Matt Stell Is Drawn to Defiance in Life and Art
Singer Matt Stell has a tattoo over his heart that's very meaningful. Sure, it ticked his mom off when she found out, but — as it turns out — that's on-brand.
The "That Ain't Me No More" singer tells Taste of Country he's defiant by nature, but not lately.
"I think that I am luckily in a world where creativity is paramount so that I don’t have to be," he says, smiling from his office during a Zoom. "I can kind of steer my own ship."
36-year-old Stell moved to Nashville with an artist's dream. but he was practical about it, not fully committing until after he'd signed a publishing deal. For this reason — and a few more possibly related to that defiant streak described above — he got a late start. Having a tour bus was a major bucket list item, just so he wouldn't have to worry about finding a cheap motel in the middle of nowhere at 2AM or waking up on a fan's couch.
"I don’t know that I ever really solicited it," he says when pressed to describe how that fan-artist transaction works. "Worse comes to worse, we’re gonna sleep in the van or find a Motel 6 down the road. But more times than not you’d end up just hanging out at somebody’s house after the show and that would turn into, ‘Grab a couch.'"
It's a chosen lifestyle. Don't feel bad for him.
The upside is, he lived like a college student for the better part of a decade, so when he signed a publishing deal, the monthly paycheck didn't need to stretch very far. Still, he didn't want to be fully controlled by a single payout, so he worked extra jobs as an Uber driver, as faculty at a junior college, selling trucks or cutting hay with his dad or maintaining a pro audio web store. He hustled.
He didn't quit. "Prayed for You" took the scenic route to No. 1, but along the way, he signed a major recording contract with Sony Music Nashville. "Everywhere But On" fired up the charts more quickly, reaching No. 1 11 months after it dropped. The new song is just as radio-friendly but includes a great lyrical twist that he's very excited about. It's not every day someone finds a new way to spin heartbreak in country music.
“As soon as I heard that song and got through the first verse and chorus I knew it was a really special song,” he'll say.
Like the Earth around the sun, Stell keeps moving slow and steadily. His tattoo reads "E Pur Si Muove," which translates to "And yet it moves" in English. These were the words of 17th-century mathematician Galileo, who uttered them in defiance when he was convicted of heresy by the church for saying the Earth moved around the sun, not the other way around. It was a doubling down on a widely ridiculed idea that couldn't be proven quite yet. Stell likes that he spoke truth to power, "and standing up for the things that are right."
It also humbles him.
"You know, it’s amazing that there is a world to exist in and we’re here experiencing it," he adds. "In all the hundreds of millions of galaxies and stars, we’re on this one and get to play country music. That is just mind-boggling and rare."
One has to figure Stell's mom eventually got over the new ink. After all, she knows her boy.
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