Nashville TN | Singer-Songwriter
Hi. My name is Matt Wertz, and this is my bio. Usually these aren’t written by the artist, at least at this level- but as I was trying to decide who could tell my story the best, I felt like that person was me. So, I’d like to be the one to tell you where I come from, why I write music, what I’ve seen happen along the way, and where I see things going according to my finite vision.
I’m from Liberty, Missouri, but have called Nashville, Tennessee, home for the last seven years. It seems fitting that I would be writing my own biography on the cusp of my first major label release, just as I did eight years ago before releasing my first independent album. This time, though, I’m not trying to play it off like I didn’t write it.
I grew up in a home where I was encouraged to explore and dive into whatever grabbed my attention. Sports? Sure. Art? You bet. Girls? Yep. Music? Obviously. There was no expectation other than to do my best “and let God do the rest,” as my Mom always says. With that kind of freedom end encouragement, I did just that—I played sports for the fun of them, made art because I loved to create, and eventually, I wrote and performed music… because I had to.
My love for visual art led me eight hours from home to the University of Illinois, where I studied Industrial Design. As a result of that experience, music became my respite—my escape from the responsibility of class work. Dorm life served to provide a small, built–in audience who graciously embraced my first attempts at songwriting. Before I knew it, I was recording versions of those songs on my roommate’s computer and burning copies for my new cohabiting fans. Eventually I started playing concerts outside the walls of Scott Hall and made the leap to register my name as a dot-com. That may not seem like a big deal today, but at the time, those were the early, shaky steps I took toward a full-fledged career in the music industry.
Early on, I was shown many graces—like a loan from my parents to pay for the first 1,000 copies of my debut record, Somedays (2001). To assuage their fear that I was throwing my life away, I democratically assured them that I’d get a job after the summer was over. Needless to say, that never happened.
What did happen was that my summer burst at the seams with bookings at camps for high schoolers… which spilled over into a fall schedule of touring their hometowns… which set up a spring full of shows at colleges… followed by more summer camps. Rinse, wash, repeat—and you have the first few years of my career.
The days between then and now have been a series of “baby steps” that have somehow afforded me success as an independent artist. All these things really kicked into gear after the release of Twenty Three Places (2003), the first record I recorded with producer and friend, Ed Cash. The album featured some of the songs that set the tone for the rest of my career—“Everything’s Right,” “Marianne,” “Red Meets Blue,” and “Counting to 100”— songs that are still staples in my set today.
On the heels of the Twenty Three Places release, people started taking notice. Creative Artists Agency got involved booking my shows. Nettwerk took over my management. And a bunch of record labels started knocking down my door. But none of them felt like a good fit. So what did I do? I did what I’d always done: I recorded another record on my own and kept touring.
Ed and I began working on Everything in Between in February 2005, hitting the studio sporadically whenever I had breaks from the road. “The Way I Feel” was the first song we approached and it provided the compass for the record, ushering in an energy and musical depth that redirected my career to a new level. The tone of the record was my musical response to what I learned playing hundreds of clubs a year—I realized the need for up-tempo, lively songs to get the room going. The album also meant a lot to me personally—it was written and recorded during my first dating relationship since college, and much of the album followed the progress of the relationship. “5:19” was written on July 7, 2005, at 5:19 p.m., while I waited for the phone call that would inevitably be the end of that relationship.
Everything in Between was the first record I released with any kind of organized push behind it. We came out of the gates strong, charting high on the iTunes pop charts and filming a video for the song “Carolina.” Some of the songs landed in unexpected places—on TV’s “Brothers and Sisters” and in theaters via movies like My Super Ex-Girlfriend.
Since the start of my career, I’ve sold around 75,000 albums, played shows with Ben Folds, Jamie Cullum, and One Republic, as well as headlined sold-out clubs around the country. This was all done, mind you, as an independent artist. Over time, momentum built and more labels took notice, including Universal Republic. Finally I encountered a label that felt right, a label that could pull the trigger, a label that understood where I was coming from. And so, I signed.
The record that will be released on Universal Republic is called Under Summer Sun and it is a combination of my favorite songs from my first few independent releases, like “5:19” and “Everything’s Right,” as well as four new songs. Among the new tracks are “Waiting,” an introspective bedroom song that deals with the fear that I’m “growing old but not quite growing up,” and “Summer Sun,” my best effort at a nostalgic summer love song in the vein of Stevie Wonder musically and Don Henley emotionally. And the rest of the songs will strike a chord with anyone who enjoys soulful, carefree, singer-songwriter pop music.
How do I know? Because these songs emanate from the pages of my life, and I’ve seen first-hand the way that people have connected with them from their own experiences. In eight years of touring through hundreds of venues, playing three albums’ worth of songs for thousands of listeners, that connection is what fuels my passion. Ultimately, the thing that you and I have here—between the words and the chords and the lights and the beats—that is the thing that encourages me to keep singing.
Nashville TN | Singer-Songwriter
It’s called ’chemistry’, an elusive quality that can be part history, part mystery and all intangible until the moment that you feel it. It’s a meant-to-be melding of the emotional and creative that can happen between songwriters, performers, best friends or life partners. For Josh and Nicole Johnson – the duo Elenowen – that connection is all of the above and much more. And on their self-titled EP, the chemistry they share is as rare – and real – as it gets.
Though emerging from the same Nashville-based Americana-folk scene as The Civil Wars, Elenowen deliver a sonic glow all their own. Amidst haunting harmonies and elegiac lyrics, their songs flow with an undercurrent of yearning, surrender and unexpectedly sharp edges. “We strive to maintain a certain vulnerability in our music,” Josh says. “We write a lot about our own lives as well as the truths about relationships that we relate to. We think it creates an intimacy that’s totally connected to the music.” The sound itself is roots-driven, with accents of cello and pedal steel cutting a deeply evocative facet. Even the name Elenowen is an authentic nod to heritage, with Ellen being Josh’s mom’s middle name and Owen being the middle name of Nicole’s dad. “They’re the sides of the family we each got our music from,” explains Josh. “What’s in our hearts will always come out in what we do.”
The singular power of Elenowen comes from the bond that can only exist between two people who’ve known – and loved – each other for most of their lives. “We were 15 and 16 when we met,” explains Nicole. “We dated for a year, broke up for a year and a half, then got back together and have been together ever since. After that first breakup, I think we both still knew that we were meant for each other, but we also knew that we weren’t what each other needed at that point in our lives.” At 18, Josh moved from Knoxville to Nashville to be with Nicole, writing songs and pursuing a music degree at Belmont University while Nicole worked as a homecare attendant, back-up singer and barista. Within a year of Josh’s graduation, the starkly candid debut album Pulling Back The Veil chronicled their first year of marriage with songs that were subsequently showcased on TV shows like ’One Tree Hill’ and MTV’s ’World Of Jenks’. Josh and Nicole began filming impromptu performances in their small basement apartment, with the resulting clips – called ’The Basement Sessions’ – quickly garnering a following on YouTube and the No Depression website. In 2011, Elenowen made their national television debut on the top-rated premiere season of NBC’s ’The Voice’. But it’s the five tracks on their new EP that now mean the most to the couple and convey what’s most real to audiences.
“We wrote all these songs around the same time,” explains Josh, “when Nicole and I were walking through similar issues and feelings. Most marriages are not all lovey-dovey, like most love songs claim. For us, these songs are as much about love as they are about the struggle of keeping love alive.” The EP’s opening track, “Flying For The First Time”, is co-written with acclaimed singer/songwriter Trent Dabbs and soars with uninhibited vocal harmony and lyrical beauty. “Blood And Bones”, also co-written with Dabbs, is a towering paean to the physical and emotional bonds of desire. “Head To My Heart”, co-written with EP co-producer Philip LaRue, reconciles intuition with passion via Nicole’s potent vocals. “We Were Better Off” is a shimmering reflection of lost innocence and mislaid dreams. And “Bittersweet” is a hushed and moody twist on traditional love songs in which a couple affirm they are ’all I want/and nothing that I need’. “I absolutely believe in true love,” explains Nicole. “I also believe,” she adds with a laugh, “that true love is never easy.”
More and more, Elenowen are discovering that the truth of what they do is bringing them new fans nationwide. “I think audiences respond to our honesty,” says Josh. “When we perform these songs, people get the feeling they know who we are, because that’s what we’re putting out there. We are the heart behind our music.” For Nicole, the journey both starts and grows in a place of instinctive sharing. “When it’s 3 AM and I have an idea for a song,” she explains, “my best friend/music partner/husband can grab his guitar and the idea takes off. The songs that come out of those moments are part me, part him, and all us. When we formed Elenowen, I realized that I’m no longer a singer in the shadows. I’m now a half of something that means so much not only to us, but to other people as well.”
But what about that thing called chemistry? For Elenowen, it’s a one-of-a-kind formula that is about to become bigger than the both of them. “I think our chemistry is what keeps us going,” says Nicole. “We fight for it in our marriage, in our friendship and our music. These songs are so much a part of us and the emotion is so real, that every time we sing them its almost as if we’re feeling them for the first time. What Josh and I ultimately want is for people to get inspired and connected by what we do.” And for Elenowen, it’s a promise you can take to heart.