Opera and musical theater performer Lee Miller Matsos is now a pop musician. U2, Coldplay, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, and other musicians have all influenced his ethereal and emotional musical style. His extensive theatrical training is evident in his expressive flair. Lee’s lyrics express the evolving, non-linear journey from grief, pain, and brokenness to hope, healing, and restoration in a singularly original way.
The Only One is a profound song that examines grief and related regret. The song transitions from a position of opposition to these thoughts and feelings to a state of feeling that is more accepting. The song is an invitation to embrace these emotions and the struggle we are currently experiencing until we can learn to sit with these challenging emotions and find peace with them. The bright light on the horizon in the cover art serves as a visual representation of how everything fits together to lead to a more optimistic place. While battling this terrifying storm, the character is blind to the light on the horizon, but it is still there, waiting for him as he gets closer to a place of acceptance. Check out the song and the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
LEE MILLER MATSOS: I’m from northeastern Ohio and come from a family of performing artists. I grew up attending concerts and musical theater performances. The first shows I remember were Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. Growing up, I was deeply involved in the performing arts – including school choirs, orchestra and bands, and theater throughout high school and college.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
LEE MILLER MATSOS: I was fortunate to be able to take many instrumental and vocal lessons growing up. I began with piano, then moved on to saxophone and bassoon. I started with classical voice in high school and went on to study voice while at college, and for one year at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Most recently, I completed a 2-year Diploma in Music Performance at Holland College (a Berklee partner institution) in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘LEE MILLER MATSOS’?
LEE MILLER MATSOS: The first record I remember listening to, with the windows rolled down in my mom’s Volvo, was Paul Simon’s epic Graceland. It’s still one of my favorite albums. I have also been deeply influenced by The Beatles, U2, and Coldplay — though there have been many others.
I decided to use my full name as my artist’s name because “Miller” is my mother’s maiden name. She passed several years ago, and I felt that using the name would be a meaningful way to carry on her memory, as well as my beloved grandmother’s.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
LEE MILLER MATSOS: I think what comes out in the music, hopefully, is authentic, deep emotion, embodied in the chord progressions, the timbre, vocals, and lyrics. It’s emotional, ethereal – lyrically what I hope to offer is a fresh, authentic take on life’s hardships and lessons.
One of the things I’ve thought a lot about as I’ve gone on the journey with this music is the idea that “Life happens for us,” and that is maybe at the core the themes that have come out so far. (I should emphasize that I didn’t plan this beforehand; it’s merely my own analysis). This is the idea that it’s the very worst of things that happens to us, the most painful of situations, that end up being the greatest blessings if we can stay patient with the process.
5. For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and music maker, and the transition towards your own style, which is known as INDIE?
LEE MILLER MATSOS:
It seems like I’ve taken my time and had to be patient with my development as an artist. Everyone has their own journey. I’ve had to keep reminding myself that my journey is unique, and that my unique journey is what makes me who I am as an artist, so it’s all been necessary.
I started of in my youth doing musical theater, opera and jazz, and at that time was cultivating my passion for pop/rock. I had had early influences like Paul Simon and The Beatles, but it was my fascination with U2 and Coldplay in my early and mid-20’s that finally directed me toward the path of a contemporary artist. From there, it’s been a long transition. I picked up guitar when I was 24 – I wrote several songs – a few of them I still consider “keepers.” I got discouraged, though, having some brutal experiences at open mics. Finally, in my early 30s – that’s when I came back to music and committed once and for all. That’s when I realized I had no choice. I had to stop pushing it to the background. I realized it was not going to be good enough to be a hobbyist while pursuing some other career.
So, in 2018 I auditioned at Berklee at age 34, went to study music again from the Berklee curriculum for 2 years, and I was able to use that “leap” as a platform to write over a dozen songs that seemed to be ripe to come out when they did.
From there, I’ve just tried to keep taking steps and believing in the process –believing I have something good to offer.
6. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
LEE MILLER MATSOS:
In March 2019, I suffered a concussion at a men’s retreat. The concussion recovery turned out to be complex. I had symptoms that significantly limited work and other activities, and it took months to see any significant improvement. During that time I was planning to move from Ohio to Prince Edward Island to attend school in the fall, and I was determined to follow through. I was in position to make the move when, less than a month from the beginning of the semester, I suffered a second concussion after a fainting episode. Shaken, I scrambled to reassess my options. I had already resigned from my job and there was no way to retain my job and benefits. It made more practical sense to proceed to Prince Edward Island, where I had already found a place to live, had insurance benefits through my school, etc. From a medical standpoint, I had concerns about moving. After a painstaking, down-to-the-wire standoff with myself, I urged myself on and decided to go forward to Canada.
7. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
LEE MILLER MATSOS:
The last three years since that decision to move forward with my plans have been the most difficult of my life, and the most rewarding. I sustained an additional concussion, along with numerous aggravations of the injuries; I fought through terrible panic attacks; I figured out how to cross the border and back during the height of the Covid pandemic in order to see a specialist in Chicago, only to have all of that effort go to waste when a fall on the stairs on Groundhog Day 2021 rendered the doctor’s method useless.
With the support and encouragement of amazing instructors and staff, I also managed to finish the 2-year Music Diploma at Holland College, a partner institution of the Berklee College of Music. I wrote over a dozen songs in 2020 and recorded 2 of them with Colin Buchanan, the PEI Producer of the Year. The first of those songs, “The Only One,” was released Oct. 10 of this year. The second song, “Life Force Lullaby,” is out Dec. 9.
Most importantly, although I am still going through a non-linear healing process and still have some bad days, I am greatly improved and back to operating at virtually my normal capacity.
8. With social media having a heavy impact on our lives and the music business in general, how do you handle criticism, haters, and/or naysayers in general? Is it something you pay attention to, or simply ignore?
LEE MILLER MATSOS:
I was proud to receive recognition on Facebook for being in the top 1% of Rising Creators for the first time on November 21. I’m grateful for the opportunity to reach people with a positive message, and that’s how I try to approach social media. I am a highly sensitive person and that’s a package deal – it’s a gift that allows me to write songs with emotional depth – and it also makes overstimulating things like social media challenging – but I am getting more skilled at using social media as a tool as I take steps of faith every day.
9. Creative work in a studio or home environment, or interaction with a live audience? Which of these two options excites you most, and why?
LEE MILLER MATSOS:
Interaction with a live audience is more exciting for me because it is still mostly unexplored territory. I’ve performed very little in front of an audience in this style with my own original songs – and I envision great potential. I think about some of my influencers – Chris Martin, Bono – those who have reached the pinnacle of the profession. Not that you go around expecting yourself to get there, but you don’t put limits on yourself either. To me, the way those artists are so free, almost having out-of-body experiences while performing – that’s where I want to go – even if I never sell out a stadium in Buenos Aires for two weeks in a row.
10. Do you think is it important for fans of your music to understand the real story and message driving each of your songs, or do you think everyone should be free to interpret your songs in their own personal way?
LEE MILLER MATSOS: I believe the artist is a vessel or channel between the Creator or Source and humanity. At the point of artistic creativity and at the point of artistic interpretation, it is a sacred experience between one person and the Source. It’s a kind of divine event that is beyond what we can comprehend. So, I think it’s important as an artist to let go of the need to control the interpretation of a song. After all, my experience of writing the song was not something I felt much control over. It was more an experience that happened to me, and that I’m very grateful for. It seemed to flow through me from somewhere else. And I’ve had similar experiences while listening to songs –thorough joy, catharsis, freedom. My hope is that people experience that joy when they hear a song, no matter what their interpretation.
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Photo credits: Cheryl Debono, Michaelangelo’s Photography