Matt Nakoa is a talented singer/songwriter who has gone from rural living under the stars to big city dreams afar. Nakoa is a skillful player & vocalist who has such catchy style of music. A new album was just released titled ‘Casting Shadows’ and already receiving rave reviews! The breakout single, “Touch & Go”, will make your soul glow with Matt Nakoa steadily steering his way to stardom.
J Rae: I read on your page that you grew up on a small goat farm in Smyrna, NY and have to ask nwhat life was like living on a farm in rural New York?
Matt Nakoa: Oh, you know: bees in their hives, ants on the plums in the orchard, big pale moon on cold winter nights. There was always something to do; pump water from the well, pig-out on pole beans crosslegged in the garden, dig holes for fences.
J Rae: How did growing up on a goat farm help shape you into the person & musician you are today?
Matt Nakoa: I can’t exactly say how it shaped me. It just did, you know? Maybe if I’d grown up in Detroit, I’d be different. Who knows? I suppose being close to the land, the animals, and our food gave me a sense of being a part of something large and mysterious. I wondered at things like births, deaths, and changing seasons that other kids might not get to wonder at until after their Wonder is old and rusted.
J Rae: I take it you’re an animal lover yourself and if so, what other animals were around you as a kid and do you have any pets right now?
Matt Nakoa: Yeah, my heart kinda melts for the critters. I’ve been caught talking aloud to house plants. Back on the farm we had a three-legged dog named Sun Dog, chickens, turkeys, a few pigs, and barn cats. Baby goats were bottle-weaned inside the house with us. They had names like Trace o’ Magic, Broken Hatchet, and Pumpernickel.
No pets for me now though. I’m on the road too much! My dad, however, has a half-dozen, handsome husky dogs that come stampeding through the house at supper time. So I go visit, get into cuddling matches, and go back to the city with fur all over my clothes.
J Rae: Going away from animals and NY farm living, I read that you got interested in music at a very young age. You have classical piano roots and have to ask what was it about this form of music that attracted you early on?
Matt Nakoa: I can’t say I was that young. Heck, some kids start when they’re three. I remember being bewitched by music when I was about eight or nine. It was “Hark, The Herald Angel’s Sing” at Christmastime, which led me to movie scores (“E.T.” and “Dances with Wolves” were favorites), which led me to Mozart, Brahms and the lot. I just felt such a depth of emotion when I listened to classical music. It was cathartic to listen the whole way through something and let the sounds-feelings wash over me. Unlike a lot of the pop music I heard from the radio, the classical stuff was full of peaks and valleys and unexpected turns that commanded my attention like a good book. Later, as an adolescent, I found it curvaceous. When I wanted to rebel, I relished the fact that my music wasn’t my parents’ or even my friends’ kind of music.
J Rae: I’ve noticed over the years that many artists I’ve spoken to have said that they got their start by studying classical piano and wonder why this seems to be such a big draw for musicians just starting out?
Matt Nakoa: Well, most towns have an old piano teacher, and it’s still generally considered a nice thing for little Johnny & Joni to do while they’re young and don’t have anything serious on their plate. It doesn’t always stick, but when it does it’s probably because the kid was already harboring a passion for music. Piano lessons are a way in – a portal. Sometimes it’s a brief stop on the path to the drums, guitar, or to dance lessons. For the pianists, there’s something very powerful about putting your hands in the same place, moving them the same way that Chopin or Beethoven did. It unlocks their secrets.
J Rae: Can you tell us about your time at Berklee College of Music in Boston and what’s the most important lesson you can take away from your days as a student at this prestigious school?
Matt Nakoa: Oh geez. Crippling self-consciousness. Then I learned how to play any gig under the sun, without the slightest idea what gigs I actually wanted.
My biggest lessons came after Berklee, when I had to digest what I’d swallowed. My takeaway continues to be: don’t think so much, just make music. Because what I think is my best – is not. What I think is my worst – is the fan favorite. So I’m done trying to prove anything. Instead ,I’m just sharing.
J Rae: After college, it says on your Bio that you toured with your band The Fens and then later would play at many top NYC piano bars. How did the dynamics change between playing with The Fens to playing at New York City hot spots?
Matt Nakoa: Touring with The Fens was a glorious, gritty adventure. We were young and stupid and dirt broke. Ultimately, we had great songs but no money, and we split up under that pressure. I started playing piano bars because it was work I could do a few nights a week and still spend my days writing. It paid well but it was brutally hard work. I’m sure some of my former co-workers are dead now. That job’ll kill ya.
J Rae: Your first solo album was in 2012 and wanted to ask what that immediate feeling was like to lay down all the tracks for your debut release?
Matt Nakoa: Every time I finish something new it feels like the most important thing ever. My first solo record was particularly meaningful to me because it proved I could do it on my own. It was also a concrete step toward leaving the piano bar and singing my own songs.
J Rae: Is their a new album or new recordings/projects in the works?
Matt Nakoa: Yes! My new album, ‘Casting Shadows’, is being printed as we speak! The lead-off single, “Touch & Go” was released March 8th.
J Rae: I see you’ve been touring internationally and performing regularly with folk music standout Tom Rush. Can you tell the Skope readers more about your worldly travels and getting to play with Tom Rush?
Matt Nakoa: Playing with Tom is a blast and a half. He has 55 years worth of tour stories, so he’s a wellspring of humor and street smarts, and his music is better than ever. We can all only hope to be that sharp when we’re 77.
As for the travel: it can be tedious, and work is work, but in the right frame of mind I’m on a very elaborate vacation. Music has given me the opportunity to see places I likely would not have, were I an accountant.
J Rae: I saw that you even had a chance to perform at the White House and so would you mind describing this experience to the entire Skope audience and what did it mean to you personally as an artist?
Matt Nakoa: I was there back in 2013 doing a Holiday concert. They had The White House tree decorated and all that. People come in, stand behind velvet ropes, take pictures and gawk. There I was, cheesin’ at the Steinway. Barack and Michelle were in South Africa attending Nelson Mandela’s funeral, but I met the First Dogs and the girls came home from school while I was there. I must say, the hospitality at the Obama White House was really something. Christmas cookies and scotch, baby!
J Rae: Ending on a positive note has become a continuous theme for my Q&A Features as of recently and so without further ado. What’s ONE thing people in this world could use right now and how can Matt Nakoa the person and Matt Nakoa the musician help in achieving that goal?
Matt Nakoa: I think people could use a little one-on-one time. A couple hours without a cell phone. Meet a friend, take a walk, lie on the floor and listen to a record start to finish. Go to a concert and don’t even take pictures – just laugh and sing along and be there.
There is a part of us that knows how to be happy. Just like Nature – given a chance, it will find equilibrium. From there, creativity grows like plants growing out of the mud. Trouble is, we don’t give that part of ourselves a chance to do its thing. Instead, we’re constantly taking imaginary marching orders. It’s important to strive and contribute our energy to something, but this seems like a world of shadow-boxers, to me. If you want to contribute, put down your phone and contribute to the well-being of the person sitting across the table from you. If you want to fight, stand up to those bullies in your own mind.
As a musician, I can offer the fruits of my efforts – the good, bad, and ugly. I like to picture a couple of kids lying on the floor, listening to my record, coming to my concert, and going home even better friends because of it. That thought is enough to keep me going.
By Jimmy Rae (https://twitter.com/2JRae)