Interview: Matt Doyle

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I have been a fan of Matt Doyle since hearing him on the cast album of Bare: A Pop Opera in 2007. Doyle has also appeared on stage as both Melchior and Hanschen in the Tony Award winning Spring Awakening, on television screens as Jonathan Whitney in Gossip Girl, and starred on screen in Alan Brown’s Private Romeo, a reinterpretation of Romeo and Juliet. With the release of  his second EP, Constant, on June 12th, Doyle has proved himself to be just as talented a singer/songwriter as he is an actor. I recently had the chance to chat with Doyle about succeeding as an independent artist in the social media age, his inspiration when writing, and a bit about the changing face of gay cinema.

Heave: First off congratulations on the success of Constant. The response on Twitter and sales numbers have been astounding. I’ve had it on repeat while prepping my questions and find myself mouthing the words already.

Matt Doyle: Thank you! We’ve been really pleased with the response!

Heave: Your first EP, Daylight, was funded through Kickstarter, which seems to be the go-to place for everyone from writers to game developers looking for a little bit of a boost. You managed to get nearly three times your goal for the project. What do you think led to the overwhelming success of the campaign and can you give any pointers to other artists hoping to achieve the same success?

Matt: Social media is an immensely important tool. Any idea or project can go viral at any moment. I only used Twitter and Facebook to help promote the Kickstarter campaign. It worked. Spectacularly well. We were able to produce something we never imagined we could produce as a result. Even better, since the sales from the first EP were so good, we were able to produce Constant off of those sales.

I have a wonderful fan-base (mostly from Spring Awakening) and they were outrageously supportive when I launched that Kickstarter campaign. Their support has continued to this day. I am so grateful. I could not have done it without them.

Twitter is the best tool for self promotion on the web. It has done so much for me. One link or piece of information can reach thousands within seconds, and then hundreds of thousands once it is retweeted. It’s amazing. I have convinced myself that it’s okay to get a little aggressive with self promotion. It doesn’t feel great, but you have to remember that people log on and look at their twitter at random moments throughout the day. Not a lot of people scroll through and search for your last tweet. If I’m promoting something, I’ll tweet about it non-stop. It always shows results.

I also have a lot of friends with a lot of followers. If they share the information on their own Twitter account It can be very helpful.

Heave: You’ve already been successful (and continue to be) on the stage and screen, and had the lead role on the cast album for Bare: A Pop Opera, a personal favorite. What made you decide to step into the role of singer/songwriter?

Matt: I had sung material written by other people my entire career and I was terrified of letting others hear my own work. After I worked with Will Van Dyke on a concert here in New York, we started to write together. He was the one who convinced me I should write. I respected him so much as a songwriter that all it took was for him to say, “Dude, you’re great at this,” and I started writing.

Will completely understands the style I am going for when I come to him with a new song. He’s brilliant. He has absolutely fed my excitement for songwriting. I’m so proud of the work we’ve done together.

Heave: You’re very active on Twitter and Facebook as well as your own website which leads to a strong connection with your fans. Do you think this will become the standard for all artists, being more a part of the community rather than sending their creations down the mountain?

Matt: Yes. Absolutely. It’s amazing how much the music industry in particular is changing. It’s in a very strange transitional place right now. Studios are hurting and independent artists are thriving. Even Spotify (which has exploded over the past year) was barely talked about when I released my first EP. Now, I’d be an idiot not to put Constant on Spotify.

People like to feel connected to their favorite artists. It’s fantastic that we have the tools to allow us to do this now. There are ways to keep music social without pirating it and illegally sharing it. We’re just transitioning right now.

Heave: So often artists with a theater background release albums of covers and Broadway standards. Constant could not be further away from what people might have “expected” of you. You tend to mix several genres from an indie sound to gospel. Was there a conscious decision to play with such different genres when you were conceiving the EP?

Matt: I own a few cast recordings and I have always loved Broadway music, but it’s not really the kind of music that I identify with. I think the albums that you are referring to are wonderful and really showcase these singers, but I knew an album of that nature would not showcase me.  I wanted to release music that I would want to listen to.

Heave: Are there any artists that influence your work, musically or otherwise?

Matt: I listen to a lot of folk rock and a lot of soul music. Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye were my idols growing up. David Gray, Ray Lamontagne, Dave Matthews, and the folk/rock gods of the sixties got me through high school. You can hear all of these influences in the new music. The six songs on Constant really reflect the music that shaped who I am.

Heave: What really struck me on the EP were the lyrics. I read that while “Daylight” was written from a darker place, “Constant” was about finding a new direction in your life. I found that while there is a lightness, some of the songs, “What You Stole” and “Can’t Stay Here” in particular, still deal with heavier themes. Have you found that while life is getting better, you can’t ever really escape all the darkness?

Matt: I have a jaded perspective on a lot of aspects of life. That’s just who I am. I’ve been that way since high school. My parents laugh about it. I am a positive person and I act on my gut, but I am also a little guarded and realistic. I have a no-bullshit attitude towards a lot of things, so it’s hard for me to write something that is only positive and happy. It feels a little dishonest to me. “What You Stole” is not only about the overwhelming sensation of new love, but also about how absolutely terrifying that feeling can be. I think anyone who has experienced real heartbreak can relate to that. “Can’t Stay Here” is about remembering to take the time to realize what’s in front of you. It’s about living in the moment and appreciating what you have. That’s something I really struggle with myself. Life is short, but I hope that in my own pursuit of happiness I’m not ignoring something wonderful that was there all along.

Heave: Ok, a less intense question. Have you given thought to directing? Perhaps a music video for one of your own songs?

Matt: Yes. I have. I think if I were to direct, it would most likely be something theatrical. Film direction is an entirely different beast that I don’t think I would be very good at.

I do have plans to do a video to “What You Stole” if I can get the budget and the right people involved. There is a dancer I really want to work with and a choreographer who has done brilliant work to my music in the past. I think my father wants to direct that one, though.

Heave: You’re building a stable of great songs. Any thoughts about touring? Sadly, not all of us can make it out to New York to see you.

Matt: Yes, I’d love to tour. I would love that. I am trying to put something together. It’s just a little tough because all of my band members play Broadway shows eight times a week, including my co-writer, Will Van Dyke. We’ve discussed it though and we want to make it happen.

Heave: Changing gears to your work in Private Romeo, which recently hit DVD and Video on Demand. The movie takes the story of Romeo and Juliet and sets it at a military academy and casts the titular characters as both male. This is your second experience with a new take on the play (Bare being the first). What is it about the story that lends itself to such different interpretations and what draws you to the story?

Matt: Romeo and Juliet is my favorite work by Shakespeare. I went to school for classical theater and studied all of his plays. I don’t think there is a richer or more human piece written by him. So yeah, I love the play. I think what is fascinating about the text is how timeless and universal it really is. Directors have proven for centuries now that it can fit into many different contexts. I have been excited to do that as well. I think what Alan Brown is trying to say with Private Romeo is that love can thrive even in the most unexpected circumstances. We can accept love even in an environment that it is not typically accepted.

Heave: Your character, Glenn, is cast in the role of Juliet in the film. You turned the character into very much an equal of the others rather than merely the “love interest.”  How did you approach the iconic role to make it your own?

Matt: There is a strength to Juliet that wasn’t seen in many female characters at the time the play was written. I wanted to find the masculinity in her character and make sure that I didn’t portray Glenn as weak or strictly effeminate. I don’t think Juliet is either of those things. I did make a point of making him a bit quieter than the others, but he could still stand up for himself if he was tested.

Heave: I was pleasantly surprised by how the film stayed true to the source material and made the journey strictly about love instead of turning it into a “gay movie.” Do you think we’re shifting to a point where there is less of a “gay sub genre” and more stories that happen to feature gay leads?

Matt: I really hope so. That was one of the things that really attracted me to the project. Alan didn’t set out to create a “gay movie,” he just set out to tell this particular story. So many of my straight friends who have seen the film are struck by how much of it they were able to relate to it. Love is love. I think we’re finally getting to a place in our society where people are seeing how universal these feelings are.

Heave: I think the most affecting part of the film is the scene where Sam (the Romeo character) and Glenn first really interact at the card game. It was more about the visuals than the words. Because some people might struggle with understanding the language, did the director, Alan Brown, play up the raw emotion to convey the story on a separate level?

Matt: Yes. Alan was fantastic with this, actually. We reworked that scene the most. He wanted to make sure the chemistry was just right and that the two of us were really discovering each other. Seth [Numrich] and I had something special on that set and we’ve been close friends ever since.

Heave: And finally, the age old question, what’s next for you? A well deserved break?

Matt: I’ve been on a break and it’s driving me crazy! I finished my EP and now I have a couple of months until my next project starts. I wish I could announce what it is, but I can’t just yet. I will say that it is a new musical that is starting out-of-town in the fall. We’ll start performances on Broadway next Spring. There is a remarkable team attached and I have a leading role in the show. It will all be announced in the next month or so.

Matt Doyle’s second EP, Constant, can be purchased digitally on iTunes and Digital and physical copies of the EP are available at CDbaby and the entire album can be streamed for free on Spotify.