Matt Siegel – Lead Guitarist for 7 Years Today
On a cool Monday outside of a Harker Heights Burger joint called Galaxy Breakfast and Burgers, Texas Local Scene sat down with local Killeen musician Matt Siegel, lead guitarist for the rock band 7 Years Today, for lunch and a few questions.
TLS: How did you get started playing music?
Matt: I’ve always loved music from a very young age. When I was thirteen, when my friend Christian said he wanted to start a band, I was like, “Oh! Yeah!” There was a group of us that, all we did was talk about music. We were just fanatics.
TLS: What kind of music?
Matt: Being thirteen years old, it was really just all rock-and-roll. My friend gave me a tape of Van Halen I, and when I heard the solo for Eruption, I said, “I was to do THAT! That’s cool!” Originally, I wanted to play drums and I grew up in an apartment. My parents were like, “You’re not playing drums! We don’t have the room and the neighbors would freak!” We played the ninth grade talent show…
TLS: Did you win?
Matt: It wasn’t a competition. It was just a performance. Collectively, we saw how the girls enjoyed watching the band and YUP! And that’s another thing. I’ve always said that anyone that picks up a guitar usually does it because of a girl, and that’s true. That’s the way it is. But as time goes on, you start developing deeper levels of meaning with it all. Hopefully!
TLS: You’re from New York?
Matt: Yes, from Queens, New York. I moved to Killeen in 1996.
TLS: What got you from there to here?
Matt: Oh man. Why does a man do anything?
TLS: Chasing a girl?
Matt: Chasing a girl! My ex-wife, at that time my girlfriend, had family here. They’re retired military. We moved down here – the plan was for me to go to the University of Texas at the music school and finish up there and she was going to work. It didn’t quite turn out that way.
TLS: Did you go to school in New York?
Matt: Yeah. A local community college – Queensborough. It happened to have this GREAT music program. Originally, I wasn’t going to go to college. Originally, I was just going to be a musician. My mom said if I went to college, they’d help me with the financial side of life. And you can’t really make it in New York like you can in other parts of the country. So, I said I’d go and see how it is. I didn’t WANT to learn music, like, “officially” or formally. I didn’t want to learn theory because I had this false mindset that theory makes you cold. There is sort of this dividing line between musicians that are, like, “I just FEEL it man,” and the musicians that know the theory behind the music. And what I learned real fast is that I love theory and working with theory teaches you WHY you feel a certain way. And theory allows you to replicate that and the different emotions while you are playing.
TLS: I know you’ve been teaching theory to other musicians, or at least one.
Matt: Yeah. I’ve been working with Jenna McDaniel. Progressing with her as well as working with her band on a few things. And she’s great. I’ve also been working with Derek Friedman with Hangar 24. And same thing. Which is really cool. Derek is a great guitar player. I really respect the way he works. He does things I can’t do. Such as, he can learn a solo note for note. And I don’t have the mental…..I’m too ADD! I can’t sit there that long. I can learn parts of the solo to make it kind of sound like it, but I then I always throwing my own shit on it.
TLS: What did you listen to growing up that still influences you today?
Matt: Something I’m very proud of is that I didn’t grow up where there was just one style of music. My dad listened to Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, and Bob Seger. And my mom would listen to classical music, Simon and Garfunkel, and Billy Joel, too. It’s sort of like if you live in New York, you have to listen to Billy Joel! My brother would listen to heavy metal and punk. In my early teens, I got into Led Zepplin. Even though I wasn’t around when Zepplin was around, it blew my mind. I was a really big Beastie Boys fan. It was New York! A bunch of white kids from New York rapping? Of course I’m going to listen to it! But, my brother is like, “Here! Listent to this!” It’s this drum beat. I’m like, “Yeah! That’s ‘Rhymin’ & Stealin” by the Beastie Boys!” Then the guitar riff kicks in and it’s NOT! IT’s “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zepplin. The Beastie Boys sampled the drums from that and I was like, “WOW!” Zepplin was really like the first band I got behind and fell in love with.
TLS: Who are your influences now that influence your songwriting and your playing style?
Matt: I kind of separate the idea of guitarist and songwriter. When it comes to guitar, Eddie Van Halen is really my first guitar influence or hero. He said you go back to who your hero’s hero is. And Eric Clapton was Eddie Van Halen’s hero. So I got into Clapton because of that. And if you keep following that path, you end up at BB King and eventually the blues and Robert Johnson. I always felt a sense that I could never be a great blues player, but I LOVE the blues. But, there are people that just do it so damn well. For me, with Clapton, I got in to the Allman Brothers with the Duane Allman connection with “Lala” and Derek and the Dominoes. Once I heard Statesboro Blues by the Allman Brothers, it was another one of those MOMENTS of, “Oh Wow! What is THAT?” Duane Allman and Dickie Betts – I liked my style to Dickie Betts a lot because he’s very country influenced, and in my playing, a lot of country influences start coming out. I steal a lot from him. As a teenager, I was also playinga lot of Metallica and Guns and Roses. I love Slash to this day. He’s a monster.
Songwriting is different. When you listen to Dylan, Billy Joel, and Simon and Garfunkel, you just HAVE to listen to the lyrics. Frank (Frank Ramirez – Drummer for 7 Years Today) and I were on the road, and he was playing me some stuff he wanted me to hear. He was like, “It’s SO good!” And I was like, “I don’t understand the words. I can’t hear it.” It was more about the groove of it all. And I love groovy stuff. But for me, it’s the lyrics. That’s where I make my emotional connection. I would love to write like Dylan or Ray Wylie Hubbard. But, when I try to do that, I’m trying. It’s not authentic to me. I write very much from my personal experiences. It’s very much relationship based. I hate to say it because it’s kind of a cliche. But, a lot of the relationships that I’ve had are what I can connect to.
TLS: Getting personal – Do you think you are a better songwriter because of your divorce?
Matt: That’s a great question. I’ve got this song called “My Last Name” that is about my divorce. I say about all my songs that there’s some truth in them and some fiction. And that song has a lot of truth in it. It is probably my favorite song lyrically that I’ve written. I do think there’s a certain truth that from pain comes great art. Maybe it’s because they say that from the same part of the brain that deals with music is the same part where depression comes from. I have a theory why musicians have a high rate of drug use. A lot of times, I think they are self-medicated because they are depressed. But, I think that the pain you deal with emotionally, you can definitely get some great art out of it. It’s a shame that that’s the way the world is.
TLS: Playing in Killeen/Temple/Belton area, what are the pros and cons of playing here?
Matt: I was talking about this with the guys on the road. I think Killeen is a tough market. To get a crowd or to get people to pay attention, you have to be really freaking good. There are music fans here, but that might not be the reason they are going out. They’re going out to have a drink, to have a good time, to chase girls or whatever. So, you have to be that much freakin’ better to get them to turn around and say, “Man, that band is good – I’m diggin this!” And that’s how you gain fans. It’s kind of like you have to fight for them, and I like that! I think thats the pro, which is also the con. The con is – from the business side, it’s a little bit of a tough market. I understand a venue has a margin and that they have to make their money. I think venues have to understand that there are bands that do it for fun and they are o.k., and then there are bands that are professional and it’s a different beast. And the bands that do it professionally, and I don’t want to take anything away from anyone, are better because they have to be. It’s because that’s where their efforts are focused. There are some venue owners who get it. There are some who say “We’re going to pay you $50 and if you don’t like it, move along.” So we move along.
TLS: How’s the music scene here compared to what you’ve seen elsewhere?
Matt: I think our scene is really cool. Every scene has it’s drama. You’ve got some bands where there is going to be some shit-talk or whatever. But I think for the most part, the bands are very supportive of each other. You have some bands that push each other along. We’ve all kind of grown together. Some of those bands have splintered or ended. Not everyone is doing the same thing. I’m a big fan. If I have a night off and I’m in town, I’m looking for one of these bands to watch. I’ll go see a Hangar 24 show in a heartbeat, or Jenna McDaniel. You give that kid (and I call her a kid because I’ve known her since she was 14…She’s a young lady now) three or four years? She’s going to be the next Norah Jones. I don’t see her as a country artist, I see her as an adult contemporary artist. She has that kind of voice actually. A lot of the other bands are talented. A bunch of good musicians……
TLS: Last question – What’s your favorite Beastie Boys song?
Matt: MAN! That’s a tough question! I don’t know! It might be Paul Revere from Licensed to Ill. It’d have to be early. I mean Licensed to Ill was like when I was twelve or thirteen. I had heard it was like rap music with rock guitars. You know they were really the first ones to do that? Rick Ruben, the producer, kind of had that vision. I think….yeah. I’ll go with Paul Revere.