If there was only one word I could use to describe Matt Venuti’s music career so far, it would be serendipitous. Welcoming the world with a heart wide open, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has traveled, loved, and let many incredible opportunities come his way.
“It’s my seventh year of being mostly on the road. It’s difficult, can be gruelling, bouncing from one place to another. But after a while, I get into a groove. I really love playing this music, I really love sharing what I do.” Matt is driving through Southeastern USA as part of his solo tour as we speak over the phone.
“I’m a big nature fan. One of the reasons I love to be on the road is because I like to be off the beaten path and drive through rural areas. Like where I am right now – Georgia. Right now, I’m looking at farm lands on the left side, and very heavily forested areas on the right side and the blue skies with wispy clouds, and there’s cows out there and it’s nice. It’s a beautiful, idyllic kind of scene, if you like that kind of thing. I certainly do.”
The countryside tranquillity Matt soaks in while travelling America is a night and day difference from where his musical journey started. The son of a jazz pianist, he picked up a love for music at an early age. He was learning the trumpet when he saw Mike Metheny (brother of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny) playing the rare Electronic Valve Instrument, the day inspiration’s lightning struck. Mike pointed him towards the music store in New York where he had found this rarity. “I called that music store. I told them, ‘if you ever hear of one, call me.’ A few months later, they called me. Before I knew it, I was playing the Electronic Valve Instrument. This really cool trumpet kind of synthesizer. Then, the AKAI Corporation bought the rights to the design and started to mass produce it. They hired me to travel around the country and demonstrate it. Suddenly, I’m the guy with this instrument. I didn’t try to make this happen, it just happened.”
Matt’s cinematic sound-scaping San Francisco-based world fusion band, The Venusians, soon became favourites of the club scene, Burning Man, and darlings of Silicone Valley. “Craig [Newmark, founder of Craigslist] used to come to our shows – one of the underground clubs we used to play at.” He dubbed the band “the emissaries of sonic shamanism.”
The band was playing regular events for some of the biggest names in the tech industry including lavish parties for Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, often at their campuses.
George Lucas even had the band perform at his Star Wars gala when the first prequel was released. “The Electronic Valve Instrument is kind of a calling card. Every time I play at least someone is saying “what the hell is that?!” I almost made a t-shirt saying ‘what the hell is that unusual instrument he’s blowing into?’” Matt laughs.
However, he is now best known as a singer-songwriter who integrates a very unusual instrument into his performance and musical style…the Hang…and instrument that was created by two people in Bern, Switzerland “I was playing the EVI for many years. The band was really riding high. Our Hot Planet album was in the Top 10 on college radio for months. It was a great time. But I was really getting electronified. I was yearning for something new, something acoustic. I started talking to my friends. I wanted something I could carry in the forest, something I could hit with my hands. Something melodic… I basically described the Hang. One of my friends told me about it – and that’s exactly what I’d been looking for. One thing led to another, and I found myself in Bern, Switzerland, getting to know the makers of this instrument. Going back yearly to take in some of their creative muses, their work ethic and enjoy sampling the fruits of their labour; the amazing instruments that they gave birth to.”
“[Hangs are] not commercially available…they never really were in the typical sense. The two instrument makers, (Felix Rohner and Sabina Sharer) have moved on from the Hang form and are now creating new instruments that explore different ranges of the marriage between percussion, bass and melody. What they originally birthed into the world has sparked a modern renaissance in music instrument design. There are now many ‘Hang-inspired’ instruments made by numerous makers around the world that were influenced in one way or another by the original concept that came from Switzerland less than 20 years ago.” Matt Venuti has been playing the Hang since 2004, and is of few players in the US who play an array of these instruments from the original Swiss makers.
A common theme in Matt’s life story is finding good things when not looking. “I put effort into the EVI. When I wanted something new in my life, I was very clear. I described it to friends and it appeared. Then, I sat down and wrote down the qualities of the woman I was looking for.”
When Matt lived in San Francisco, he would walk along the beach daily. It was one day in late Fall he met Yolanda. “I saw someone doing yoga, a headstand. […] Just her feet were coming up behind this grassy area. I had to go look and there she was. So, I met my wife right there, and we were together for twenty years.”
“Our hearts grew together… I brought back a second generation Hang for her. And she gave it back to me a year later, saying “I love the way you play it, and you have to play it any time I ask you to, that’s the condition.” When she was transitioning out of her body, so to speak, she was asking me to play that instrument. Now I bring this instrument out to my gigs. I’ve had many Hangs, given some away, put others in good homes, but this one has magic in it.” While going through the grieving process, Matt says he would escape to nature with the Hang instruments, finding comfort with the redwoods, the canyons, the ocean, the desert.
Coming back to the present, Matt travels in his minivan with Yolanda’s Hang among other creations from the Swiss makers. He’s also integrating his Electronic Valve Instrument into recent performances with a looping pedal. He gave some breakfast nutrition tips for the touring life. “I try to eat vegetables! I steam some up veggies, have an egg or two, maybe some toast. It’s real easy to eat junk on the road. I try not to do that, because I need all my energy, I feed all my facilities. It’s important to keep things in good shape. Sometimes I get out of my gigs and hunting for food because I wasn’t prepared.”
Having travelled almost everywhere in his own country, as well as much of Western Europe, he tells me about the most beautiful scenery he’s ever driven through. “I did do an entire tour through the Trans-Canadian Highway, […] Calgary to Vancouver. It was amazing. It was my favourite of all sceneries. I like shooting videos, taking photos. I kept going around a corner, like “Oh my God, I gotta pull over” then going another corner “Oh my God, I gotta pull over…” It just kept getting better and better!”
Sadly, his pictures of the Rocky Mountains are gone. “I got robbed in Houston, Texas shortly after that tour. They stole my Cameras, HD, computers, sound system. Just about everything in my van… I had to replace everything. I decided what am I going to do about the 2,000 copies of the CD Rise that I was touring with. Instead of reordering it, I was going to redo it! That’s what The Rhythm Of Life is!”
“I play music that resonates in people’s hearts, gives people something to ponder with, it’s also great grooving music, and enchanting, because I play these really unusual instruments. I don’t fit into the typical singer-songwriter realm. I’m kind of a solo guy. I march to the beat of my own drum. It’s a different way of being, and I left a secure income stream, playing corporate gigs with my band, to travel across America. This is a time, especially in this country, that people need to realize were all in this together, in the rhythm of life.”