Gang, it’s been over two years since my last proper blog. It’s time I got active on here again, which merits some context, subtext, what-have-ye. Not that you’ve all been stuck pining, desperately wondering what I’ve been up to—no such delusions here. I’m just a touch too orderly to have this careless gap on here. Right, then: on with it!
2019 got me, for the first time in my ~1,000-concert-playing life, burnt out on gigging. I played some fun shows that year, but…how do I put it: the old kicks lost their kick. For one, my increasingly-aware three-year-old daughter began crying whenever I’d leave for another gig or rehearsal, but in general it all got tougher to justify.
The Foamers? did a Halloween show that year where we did a Brooks & Dunn tribute set, which was a total riot, and also did a Stooges tribute set with Holly Trasti and Michael Zink; that whole night was a blast! And Muddy Udders ended the year opening for Olivia Jean (who’s now betrothed to Jack White) which was super cool, but head-scratchingly poorly attended.
In all, 2019 was when I acutely felt the effort/reward balance tip unfavorably. Meanwhile, I’d been following reports of some “coronavirus” spreading overseas as of October, hopeful it would be contained.
2020: Career Change, Coronamania, Childbirth
I had a hired-gun gig in mid-January 2020, a Monday night where I had to drive immediately from work to make it to soundcheck in time. It amounted to little more than a very long, dead-of-winter Monday. Around this time I uneventfully finished a book I’d been ghostwriting, and was increasingly eager for a change from my 10-year employer, while cases of the coronavirus had just begun popping up in the US around this time. My home life was positively idyllic, but that was about the extent of my enthusiasm.
I had just three upcoming gigs booked, but when I was hit with a number of proposed shows for that summer, I couldn’t bring myself to take them on. Partially because I’d decided to leave office work to become a painter, which meant a very new and intimidating schedule of 6am-4:30pm Monday-Friday; I couldn’t imagine feeling ready to rock a stage on Friday nights, let alone how I’d stay awake for the late drive home after. With that, I more or less decreed an indefinite hold on booking.
As the coronavirus continued its spread, news that my wife and I were expecting child #4 was…I don’t want to say “tempered,” but certainly accompanied by new challenges. The virus was extra mysterious then and had me rather freaked out; for all I knew, if my wife caught it while pregnant we’d lose our baby. Again, I’d been following news of it since October ’19, and had seen the wild footage of people dropping in the streets in China, and had opted to err on the side of preparing for Black Plague 2.0.
Pardon my ineloquence, but it sucked. A month before any sort of shutdowns or quarantines I decided I’d be the only one from my house venturing into public. The biggest extra task for me was weekly grocery shopping, which ordinarily wouldn’t sound like much, but on top of my new schedule, the conditions called for much extra care—for all I knew, I could potentially bring this horrendous disease into my home. Early on I was a staunch if embarrassed glove-wearer; conventionally fallible internet wisdom of the time suggested the virus lived on surfaces for three days. As it was just getting to March the weather was plenty cold, so I adopted a routine of leaving groceries in our unheated garage for three days before bringing them inside. When the weather warmed up I ordered a UV wand and would diligently kill any germs on every package before bringing it in. Did I mention it sucked?
My three upcoming gigs were canceled, along with all else. Suddenly I’d gone from, at the very least, wanting to take a break from music, to no longer having a choice.
But between my new work schedule/the effort of a serious career change, and feeling the weight of the world with protecting my growing family from coronavirus, it was easy to forget about music. (Desirable even, what with my dud of a last gig.) I’d been dutifully playing live music since I turned 21, yet when I’d notice the long stretches I’d go without so much as touching an instrument—days, weeks—I didn’t even care. I leaned into music-less-ness. Even commuting to job sites, I’d listen to podcasts or audio books instead of CDs. Music used to liberate me; suddenly I was liberated from it.
Initially the career change to painting was exciting; it was pretty much everything I’d hoped for, and I had some incredible teachers. It was unbelievably refreshing to not have office drama or politics, meetings, or e-mails. Best of all I gained timeless, universal work skills; should I ever need to, I could find work almost instantly, almost anywhere in the world.
I counteracted the oft-mindless physical work with a near-constant soundtrack of classic literature, short stories, and podcasts on history, philosophy, and politics. In hindsight I was trying to get stronger and smarter, focusing on what I could control, racing with whatever weirdness the world was throwing at my family and me, pushing myself to read and exercise more than any other time in my life. There was something self-effacing about so much physical and mental activity, though, and this was probably, willfully the least artistic period of my life.
I even wound up taking on a side job, and from about May 2020 to January 2021 I was painting nearly every weekend as well. It felt good using my new skills to help a friend, but clearly this was more than I should’ve taken on. Once my honeymoon phase of painting had waned, I sized up my career and life to that point and indulged in full-on regret. I didn’t like the position I’d gotten myself into—why did I let it happen?
In a word, music. I’d devoted far too much of my life to music, and that was damn stupid of me… such were my thoughts. Nice goin’, Day—now get back to work painting millionaires’ homes.
As we prepared for our new baby’s arrival, I paid greater attention than ever to our midwife. This would be our third home birth, but with coronavirus/covid uncertainty, for all I knew I’d be delivering this baby on my own, and I actually did feel ready for that.
Thankfully that wasn’t necessary—though our midwife was quarantining just up to our baby’s due date. Alas, our beautiful son was born in November 2020. It was eventful only in retrospect; at the time, we hardly noticed our midwife made it to our house only five minutes before he was born!
I hadn’t taken a day off all year, saving my two weeks’ PTO entirely to stay home to bond with our new baby and run the house while my wife recovered.
Honestly I was grateful to get back to work after that. No idea how my wife keeps this place in such great shape.
Having made it through to our healthy baby’s birth, and with my greatest fears about covid’s potential going unrealized, I slightly began to relax about the virus. (Naturally I caught it late January ’21. Thankfully it went through my house with little impact.)
2021: Radio Silence, Return(s) to Action(s)
Oh, right: politics. 2020 was, in a word, alienating: a new virus locks us away from one another; no one can agree on its cause or how to deal with it; and it’s a highly-polarized presidential election year. As is, people typically suck at social media, in the sense that most of us don’t know how to run our own public relations. This never really bothered me, because in-person experiences were where life actually happened, reminding us why we ever liked the people behind these accounts. But with that option removed, the online facsimile of friendship felt less adequate than ever, and like most people, I got very sick of inarticulate, histrionic representations of people I otherwise knew and liked.
Being a creative guy who wants to share his works I couldn’t have fathomed not being on social media. After Tommy and I put out a surprise episode of Live from Stadium Drive early in the year, I took stock. Painting houses, while certainly aesthetic, is hardly creative. Likewise my freelance writing and editing projects (which I’d kept up with all the while) are more of an art than artwork.
In light of all the divisive opinions on social media, I opted to neither add to the noise nor try and futilely (if not boringly) give all sides their nuanced due, and I ultimately abstained from any posts or blogs throughout, aborting at one point a 3,000-word (and counting) attempt to write info-tainingly about covid.
It occurred I
could should take a break from social media, so unannounced, as of mid-January, I did.
Gigging still wasn’t an option. Even as some venues reopened, playing out felt either irresponsible (lots of people show up) or impractical (no one shows up).
Lots of people were doing live streams performing, and others were recording and releasing new music—great for them, not so much for me. Frankly I’d grown bitter about the whole medium, and didn’t want to waste another bit of my time or energy on music. And all this from a former “lifer!”
Which isn’t to say I was happier without music. I’d work all day, gone up to 13 hours including commutes, and come home to be the best family man and version of myself I could be. I came to recognize, though, that creativity was vital to the latter, which was by extension vital to the former. That pure selflessness is an ouroboros—killing one’s self by degrees. As the months wore on my spirit hit an unnatural exhaustion, and I began to understand blue-collar nihilism at its worst. Because of the rut I’d gotten into in 2019, I’d forgotten how alive I feel when I’m creating—when I’m actively caring about a project, excited by it, confounded by it, just into it, unable to care whether it’s a “waste” of time.
Man, I needed that again, badly. Sitting dormant all the while was my lifelong, ongoing/oncoming bank of music ideas: riffs, lines of lyrics, songs in various states of completion. Part of me, no matter how far I’d gotten from music, had always assumed I’d keep working on these ideas, and that they’d eventually see the light of day. Was I actually willing to snuff them out once and for all? Was I so sure there was no potential there?
I guess that’s where I drew the line. If I’d bottomed out, that was my bounce back. It hit me that, sure, gigging may be out of the question, but what about just recording and releasing songs? Do it on my own time, no baggage, just music? This was either my worst or best idea yet: a Matty Day solo album?
A name for the album even popped in my head, and served as an engine and magnet for the things I started brainstorming. This was roughly March 2021, and coincided with my falling back in love with music as a medium after a solid year apart; I’m not sure which happened first, but the idea to make music again certainly fed into, and was in turn fed by my rekindled enthusiasm for the medium. I’ll credit the likes of Blur, Depeche Mode, The Chocolate Watchband (specifically with David Aguilar on vocals), David Bowie, both Elvises, The Dukes of Stratosphear, Giuseppe Verdi, The Smiths, Faron Young, DBUK, Desert Sessions, Silverchair/Daniel Johns, The Darkness, Johnny Burnette, Pantera, Scott Walker, Savoy Motel, and New Order among the acts who coaxed me into loving music anew. “Guilty pleasure” was just gone from my vocabulary—I’d been so jaded that I was just happy to enjoy music again.
By summer, my goodness, I was even excited to play a gig! Just two days shy of a year-and-a-half offstage, I got to do an outdoor show with Cory Chisel, and it was one of the best shows we’d ever played.
My gears kept turning, the project slowly took shape over the months, and I was back to my old ways of jotting down ideas and making voice memos for songs. This new material would bolster songs from my good ol’ music bank, with some ideas tracing back up to 15 years. I zeroed in on a tracklist, and in August I humbly asked my pals/bandmates Sam Farrell and Alex Drossart if they’d be game to help me with recording, and they ever so fortunately agreed. As a bit of barter I helped Sam paint the trickier areas of his new house.
That side job pretty much book-ended my year and a half as a painter. It was like my rekindled creative spark inspired more than just music, as I recommitted to finding full-time work as a writer. I guess I’d just heard one too many painters who’d come and go, always complain about painting, only to shrug and say, “Oh well. It’s all I can do.”
I couldn’t accept resigning to that fate. I decided to bite several bullets and add a more “marketable” degree to my English & Film degrees (liberal arts relics of a bygone era). So I quite suddenly put in my two-week notice and enrolled in 24 credits to finish a Marketing program in four months. Worth noting: the timing was also informed by the federal Advance Child Tax Credit payments, which (about) covered my mortgage payments through the end of the year, mitigating some of the risk. And it definitely helped knowing I could always go back to painting if things didn’t work out.
Around this time I was contacted by the editor for the new Green Bay City Pages publication, an alt-weekly sister newspaper to the Green Bay Press-Times. It’d been about five years since I’d stopped writing for (the sadly defunct) Frankly Green Bay, and since it’d give me a chance to sharpen my writing skills by for a new platform, and it might help rebuild the local music scene in light of covid, I went for it:
- October 28, 2021: Live music rises again. Here’s what you should know.
- November 18, 2021: Venue Visit: The Lyric Room punches above its weight
- December 14, 2021: The tour’s they are a-changin’
I had some growing pains fitting my type of music writing into the paper’s style guidelines, and I had to get used to published versions of my articles veering a bit from my vision, but it was great experience and I really enjoyed being contributing. Whoever recommended me for the gig: thank you!
Around that time I also got asked if The Foamers? would open for Mad Mojo Jett, a new band featuring some old friends from Minneapolis, who apparently requested for “any” of my bands to be on the bill. How could I say no? Thus, The Foamers? played our first show in about two years, with our sense of taste sharp as ever, evinced by our mask bikinis. (This fine gentleman filmed most of our songs.)
I finished my classes in December, immediately took up a new ghostwriting project to tide me over, and about a week later I saw a job posting at a local ad agency for a full-time (copy)writer. (Clearly they didn’t see the picture above.)
2022: New Music, New Career
With ghostwriting deadlines looming, I opted to take some time off from City Pages. I’d applied and began interviewing for the copywriter position, which felt oddly natural—more like conversations than job interviews. Wildly enough, I was offered the job! And was able to set a start date approximately after my ghostwriting deadline.
I tried resuming my City Pages contributions, but it was just too much at this point; out of some combination of passion, thoroughness, and vanity, I spent an irrational amount of time on those articles. Now that I was writing full-time, the extra writing was more than I could handle. These are the pieces I had published this year:
- February 14, 2022: Venue Visit: Frets and Friends’ cozy, vibrant vibes
- February 25, 2022: Venue Visit: EPIC defies odds with ambitious approach
- April 6, 2022: UW-Green Bay’s Jazz Fest Swings Back with Legend Lovano
- April 16, 2022: Heartbreak, noir and surf guitar
- Bonus: January 30, 2022: Invisible Ink
A couple weeks after a meeting with Sam and Alex to plan things out, we started recording my solo album on April 20th, and we’ve gotten together on weeknights three or four times a month since, chipping away at one song at a time.
Almost caught up—your attention span is legendary!
It’s now been six months since I’ve gotten to be a full-time copywriter, and four months since starting work on my solo album. Re: the latter, I’m still coming to terms with saying “solo album” and not cringing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled with how it’s going. It just feels weird saying it—maybe due to the dozen-plus featured collaborators/guest players on it.
Writing for a living means I’m always using creative skills, but I’ve quickly learned how I need passion projects to balance out my work work. Beyond the solo album, this has also meant acting in a new short film project with Tommy Burns, more shows with Cory Chisel, a run of gigs with the ‘Torches, a solo set at my grandma’s retirement home, and some Foamers? recordings (with gigs on the way).
I’ve also joined a new band—something I’d pretty well sworn off, but the project was just too appealing, and Sam and Alex and I been talking about doing something with Ryley Crowe and Ryan Eick for years. Now christened Hang Ten, what was intended to be strictly a studio project is now becoming a live-performing band, and we’re debuting on-stage with two shows opening for The Heavy Heavy in October. (I should’ve seen this coming; this is the same trajectory The Foamers? and The Priggs took. [Worth noting my solo tracks will be virtually impossible to recreate live; much of its inspiration’s come from disregarding live performance.])
Finally (phew), if you’re seeing this you’re likely aware I’m back on social media, possibly more active than I’d ever been. My Facebook account was hacked while it was deactivated, so I’ve had to start from scratch there, and decided to make a public page for whichever endeavors I’ve got going. (I’m also attempting to post weekly local events round-ups there; I can’t shake my urge to help people recognize Green Bay’s not such a bad place. [Accusations of projection aren’t unfair.])
For one of my classes last fall I had to start an Instagram account, so I’ve got that going, too. Sure it’s wise to have these going for creative stuff, but I also needed access to these platforms for my job, part of which requires writing social media posts for clients. (I’ve kept my Twitter account the whole time; I know people hate that site, but it’s truly the best news source.) (I’ve had to do some work on TikTok, and coming to terms with that platform depressed me for days.)
Okay! There you/I have it. Necessary vegetables have been eaten. I can now get on to some other topics, especially after this gnarly late summer run of shows culminates with sets with The “Torches and Foamers? at All Bands on Deck this weekend.
Stay tuned, get rad, roll tide, rock your local casbah, and have sex in a voting booth.