Mathew deRiso, a singer-songwriter, has been creating, recording, and performing original music since 2006. Fans have dubbed him the “Hemingway of the Highway.” From 2006 to 2019, Mat served as the lead singer and primary songwriter for the roots rock group The Profane Saints. He is currently working on his first solo album since 2010’s widely praised “Plank Road Drag.” As “A Young Steve Earle with a more powerful set of Pipes,” “Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Rob Zombie,” and “Gritty, Soulful Hard Luck Americana,” are few of the praises he has gotten from the critics. Chuck Berry, the Neville Brothers, David Alan Coe, John Hiatt, Stoney LaRue, Cody Johnson, The Bottle Rockets, Bruce Hornsby, Michael McDermott, Ziggy Marley, The Reverend Horton Heat, Bonnie Raitt, and the Avett Brothers are just a few of the artists that Mat has performed alongside on stage.
Mat D assumed the roles of lead singer, acoustic guitarist, and principal songwriter for Mat D and the Profane Saints in 2006. Several albums were released afterward to positive reviews, widespread radio play, and local success. Before breaking up in early 2019, the band played and toured in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota.
In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Mat resides. In 2021, PHANTOM LOCOMOTIVE, his most recent album, was released. He is currently working with producer Mark Dahm on a new album. Check out his single “The Company I Keep” and the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
MAT D: I’m originally from Denver, Colorado. Moved around in my teens and early twenties from Denver to Minnesota, Canada and Iowa. Cut my chops on bass guitar in post- punk based garage bands in high school and college. Sang a little bit but always hated my voice. Mostly dead end bands that never really went anywhere. The real “a-ha” moment was a Bob Dylan concert in 2001. That show changed me. Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell were backing Dylan that night. Those two specific players and his band opened my eyes to blues, country and roots rock. I got my first acoustic guitar a few months later and started writing. Been at it ever since.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
MAT D: Self taught mostly. Some vocal training in high school and college but nothing to write home about . Found my voice singing along to old Bowie records like “Ziggy Stardust” and “Space Oddity” Had friends show me some stuff on guitar and bass through the years. Taught myself basic chords and some alternate tunings on acoustic guitar when I bought my first one. Messed around on banjo and mandolin a bit too. Nothing formal though. All by ear. Mostly tried to mimc old country, roots and blues players when I started.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘MAT D’?
MAT D: First and foremost it was David Bowie, Talking Heads and the Ramones. Then it transitioned into Bob Dylan. Reading up on Dylan I found Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson and Charlie Patton. From there it went to Woodie Guthrie, Leadbelly and old time string bands. Somehow I ended up stumbling onto John Prine, John Hiatt and a gosepl roots rock band called the Lost Dogs. I’ve kind of stayed in that realm ever since. The independent singer-songwriters appeal to me. The guys living and singing on the edge. I accidently skipped the mainstream country guys and ended up digging the outcasts more. Better songs. Better lyrics.
As far as the name Mat D – I have an Italian last name that never gets pronounced right- my mother spelled my first name with one “t” on my birth certificate. I shortend the Mathew to “Mat” and deRiso to “D” and rolled with it.
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?
MAT D: I call my stuff “Hard Luck Americana” and “Bad Man Ballads” I mix rock n’ roll, roots, blues and country into my own sort of thing. Some rockers dig it, some country folks dig it. I’ve been called rockabilly, roots rock and blues rock. I don’t really know. A lot of it is harder edged with a an acoustic side to round it out. Had a guy out of Mississippi tell me I was “the Hemmingway of the Highway” – I think that’s pretty accurate too.
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?
I was a wild transition. Punk rock and alternative lost it’s appeal in the late nineties. I was always looking for who inspired who? I landed on Bowie for a long time – a ton of old CBGB era punk bands and transitioned to Bob Dylan after seeing him live. From there it was learn the history. Learn the roots of it. Find his influences and listen. Found that in old Folk, Blues and Old Timey Country. I drowned it in it all and got baptized in all these different sounds and vibes. I grabbed everything I like from everone I heard and tried to make my own thing with it. I’m not really all that much of a country guy, but I’m not all blues or rock n roll either. I sort of weave it all togther in a twisted mess and throw it out there. It all came together pretty seamlessly for me.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative, and entertainment?
I avoid politics like the plague. I’m not the protest guy. I don’t write with an agenda. Music has power. I think it’s best when people are free to draw their own conclusions as to what inspires and speaks to them. I’m more about the stories, the struggles and the darkness in life. I respect poeple who sing from their heart on faith, faithlessness, religion, politics and counter culture. I prefer to let all of that stuff be. To me it’s about the spirit of it all. The expression. I think it’s best when the listener is free to draw their own conclusions about what they listen to. I don’t need to stand on a soapbox. I think poeple get hit with that all the time. If you want politics watch the news. If you want religion you can find a new one on the street corner if you look for one. I just write and sing what feels right to me. I’m not on a mission to convince anyone about anything. If you feel something that’s the value of it. It’s all up to the listener to draw the conclusions.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
It is rewarding. it is fullfilling. I think music is most the precious when you struggle with it. . I write my worst stuff when everything is going great. The heartache and struggle are like gasoline that fuel my creative fire. I write my best stuff when I’m down on my luck and I can’t find a gig. Helps me to appreciate the good times when they come.
Sometimes music is a vampire. It takes everything out of you and bleeds you dry. It can make you sick, frustrated and can really mess with your head. Late nights on the road, bad motels and empty rooms can bring out the worst in a guy. That’s when you string those three chords together and bleed it out. Like Hemingway said “There’s nothing to writing- you just sut at the typewriter and bleed” It’s the same with music. You just keep doing it- even when it’s killing you.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
I play about twenty minutes a day whether I feel like it our not. I do a blues run or I strum a few chords. Somedays the ideas present themselves- others don’t. If I hear something cool I sit down and write a little. Sometimes a song writes itself in a few minutes- other times it takes months or years to get one down. “Flatander” from Pahntom Locomotive took two years “The Southside” took about fifteen minutes once I had the words down. It’s like poker. Sometimes you win big with your first hand. Other days you take what fortune deals you and leave it there. I write on an acoustic guitar and hum out melodies. Once I have a melody I get around to figuring out the story and the words. Nothing grand. I don’t wake up in the morning and say “I’m going to write a song today.” That just doesn’t happen that way for me.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
MAT D: Playing in packed bars where no one gives a shit unless you play (–insert an over played over requested cover song here–) Burning holes in the backs of people’s heads. But that’s music. It’s cruel. It can knock a healthy ego on it’s ass. I’ll say this… I learn more about myself on those nights than I do on the good ones. You learn what you’re made of. You find the places where you grow. You learn the good roads from the bad ones. That’s how you find where you belong.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
MAT D: Working with producer Mark Dahm has been the highlight of my musical journey. He’s challenged and encouraged me more than anything. Taught me some good things. He’s held a mirror to my face and let me face the demons. He’s supported me 100%…Struggled with me and stuck by me. Right now it’s working with him and the players I’m working with. Jeff Deignan (percussion) , Jason Haven (guiatar) and Scott Walters(bass). I really dig these guys and the music we’re making right now. It’s a good feeling. Exciting.
11. 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?
MAT D: How do I handle haters? Nothing for me to handle. Hatred signifies an emotional response from two sources in a person’s heart; insecurity and jealousy. Don’t like the music? I feel you! There’s a lot of stuff I don’t care to listen to either. There’s a big difference between “I don’t like it” and “I hate it” I respect everyone’s right to like and support something or dislike and ignore something. Music maens different things to different people. It’s not up to me to worry about the haters. People waste too much time trying to get people to like them. If you like it? Great! Thank you! Dislike it? Okay. Understood. Hatred? Hating something and making it your mission in life to tear it down is something else entirely and says a lot more about haters, hate culture and the burdern they carry in their own hearts over that anything they claim to hate and tear down. It speaks loud and clear to their lack of integrity.
12. Creative work in a studio or home environment, or interaction with a live audience? Which of these two options excites you most, and why?
MAT D: I love recording. I love performing live. I prefer full band shows over acoustic gigs- but I enjoy it all.
13. 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?
MAT D: If my songs make you feel something and it’s meaningful to you that’s all that matters. stories and subject matter mean different things to different people. If it moves you- that’s the only thing that matters to me. make the story and the spirit of the song your own. that’s what makes music so powerful.
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