Katie here, though I think any of the eight of us lucky enough to be part of the Underwater Sunshine Fest team would jump at the chance to write this essay about Matt Sucich. We’ve been so fortunate to have an insanely talented lineup of artists, and I hope you’ve been enjoying the in-depth profiles. But part of the Festival isn’t about talent or musical power, despite Matt having it in spades— it’s about good people working hard to create. If Matt had a business card, I would suggest “Good Man Working Hard to Create” as the line under his name.
Being Matt’s friend for years now, it’s hard for me not to just talk about what a delight it is to know him: he’s imminently lovable, and I learned one year, if you wheedle hard enough, he WILL come hang out for the only fifteen minutes he has free. But there is a strange alchemy when you are friends with someone who is sweet, generous, kind, maybe even somewhat soft spoken— and also a performer. Because when those stage lights hit and reflect off Matt’s guitar, he becomes a whole different animal: not just My Friend Matt, A Guy I Love, but MATT SUCICH, music machine. I’ve seen Matt play so many times, and he brings something new and powerful every single time.
The first few times I got to see him play the Outlaw Roadshow, he was all my husband (and associate producer of Underwater Sunshine fest) Andy and I could talk about. I was enraptured. Matt knows how to use levels, and he plays with that onstage: he may sing loudly and light up a room, and in the same song, bring the temperature back down, almost to a whisper. Every time, I watched as people fell silent in order to hear the words to his songs. It is one thing to have an attentive audience at a wonderful bar like the Bowery Electric: it’s another to have them eating out of your hand.
“It’s like watching a young Paul Simon,” I said one night after he’d finished a particularly beautiful set, full of upbeat numbers. He beams like Josh Ritter when he plays, smiles and generally fills the room with better oxygen than it had before he started playing.
“Springsteen,” Andy said. In my memory, he had tears in his eyes. “He’s got the joy and the lyrical ability of Springsteen.”
I don’t think either of us were wrong, and honestly, if you went on Spotify right now and listened to every song, you’d probably hear some of those influences. As much as Matt is just himself— and he is— he could easily be the love child of Simon and Springsteen, working class but not ashamed, a storyteller who finds clever ways to say things, a man of ethics but someone who is willing to explore empathy from every angle. There aren’t a lot of people making music like Matt Sucich right now. What’s especially fun is when someone will tell me about this great new artist that I’m just going to love, and it’s Matt.
“My friend Matt?” I’ll ask. I’m not bragging— or if I am, it’s a different type, because for me, it’s pride. I’m so proud to know him.
Last year, when he released the single “Fire on Bowery,” Andy and I were both in awe. Talk about levels. In the title track, the guitar is alternately driving and slowly moaning over his beautiful voice: “It’s no mystery what went wrong/ Our love was an atom bomb/ And the weight I hold is my own damn fault,” he sings. He doesn’t have to work hard to create a softness and a vulnerability: that’s just who Matt is, shining through. I don’t think Andy listened to anything else for weeks. Andy plays guitar and knows how hard it is to take a ballad and then pack the bridge with all the kerosene and intensity that Matt does here:
What am I supposed to let go?
My pride or my soul?
Who am I telling that hasn’t been told?
So tell me now, is this how it ends?
A weight on my chest?
The voices inside of my head?
The B-side, a more upbeat number, is still so raw and open: the song actually starts with the prepositional phrase “after the fire,” which is an amazing beginning. It’s so hard to write anything that starts in the middle of action. The second verse calls back: “After the fire I found myself in a mess of lies/ Started working my way backwards once I cleaned the dirt out of my eyes/ Who could be out to do such a thing to me, then I realized/ It was all just a show, I heard somebody’s scream out ‘Action!’ from the side.” On this song, he reverses the trick of “Fire on Bowery” and slows the song in the bridge, just enough to give you a breath from the energy of the chorus, half-Matt Nathanson, half-Tom Petty. One of my favorite lines from any song comes from here: “After the fire I found myself among the fortune-telling types/ They warned me not to trust my guts/ I said, ‘Where were you before the fire?’” There’s a certain brilliance to only acknowledging a “before” in one quick glance towards the end. It almost feels playful, though it’s certainly packed with meaning.
I won’t go song for song through Matt’s career, though I could, and I would love to do so. I’m lucky to have a space to talk about how special it was to watch him, standing next to my husband, gently holding hands while our spirits soared. It’s an irreplaceable feeling, the communion shared in a small room of true believers watching a songwriter like Matt Sucich. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his song “Montauk,” one which is constantly brought up to me this way by friends and students: “Hey, have you heard this song ‘Montauk’? It’s by this guy, Matt Sucich…” (I promise I tell them how to pronounce your name, Matt. SUE-SITCH.)
There’s a reason this song keeps coming back to me. I love talking about lyrics (obviously) and because I’m a creative writing professor, I have the benefit of getting to talk to people about writing for a job. But when a song is as well written as “Montauk,” people are dying to share it with each other.
I don't want to be a painter anymore, not this way.
They like what I'm saying just "change the color of the paint."
Would you buy my work on the worth of the frame?
It used to be I'd make everything I made.
So give me tomorrow and we can get past yesterday.
Is this one of them things, some passing phase, where we all get up in arms but our arms are slow to raise. People die, and buildings go up in flames.
Go on, go on, my babe.
Go on, honey. Go on, go on, my babe.
Go on all the way.
I don't want to be a writer anymore, not this way.
I may as well have been an actor so you could tell me what to say.
Or maybe a marionette so you could move my arms and legs,
I may as well drive out to Montauk on Memorial Day.
So give me tomorrow and we can get forget yesterday.
It's this modern focus that's so hard to maintain.
A flash in the pan, short-term gain.
No, I don't want to be a writer anymore, not that way.
Wow. That’s the thing. Matt’s music is so gorgeous, his voice so intimate and lovely, but the writing: it’s unlike anyone else. I love that he explores what art is through relationships— that’s a special quality. But he also explores relationships through art.
But the kind of guy Matt Sucich is? He was only, oh, I think seven hours from southern Indiana a few weeks ago, and he made a side trip to hang out with Brick Briscoe (our local punk rocker, NPR “Song Show” host, and future Underwater Sunshine performer himself), Andy, and me. We went down to the Ohio Riverfront and he sat on a bench and played a few songs. Then we ate pizza while our dogs played together. He met my stepdaughter and sat on our old furniture. And the whole time, though I know he had to have been exhausted and still had miles to go before he slept, he looked grateful and joyful.
That’s my friend Matt. It doesn’t matter what’s going on, he’s going to bring gratitude and joy. You can’t afford to miss him.