, a chronicle of where he’s been and where he is now. And its integrity, bravery and extraordinary sense of detail all point to Matt Butler as an artist to keep a close eye on, to anticipate the subjects and musical directions he’ll be exploring as his restless journey continues.