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.
â€œMy 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,â€ says the 27-year-old Tampa-based singer/guitarist. â€œWith this album, I pushed into the direction of making music thatâ€™s more fun and pop-oriented but also retains that sense of honesty that Iâ€™ve always valued as a songwriter.â€
Indeed, the album offers up more than its share of sing-along-worthy melodies and sunny harmonies, all while elegantly showcasing Hiresâ€™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 2008â€™s Take Us To The Start), Hires delivers delicately rendered lyrics that shift between sharp-eyed social commentary and strikingly intimate storytelling. â€œEven though I broke out of the traditional singer-songwriter mold, there are still some songs that are very confessional,â€ Hires notes. â€œAt heart, Iâ€™m still that guy strumming an acoustic guitar in his bedroom.â€
For help in reshaping and expanding his sound, Hires reunited with Eric Rosse (producer on Take Us To The Start, as well as Tori Amosâ€™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 (whoâ€™s previously worked with artists ranging from Kid Cudi and Katy Perry to Liz Phair and Lady Antebellum). â€œWhen you get into a groove with another songwriter, itâ€™s the most fun thing in the world,â€ says Hires. â€œWith every co-write Iâ€™ve done, Iâ€™ve taken away something from my collaborators and used that to develop my own writing.â€
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, â€œForeverâ€ captures the bittersweet longing to freeze time and preserve a perfect moment with the one you love (â€œI wish that we could lay right here and never think about our fears forever,â€ sings Hires). On the flipside of that starry-eyed love song is â€œRestless Heart,â€ a bright and bouncy folk-pop pastiche fueled by chiming guitars and a barrage of kiss-off lyrics (â€œPretty 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 Iâ€™ll fallâ€). â€œItâ€™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,â€ explains Hires of â€œRestless Heart, an ultimately triumphant track featuring â€œI wonâ€™t let you break my heartâ€ as its coda. â€œItâ€™s sort of an anti-love-song, telling that girl â€˜Youâ€™re not gonna get it from me,â€™â€ he adds.
Elsewhere on the album, Hires takes on weightier material while maintaining a defiantly hopeful mood. On the slow-building, piano-laced epic â€œI Am Not Here,â€ for instance, he sorrowfully serenades â€œex-girlfriends and kids with gunsâ€ before acknowledging that â€œThings are getting better/Better late than never.â€ (â€œThatâ€™s a searching sort of song,â€ says Hires. â€œItâ€™s for anyone trying to figure out where they fit into the world.â€) And on â€œWhen I Was Youngâ€ (â€œthe best song Iâ€™ve ever written,â€ according to Hires), he turns a melancholy, midtempo melody into a soaring tribute to reclaiming youthful optimism and â€œliving this life like Iâ€™m never gonna die.â€
For Hires, striking the balance between heady emotionalism and killer hooks stemmed in part from years of studying a diversity of songwriting styles. â€œWhen 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,â€ says Hires, who learned to play music on a handmade guitar given to him by his father. â€œFrom 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.â€
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 artistâ€”and, at age 23, released his first album for F-Stop/Atlantic Records. Shooting to the top 10 on iTunesâ€™ overall â€œTop Singer/Songwriters Albumsâ€ chart, Take Us To The Start instantly announced Hires as an uncommonly authentic pop-rock phenom.
It wasnâ€™t until recently that a happy accident led Hires to explore his poppier side. â€œAbout a year ago, the CD player in my car broke, so I started listening to a lot of pop radio,â€ says Hires, who identifies himself as a newfound fan of Bruno Mars. â€œFrom there I began to incorporate some of those pop elements into my own songs, like those simple and catchy melodies.â€
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. â€œI always go into it thinking that I just want to write the best song that I can,â€ he says. â€œI just do my best to let a song be what it wants to be, rather than try to force it into something that isnâ€™t genuine.â€ And as he continues to hone his songwriting chops, Hires adds, upholding that genuineness becomes more and more empowering. â€œItâ€™s scary to tell the truth in your lyrics, to get up and sing about things that youâ€™re afraid to talk about in the day to day,â€ he says. â€œBut the more songs I write, the more honest Iâ€™m able to be. And as long as I do this on my own terms, I know Iâ€™ll be able to keep on telling stories and making something meaningful with my music.â€