Never Had to Leave

Matt Maeson

Never Had to Leave

A lot has been made of Matt Maeson’s Christian roots. His parents were musician missionaries; he got his start in the church, eventually playing in prisons, where he “developed a real sense of understanding how powerful music can be,” as he tells Apple Music. “It’s the idea that you can play A minor, C, and F and make people sad with just those sounds.” That understanding of alt-rock, folk, and the human condition led to two popular EPs, 2017’s Who Killed Matt Maeson and 2018’s The Hearse, and his debut LP, 2019’s Bank on the Funeral. Now it’s led here: Never Had to Leave is his second full-length and his most eclectic—an expansive release of anthemic arena rock (“Blood Runs Red”), frustrated, palm-muted power chords (“Lonely As You”), jagged trap production (“Cut Deep”), and a million other existential questions in between. “When I was a kid, when I would find a song that really made me feel seen and understood, it’s something that I kept with me, and it’s something that really helped me,” he explains. “That’s what I hope that these songs do for other people. You’re not alone. Your pain is real and other people are going through very similar things.” Below, Maeson walks Apple Music through Never Had to Leave, track by track. “Blood Runs Red” “I was on tour for about three years off and on. It’s really, really easy to lose yourself in that. We’re playing for thousands of people every night, receiving just an overload of validation, partying until 2 am, going to sleep and waking up and being like, ‘Why does my throat hurt?’ Probably the 30 cigarettes you smoked last night. When touring stopped, all the things I’d been ignoring started to show up in a lot of different ways. The general idea of that song is what it looks like—trying to get myself back.” “Never Had to Leave” “I was sitting on that and finally ended up taking a trip to LA to hang with [songwriter] James Flannigan. We got to work with Foy Vance, who is just an awesome, awesome guy and has a really great mustache. The song is thought-vomit, I guess. That’s probably the best way to put it. It’s about a lot of things, and it’s surrounded by guilt of not staying in touch with my family, not staying in touch with my friends, going so long off of social media and off of everything and kind of going quiet and leaving my fans to wonder. I departed from everything and pushed everything away for a while to work on myself, but then realized, ‘Oh, I didn’t have to push everyone away.’” “Cut Deep” “Halfway through the pandemic, I got a call from my publisher, and she was like, ‘Yo, so [redacted huge pop star] and the Obamas are doing a Netflix special, and they need music written for it.’ The idea is, it’s for kids, and they want a song written from the perspective of a minority in America and the struggles with that.’ And my immediate thought was, ‘Why the fuck are you asking me to do that?’ I wrote this song and then the whole project got shut down, went away. And then, a few months later, I get a call from my publisher again. ‘Yo, [pop star]’s team really loved the stuff you did for that. They want to bring you in to write on her new record.’ I flew to LA and went into this session with these two guys, ClickNPress, really dope dudes. But anyway, we’re in this session and this representative comes in, and she’s like, ‘[Aforementioned pop star] wants to talk shit and she wants it to sound like Houston trap rock.’ That was a sobering moment. Like, this is really how people do shit? The biggest artists in the world, they have hundreds of people write shit for them and take credit for it. Anyway, we wrote the first and second verse of ‘Cut Deep’ in there. It was on hold for, I don’t know, eight months. By that time, everybody on my team really loved the song. They were like, ‘Why don’t we just keep it for you?’ And so, that’s what happened.” “Lonely As You” “I got super obsessed with Big Thief throughout the pandemic. Buck Meek, the guitar player, released a side project. There’s a song on it that has this crazy guitar riff. It just blew me away—it was grungy, but it also had this twang to it. I just sat down with my guitar and just started playing around with that riff that you hear in ‘Lonely As You.’” “Cry Baby” “That one came out really fast too. I was sitting in my house in Austin, Texas. My dad, for Christmas or my birthday, bought me a guitar pedal called Cry Baby. I hadn’t opened it up. It was just sitting on my shelf, and I was sitting there, playing the chords you hear on ‘Cry Baby.’ It’s three chords all the way through, and it’s introspective about my dad and how I was raised in that idea of, ‘Suck it up, cry baby. You’re depressed, get over it.’” “Nelsonwood Lane” “I wrote that one just alone in my apartment. I had just started really learning piano, and those were some of the first chords that I learned. I was listening to so much Justin Vernon, Bon Iver—all of his project stuff at the time. I wanted to do something in that classic-sounding vein that he’s able to do.” “Twisted Tongue” “We stacked a ton of harmonies and a ton of gang vocals. I was pretty depressed in that time in my life, in general—having all of the success yet not being able to really enjoy it because I was in such a weird place in life. I was insecure.” “Problems” “I wrote that with my buddy Noah Breakfast and my buddy Roswell all the way back in 2016. We reworked the whole song, changed a ton of production stuff, cut all-new vocals, and did some minor lyric tweaks. That song, when I wrote it, it just came from a place of empathy, that attitude of, ‘I know I got my problems. I have problems, you have problems.’ There’s unity in that.” “Waltz Right In” “That song was just really about parenthood. My wife was pregnant at the time, and I was having all these anxieties and thoughts about like, ‘What kind of father am I going to be? Am I going to make the same mistakes that my dad did? Am I going to get so caught up in not making those mistakes that I make other mistakes?’ So, I just started writing that song about my wife and about my kid.” “Sanctified” “That was one of the most therapeutic songs I’ve ever written for myself. Both the verses have to do with different experiences that I had in my early twenties, and then the bridge, which is my favorite part, I had written separate from the song originally. It’s about how sad it is that, when I did those prisons with my parents, I saw how impactful music can be and how broken these inmates are that have done whatever they’ve done. They’ve either been in there for five years or 20 years or 30 years. And seeing them cry to songs and be so desperate for connection or just kind of empathy in general because these are the people that are labeled monsters by everyone.” “A Memory Away” “As far as the depiction of love goes, it’s about understanding that no matter how bad it gets, we know how it started and that it’s something that is possible to get back and is possible to maintain too. One of the places most people go wrong in a relationship is when they essentially just change without each other. Then, six months later, they’re like, ‘I don’t love you like I used to’ because you didn’t grow with them, which is something I’m very conscious of now. The general idea behind that song is that love is something that has to be nurtured.” “My Hand/Lawless Dream” “As soon as I wrote that song, I was like, ‘This has to be the last song on the record’ because it’s the hardest, sonically, on the record, but also the subject of it is pretty heavy too. My buddy Brennan, from The Technicolors, did all that Pink Floyd soundscape-y, trippy guitar. It worked so perfectly with the ‘My Hand’ section because that’s about a period where I was on a lot of drugs, not in a good place, and my grandma was in hospice, passing away. The ‘Lawless Dream’ part is the release of me tripping.”

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