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Ukraine RPCV Matt Taylor plays music around the world
Ukraine RPCV Matt Taylor plays music around the world
By Kevin Erb
Matt Taylor remembers his first taste of celebrity. For Taylor, a blossoming local guitar player fresh off the release of his second album of original material, celebrity didn’t come as a result of his adeptness at playing the guitar or his burgeoning songwriting skills. Celebrity for Matt Taylor came for the first time simply because he was a Yankee.
You see, before Taylor devoted his time (and his livelihood) fully to being a musician about two years ago, he was a teacher. For the better part of a decade Taylor taught in several places across the U.S., including in Texas and in Arizona. He also spent two years teaching English to junior high and high school students in the Ukraine. Hence, his simply being an American brought about his first semblances of notoriety, this time among Ukrainian youth.
“From my experiences in the Ukraine, many of those people thought you couldn’t find anything more interesting and alluring than American music,” Taylor remembers. “So I found that one of the best ways to get kids learning English was through music. It put English in simple, easy-to-understand concepts for both the students and the native teachers, too. That’s one of the reasons I started to learn to play so many songs.”
The other reason he learned to play so many songs on his guitar, Taylor explains, was to play at parties he and fellow Peace Corps volunteers would have while in the Ukraine. Taylor enjoyed so much these “huge, raucous all night sing-alongs” (as he describes them on his website, matttaylor.biz) that he found himself constantly learning new songs on his guitar to have new material to throw out at the next get-together.
“My experiences over there and my interactions made me become more professional as a musician,” he says. “I was a real-life representation of American music to these people, so I had to approach it seriously.”
“The scene over there was inspirational,” he remembers on his website.
Taylor’s constantly expanding set list is now one of his hallmarks as a performer. Even as he continues to produce original material (enough for two albums, with a third not far behind), he also maintains a list of what he says contains at least 120 tunes.
“That’s probably not all, either,” he says. “Let’s put it his way, I’ve gone five-plus hours playing with a couple of bathroom breaks thrown in there, of course, without any repeats.”
His musical career in the whatzup area began, oddly enough, while Taylor was calling Arizona home.
“I’d come back here to Fort Wayne maybe two or three times a year,” he explains. “But every time I came back, I’d end up playing a show somewhere, be it at Orchard Ridge or Ernie’s or someplace like that. Well, I found that I acquired a bit of a following of people who would come out to see me whenever I was back.
Such instances were some of the first seeds planted in Taylor’s mind that music was something he could pursue as a career.
“It became a progressively more and more involved hobby for me,” he says. “So I thought that this is something I should just take head-on.”
In that little time since devoting his time to becoming a musician, things have moved pretty fast for Taylor. He home-produced and released his first album of original material, Destination. His second album, All Circles Complete, was professionally produced and released just last month.
“I’m really trying to mature as a songwriter and as a professional, and think that maturity is evident when you compare Destinations with All Circles Complete,” he says. “I feel like there is a big difference between the two albums, and it shows that I’m trying to become a more competent musician. I know it’s true from my standpoint, simply because I put a lot more thought in writing and putting songs together for the second album.”
Lyrically speaking, at least, Taylor’s maturation from Destinations to All Circles Complete is noticeable. He probably doesn’t give himself enough credit for the work he did for Destinations. It’s evident to the listener that he succeeds at songwriting, even when one can tell this is sort of a new venture to him. (If it’s natural, it often doesn’t matter how new anything is to someone.)
Yet All Circles Complete is a leap even from the strengths of Destinations because Taylor continues to expand on the scope of his songwriting. While he covers many of the same roads like love and pain he covered on Destinations, he branches off into newer territory that can often be a no-man’s-land for fledgling songwriters. “Bomber, for example, examines the mindset of the modern soldier in a society where war is waged via button pushing in underground bunkers thousands of miles from the action. “Hand of God” calmly raises the scepter of Armageddon and the susceptibility of humans to natural disaster. And “Bridge” is a somber-sounding tune with a hopeful message about bridging gaps between people in modern times.
As Taylor’s songwriting prowess continues to improve, he says he wants to expand exponentially the amount of his original materials he includes in his live performances. His live shows now, he says, are about 80 percent cover songs and 20 percent original.
“But every time out I want to make the amount of original material more,” he adds. “People are starting to request original songs of mine when I play. As this kind of stuff starts to happen, I get more confident, and I’ll continue to make it a larger part of my performances.”
Taylor plays regularly at low-key intimate venues around Fort Wayne like Ernie’s and Park Place. He is also becoming well known outside of the whatzup area as well. He has a show March 29 at Kilroy’s in Bloomington, a favorite hangout of IU students. It will be the third such show he’s played there, and he makes no qualms about his desires to expand his music farther and farther outside of northeast Indiana.
“You never know what kind of reaction you’ll get at a place like Kilroy’s; you’re not even sure if college students will recognize the songs you’re going to play,” he says, “but they know all of the songs I covered. Even ‘The Gambler.’ It’s a great time when I go there. I hope to do shows like these all over more often now.”
He also says original material is coming along so well for him that a third release is in the works for mid-to late-summer 2003 as well.
“I’ll take as long as I need to with it, though,” he says. “I want to start to expand out, so I can’t rush a process like this.”
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