Award winning singer/songwriter Matt Rogers has been grinding to make his music dreams a reality. From playing over 200 shows a year to creating a connection with his listeners through his authentic lyrics, Matt’s found success due to his persistence and love of music in this grueling industry.
I got the chance to talk with Matt about how he ended up in Nashville making music full time, his songwriting process, the story behind his single “Here’s To Something”, his love of James Bond movies and so much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
Music is one of those things that’s always been there for me. It took me a little while to realize that that’s what I was meant to do and that I was going to be doing it full time. I started at an early age playing guitar, piano, things like that. Like most folks in country music, [I] played in the church. I also had a garage band growing up. Then when I went to college where I had a full ride to a little Division II school in North Carolina called Saint Andrews Presbyterian College. Part of my multi-part deal to make it a full ride was I had academic and athletic money, but also had choir and guitar scholarships. So I ended up graduating with a music minor and took a bunch of guitar classes; [I] really started writing there, learning how to sing a little better, learning guitar a little better and things like that.
So I started writing and playing some gigs in college for wings and free beer [laughs]. I graduated with a biology degree and I was thinking I was going to go in the medical field or forensic science, things like that. So I kind of bounced around trying to figure out what I was going to do. But as a grown up, I never had the realization of I could do [music] for a living. I moved back to Georgia after I graduated college and did a year of a nursing program, which didn’t work out. Then I applied to the GBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is the state law enforcement agency there. [I] went through their whole, very long application process, got offered a job there, and declined it because it wasn’t the one that I was really after in the first place. [I] got into medical imaging, doing x-ray. I got a really good job, after I finished my radiology degree, working for neurosurgeons doing brain and back surgery; we did a bunch of outpatient imaging and I had techs under me.
But the whole time, after I moved back home, I was gig-ing a lot. I put my band together and I was playing clubs and things like that to make extra money. And it was fun; I really enjoyed it. I started building a fan base and started having bigger opportunities come up and things like that. In 2014, I put a song out called “I Was Raised” and it really struck well with my fan base. On top of that, I made a deal with the biggest iHeart station in the southeast, 94.9 The Bull out of Atlanta. They were going to pay me to play to do something and I traded it for radio spins instead of paying, because at the time I could afford to pay my guys out of pocket. That song started spinning some and it got a little bit of traction. It was playing in like 13, 14 states. I got put on some radars for songwriter folks in Nashville, and at the time, the song had won a couple of songwriting awards and I had won Georgia Country Artist of the Year in 2015 because of that. So I was making trips to Nashville more frequently, taking meetings, co-writing, recording, all of those kinds of things. That’s when I kind of decided; I said, “Man, I want to do this full time.”
Obviously you had done a bunch of different things in a bunch of different fields, so was it scary for you to leave all of the degrees you had earned behind and pursue music full time?
Oh, for sure. It’s terrifying because I came to Nashville several times before I thought about even moving here. For two years, I came every other month or so it seemed like. You don’t want to be that guy that thinks that they’re good enough to get up here and then you’re living out of your truck in two months; it takes a real plan. I really do believe that I did as well as I could trying to build my fan base, trying to save my money, trying to have a game plan before I moved here. Cause if you think you’re good in your little pond back home and you’re going to move to Nashville, where the best in the world are, and that you’re just going to blow people away, you’ve got another thing coming. It takes a lot of time to develop just once you get here.
After you decided you were going to do [music] full time, how long was it before you moved to Nashville or did you move to Nashville right away?
I moved to Nashville in the summer of 2015 and this June will be four years since I’ve been here. My plan was, I said “I’m saving up money. I’m going to get to another echelon of touring and gigs before I moved. So I know that this is sustainable, at least at a minimal level.” I did not want to move up here and work in the hospital and do x-rays, CTs and everything like I was doing at home. If I was moving to Nashville, it was to really chase it; it was to go in head first into the deep end. It wasn’t to be, “well let’s figure it out once we get up there.” It was to come here, kick down doors and make it work.
And that’s kind of what my plan has been ever since. I’ve just been really working my tail off, been writing a ton of songs. I’ve probably written 220 to 250 songs since I moved here; I mean I wrote 130 of them in the first year and a half. I’m just writing, writing, writing because I knew that that’s what Nashville is built on. The importance of the song is what Nashville is built on. I truly believe that. I’ve seen that happen time and time again; there’s obviously a little luck that happens here and there. One thing that I heard recently was you can make any band profitable, but God decides who the stars are. And that’s true. But also at the same time I’ve seen a song, or a collective of songs, transcend all of the boxes that they say you have to have in this town. I mean you take somebody like a Zac Brown, who at the time everybody said was too overweight, too old, too ugly, all of that stuff. But he comes out with Foundation and it’s got seven or eight number ones on the first record. You’re seeing the same kind of thing repeat with somebody like a Luke Combs. I mean, everybody in town passed on this guy. So if you’ve got the song and you’ve got a true connection with fans that transcends all of the other boxes, no matter how much money they have to dump into somebody else and to market somebody else as being the next big thing, people decide who is the next big thing and that’s because of the song almost a 100% of the time.
Going back a little bit to your music, something I’m always genuinely curious about is what artists want to convey with their music. Your sound would be typically classified as country music, but if you had to describe the type of music you make without using genre names, how would you describe it?
As soon as you put yourself in one genre, you limit what you’re able to do. I think to the root of it, of course you would say it’s country. But at the same time, my influences growing up were so broad because of my parents. My parents were very diverse [for] everything, not just music, different cultures, different food. I am so blessed by that fact because it really made me a diverse person and an open-minded person, somebody that was able to make their own opinions on things. But as far as the music goes, I mean I listened to so much stuff coming up. I mean The Beatles to The Beach Boys to The Eagles to classic rock and Zepplin. Then obviously southern rock was a huge influence where I’m from and probably my biggest influence was the Allman Brothers.
You want to believe that you have your own sound. But the saying in Nashville goes, “Write what you know”. So I try to write my life experiences, at least on music that I put out myself; I don’t ever like to put out just a fake song. I like to put [out] something that has a real personal connection to me. I like to have something where people get a little insight [into] my life in three minutes. That’s what you want, that genuine reality is what creates those connections a lot of times.
Kind of going off of that, let’s talk about your new single, “Here’s To Something”. What’s the story behind that song?
I was writing with my buddy Daniel Allen, who is the front man of this super kick ass southern rock band called The Vegabonds out of Auburn, Alabama. My publicist is from Alabama and knew these guys and was like, “I think you’d really like these guys. They are fun to hang out with, their music is great, etc. etc.” So we started hanging out all together and really hit it off. We were all buddies, just grilling out and having beers and things like that. Finally, Daniel and I started writing together a little bit. We got together one day and we were kind of complaining about life, about how things throw you curve balls and how tough this business is, kind of being “Debbie Downers” until we finally kind of decided, “Man, there’s so many people that would love to be in the situation that we’re in. There’s so many people that don’t have what we even have.” We had this moment of kind of feeling blessed about where we were in life and what we were doing and how it’s a really nice just to enjoy the little things sometimes. You don’t particularly have to have an excuse to go out and celebrate life and be with your friends and have a good time. Sometimes it’s nice just to be able to go to that. That’s where the song stemmed from it. It was just kind of a lighthearted, fun atmosphere in the write that day and we just wanted to convey that to a song.
You were talking about how you’ve written over 200 something songs and this one in particular came from a co-write, but in general, are you someone who likes to write by themselves or do you like collaborating with other writers and artists in co-writes?
I do write a lot with other folks. Co-writing is a big part of Nashville and the songwriter scene here. However, I think the best songs I’ve ever written, I wrote by myself. Before I moved to Nashville, I didn’t know what a co-write was; everything I had written up to that point was by myself. But songs that I consider my staple songs, songs that mean a lot to me, the best songs that I think I’ve written, I’ve written by myself. “I Was Raised” was the first one, but then I wrote “The Richest Place On Earth”, which was the title track on my last album. I wrote a song that I’ll be releasing called “Coal” that publishers are kind of really digging here in town and it just won a City Song Star Award.
So those were the ones that are kind of that inspired writing where everything hits you at one time and you just kind of pump it out. So I think I’m kind of on the fence. I like to do about 50/50. I’m actually working on a project that is all songs that I wrote by myself with one word titles. The project is going to be called “One”. I’m kind of keeping a lid on that now because it’s going to be really a singer-songwriter kind of project. It’s going to be done all with one mic, one take, one guitar, one word titles, one writer, everything one.
That’s awesome. I can’t wait to hear it. But going back to “Here’s To Something”, I’m curious: were there any major changes made to that song once you got into the recording studio, whether in the lyrics or something sonically?
Not really. That one was such a straight forward song. I mean, it’s funny because sometimes you can sit in a co-write and it takes four hours, five hours to write a song on the really long days. Most of the time, you try to write a song within three hours or so. We probably sat and talked for two and a half of those three hours that day and then just wrote that song in 30 minutes or so. It just came right out after we got on the set of what we were trying to do. I can’t think of anything major that really happened once we got in the studio. It was just one of those things where we kind of knew exactly what we wanted to say and exactly where we wanted it to go before we got there.
Is that an anomaly for you? Are you someone who, once you get in a studio with a song, you become a perfectionist and you kind of nitpick it till it’s exactly the way you want it to go? Or does it just kind of just depend on the song?
Studio time is pretty expensive, and depending on who I’m using to play on it or who is producing it and things like that, I try to knock out so much of the preproduction before I get there. I like to have a really good idea where we’re going before I get there.I’ve experimented at my home studio and kind of found some things that I’m interested in. I’ll take all of those things and lay it out to the rest of the session guys I’m playing with on that day and say, “This is kind of what I want to do here”. And sometimes you try it and it sounds terrible. Then you scratch it and you go back to what you were doing before. But I don’t try to do a ton of experimenting [in the studio]. Once I’m in there, we’re pressing record.
I know you just kicked off the Here’s To Something tour. Do you have a place that you’ve never visited before that you’re excited about visiting on this tour or either an old favorite place that you always love playing shows and that you’re going to visit again?
This next weekend, not this coming Friday and Saturday, but the 28th/29th/30th, I’m getting to go to Georgia to play rooms I know we’re going to do really well in. I’m going with my friends Rebel Union, this is like a co-bill tour. I’m really looking forward to that because those are familiar rooms, those are familiar places with friends and I know it’s going to go really, really well. So I’m super excited about that. But we’re playing some festivals, like the Sugar Sand Festival in Clearwater, FL; I’m really looking forward to doing that, getting into some warm weather and getting to enjoy that. [I’m] just really, really excited for all of it, all of it’s fun. Getting to see familiar faces and then getting to break into some new markets is all really a bunch of fun.
Many people don’t have hometown support or support where they came from. That’s one thing that really pushed me to Nashville was the people back home that were telling me, “You should do this”. So I love getting to go back home and playing for them. I love my hometown and I love Macon, Georgia, which is not my hometown, but really where I got my start. I played every bar that they would let me in there and I’ve played almost every room in Macon, Georgia now. I just recently got to play the Macon Auditorium, which is a big time bucket list [venue] for me. Being a monster Allman Brothers fan, that’s kind of their stomping grounds and a pretty big room. The only room that is left in Macon is the Centreplex, which is an 8,000 seater room, kind of a little arena. So that’s the next one on the list and then I’ll have successfully played just about every room, from the 50 person bar all the way up to the biggest. That’s the goal.
Kind of talking about goals, you’re still relatively new to the music game. So what are some of the goals you have for your career or benchmarks that you want to hit with your career in the next couple of years?
It’s an interesting question just because I feel like there’s so many people in this town that are here for the wrong reasons. I categorize wrong reasons as far as fame, awards, money, things like that. I just want to grow. I want to keep pushing my envelope. I want to know that I’m trying to be as good as I can be, as good of a player, as good of a singer, as good of a producer, as good of the whole thing. I want to be part of the whole thing. I love the whole creative process. I love that it’s a lot like math in the fact that you can’t beat it. There are no limits. I really enjoy that fact of it. I know that might sound a little cheesy.
My main goal is just to be able to do this for the rest of my life. That’s really what I want to do, to be able to afford to do full time music and make music with friends or by myself in general, go on the road and play and have people connect with it. You want to be able to do that for as long as you can. I hope that that my opportunities will afford me to do that. That’s what I’m really after. Obviously, dreams of grandeur don’t escape you. I mean Grammys, CMA awards, all of that kind of stuff is nice. But at the end of the day, I really want to be able to do this full time and do it for a living and do it for life and just keep getting better and push my own boundaries.
That’s awesome. Last question — our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd. So what is something that you are currently nerding out about?
Oh man [laughs] I am a self proclaimed nerd for the most part. My band and I were talking last weekend, we found out that all of the old James Bond movies are on Netflix; the Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan ones, all the ones that you kind of grew up on. So I’ve been diving into that and watching back Tomorrow Never Dies and Golden Eye. So I’m a big James Bond fan and I always have been, so it was fun to kind of go back down that memory lane.