When you mentionVancouver’s music scene to most outsiders, you tend to get the same response: “Oh, Nickelback!”
Those that know a little more might toss out names like Default, Strapping Young Lad or even Skinny Puppy. Vancouver is a hard-rock city, to be sure, but not everyone is growing their hair long and banging their heads.
Matthew Presidente-Matty P to his audience-recently released his third album, Buckle Up, and is turning some heads in the local indie music scene.
Presidente grew up in the rural Lower Mainland town of Tsawwassen and took to music at an early age.
“I’ve been playing the piano since I was like nine or 10,” he says. “I really loved it. The kind of music I listened to-The Beatles, Cat Stevens, Elton John-it had a lot of piano in it, so it was kind of a cool thing for me.
“While everyone else is like, ‘oh piano lessons,’ I would make them teach me Led Zeppelin songs when I was first learning.”
By age 15, Presidente was writing songs, but it took a tragedy to kick-start a serious pursuit into the world of music.
“I was just out of the closet, and a kid that was younger than me by a few years but was a good friend of my family’s-I had known him all his life-he committed suicide. And you know what small towns are like, everyone is freaking out. It really inspired me to get in gear,” Presidente recalls. “It was my first time experiencing death with someone and you think about all that, so it got me started doing music.”
Buckle Up is Presidente’s third album, following up 2001’s Things That Go Through Your Head in Math Class and 2003’s World is Watching You. The learning curve is evident, as each offering is more mature and focused.
“The first CD is all these songs, most of them I had written in high school,” Presidente says. “I wound up with 30-40 songs, most of them terrible. I would sit in math class and write out all these lyrics and then I’d come home and pick out the good bits, and I came up with these songs.
“After my friend died, it got me thinking about high school, and about me being gay and how it repressed me. I wrote a few more after, and that’s what that album became-an ode to those that didn’t make it through.”
Though Presidente did make it through himself, he didn’t come out until after he graduated.
Up to this point, the young piano player had essentially been a lone wolf, recording most of his music alone. After attending a local youth festival, he would begin to play with fellow Tsawwassen native Brad Pedwell.
“I realized that the next level for me for performing and recording was I needed to start working with someone else. I needed a fuller sound. Brad pretty much recorded this whole CD with me. He plays on almost every song. So did Matt Walsh, he plays all the drums,” he adds.
“We had backup singers and all sorts of wonderful things, and I had so much fun.”
Presidente and Pedwell have been a staple of the gay Vancouver music scene for the last two years. An impressive 58-night booking at the Dufferin that stretched from November 2003 to May 2005, and upcoming bookings at this year’s Stonewall and Pride festivals, are keeping them pretty busy.
Presidente’s sexuality is never in question on Buckle Up. On the back-to-back tracks “Feelin’ Good” and “Undercover Lover/4bidden Love”, he teases the usual straight rock sensibility and flips it right on its head.
“Those are the bitter, fuck-you songs, but they are also really fun, and they are meant to be humorous,” Presidente says. “‘Feelin’ Good’ is basically like us going out to the bar and getting drunk and causing a scene. We named our show at the Dufferin after it, Feelin’ Good with Matt and Brad, and we played that song every night, and everyone would get up and sing along and dance.
“For me, it’s a bit of an empowering song,” he continues. “We’re feeling good and having fun and we’re not going to let any of this bullshit get to us,” he says, referring to life’s daily struggles and challenges.
“Undercover Lover/4bidden Love, I wanted to write a dance song, so I wanted something that was catchy and a little cheesy,” he continues. “But I didn’t want it too cheesy so I put in a lot of swear words and it’s pretty sexual. I was so happy with the way it turned out because I used all these bleeps and gizmos, grooveboxes, and Brad does a rap at the end, and we offset it with something more simple so that is where the Undercover Lover part comes from.”
This whole CD “comes from more of a bitter, sarcastic place than the other two,” he confides. “Before, I was kind of like this wide-eyed teenager, but it’s bitter and sarcastic in a lighthearted sort of way.
“It’s not bitter in the sense that I’m an angry ex-boyfriend anymore, it’s more like, here it is 2005 and I’m still playing the music I want but no one else is, so either I can keep doing it or not.
“I feel the same way with the gay scene,” he adds. “Do you want to follow along or do you want to be yourself?
“I like doing what I’m doing,” he says. “And I think that the people that come and watch and have a good time are the people that I’m doing it for. I want to keep doing that.
“If what I do gets to people, then that makes me happy,” he adds. “I’m a good piano player and I can play jazz or rock or covers, but that’s not what I want to do. I want to play my own music.”