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Szlachetka was listed among Rolling Stone’s April 2017 list of “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know.” He’ll perform at Callaghan’s Thursday, Nov. 15.
Date: Thursday, Nov. 15, 7:30 p.m.
Venue: Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, 916 Charleston St., callaghansirishsocialclub.com
One of Rolling Stone’s “10 Artists You Should Know” will be making his debut at Callaghan’s Nov. 15.
Before relocating to Nashville, singer-songwriter Matthew Szlachetka — stage name Szlachetka — found his muse in the small town of Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Since then, he’s become a fruitful songwriter whose pen never runs dry. His vivid musical snapshots of life combined with his warm, earnest lyrical delivery is like the second coming of Jackson Browne.
Szlachetka plans to take his Callaghan’s crowd to Longmeadow and beyond with tracks from his latest album, “Heart of My Hometown.” Before heading into his regular songwriting session, Szlachetka took time out to discuss his musical philosophy with Lagniappe.
Stephen Centanni: I could tell when I scheduled this interview that you’re a busy man. What’s your daily schedule like?
Szlachetka: Well, it changes quite a bit [laughing]. I just got back from a 12-day run with my band out to Texas, and we did one show in Louisiana on the way back. That’s obviously a go-go-go type schedule when we’re on the road. When I’m home, aside from trying to catch my breath a bit, I usually try to schedule two to three writes a week. I’m always coming up with ideas and always writing. One of the reasons why I moved to Nashville is that I write for and with a lot of other artists. I’m pretty much always trying to keep those gears moving. The creative process is something that never stops for me.
Centanni: If I were to sit in on one of those songwriting sessions, what would I see?
Szlachetka: Usually each person comes with an arsenal of ideas. I always like to come prepared with lyrics, titles, melodies, riffs or like a theme or idea for a song or a storyline. I usually don’t like to show up empty-handed. You throw a bunch of ideas at each other, and whatever idea that collectively resonates the most, that’s what you tackle. Then, if so-and-so has lyrics or a title of a chorus, you hit that first. Then you get out the block of wood and start whittling.
Centanni: With that said, how would you compare writing songs now to when you first started?
Szlachetka: I think that once you find your voice and find your style, then it becomes easier. You get a sense of how a song should be written, especially in terms of the timeframe, like which part of the song should enter when — like by the time you hit the bridge or the chorus or if it needs an instrumental or if it’s cool without a bridge. There’s not really any rules. If you’re trying to write something more commercial, there’s more of a template for that. Even if I’m writing a more popular minded-type song, I always try to have some sort of unique twist on it versus cranking out some cookie-cutter stuff that you’ll forget the next day.
Centanni: What do you think are the ingredients of a good song?
Szlachetka: I’d say anything that’s heartfelt, really. I always have an easier time and write my best songs when there’s some firsthand experience involved. You can take firsthand experience and transfer it if you’re creating a character like Randy Newman would do. He would create constructs and characters and scenarios and write for that. I definitely think that if you have some kind of personal experience to the song, then it will have more merit.
Centanni: Speaking of that, your latest album is “Heart of My Hometown,” which is also a title track. What do you think is the heart of your hometown and why was it so inspirational?
Szlachetka: Well, I think it’s funny that you ask that question right now, especially since we’re talking on Election Day. First of all, no matter where you’re from, you’re always going to carry that with you. That’s one of the main sentiments of that song. Whether you try to fight it or embrace it, there’s always going to be something where you’re from that’s embedded within you.
I think the most important thing with me with that song is that I feel incredibly blessed to do things like I do. I get to see parts of the country that I would never be able to see if I wasn’t a touring musician. One thing that I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t matter if it’s West Coast, East Coast, North, South, red state or blue state, I keep coming in contact with these little towns that remind me where I’m from.
I grew up in a small town in Western Massachusetts. Like many people’s towns, it had that ever-familiar Main Street. I had those two or three best friends growing up that other people had as well. I found that every time I kept coming back to these little towns, they always remind me of my home. Every time I come back, the people that I meet on the road become more and more like my family.
It’s such an important feeling to have in your life when you’re not home. Being home is important to me, and having a sense of home and a home life is important. I think the biggest takeaway that I have from that, especially right now when all we’re hearing about is the division in this country.
I think we’re a lot more similar than we’re being made out to be right now. I think the biggest thing that I try to put out there to people is have an open mind and be willing to have a conversation with somebody and be willing to listen and hear somebody’s perspective. I think that most times people will find more similarities with this album than differences.
Centanni: With the industry stretching the Americana label so thin, a lot of projects have opted to stay fresh with big studio production. You seem to keep things pretty clean What led you to keep things basic as opposed to something filled with all the bells and whistles?
Szlachetka: That’s the stuff I gravitate toward the most. I feel like when I listen to music I keep going further and further back. I’m still discovering stuff that came up 50 years ago that I didn’t listen to. When I find something that’s current, whether it’s an artist or band that I love, I definitely get excited about it. I’ve always shot for a timeless sound as opposed to a flavor-of-the-week type of sound. Whether people like my music or not, I want to be able to listen to an album that I recorded 20 years from now and still be somewhat satisfied with it, and be like, “Yeah, it still stands up” instead of “Man, that sounds like it was recorded in 2015.”
One of the biggest examples of somebody who set a lot of the standards that I look up to and try to compare stuff to would be Tom Petty. Everything that he ever did holds up. That’s what I’m shooting for, and it’s the same kind of mentality. If you can’t play your song on just one instrument, and you need all the bells and whistles for it to come across, in my opinion you haven’t written a good song. At the end of the day, that’s what I shoot for.
I strive to always interact with people, especially the people that I’m creating and making music with. If you don’t have that same sort of recording form, you’re not going to have much of a human connection to it.
Centanni: You mentioned you’ve been writing quite a bit. When can we expect the next album?
Szlachetka: I’m actually talking to producers right now. By the end of this month, I want to have the next producer lined up. The goal is to record the next one sometime between January and March. That way, I can shoot for a quick follow-up with a late summer/early fall release. Right now I have a folder of about 60 songs that I’m trying to weed through to figure out which ones will be the right fit.