Above Ground Fools

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“Bullies In The Backyard,” the second LP from Matt North, features 10 songs written under the cloud of a seven-year lawsuit Matt’s family ultimately won due to violations against his son’s special needs by Nashville Public Schools. The Federal District Court verdict changed precedents in Tennessee and now benefits families nationwide facing similar challenges over their child’s education.

No, it’s not 10 songs about special education, but with no work in sight for live shows or recording jobs due to Covid, Matt enlisted himself at Nashville’s Home Depot to support his family and spent the rest of his time writing songs in his home studio. Just like Guy Patterson in the iconic film “That Thing You Do,” Matt found himself selling appliances when he would’ve rather been drumming. Thus, he is arguably the real Guy Patterson. He is arguably Spartacus.

Mixed by Grammy winner, Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Wilco, Los Lobos) and mastered by Pete Lyman (Tom Waits, Chris Stapleton, Barry Gibb), the record features guest appearances from Jonny Polonsky and Jesse DeNatale alongside Matt’s core band of Nashville A-listers:

  • Stuart Mathis (Lucinda Williams, The Wallflowers) – guitars
  • Chris Donohue (Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris) – bass
  • Michael Webb (John Fogerty, Chris Stapleton) – keyboards

Michigan-born North was raised on equal doses of Soul Train, Hee-Haw, and literature – all influences on his music; his great uncle is novelist and Kentucky poet laureate, Jesse Stuart, and his father’s family were Scotch-Irish coalminers in Harlan County, Kentucky.

He grew up playing gigs in Champaign, Illinois; starting as a teenager drumming with the late Jay Bennett of Wilco and Coltrane bassist, Rafael Garrett. He dropped out of The University of North Texas in 1990, forfeiting his music scholarship to join the University of Illinois Jazz Band for a tour of Russia and Ukraine alongside bassist, Viktor Krauss (Lyle Lovett, Indigo Girls).

“I always saw singing and writing as what’s expected,” North explains. “When other kids were drumming to Rush, I was more impressed with how Neil Peart wrote lyrics. I grew up on the first three Police records, but paid more attention to Stewart Copeland’s solo work as Klark Kent and how Levon Helm, Stan Lynch, and Queen’s Roger Taylor all sang. Then I noticed every Kiss concert was built around Peter Criss singing Beth.”

Moving to San Francisco, he worked as a fact-checker for Mother Jones Magazine, played in garage bands, and wound up roommates with comedians Patton Oswalt and Mitch Hedberg in the Haight for some two years. At 26, North was signed as a writer to the William Morris Agency by talent manager, Dave Becky whose roster included Marc Maron, Louis C.K., Dave Attell, and Chris Rock.

Matt moved to Los Angeles, and began composing songs, answering “Drummer Wanted” ads, and writing a screenplay, Best Western; the latter won multiple awards, and led to regular work as a story analyst – a skill he’s transferred into songwriting. In 2000, North starred opposite James Woods in the Golden Globe-winner Dirty Pictures directed by Frank Pierson (writer of Cool Hand Luke, A Star Is Born, Dog Day Afternoon) was soon hired by Larry David to guest star in Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Matt’s chief focus remained on producing music and raising his son who was born with learning challenges due to a rare chromosomal disease. During his time in Los Angeles and Nashville he performed live and recorded with the following:

  • Maria McKee
  • Blondie Chaplin
  • Brutal Jooks
  • Rob Kendt
  • Mink Stole
  • Delaney Bramlett
  • Andy Prieboy
  • Jesse DeNatale
  • Paula Kelley
  • The Buxotics
  • The Clutter Family
  • Scot Sax
  • Michelle Ishida
  • Blake Weibert
  • Peter Case
  • Stuart Mathis
  • White Trash Wins Lotto
  • Hail The Size
  • Tracy Speuhlar
  • Eric Lilavois