Matt Cook on His Music
Evie Task: Welcome. This is Expert Open Radio. My name is Evie Task, and I'm a volunteer for TEDxAsburyPark. Today we're here with Matt Cook, who is scheduled to perform at this year's TEDxAsburyPark conference on Saturday, May 18th. Welcome, Matt.
Matt Cook: Thanks for having me.
Evie Task: Great to have you here. I've been a fan of yours for a couple of years now, so I'm especially happy to have you playing for TEDxAsburyPark this year. It's also possible I find myself singing a hook from your song "Caffeine" in the morning when I'm making coffee. And that is not me kissing up to you. It's true.
Matt Cook: I think that's why I subconsciously wrote that song.
Evie Task: It's a good hook. So, let's start with your music, before we dive into your connection with chaos, and that ties into our theme of chaos.
Evie Task: How long have you been playing and writing music, and who are some of your musical influences?
Matt Cook: Well, I started playing piano when I was five. I've always said that, on some level, I knew I was always going to be a musician. That was what the goal always was. Fortunately, my mother was able to afford me piano lessons growing up, all the way through high school.
Matt Cook: I didn't start writing songs, or trying to, until I was about 14, 15 years old. And, pretty much, I remember hearing "God Only Knows" on an episode of "The Wonder Years", of all things, when I was about 12 years old, and I became enthralled and obsessed with Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. I was probably the only 12 year old kid that wanted to Brian Wilson at that age.
Evie Task: Nothing wrong with that.
Matt Cook: I listened to "Pet Sounds" and it changed my life. I decided that I wanted to be a songwriter at that point. It all starts influence-wise, musically, with Brian Wilson. As a piano player, we've talked a lot about my Ben Folds influence, too. Those are top two, for me.
Matt Cook: I liked a lot of folk-rock music when I was in high school. So, I was a big Paul Simon fan. My style has kind of evolved, over the years, into more like a indie, alternative, you know, "Death Cab for Cutie" is one of my favorite bands. I'm a big Ben Gibbard fan. I was an English major in school, too, so lyrics were always important to me.
Evie Task: Yes. And you do know how to turn a phrase, as they say. That's great.
Matt Cook: It's exhausting, and it's laboring, but I think it's worth it.
Evie Task: You make it right. You're happy with it. That's what matters. That comes through when we listen to it.
Evie Task: So, you released a new song this year and a video, and I know you have some other music on the horizon. You want to talk about that for a little bit?
Matt Cook: Yeah. I'm kind of working on what's going to be my fifth full-length at this point. But I'm kind of going one song at a time. That seems to be kind of the way that the industry is kind of moving, with singles, and doing more visual stuff to accompany your song, too.
Matt Cook: I recorded a new song last February 1st, earlier this year. So, it's been out for almost two months now, at this point. Just hit 15,000 streams on Spotify, which is pretty impressive.
Evie Task: Wow. That's fantastic. Good for you.
Matt Cook: Don't ask me how I did that, but I'm glad that people are listening to it. My friends, Tom Bryant, Gwynne Alden, we perform together as "ABC", cohesively. They sang harmonies on the track with me. I recorded it, as I record all my stuff, with my really great friend Pete Andrews at Submergent Music. He's in Middletown. So, he played drums on it. Did the mix for me. It was mastered by Dan Shike out in Nashville, who also mastered my second record for me.
Matt Cook: Yeah. The single has been doing really well, so that kind of motivated me to kind of just keep moving forward in this direction. I took the next complete song, kind of had an idea of what I wanted to put out next, I just wasn't sure when I wanted to do it. But my birthday is next month.
Evie Task: So convenient.
Matt Cook: Kind of riding this wave that "Last" has created. So, my next single, "The Voice", is going to actually be released on April 19th, which is my actual birthday. And I'll be playing kind of a loose birthday show at Stay Gold Café in Belmar that night. But, the following night, I'll be at The Asbury Hotel, which is going to be a really big birthday celebration. I've kind of been joking with everybody that I don't need any presents, I just need your presence there. So, I request your presence.
Evie Task: Well, I have it on my calendar. I'll certainly be there.
Matt Cook: Excellent.
Evie Task: I'm kind of fascinated by the fact that so many, at least locally, so many bands are starting to make videos again. Having grown up in an era of MTV, I feel like it went away for a little while.
Matt Cook: Yeah. It's a really cool thing. In fact, what we're doing for the TEDx thing, too, the song I'm going to be performing, that was the title track of my second record. That was really my first real music video that we made and filmed it, kind of split in my hometown, in Middletown, New Jersey, and then we did a lot of exterior shots in Red Bank.
Matt Cook: I think the visual side, it's cool for me as a songwriter, because I know what I write my songs about it. But I find it very tedious to explain, so I usually don't. I find it much more interesting to hear what people actually think I wrote stuff about. And the visual side, too. Same thing. I worked with this company called Vivid Vision Films that did the video for "Last". They actually, we just shot last weekend, the video for "The Voice". These guys did a really great job kind of scouting locations, and coming up with a storyline and everything. I really didn't want much to do with that, and I was pretty upfront with them, when we were doing the video for "Last", and they kind of storyboarded the whole thing for me.
Matt Cook: So, as a songwriter, I thought that was a pretty cool thing to see. Somebody else's interpretation, visually, of what my song is about.
Evie Task: That's interesting. I was at a different podcast taping earlier this week, and there were a few musicians talking about the fact that the song is really not their own, once they put it out. Exactly that.
Matt Cook: Oh, yeah. I've heard John Mayer, in interviews, say that before. Once you write it, it belongs to everybody.
Evie Task: Well, I have to say, I think it's probably true. Because you can talk to three people about the same song and hear three different reasons why it's meaningful to them, or how they relate to it. To me, that means it's a well-written song. I think that's great.
Matt Cook: Well, I appreciate that.
Evie Task: All right. So, let's talk a little bit about TEDxAsburyPark. You've been chosen to perform at the chaos event because, if you'll pardon the pun, you've been very vocal about some chaos, some serious chaos that you've dealt with, and that chaos has had a profound effect on your life. And I'd love for you to tell your story here, if you would.
Matt Cook: That's true. Yeah. I'm pretty open about it, because it's a huge part of, well, first of all, it changed my life. But it's something that I live with every day now, and it's a huge part of who I am, as a person. I've always been a Christian believer in Jesus my whole life, but when I was 25, I became, literally, deathly ill. I was getting progressively sicker over a three week stretch. I went to my doctor and was actually, I went on a Monday, and I was actually misdiagnosed. So I was only being treated for the nausea symptoms that I had at that time.
Matt Cook: So, my symptoms got even worse in the course of the next 48 hours. My mom found me on a Wednesday morning. I have no recollection of it whatsoever. Kind of just walking around our kitchen, not making any sense, basically. So, my mom called an ambulance. I love my mom, because my mom's the most important person, or certainly one of the most important people, in my life. I'm really close with my brother and my sister. And my mom is just such a strong person, and if I didn't have her, I would not be here, either. Because if I was by myself, it's the kind of situation where I was not able to get myself the help that I needed. So, my mom, fortunately, was there.
Matt Cook: By the time I got to the hospital, my heart actually stopped for a full two minutes. That's something that's really, it's hard to describe. I get asked a lot of questions about, like, what the whole experience was like. Just knowing that full 120 seconds of my life where my heart actually was not pumping on its own, but they were, fortunately, the doctors were able to get me back.
Matt Cook: That was the beginning of it, because I ended up in a life-threatening diabetic coma for the next week. A normal blood sugar ... So, I'm a type 1 diabetic. It was undiagnosed. I didn't know I had it. A normal blood sugar for a regular, healthy person would be anywhere from 85 to 100. Anything over 400 is kind of dangerous. You need to go to the emergency room to get it treated. My number was 1440.
Matt Cook: For the first four days, as I was told, because again, I don't really remember much of any of it, the burden that my mom and my family had was that they weren't even sure if I was going to live or not. I was in a coma for almost a full week. I had something really profound happen to me that I kind of keep to myself. I don't really share it with many people, but, fortunately, I owe everything I am to God.
Matt Cook: It's weird because, growing up in the church, and always reading my bible, and being involved in youth groups, and things like that, growing up, and playing worship music, I always kind of felt jealous of these people that would have these really great born-again stories. And I was like, "Well, I don't really have one" , because I was always a believer from the time I was a kid. I think you understand things more, have a bigger grasp of everything as you grow up, but as a 25-year-old relatively healthy young man to go through that, like, there's no logical reason that I should have survived. Logic would say that I was supposed to die. So, to me, that's God. That's God working through all the prayers of my family and my friends that were there for me, and all the doctors and nursing staff, and everybody that helped bring me back, basically.
Evie Task: That's a pretty phenomenal story. I haven't heard all of those details. I've heard many of them at other times, but I didn't realize you were in a coma for as long as you were, as well.
Matt Cook: Yeah. It was a full week, and it was full two weeks in the hospital. It was kind of just stages of, you know, they weren't sure if I was going to live, number one. Then, once I woke up, I was intubated so long that the tube was, like, lodged on this whole left side of my throat, and I was left with kind of nothing but a whisper for nearly four months.
Matt Cook: So, that was the next hurdle. As I was getting my strength back and adapting to having this autoimmune disease that I have to live with now for the rest of my life, as a singer, that was also, that was very upsetting, too. Because I wasn't sure if I was ever going to be able to sing again, either.
Evie Task: Did you have this deep voice that you have now beforehand? I'm curious to know if it changed the sound of your voice.
Matt Cook: Yeah. My singing voice has always changed, because I've become much more, in recent years, much more of a falsetto singer, which is my Brian Wilson influence. That was me purposely trying to be that. Just singing along with all those classic Beach Boys songs, trying to hit those high parts. And when I sang in choir, all through college and everything, I always sang tenor. I'm probably more of a natural baritone, but I knocked myself up in vocal range just by trying to sing those parts. It's become a huge part of who I am, stylistically, now.
Matt Cook: I guess, tonality wise, my voice didn't really change. It did come back. In many ways, the irony is my voice got stronger as I got healthier. I work out constantly and I watch my diet very carefully. In many ways, the irony of having a life-threatening disease that I have to live with every day has made me, in many ways, a much healthier person at the same time. So, it's kind of a weird juxtaposition with that.
Evie Task: Yes. Well, I think, for anyone who's heard any of your music, we're all very grateful that you are here, and strong, and doing well, and that you literally came out the other side of this.
Matt Cook: Well, I'm grateful to be here. Again, my faith is who I am. This is who you get. I'm 100%, no matter what the setting is. If you see me playing, as you have many times, say, like, the Asbury wherever, if I'm in some bar, if I'm in the hospital, if I'm here, I'm the same person, no matter what. So, I really... It's not even trying to be that way. It's just, that's who I am. People either accept that and they like me, or they don't, and if they don't, that's fine, too.
Evie Task: Well, I can attest to the fact that that is true, and I am very much the same way, so I actually understand it on a different level, as well. Thank goodness you're okay. A lot of good has come out of that chaos, I think.
Matt Cook: Praise God. That's why, you know ...
Evie Task: I guess I'm wondering, like I said, you talk very freely about this, and I know you've done some fundraising for different diabetes organizations. You have some friends who also have diabetes. What kind of reaction do you get from people, whether it's in those settings, or more likely, out of a fundraiser setting where everyone's there for a specific cause?
Matt Cook: Yeah. It's really strange. I get all sorts of different questions and reactions. Sometimes they're insensitive, honestly, because I don't really...unless you're really close to me, I don't share each detail. But I share what I think could be helpful and beneficial to people, because that's really what my goal is, through my work and through my music, is always just, I'm always trying to help people.
Matt Cook: My faith teaches me that you're supposed to be kind and good to people, so that's what I try to do. Nothing I have is my own, so I feel like the gifts that God has given me, musically, it's cool to be able to use them in settings such as a fundraiser, and even in my regular day job, because I get to work with kids all the time. I don't believe in coincidences. It's God's will. It's God's plan for me.
Matt Cook: The fundraiser that I just did recently, about a month ago, was for my friend Lissy, who is also a type 1. It's kind of strange, because we met in a bizarre way, too. I felt like I knew her for many years beyond when we actually met, which was only maybe six months ago, at this point. I took that very seriously. I mean, yeah, there were a lot of musicians there that were ready and willing to help, but I tried to go the extra mile taking seriously, as well. I'm the only type 1 performer that's here, so I thought that was a pretty cool responsibility.
Evie Task: Yeah. I would think that's going to resonate, especially when there are kids around. I don't know if any of them were at that fundraiser.
Matt Cook: Yeah. It was really cool. I actually did run into several, because I work at a hospital, a pediatric hospital, and I ran into several people that, some of which I didn't recognize. They came up to me and would tell me these stories of, you know, they were piecing it all together. Because I spoke a little bit after my set that night about my whole diabetic tale, and why I was there that night.
Matt Cook: And actually, that's kind of loosely how I even knew my friend Lissy, too. Because the friend that I met was also connected to, I had played music in the hospital, at some point.
Evie Task: There you go.
Matt Cook: Everything is interconnected.
Evie Task: Absolutely true. Absolutely true. And you just touched on, I do want to ask you to talk a little about your quote unquote day job. Because I know you teach music, but you do also work in a hospital.
Matt Cook: Yes. Well, first of all, I love kids. I don't feel like I resonate with adults all the time. And old people, I feel like I just clash with altogether. I feel like I'm in the exact right setting working with kids. I just relate to them better. Probably because I am a big kid, basically.
Matt Cook: I work at a pediatric hospital during the day, and I basically just play music for all of our patients, bedside. I'll learn any pop song, within reason.
Evie Task: Within reason. Okay. What is not within reason? I'd love to hear that.
Matt Cook: I mean, I pretty much will do anything. It's not a matter of me being embarrassed to do anything. It's more just, you know, something that's too vulgar to sing, I might have to edit. I can't necessarily do every Drake song that there is, but I'll find a clean one to do instead. But I do a lot of Disney songs. Whatever. It doesn't matter. Anything that these kids want to hear from me, that's what I'll do. Sometimes I get asked to do my own songs, too, which is also really cool.
Evie Task: Good. I'm sure kids think you're a rock star, because you are.
Matt Cook: They make me feel like one.
Evie Task: Yeah.
Matt Cook: Yeah. That's never been important to me. That's kind of the weird thing of songwriting. How do you turn that into a job, basically? All I know is, when I was 14, 15 years old, first trying and starting to write songs, I didn't know how that was going to translate into what I would do for a living. It just so happens that, you know, music is feast or famine. You have to be, either you're the successful singer songwriter that's famous, and rich, and people know who you are, or you're just doing what we all do, which is, we just keep working hard and plugging along as best we can.
Matt Cook: So, people such as you, people that I meet along the way that really have a love and respect for my music, that goes a long way. We need people like that to be able to continue to create and feed into our passion.
Evie Task: Yep. And certainly, in Asbury Park and surrounding, we have a whole lot of passionate musicians. I'm not one of them, but I am very happy to support the people whose music I enjoy, and I do it pretty consistently, and try and get everybody else to do the same. Because if you're not out there listening, they are sometimes literally playing to two or three people in a room, and it's way more fun when there's a group of us.
Matt Cook: That's true. I'm a huge baseball fan, too. I'm a huge Yankees fan, growing up. Joe DiMaggio always said that he played the exact same way no matter what the crowd, because there could always be somebody that's seeing you for the first time. So that's kind of how I've always approached performing, too.
Evie Task: That's great.
Matt Cook: Yeah. We are really fortunate, in this whole area, to have a lot of talent. I think some of the musicians, because I lived on the whole other side of the country for a significant amount of time, because I lived in California for five years and I went to school out there. And I can tell you first hand that it's, it doesn't work like this everywhere. There's not all these pockets of really talented people all in the same spot. And also, just to have these people that have a real love for indie music, and to have all these different venues that are open to it.
Evie Task: And I see that, as musicians, you're all very supportive of one another, which I think is really fantastic. I mean, not only crossing over bands like you do, where I go to see you play, and there are people playing in your band who you play with when it's their turn.
Matt Cook: Yeah. It's great. We all support each other. Me, personally, I love going to shows. Sometimes it's nice when I'm like, "Oh, I don't have to perform tonight. I can just go and enjoy watching somebody else do their thing instead." And I'm very fortunate, I mentioned Tom and Gwynne, I do a trio thing with them. Bryan Hanson Band, I'm really close with those guys. We play together. Brian Erickson and Pete Stern of The Extensions, we play together a lot.
Matt Cook: To me, it started with songwriting. I really wanted to be a singer-songwriter. Bands come and go. So, I really just enjoy playing with a variety of talented friend musicians. Because when you're doing something like music, it's such a creative, vulnerable thing, too. So, I don't even necessarily feel comfortable opening up to everybody I play music with. I feel like I have to have that friend connection to start.
Matt Cook: Fortunately, now more than ever, you know, I kind of had that consistently at different pockets of my life, but I just feel really blessed to have this pool of talent in which to pick from. For me, it keeps it interesting, because I play so frequently now, that it's fun that, "Oh, tonight I get to do my duo, "Handsome Looks" thing, with Brian, or we're playing full band with, or we're doing our "ABC" thing with Tom and Gwynne." So, for me, it keeps it nice and fresh to mix it up.
Evie Task: Absolutely. And, on the other side of it, I can say it does stay fresh that way.
Matt Cook: Ironically, I perform solo the least amount now, too.
Evie Task: So, I want to thank you for being with us today, and tell our audience that you've been listening to Expert Open Radio. And here's a reminder to get your tickets for largest, highest-rated TEDx conference on the East Coast. It's TEDxAsburyPark on Saturday, May 18th, 2019. And you'll have an opportunity to hear Matt perform that day, and I hope you'll join us then. And we're going to hear some of his music now. Thanks again, Matt.
Matt Cook: Thank you.