From classroom to rising stardom

Music artist, Matt Henshaw talks about his career in music with Emily Paget. 

In a café in Leicester, I sit down with Matt Henshaw and we talk about his music over a cup of tea. It soon emerges that although music is at the centre of his life now, it wasn’t always an easy path to follow.

“I’ve always been destroying myself for sort of the last eight years,” Matt explains. “When I did stop drinking, it was a big, ‘what do I want to do now’.”

After being in a rock band since his teenage years, Matt and his bandmates began to live the lifestyle of ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ which left him with a drinking problem.

“I just had to stop drinking and I’m quite stubborn so if I want to do something, I do something,” he said. “I had to not be in a band for a while, sort of get away from that lifestyle.”

Matt quit the band and the lifestyle that had come with it and replaced it by drinking tea and becoming a university student.

“I got a place at Cambridge that I was going to do English Literature,” Matt said. “I went down and had a look around, and my gut was like ‘I don’t feel right up here, it doesn’t feel like me’.”

Although Cambridge University didn’t suit Matt, he decided to study English at University of Leicester but it was whilst visiting an old friend that sent Matt into another direction.

“I stayed with a friend in Liverpool and because I’d stopped drinking, I displaced it with tea and obviously with the caffeine, I couldn’t sleep,” He explains. “So I just sort of ‘slept’ downstairs on my mate’s sofa, couldn’t get the TV on and the only station I could get to work was the Turner Classic Movie channel. It was a Humphrey Bogart season, so I watched like Casablanca and other great films.

“So a hint of laziness thought, ‘I’ve read quite a few books’ and if you get into a book you don’t like it can take you a long time to get through it. But a film is generally done in about an hour and a half.”

Instead of accepting a place onto the English Literature course at Leicester, Matt chose to study Film and the Visual Arts.

However this change of direction in his career, from a young age, Matt’s career goals constantly changed because of setbacks.

“From the age of about six to thirteen, I wanted to be a footballer,” Matt said. “Then I got a knee injury so then I wanted to be a little rock and roller, and then I got a drink problem.”

Despite this, Matt moved to Leicester and studied Film and the Visual Arts before taking on a job at the university. Whilst studying and working there, he continued to play guitar but it was more for personal enjoyment.

“I’ve always played and sort of written little things, ditties, poetry and stuff.” He said.

After a while, Matt decided that his love of music was more satisfying than his career at the university.

“I just got a bit bored in my job, the same office, 8 hours a day, all the time so I just stopped doing that,” He explains. “I didn’t really know what I was going to do, so I started doing open mic nights and doing a few gigs.

“I met so many people when I went out every night in the week at open mic nights and it just kind of spread out. Different people were like ‘oh, I remember him, he did that thing’.”

It was whilst performing these open mic nights, that Matt debuted a song he’d written while still working at the university, It Ain’t Easy.

“I had that song and when I went out and did my first open mic night, I started with that song and it felt quite comfortable, and people responded to it,” He said. “So for every night for the last sort of three years, I played that first every time.”

The song was not only a firm favourite with Matt’s fans but a cathartic release for the singer as well which has helped with his performances.

“It’s something my mum noticed that I close my eyes a lot more when I’m singing now, like when I was younger, I used to be more wide-eyed and moving around a bit more,” He explains. “Now it’s a bit more introspective and thoughtful.

“I always say if I can get a third of the way to singing like Sam Cooke, who’s my favourite singer, then it’s alright.

He affected so many people’s lives and influencing so many people just through writing songs, as well as a lot of those old soul singers, their voices are so honest and so pure.”

With his influences rooted in soul, Matt’s music has been rooted in the same honesty and purity of his idols but it’s the positive message within his songs that he hopes to pass onto his fans.

from classroom to rising stardom image - matt henshaw

Matt Henshaw

“Stuff’s a bit hard and we do all wish it was easier sometimes but you come away from this, with my songs or at least I hope, thinking, ‘it is hard but we’re going to be okay’,” Matt said. “I always say if you surround yourself with beautiful and positive people, only beautiful and positive things can happen.”

Matt continues his message of positivity with his latest single, Belief Is All which is set to be released in early May.

“It’s quite upbeat, it’s kind of got a driving drum beat to it, more heavier guitars, quite a big piano sound on it and some bongos,” He said. “It’s got a dance beat to it but it centres around people doing their sport and doing it well.

“I love sport and hopefully it’ll be a bit of an anthem for kind of believing in yourself, not in a Journey [the band] kind of way but it’s something you could probably stick on a playlist for going for a run at the gym.”

As well as shooting a video for the new single, Matt has also hinted at more music that is set to debut in 2016.

“I’ve got two more singles that are coming out after that and that’s even more heart-breaking because I don’t even know when they’re going to come out.” He said.

Although the release dates for this new music is uncertain, Belief Is All, the first of Matt’s new music this year, is set to draw a line under December’s release of Peace, Love & Tea Demonstrations.

“It was basically everything I’d recorded over the last two years, that I just wanted to get out of my system,” He explains. “But there’s some same songs, just different versions, and demos.

“I think, Christmas up to when I did the O2 in Leicester and when Peace, Love & Tea Demonstrations came out, I was like, ‘right there’s a line under those things’, 2016 is a new year.”

Although his latest single won’t be released until May, European fans can expect to see Matt earlier than that as he’s currently on touring Germany for a month.

“I’ve got kind of a little fan base out in Bremen, Germany, so that’s quite nice,” He said. “I’ll go over there, play a couple of theatres and it’s great.

“I’m going out there with an acoustic guitar and a box of merchandise, but because the new stuff isn’t released yet, it’s going to be stuff that came out last year in terms of CDs.”

However, Matt has also confirmed, via his Facebook page, that fans in the Netherlands as well as UK fans can expect to see him live this year, with the dates and locations are yet to be announced.

“There’s a heck of a lot of world outside the East Midlands, so if you can find people that like your music and want to listen to it, go to them.” Matt explains.

Although Matt has hinted at a few festival appearances this year with a band.

“I’m doing some dates with the new band and I’m rehearsing now for like festivals over the summer,” he said. “It’s great because the last seven or eight years, there’s just been bits of gear at my parent’s house, so I kind of go up every now and then and get a few bits.

“Like I got a couple of effects pedals these last couple of weeks, you remember how they work and see if you quite like those sounds,” he explains. “I might start introducing them back when I play live.”

Despite the direction, Matt travels with his music, whether that’s where he tours his music or what sound he creates with it, his honesty and positive with his songs have followed him.

“I’ve kind of done the little journey of the Buddha in a way, I suppose. I’ve been listening a lot, taking in a lot, travelling, seeing different things, yeah it’s been a little pilgrimage,” He said. “Everything that I’ve gone out and done has been honest and positive or attempted to be.”

This positive and honest outlook on life is far from the rock star Matt used to be, but despite his past, Matt looks at back at it without any regrets.

“I might have had too much to drink every now and again but I’ve seen a lot, done a lot and I haven’t been doing the same thing over and over again,” He explains. “It’s been great, going around doing different things, it’s never been boring. That’s the one thing, I hate to feel and don’t want to be.”

Perhaps it was seeing that poster in his history class, which read, ‘only boring people get bored’, when he was younger that inspired his career change from working in a university to a musician or the experiments with different genres.

Regardless, Matt has not been afraid of change and instead has used it to create honest, positive and interesting music which has captured people’s attention from around the world.

“Doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s good. Do something interesting for yourself because there’s always stuff to do or to find out.”

For more information about Matt Henshaw’s music, please check out his Facebook page or his website, matthenshaw.com. Matt is set to return in May with his brand new single Belief Is All as well as perform at more upcoming shows in the Netherlands and the UK.

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