— Continued from FLL Issue #32
Fine Living Lancaster: How did you come up with your band name and establish your lineup?
Matt Wheeler: A few years back, I was booked at Chestnut Hill Café as “Matt Wheeler,” but showed up with three bandmates. The marquee read “Matt Wheeler & Friends,” and it was then that I realized we needed a band name. I made an online poll and the two names that tied for the most votes were “Matt Wheeler & Vintage Heart” and “Matt Wheeler & The Spokes.” While the second option seemed like it could be whimsical, it also seemed a bit cheesy. “Vintage Heart” is a name that comes from my song “Your Vintage Heart,” which is addressed to someone whose stress and anxiety makes them feel older than they are.
It’s a rotating lineup; I sometimes consider “Vintage Heart” my solo project that isn’t really solo. It’s the vehicle for my songwriting. The current lineup that I have for full-band shows typically includes Andrew Berg on cello and Caleb Brown on violin (the strings section,) and Ben Young on bass with Shawn Vago on percussion (the rhythm section.) Andrew has been my friend for years, going back to when he was a student at Franklin and Marshall and was attending my church, Veritas. I met Caleb twice at an open mic event that I used to help organize when I asked him and Andrew to join me in opening a Denison Witmer show in January 2012. The show turned out to be a real watershed moment for my music getting noticed. The chemistry was great, so I started to shift towards using a lot more strings in my music. I could just sit and listen to violin and cello all day. Shawn had been playing shows with me sporadically ever since we met at church, and we were playing music together 10 minutes later. Ben has done two recording projects for me as an engineer, the most recent being my 2013 Indigo EP. He added some bass and guitar tracks to the Indigo projects, so we had him play the record release show. He has been a great addition to the lineup ever since.
FLL: In terms of promoting yourself (selling music and lining up shows,) what methods work well for you? Which ones kinda feel like a waste of time and money?
MW: It seems like the vast majority of attention that my band and I have gotten have been through either social media or word-of-mouth and live shows. It certainly helps to be featured in print (such as this fine publication) and on the radio, and we have been blessed with the opportunities I never could have imagined. Just building relationships and working together with fellow musicians to put together shows, as well as with fans for things like house concerts, has been the most effective (and fulfilling) way to promote. That way, I’m making music for friends, not just fans.
As an independent musician, I do get solicited for a lot of different services that promise me more Facebook likes, listens, radio airplay, fans, and any number of other things. I feel like some of them are scams, and most of them just aren’t worth the time and money. Most of the growth in my music and the attention it has started to get has been really organic and incremental, and I like it that way just fine.
FLL: Tell us a little about your involvement in Veritas and the Community Room on King.
MW: I have been part of a Church of the Brethren church plant called Veritas since 2008, back when it was a house church. The pastor, Ryan Braught, has become a good friend of mine over the years, and the current iteration of Veritas meets in the Community Room on King near the Fulton Theater in downtown Lancaster. Our community has many creative people in it, and we strive to give opportunities for new artists and musicians by having a place to showcase their art or music right in the heart of Lancaster’s creative center. We host an art opening every First Friday and the featured artists have included PCA&D students, local high school students, local art teachers, and lots of other creative people who have crossed our radar largely though relationships. On Third Fridays, we host an open mic event with a featured act, usually a local act looking for a good place to get their music heard downtown. We do our best to provide a “listening room” environment, free of coffee grinders, loud conversation, and other distractions, so that the musicians, who are pouring their hearts into their performances, can truly be heard. We feel that we are able to bless the community through both of these efforts, as well as many others.
FLL: Can you recall any awkward moments during your performances, road trips, or rehearsals?
MW: Last June, my bandmates Caleb and Shawn and I were playing three shows in one day as part of Make Music Philly, and that trip was quite eventful. It started with some automobile troubles. The funniest part of that day as I look back, though, is the incredibly tiny elevator in the parking garage of downtown Philadelphia that the three of us (all of our gear and drums included) squeezed into. We were like sardines on a hot summer day. That elevator couldn’t have been larger than a closet.
FLL: Apart from music creating/performing, how else do you spend your time?
MW: I’m an educator, as well. I have a background as a classroom teacher, and I’m currently a tutor and a test center administrator for my full-time work. My wife, who is a Lancaster County native (I’m not – I’m originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana,) is a middle school Science teacher. Our common background in education helps us understand one another’s work. We have a wonderful 4-year-old son who has autism and epilepsy. He is truly a joy, though admittedly, we often have a lot on our plate in juggling his school, speech therapist, TSS, etcetera. We love being in Lancaster County, and it’s really become home to all of us.
I’m a Christ-follower, which is something central to my life and is a big influence on my musical expressions. There are definite undercurrents of grace, hope, and love present in my songs which spring from my faith in Christ. I’m currently part of two churches: Veritas, a church plant based in downtown Lancaster, and LCBC in Manheim.
FLL: Do you like to cover any particular songs?
MW: While I do enjoy being goofy and covering pop songs to a humorous effect (look up my “Pop Music Train Wreck” medley on YouTube to see what I mean,) my favorite songs to cover are “Prayer of Saint Francis” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Both have so many beautiful things to say about faith, love, and life… and I love to convey those things to my audience. You can often say things in songs that you could not as easily say in conversation.