NEW ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Matt Stillwell

By Bob Doerschuk

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Matt Stillwell photo courtesy of AristoMedia.


© 2009 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Matt Stillwell has figured it out. On his debut album, Shine, produced by Mickey Jack Cones and released by Still7 Records, he walks that line where the gritty and commercial sides of life intersect. These 10 tunes, half of them co-written by Stillwell, are suited equally for radio listening and dance-club partying. And this Sylva, N.C., native sings each one with a voice that sounds both young and experienced.

With his father in construction and his mother teaching school, Stillwell knew from the start that hard work was step one toward chasing your dreams. Although he loved Country Music, he began focusing his energy on sports as a high school senior. Baseball was his passion at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., where he played on the Southern Conference-winning team. After graduation, Stillwell revisited his musical dreams, enrolled in the music business program at Belmont University and left after a semester to start playing solo acoustic gigs back home in Sylva, in Knoxville, Tenn., and eventually throughout the Southeast.

His talent blossomed quickly, as documented on Shine. The title song, a paean to moonshine and Mason jars (written by Stillwell and Lynn Hutton and released as the first single) captures the festive side of his music, with its foot-stomp beat, percolating banjo, sing-along hook and the crowd that comes in cheering on the last chorus. But when he makes the listener feel the anguish implicit in the title of "Damn This Rain" and closes with "Oh My Sweet Carolina," a touching tribute to his home state, it becomes clear that Stillwell covers all the bases and scores.

IN HIS OWN WORDS Q&A

ACTOR TO PORTRAY YOU IN A BIOPIC ABOUT YOUR LIFE
"Scott Caan, 'Tweeter' from "Varsity Blues"

BOOK ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND
"Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown"

CD ON YOUR STERO
"Eric Church's CD"

DREAM DUET PARTNER
"Mindy Smith"

FAVORITE FOOD WHILE ON THE ROAD
"Eggs and bacon"

FAVORITE MODE OF TRANSPORTATION
"My Tahoe"

GREATEST PERFORMANCE TO DATE - AND WHY
"November 22 at O'Malleys in my hometown Sylva, N.C. The crowd was so ready for me and ready to have fun. There was a ton of positive energy the whole night. Great feeling"

GREATEST SHORT- AND LONG-TERM CHALLENGES
"Short term: getting my first single "Shine" up the charts, keeping it there and staying healthy on the road. Long term: keeping my sanity and my relationships with family friends."

INFLUENCES
"Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Ronnie Bowman and Ben Harper"

PET PEEVE
"Stupidity"

SECRET WE'D NEVER GUESS ABOUT YOU
"I like to do hot yoga when I'm not on the road."

SONG YOU SING IN THE SHOWER
"Amazing Grace"

SONG YOU WISH YOU'D WRITTEN
"'Happy Birthday'! OK, seriously 'Oh My Sweet Carolina' by Ryan Adams

SONG YOU'D LOVE TO COVER
"'With or Without You' by U2"

TITLE OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY
"Blessed"

WHAT YOU'D BE IF YOU WEREN'T A MUSICAL ARTIST
"Baseball player"

WHEN THEY LOOK BACK ON YOUR LIFE IN 50 YEARS, WHAT YOU HOPE PEOPLE SAY ABOUT YOU
"He worked hard, played hard and was a great friend, brother and son."

WHERE WAS YOUR FIRST GIG AND HOW DID IT GO
"Kingston Alley in Knoxville. It went OK but everybody kept requesting songs I didn't know so I'd say, 'I'll learn it for next week,' which I did and that's how I built up my song list"

WORD OR PHRASE YOU SAY OVER AND OVER AGAIN
"'Rock on' and 'no worries'"

On the Web: www.mattstillwell.net

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