Adrian DiMatteo // Interview
INTERVIEW BY: Emily May
Adrian Di Matteo is a NY-based singer, composer, guitarist, songwriter and teacher who has performed and taught around the world. In addition to performing music, he also teaches and practices music therapy. Influenced by blues, rock, jazz folk and spiritual influences, he studied jazz performance and musical theory and history from Bob Sneider at the Eastman School Of Music. He started out as a blues guitarist, having grown up listening to artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughn and Buddy Guy, but also counts artists such as John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Eminem and The Beatles as influences. DiMatteo began his musical journey busking in the streets of NY at the age of 14, busking from SanFrancisco to Hong Kong and later to Nice, France, where he lived for two years. He has traveled to over 25 countries with his music and has since learned that following a path that makes him happy is more important than following a path that makes him lots of money. In recent years DiMatteo has studied sacred songs and mantras from around the world, coming to connect deeply with the music of indigenous cultures. DiMatteo underwent a meditative quest in the forests on upstate NY in 2017, resulting in the vision for his debut album of original songs, Everybody Knows The Blues. The songs on the album reflect his realization that all people are united through their shared understanding of suffering. DiMatteo also recently developed a Guitar Handbook, a chord learning app for aspiring guitarists of all levels, and is hoping to launch the next stages of development in the near future. He is currently on tour with artist Jai-Jagdeesh and then plans to travel a bit and take some time for himself before beginning work on his next set of projects. Emily May spoke recently with DiMatteo about the album, his inspirations, his love for the music of other cultures and what's next for him. You can stay up-to-date with DiMatteo, his music and all upcoming projects and tour dates, as well as stream and purchase his music from the following links. You can check out "Ain't That The Blues" from his new album below.
When did your love for music begin? Did you always want a career in music?
My love for music began at a very young age. I remember hearing my father and brother play together in their attic band throughout childhood. Music probably came more naturally to me because of that exposure. I never thought about having a career in music until years after I started playing. I played because I loved it. I went to school to study it because I wanted to hone my craft. When I realized I was good enough to perform and get paid, I remained conscious of why I got into music in the first place. I’ve done so many gigs as a professional musician - but the art and inspiration come before the money.
In addition to writing and performing music, you also teach music and practice music therapy. What do love about teaching and what have some of your proudest teaching moments been? How did you become a practitioner of music therapy what do you feel that it is about music that can heal people?
Teaching inspires me because I get to help someone unlock their creative potential and empower their self-expression. I always learn and grow myself through the process. One of my best students is a blind man who studies with me via video chat internationally. I’m amazed how the language of music can transcend barriers that way. I also teach children and I’m grateful for incredible creativity. They remind me why I came to love creativity in the first place.
Music therapy is a complex subject, but I came to realize on some level I’ve always been a music therapist. First, the process of learning to express myself through music was and is therapy to me. When I began sharing in front of others, I saw how much joy and peace my music could bring. Ironically, I didn’t considered music therapy for the first 12 years of learning music. Eventually, I connected deeply with indigenous, traditional, and sacred music and realized it was a dimension I wanted to include. A big part of what speaks to me about that music is the egoless beauty of it. Those people play/pray with intention, and their communities are devoted to cultivating peace in the world. Musical vibrations hold the space for that inner and collective harmony. Everything in the universe vibrates, and the sounds you are exposed to can be beneficial for not only your state of mind, but your cells, DNA, and molecular structure as well. Think of sonic vibrations passing through your body like a molecular massage.
You have studied sacred songs/mantras from cultures around the world and the science of sound healing. What can you tell me about that journey? What do you feel that other cultures can offer through their songs and mantras that can can contribute to the healing power of sound?
I have been deeply fortunate to directly experience and learn music from people of Tibet, the Huni Kuin (Amazon), Dine (Navajo), Maya (Guatamaya), Huichole (Mexico), Wiradjuri (Australia), Jewish and other tribal cultures. Their particular instruments, musical ceremonies, and lifestyles have preserved a place in their lives where music/sacred sound is capable of healing physical and emotional trauma, even ancestral lineages and souls in transition. The technology behind this is ancient and advanced. There is so much these and other cultures contribute to our world. As the modern world increasingly recognizes the importance of sound healing in daily life, the knowledge and beauty of shamanic music will remain a vital asset to human life.
You recently released your album "Everybody Knows The Blues". What can you tell me about the writing and recording of the album? You have mentioned that the vision and artwork for the album were both received on a meditative quest that you took in 2017 in the forested region of upstate NY. What led you to take the quest and what do you feel that it taught you?
For several years, I have been studying Native American spirituality and ancient esoteric traditions with Maestro Manuel Rufino at the Golden Drum in NY. Vision quests are a sacred tradition in many cultures, from walkabouts in the Australian outback to the Buddha’s sojourn for enlightenment. Fasting and solitude in nature, combined with a clear intention can bring about profound self-realization and shifts in personal energy. I’ve learned so much from the vision quests I’ve undertaken. In 2017, I received a beautiful teaching in nature. As the sun set in the west, I reflected on the place of where darkness settles and everything disappears. Like a black hole where no light escapes, or the unknowable place of death, there is a moment when the pain in our heart simply vanishes. Whatever it was, wherever it came from, it’s gone back into the void. But for that, one has to let go. The album art symbolizes this - letting go of structures and forms that bring us pain.
What inspired you to record your album almost entirely live and without the use of autotone?
I recorded the album mostly live because I wanted to preserve that raw, real performance quality of my music. I make my living almost entirely in live situations. I have to get up in front of people and actually perform my repertoire. I prefer the spontaneity of musicians interacting with each other, responding to one another. There’s a lot of improvisation going on, and the best environment I’ve found to facilitate that is one where the musicians don’t have to record to a click-track.
My reason for not using autotune stem from what I admit is an aversion to certain uses of the technology. While I believe autotune has been used in many good recordings, it is also coming to a point in our culture where a singer isn’t responsible for having good, consistent technique on their own. With today’s technology, every imaginable detail of the music can be micro-manipulated and ‘perfected’. I equate it to photoshop. Many people feel that image manipulation technology has resulted in unrealistic beauty standards. Similarly, autotune has resulted in unrealistic singing standards. People literally can’t sound like modern pop stars without that technology. Personally, I wanted to present my music honestly, and more importantly, release something I can live up to on stage.
Your music draws on blues, jazz, rock, folk and spiritual influences. Who would you count as musical influences? Who are some current artists you are listening to?
In the early years of my musical life, I was influenced by blues masters like Lightning Hopkins, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and many others. When I began studying jazz I was exposed to John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans, Oliver Nelson and Keith Jarrett to name a few. In college I was exposed to Debussy, Ravel, Bach and a pantheon of classical titans. Outside of the academic world I was already a big fan of popular music icons such as Radiohead, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Eminem, Bill Withers, Aretha Franklin and The Beatles. The list of artists who have influenced is too vast to list here, and today it has expanded to include folk and traditional music from around the world.
Lately, I’ve been listening to Tito la Rosa, a master flute-maker and player from the Sacred Valley of Peru, also Atahualpa Yupanqui, an Argentinian folk poet and guitarist although he’s no longer living. I like to discover new talent on social media. My friends are always exposing me to great music that way.
You started busking in the streets of NY at 14. How do you feel that shaped you as an artist? You initially followed a path that made you money but you weren't happy but now are following a path that makes you happy but led you to fund your album through a successful Kickstarter campaign. What has that journey been like for you?
My first experiences seriously busking were in New York City. I used to go to Central Park, and eventually throughout the city to practice performing. It was a huge part of conquering my fear of singing in public. Since then I’ve busked from Hong Kong to San Francisco, on trains and along the mediterranean sea. Ironically, it was a busking band that eventually hired me to join them in Nice, France where I lived for two years. There’s something magical about thrusting yourself in front of the world and creating a moment of spontaneous art in public. You never know what sort of reaction your going to get (and no, it isn’t always positive).
When I moved back to New York, I auditioned for and was accepted into the “Music Under New York” program, the official street performing program of the MTA. One of the panelists for that audition contacted me and offered me a job at her organization “Music that Heals”. It was my first declared job in the world of music therapy. I owe a lot to street performing.
At this point in my journey, I’ve gone from playing hours on end in the streets for a few bucks, to being flown around the world and paid thousands of dollars for private parties. That taught me a lot. Most importantly, it taught me that my happiness has little or nothing to do with how much money I make. My creative energy and artistic expression fuel my soul. These days, I’m careful what opportunities I accept, because I know what matters most to me. I also know that artists deserve to make a fair wage like anyone does, and I value myself accordingly.
Funding this album on Kickstarter was the first time in my life I asked my friends and family to support me financially. I struggled a bit with the idea that I was begging, but I realized that people want to be involved in bringing art and beauty to the world. They want to help people realize their dreams. The campaign was successful and I’ve delivered on my commitments to those supporters. I would definitely do it again.
What can you tell me about the Guitar Handbook you developed recently? What inspired it?
Guitar Handbook was born of some ideas in guitar pedagogy I’ve been developing since college. Version 1 is available now on iOS, and I’m really proud of what I was able to produce. I found a great developer who also has a knowledge of jazz theory the Berklee College of Music and together we produced one of the most comprehensive and intuitive apps for learning inversions of 7th chords. I’m currently in talks to finance the next stages of development and am excited to offer more teaching resources to the world to help unlock peoples’ creative potential.
What prompted you to contribute to the Opendoor Edition of Waywords and Meansigns in 2017? How did you become involved in that project?
When I lived in Boston, my next-door neighbor happened to be the creator of that incredible project. He asked me if I would set an excerpt of Finnegans Wake to music, and I gladly took it on. It was a great opportunity to experiment with recording ambient instruments I’d been using for sound therapy layered over poetry. I have plans to work more combining music and poetry.
You lived in France for 2 years, as well as in Qatar and have traveled extensively. What do you love most about traveling and experiencing new people and cultures and how do you feel it has shaped and influenced you as a musician and your music? Are there any places where you have yet to travel that you are hoping to travel to in the future?
Traveling has enriched my life in so many ways. I’ve been in private villas of some of the worlds richest people, and slept on the floor with Sri Lankans. I’ve been to Muslim countries, Buddhist monasteries, and the temples of nature, from deserts to mountains, oceans and concrete jungles. All of these experiences expanded my worldview. Traveling as a musician has been particularly enlightening as I’ve come to realize that music is a universal language capable of transcending religious, socio-economic, and language barriers. It’s truly a vital tool for facilitating experiences of joy and integration between people.
Despite having been to over 25 countries, I’ve yet to set foot in the southern hemisphere. I look forward to traveling to Peru hopefully in the spring. I’d love to see the nighttime sky from the remote corners of New Zealand where I hear the stars are incredible so far from light pollution. It is also a dream of mine to study music especially in West Africa, where so much of the foundation of the Blues originated.
You are currently on tour with Jai-Jagdeesh. How did you come to join her on tour and what have some highlights been so far?
I was recommended for this tour by a friend of mine (Tripp Dudley) who is an incredible tabla player and mixed percussionist. We’re currently in Boston and have driven 5,400 miles since we began San Diego, performing almost 20 times in as many cities. It’s been a wonderful experience to stay in the homes of so many sweet, kind, and hospitable people along the way. Driving through and pausing to experience the beauty of Banff and the Canadian Rockies was one of the most magical moments of the trip thus far. Of course, the most rewarding aspect of the experience is sharing music for thousands of people along the way who come to open their hearts and connect deeply with their emotions. This world could always use more compassion and joy, and I’m honored to be facilitating that in these difficult times.
What's next for you?
After the tour, I’m considering traveling somewhere to take a little time for myself and work on several projects I have up my sleeves. These include the next album, Guitar Handbook’s future development, and a guitar education video series already in the works. Stay tuned! You can sign up for my newsletter at at www.adriandimatteo.com and connect with my on social media (Facebook.com/adriandimatteo, instagram @adriandimatteo).