'Keeping The Home Fires Burning'
There was never a time when Matthew Jordan didn’t want to play piano
and sing. "I can remember telling the teacher in kindergarten that I was going to grow up to be like Billy Joel,” he says. "There was a kid I knew back then who used to sing “We Didn’t Start the Fire” on the playground. I came home and asked my dad about it, and he pulled out this huge stack of Billy’s old albums. That was it. I was totally hooked.”
But even before that, another piano prodigy inspired him. “We actually
lived next door to Tori Amos when I was about two or three years old.
She used to come over a lot, because my dad was the photographer who
did her early pictures. She turned my whole family onto Kate Bush
So, with Billy and Tori looking figuratively over his shoulders, a
five-year-old boy sat transfixed at the keyboard for hours… which
became days… and then years… until he finally graduated from USC’s
prestigious Thornton School of Music in 2006. “There’s never been
anything else I’ve wanted to do. Of course, everybody in high school
thought I was weird, ‘cause in high school ya gotta play guitar to be
cool. But I just kept playing and writing, and here we are.”
Having released his debut full-length CD Horizon (Quiet
Thunder Records) this past March, this twenty-two year old wonder has
already established impressive credentials: Nearly 30,000 fans on
MySpace; chosen as a featured artist by NOKIA Corp. with his music
included both in the rollout of new phones and in their official
Podcast at MIDEM 2007; a finalist on MTV “Duets” with Vanessa Carlton;
and a starring role in Five For Fighting’s iconic and award-winning
video “100 Years” in which he plays the wistful 15 year old pianist
(“Fifteen – there’s still time for you”).
So you see… Matthew Jordan didn’t start the fire… but he surely is
going to keep it burning for many years to come.
Taking it from the top and what were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your music today? "Well, when I was a kid it was all about Billy Joel. From the moment I heard "We Didn't Start The Fire" I was hooked, and ultimately that's why I started playing the piano. As I got older, my taste broadened... lots of other influences came in to play. The Beatles, obviously. I was also a huge fan of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson - "God Only Knows" is my favorite song of all time. In my teens, I really opened up to more musically complex stuff like Steely Dan and Todd Rundgren. On my new album Horizon, the song "Insomniac" was produced as a tribute to Brian Wilson, and "Jessie" has some very Steely Dan-like background vocals. So yeah, all of my influences still have a major impact on my sound - I wouldn't have it any other way :)"
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of buying your debut CD, how would you yourself describe your sound? "It's definitely piano rock... I'm using the piano like a lot of people use the guitar. Whether it's percussive pounding stuff or a flowing ballad, I try and get the full range of emotion out of the keys. Every once in a while, on a song like I'm On My Way, I feel like I'm using the piano as a weapon of mass destruction, lol."
Your album title 'Horizon' is an interesting choice, but perhaps it originates from a more personal standpoint for you? Is there a theme to it, perhaps? "The title 'Horizon' comes from a line in the song "Someone's Waiting" - "Keep your eyes on the horizon, someone's waiting for you." I try to always stay positive and keep my hopes up, even when things look dark. I guess that sort of makes my music "anti-emo" if that's a genre, lol. Anyway, if I wasn't an optimist I probably wouldn't have started down the road I'm on, because the odds of succeeding as professional musician are so long."
It's been stated in your bio that you once told a kindergarten teacher that you would grow up to be like Billy Joel! Knowing now that he's been married three times, and has entered into a center for substance abuse and the Betty Ford Center for alcohol, I'm wondering if you'd like to change that once-held-high dream person?! "Haha, well there's a big difference between a personal role model and a professional role model. Billy Joel will always be my idol because of his amazing musical talent, but not necessarily because of his life choices. Hopefully I'll be able to get through life with a few less trips to rehab and a few less wrecked cars than he has, lol. It's really hard to find an exemplary personal role model these days. Britney Spears used to be mine, and look where that got me (just kidding!)."
But, all that said; and with you even living next door to another great pianist, Tori Amos (who then turned you on to British darling/pianist, Kate Bush), was there ever a chance that you wouldn't take up the piano?! "Probably not! Music is in my blood (I come from a musical family) and everywhere I turned as a kid, there were musical influences. Getting into Tori and Billy Joel kept me from taking up the guitar, like so many young boys do. Dunno if I believe in fate, but if there's such a thing I think I was meant to play the piano."
Indeed, how easy (or hard) is it to constantly create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderment's/accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "Have I done that?? Wow, I'm impressed with myself... no, seriously, I just do what I do. The way I write, play and sing is the only way I know how. I try to create music that I'd like to listen to, and hopefully other people will enjoy it too :)"
Please tell us more about how you got the gig in the Five For Fighting '100 Years' video ... and what it did for your life/career once it had become to be shown around the world! "Getting to film the "100 Years" is by far the coolest experience I've had in my life... and the whole thing came about out of nowhere. My little brother is getting into acting, and his manager told me about a last-minute audition for a young male pianist. I had heard "100 Years" on the radio for the first time earlier that day, and immediately loved the song. Needless to say, I was pretty excited when I found out I was auditioning for the music video!"
"Anyway, I had an amazing experience on set. John Ondrasik (lead singer and songwriter of Five For Fighting) became a friend of mine and offered me some sage advice about the music biz. I got to know Lucy Walsh (daughter of The Eagles' Joe Walsh), who was also in the video. And finally, I got chucked out of a 50 foot high Oak tree and almost died, lol. Well, not quite... it was pretty scary though!"
"After the video aired, lots of people ended up finding my website (by simply Googling "who was the kid in the '100 Years' video?"), and I made new fans and some of my very best friends because of it. To a degree, it gave me exposure all over the world and helped me meet some awesome people. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything."
To your mind now as a 23 year-old, who is the greatest pianist out there today ... and what makes them so? "In my mind, no one can touch Ben Folds. What that guy does with the piano is inhuman... he moves his hands faster than anyone I've ever seen. Simply amazing! And to think, piano isn't even his first instrument. He started out on drums! Talk about an overachiever, lol."
If you were asked to for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today if asked ... and why?! "Hmm... a close tie between "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield and "Private Eyes" by Hall & Oates. I think I'd end up opting for Hall & Oates, because I've always loved those guys. Some people might say their music is cheesy, but it's catchy as hell! Find me someone who doesn't like to sing along to "You Make My Dreams Come True" in their car, when they think no one's watching. Er, maybe that's just me. Did I mention I'm a huge dork?!"
Lastly, and throwing in a comedic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine love Penguins ... do you?! "Danny Devito was great as The Penguin in 'Batman Returns.' And there used to be an awesome frozen yogurt chain here in Los Angeles called Penguins. And hey, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a pretty amazing hockey team. So yeah, I'd have to say I definitely love penguins, of all types ;)"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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