Born Eric Matthews; raised in Gresham, OR. Addresses: Record company--Sub-Pop Records, P.O. Box 20645, Seattle, WA 98102 (206) 441-8441; fax (206) 441-8245. Website-- Official Eric Matthews World Wide Web Site:

Alternative pop artist Eric Matthews wears an array of musical hats by composing, arranging, conducting, singing, producing, and playing the guitar, trumpet, piano, harpsichord, and flugelhorn on his albums. A consummate songwriter with an ear for perfect orchestration, Rolling Stone's Rob O'Connor described Matthews' 1995 solo debut release, It's Heavy in Here, as "filled with natural textures: trumpet, harpsichord, piano, violin, viola and tenor sax.... Guitar, bass, and drums are still used-- they're just harder to find.... It's Heavy in Here remains singular in the current alternative-rock sweepstakes. Although the tendncy is to call this music 'pop' ... most of the musical references are much more obscure." Chris Nickson of the Rocket declared It's Heavy in Here "the Northwest album of the year, a glowing, intimate record." Placing Matthews into any particular musical niche proves difficult; O'Connor wrote, "It's Heavy in Here doesn't sound like anyone else's record." Still, Matthews has been compared to Nick Drake, the Beatles, Burt Bacharach, the Bee Gees, and the Beach Boys. Matthews layers his pop music with stately orchestration and well-crafted melodies, which renders his style memorably atmospheric. His lyrics are sung in a smoky tone, and are generally dark and low-key.

Matthews was raised in Gresham, Oregon, where he was exposed to an array of music. He told CMJ's Dawn Sutter, "My parents ... were Miles Davis fans and they had a lot of orchestral music and a lot of Russian composers, so I was listening to a lot of trumpet sections ... and then Star Wars came out. John Williams was writing so specifically and predominantly for trumpet. I fell in love with it." He took up the trumpet at the age of ten and decided he wanted to make a career of it. However, he refused to play in his high school's marching band because he felt it was more an athletic exercise than a musical one.

He applied to a musical conservatory rather than a conventional college, and trained as a classical trumpet player at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, but the choice was short-lived. Matthews found work at clubs in San Francisco while studying and was able to support himself as a trumpet player, but his academic pursuits were largely unsuccessful. After two years at the conservatory, he moved to the Boston area and attempted to pick up where he left off by studying with Thomas Morrison, a principal in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Once again, Matthews didn't feel the choice was right for him. Just as he was wrestling with his career options, his father and brother sent him a tape of original material they had recorded at home with new recording equipment. Matthews told Sutter that his reaction was, "This is so much more interesting than me trying to play Mozart like every other trumpet player has tried to do for the last 300 years. I basically got off the train on my way to my first lesson."

Matthews met Australian singer/songwriter Richard Davies of the Moles through friend and Sebadoh member Bob Fay. Davies and Matthews decided almost immediately to collaborate on material. They released the album Cardinal in 1994, and Matthews found himself pitched into the unfamiliar indie rock world. Cardinal had been primarily a showcase for Davies and his songs, and Matthews acted as producer, arranger, and co-singer. Neil Strauss, in an article for the New York Times, described it as, "an excellent album of soft, pristine pop."

Matthews struck out on his own in 1995 with his debut release It's Heavy in Here, which met with rave reviews. Interview magazine's Jennie Ryan wrote, "Matthews songs have a pristine, musicianly quality--as if sprung whole from a time capsule, circa early experimental Beatles." Musician magazine's Ken Micallef wrote, "Matthews' music recalls Andy Partridge and Prokofiev ('Angels for Crime'), Brian Wilson and Bach ('Fried Out Broken Girl')." Kurt B. Reighley, in a review for Paper magazine, wrote, "From th opening brass of 'Fanfare,' through 12 cuts of wide-eyed, Donovan-esque vocals, string arrangements and psychedelic titles ... Eric Matthews pulls off the impressive feat of refashioning almost every style of 60's pop into something fresh on his Sub-Pop debut."

Matthews followed It's Heavy in Here with his second release, The Lateness of the Hour. Like his previous release, this album featured lush orchestral arrangements and a "swirling" guitar sound. Along with Matthews' 451 Philharmonic orchestra, Jason Faulkner and Tony Lash were featured players on the album. Rolling Stone's David Greenburger wrote of The Lateness of the Hour, "Standard guitar-bass-drums trappings are but foot soldiers amid platoons of horns and harpsichords, all of which must answer to that higher power: the carefully crafted song.... this is pop music for the rain and fire rather than the beach."

Matthews is an unlikely musician for the Sub-Pop label, as he has little reverence for rock, grunge, punk, or metal music--yet he is signed to a label particularly equated with alternative rock: Mudhoney, Nirvana, and Soundgarden are part of the Sub-Pop roster. Matthews told James Hunter of Details, "We did have this big movement of orchestral pop music, but now we've gotten away from that, and I'm stuck in this indie-rock category, talking to people who enjoy really bad rock records." Some of Matthews' favorite artists include the Moody Blues, Herb Albert & the Tijuana Brass, Scott Walker, Talk Talk, ABC, Burt Bacharach, and Art of Noise, and he doesn't hesitate to admit he knows little about rock music. He told Sutter, "It {rock music} all simply sounds loud ... I couldn't be any less in love with the aesthetic of guitars and guitar records." Ironically, Matthews is alternative on an alternative label, offering something refreshingly original and paving the way for more anti-alternative, orchestrated pop music. Chris Nickson of Alternative Press wrote of Matthews' material, "You won't be tapping your toes, but you will be nodding your head, and sometimes you'll even want to cry."

by B. Kimberly Taylor

Eric Matthews's Career

Took up the trumpet at age ten; trained as a classical trumpet player at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for two years; studied with Thomas Morrison, a principal in the Boston Symphony Orchestra; collaborated with Richard Davies of the Moles to create the album Cardinal, 1994; released solo debut album It's Heavy in Here, 1995; released The Lateness of the Hour, 1997.

Famous Works

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