Matt Hires plays 92ZEW Road to Hangout Free Concert Series 7pm Saturday, May 4 at the Hangout.
On his debut album, Matt Hires emerged as a golden-voiced troubadour with a penchant for setting heart-on-sleeve lyrics to sweetly infectious melody. Now, on his sophomore release entitled This World Won’t Last Forever, But Tonight We Can Pretend, Hires weaves in grander arrangements, brighter hooks, and a more richly textured sound to assert himself as a formidable new force in the singer-songwriter realm.
“My favorite artists are the ones who keep making records that give you something different from what came before, but still hold onto their own unique sound overall,” says the 27-year-old Tampa-based singer/guitarist. “With this album, I pushed into the direction of making music that’s more fun and pop-oriented but also retains that sense of honesty that I’ve always valued as a songwriter.”
Indeed, the album offers up more than its share of sing-along-worthy melodies and sunny harmonies, all while elegantly showcasing Hires’s warm yet masterful vocal work. At the same time, the album bears a bigger, more bombastic energy that reveals the deep-seated influence of rock-and-roll heroes like The Band and Bruce Springsteen. And all throughout the album (the follow-up to 2008’s Take Us To The Start), Hires delivers delicately rendered lyrics that shift between sharp-eyed social commentary and strikingly intimate storytelling. “Even though I broke out of the traditional singer-songwriter mold, there are still some songs that are very confessional,” Hires notes. “At heart, I’m still that guy strumming an acoustic guitar in his bedroom.”
For help in reshaping and expanding his sound, Hires reunited with Eric Rosse (producer on Take Us To The Start, as well as Tori Amos’s Little Earthquakes and Grammy-nominated Under the Pink). To shake up his song-crafting approach, he also teamed up with songwriters like Alex Dezen (singer/guitarist for The Damnwells) and Busbee (who’s previously worked with artists ranging from Kid Cudi and Katy Perry to Liz Phair and Lady Antebellum). “When you get into a groove with another songwriter, it’s the most fun thing in the world,” says Hires. “With every co-write I’ve done, I’ve taken away something from my collaborators and used that to develop my own writing.”
Right from the opening track, the album radiates with a shimmering intensity that reflects both sophistication in songwriting and purity of spirit. Pairing tender harmonies with tense, urgent strings, “Forever” captures the bittersweet longing to freeze time and preserve a perfect moment with the one you love (“I wish that we could lay right here and never think about our fears forever,” sings Hires). On the flipside of that starry-eyed love song is “Restless Heart,” a bright and bouncy folk-pop pastiche fueled by chiming guitars and a barrage of kiss-off lyrics (“Pretty girls come from the ugliest places/You come from the worst of them all/Heartbreakers like you are hard to erase/You lift me up just so I’ll fall”). “It’s about a girl most of us have met, the heartbreaker who wants to get you to fall for her and then just move on to the next guy,” explains Hires of “Restless Heart, an ultimately triumphant track featuring “I won’t let you break my heart” as its coda. “It’s sort of an anti-love-song, telling that girl ‘You’re not gonna get it from me,’” he adds.
Elsewhere on the album, Hires takes on weightier material while maintaining a defiantly hopeful mood. On the slow-building, piano-laced epic “I Am Not Here,” for instance, he sorrowfully serenades “ex-girlfriends and kids with guns” before acknowledging that “Things are getting better/Better late than never.” (“That’s a searching sort of song,” says Hires. “It’s for anyone trying to figure out where they fit into the world.”) And on “When I Was Young” (“the best song I’ve ever written,” according to Hires), he turns a melancholy, midtempo melody into a soaring tribute to reclaiming youthful optimism and “living this life like I’m never gonna die.”
For Hires, striking the balance between heady emotionalism and killer hooks stemmed in part from years of studying a diversity of songwriting styles. “When I was 16 and first started writing songs, I was mostly into bands like Dashboard Confessional and all their angsty songs about falling in love and getting your heart broken,” says Hires, who learned to play music on a handmade guitar given to him by his father. “From there I moved on to the musicians who influenced the artists I loved, which is how I discovered Bob Dylan, especially his early acoustic solo work.”
An ardent fan of legendary songsmiths like The Beatles, The Byrds, and Tom Petty, Hires also found inspiration in the earnest, earthy alt-rock of contemporary artists like Wilco and Coldplay. He channeled that inspiration into his first band, Brer, then struck out on his own as a solo artist—and, at age 23, released his first album for F-Stop/Atlantic Records. Shooting to the top 10 on iTunes’ overall “Top Singer/Songwriters Albums” chart, Take Us To The Start instantly announced Hires as an uncommonly authentic pop-rock phenom.
It wasn’t until recently that a happy accident led Hires to explore his poppier side. “About a year ago, the CD player in my car broke, so I started listening to a lot of pop radio,” says Hires, who identifies himself as a newfound fan of Bruno Mars. “From there I began to incorporate some of those pop elements into my own songs, like those simple and catchy melodies.”
But no matter how melodic and tuneful the tracks on the new album, Hires remains first and foremost devoted to infusing his songs with an unwavering honesty. “I always go into it thinking that I just want to write the best song that I can,” he says. “I just do my best to let a song be what it wants to be, rather than try to force it into something that isn’t genuine.” And as he continues to hone his songwriting chops, Hires adds, upholding that genuineness becomes more and more empowering. “It’s scary to tell the truth in your lyrics, to get up and sing about things that you’re afraid to talk about in the day to day,” he says. “But the more songs I write, the more honest I’m able to be. And as long as I do this on my own terms, I know I’ll be able to keep on telling stories and making something meaningful with my music.”