During his short career, West Virginia native Matt VanFossen has shared the stage with artists including Craig Campbell, Brooks & Dunn, and more. In 2013, he was one of the main stage artists at the Ohio-based ‘Jamboree in the Hills’ festival. With the recent release of his new EP, BOOM, Matt VanFossen is prepared to take his career to exciting new levels. Matt graciously took the time to talk about his biggest influence, the EP and what he would like to accomplish in 2015.
When did you decide to pursue country music as a profession?
I grew up in Wheeling West Virginia, which was the home of the second longest weekly running radio show in the country, The Wheeling Jamboree. Wheeling is also home to the Jamboree in the Hills, which is one of the top five country festivals in the US. Country music is just embedded in the people in area. I remember watching Hee Haw and other shows with my great grandma on Saturdays and once I saw Reba, with her red hair and blue eyes I was done; plus she sang pretty.
People always ask who my influences are and of course there are Garth and Vince, but above all one person’s music who has been in my life as a constant, is Reba. She has a song for a good day, a bad day, a happy time or just whatever. Her songs are the soundtrack to everyday life. Her voice and storytelling are so unique. When she plays a large venue she can move her hand, or raise an eyebrow, and everyone around her is hooked. I just want someday to be able to make even a third of an impact as she has. She has such a broad appeal and has not sold out her musical integrity. I’m late at starting a career at 30 years old, but you know there is no finer influence.
Your EP BOOM was released on October 21st. You have said that it deals with intense emotions. How do those emotions come through in the songs?
It does have intense emotions, but as I sit here and say that "BOOM" itself is a feel good song about being in a bar and meeting girl. The song has something in the chorus that gets stuck in head! It’s a good, fun song and really a turning point for me. I primarily started out as a ballad type singer; it was the style I was drawn to, wanting to stay true to my craft and sing about feeling and real life. My publisher brought me "BOOM," which he thought was a song that I would be great at even though it wasn’t a ballad, and by the end of the chorus I had a big smile on my face. One of the things I love to do when I am onstage is perform a song, really sing it and move about the stage, and with "BOOM" I can do that and the crowd really gets into it. It’s become a show stopping song.
On my previous record, I had a song “Leave Me,” which was a piano ballad about the end of a relationship. Out of all of the feedback I had gotten, that song was everybody’s favorite. When I started this new project, I knew one thing for sure-that in the grand tradition of Reba, I wanted to have a follow up to that song. “Get to You” [from BOOM] is the perfect companion song. The song is about not yet finding the right person, but having faith that they exist. My "frienager" was not too keen on the song, but I worked up an acapella version and she loved it, which was so validating for me. I pair these two songs when I play live and hairs just stand up on my arms! People come up to me and tell me how those songs touch them, and when that happens, you know you are doing something right.
It makes me sad that on the radio, for there to be a top 10 song by female besides Miranda and Carrie, it has to be one that makes fun of the current crop of male singers. In the 90s, country music was equally male and female and now it’s buy a bunch of guys who just sing about the same stuff, which has no meaning. I don’t want to hate, but I hope bro will be done and we will shift back to music that deals with feelings and life, other than drinking and girls in short shorts.
A song with a personal story behind it is “Time Ain’t What It Used To Be.”
I lost my mom from a stroke in 2010.“Time Ain’t What It Used To Be,” which was on the first album, was the first song of mine that my mom got to hear on the radio. After she passed I wanted to quit because how could I go on when my best friend and biggest fan was no longer here. I decided to change the song up a bit and put it on BOOM. I think it’s a song where every single person can relate to some part of it. As long as I have a say, I will perform that song for the rest of my life. I wear a dog tag with the Serenity Prayer and my mom’s ring and every time I perform this song, in the bridge, I have my hand on that necklace. I believe in power of it, she’s still here with me and watching what’s going on.
Did you write for the EP?
I did not write any songs on the current EP. I have been writing with my friend Andrea Thompson from Nashville and hope to put out another EP in five to seven months and have some songs which I wrote on there. It is so, so scary to think about putting yourself out there in such way, not only vocals, but with what you wrote because people can be so harsh sometimes.
Where can fans see you live?
I live in Ohio right now and play in three states: Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. We had a cd release party, which we filmed so we can put a promo video together in order to take the music to places we have yet to play.
2014 has been good to you. Is there one thing in 2015 that you would like to accomplish?
For me, and it probably sounds very silly when you think about it, of all the things I could do next year I would love for someone to entertain the idea of letting me sing at the Grand Ole Opry. People without record deals sing there all the time, and it is something I would love to be able to do. I went for first time last year. Craig Campbell, who is someone that is out right now that I really like, was there as was Craig Morgan, who can really just sing his butt off! I always liked him, but that night I went and bought his music before he was done singing the song!
I would also love to have a Top 40 single. [Matt had two previous single break the Top 100 on the Mediabase charts]. "BOOM" has been doing fantastic things, like beating out other established country artists on a West Virginia radio “smackdown.” That station mainly plays tenured artists, rather than new artists, so I am very proud of the fact that they play my music.
I have all the faith in the world in the people that work with me. There were many times that they wanted this for me more than I wanted it for myself. I have a crazy best friend who helped with this album and the last one. We went to Nashville this summer doing shows and looking a tour buses and what do you know he bought me one! Out in my yard is a 1999 bus that was used on Toby Keith’s How Do You Like Me Now Tour. It’s beautiful and I could not be more thankful to him and certainly couldn’t ask for better people in my life.
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