Matt Cusson: Going Along
AAJ: The vocalist.
MC: Natural and from the heart. Simple or acrobatic if needed. A lot of times I enjoy singing as if I'm talking. Just open my mouth and let it happen itself. I'm a tenor but can sing any part in a six-part arrangement, from bass to the highest soprano. I always tell people, if you sing from the heart with feeling, someone will understand you.
AAJ: Your biggest influences, and why.
MC: I have a different answer to this question every time it's asked. Today, Miles is one of my biggest. The way he phrased, used space, his tone, his mind, his arrangements. I always thought that Miles should also be an adjective because he creates such a unique mood with his playing. Stevie [Wonder] will always be one of my biggest influences. I recently had the chance to play with him and to this minute my feet haven't touched ground. It was an extremely surreal moment in my life. The list is never ending though; Take 6, James Taylor, Djavan, Harry Connick Jr., Michael Jackson, John Williams, The Beatles, Kim Burrell, Brian McKnight, Nat King Cole, Michael Franks, John Mayer, Roy Hargrove, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Dave Matthews, The Roots, Mos Def, Q-Tip, David Foster, etc.
AAJ: Tell me about the Berklee College of Music.
MC: It was an amazing place for me to meet, study and perform with people who grew up the way I did in music. Growing up in a small town there weren't many artists around, so to be surrounded by them and interact with them was amazing. The things that were offered to us from studios to instruments, ensembles and courses, were really incredible. I was only there for three semesters, but it was an amazing year-and-a-half for me. It helped mold me into a more mature musician and performer. It got a lot of kinks out for me; I was always performing, practicing, rehearsing, writing, and learning. It helped dot the Is and cross the Ts in music, and the friends I made there, are still my best friends today. I can't go anywhere without running into someone that went to Berklee.
AAJ: Music and you.
MC: To me jazz is one of the freest and most natural forms of music, where there is no boundaries, no restrictions, you play or don't play what your heart and head want to. It's truly a beautiful thing. It can be simple, beautiful; it can be Bitches Brew [laughs]. There are so many forms of this one style and it seems to be invented over and over again by different artists. Jazz has taught me mostly about chords, voicings, harmonic structure, phrasing, chord progressions. It always keeps me thinking and I love how each artist is able to interpret a song they way they hear it, whether it's through the song itself or while taking a solo. It's a language, an art. Jazz is jazz, a word that the same word can be used to define it.
Music means everything to me, really. It's my heart, mind, body and soul. It's the air I inhale and exhale; it's the steps my feet make. It's what I smell, taste and wear. It's my relationships, my vision, my words, my cleanliness and my dirtiness. It's me. Matt the musician doesn't even recognize Matt the person. There's hasn't been words made yet to describe music to me.
AAJ: Tell me about the John Lennon Songwriting Contest.
MC: It was an amazing moment in my life. I submitted two songs, and one of them, "Every Step," was a finalist for the Best R&B Song, and the song "One of Those Nights" won grand prize for Best Jazz Song, and then went on to win the Maxell Song of the Year. [An] amazing honor. I was so surprised and am still overwhelmed by this amazing honor. I don't think it's even fully hit me yet. I have been an indie musician for about seven years now, straying away from those who wanted to change everything I was in order to fulfill their expectations. As a solo artist, I have struggled in ways you can't even imagine, packed up my car with clothes and a keyboard and driven across the country numerous times, never having enough money to pay for a meal sometimes. The changes in the music industry have challenged me to find new ways to move my project forward while always staying true to the music. Everyone always wanted me to be the next "somebody" instead of being the first me. Winning the Maxell Song of the Year award is proof to me that you can stay true to your heart and craft, and still get recognized on a major scale. I am forever indebted to those who helped me get to this point, as this is a moment in my life that will live with me forever.
AAJ: The most important thing we need to know about your album, Matt Cusson.
MC: It's real and from the heart. No restrictions. I recorded most of it myself, with some studio work here and there for certain artists involved with it, and the mastering. It's raw; a lot of the songs are stripped down arrangement wise and almost naked. I guess the point of this album was to just get who I am across to the listeners. And of course, that has all changed today, so the next album will reflect the more recent me.