An electrician, unplugged
Matt the Electrician is sitting in his south Austin home, as laid back as a guy who has nothing to do and not a worry on his mind.
Despite the fact that it's less than 24 hours until the musician embarks on a tour, he still has some packing to do, and the car he's taking has a flat tire - things are, for the most part, going very well for the singer-songwriter these days. Austin gave him the key to the city last month, and next week he has his first gig at L.A.'s prestigious Knitting Factory.
One thing you need to know about Matt the Electrician: With the guy, there's nothing that's not a story. Which is a very good thing, since he draws on both the humbling and hilarious for his lyrics and his stage banter.
Some chatty singers quickly evoke a "shut up and sing" sensation in the audience. Not so Matt. The growing throngs that come to hear him play love all the in-between stuff - from stories about his social-worker publicist to a house full of handymen and -women where he once lived.
Those who first encounter him on the radio invariably peg him - based on his moniker - as some older guy who needs to pull up his pants. So it's surprising to discover that, Metallica T-shirt, ripped jeans, and soul patch notwithstanding, Matt is a dead ringer for a Campbell's kid. His ruddy cheeks and cheery grin belie the raw and often achy sentiments of his songs.
The success of his third CD, "Made for Working" (featuring his worn-out boots on the cover), has allowed the guy who used to rush to open mikes - despite being covered in sweat from hours of wiring houses - to quit the six-day-a-week job he took when he moved from Oregon in 1996.
The singer had an eclectic childhood. Originally a trumpet player, Matt found himself falling hard and fast for the guitar, but times were too tight for many lessons. According to the "mostly true" bio at his website (www.matttheelectrician.com), "Unfortunately, because of the elder Electrician's spiraling origami habit, money was not only extremely tight but intricately folded and beautifully hung all around the Electrician household, so Matt was limited to the only three chords his parents could afford."
Actually, he knows plenty of chords, and also can play a mean banjolele (a miniature cross between a banjo and ukelele).
Then there's the storytelling. Take a recent gig, where Matt ran into Hugh, a friend of a friend he hadn't seen in many years, since attending a party thrown by Hugh and his wife, Sandi. Matt told the audience the story of what happened that night and how it inspired a song. He then proceeded to sing about how sorry he was for throwing up on their lawn.
Matt's wilder side has since settled. He married Kathie, his girlfriend since high school (they met in the school play - he was Charlie Brown, she was Peppermint Patty). They have a daughter, Ramona, 3. Baby 2 is scheduled for release this April.
Back during his getting-started days, Matt hazarded into open mike night at Flipnotics, a coffeehouse. Ana Egge, a singer-songwriter now living in New York, was the host and was impressed enough to invite him to do a long set the following week. "I hadn't seen many people I thought had something really original and good going on," she says. "He really stood out. He's so endearing and sincere and yet he has a real sense of humor that really breaks up the time between the heartfelt stuff."
Dan Hardick, frontman for Fingerpistol, has seen plenty of acts come and go in his years of playing. Matt, he's convinced, is the real deal. "I find him wildly entertaining," Hardick says. "He's from the older storytelling tradition of people like Dylan and Lou Reed.... It's very personal and often self-effacing - embarrassing to the teller and yet hilarious to other people - Roseanne Barr Syndrome. People love to hear about other people's miseries."