A couple minutes into Matthew McNeal's new album is enough to tell you something special is going on here. Opening track “Rumorosa” showcases the 25-year-old's skills as a songwriter and makes it clear that the 25-year-old is ready to elevate his young music career.
"Good Luck," McNeal’s sophomore album, drops Friday. Ted Young, who has worked with acts like Sonic Youth and Kurt Vile and just won a Grammy with The Rolling Stones, produced it. The album has a remarkably smooth mix of psychedelic indie rock and country, with choruses that beg to be sung along to. Somewhat surprisingly, the music is groove-laden, too, which makes it all the more infectious.
While making a great record is quite the achievement, McNeal also understands the importance of touring. He learned this growing up in Terrell, a small city with a population of less than 16,000. It’s just 30 miles east of Dallas, but to McNeal, it seemed like a world away.
“It’s where the suburbs have stopped and it starts to get very rural,” McNeal says. “The town was half ‘the hood’ and half rural, divided by the train tracks. It’s easy to see the negative in a small town that’s really divided. But when there is just one school system, you’re in classes with ranch farmers and kids from the most dangerous street in the county. You make friends with people who aren’t exactly like you.”
There wasn’t a music scene to speak of, McNeal says, but he started playing guitar and drums in grade school and eventually joined a Southern Baptist church band.
Performing in a church inspired McNeal, along with other young musicians, to build a stage in a commercial space that became a small venue. McNeal was just 14 at the time.
“It provided an outlet for people who didn’t fit in and didn’t have another place to express themselves,” he says. “It became this scene that people were really passionate about. There’s something about the passion that comes from church music that can spill over and be applied to all types of music.”
He played his first shows at the DIY venue with a punk rock band.
“You always go to the extremes in a small town,” McNeal says. “It was very much a punk music space. On Saturdays, there were bands throwing microphone stands through the Sheetrock and ripping out ceiling tiles. We’d clean it up and go play again at church in the morning.”
After a steady diet of punk in his early teens, McNeal continued learning about staging concerts a few years later when he started working freelance as a production hand. Over the years, he has worked at several local venues for huge shows by artists such as John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen, and Taylor Swift.
McNeal was in his 20s before he listened to melodies from The Beatles or the folk rock of Bob Dylan. By then he was studying business marketing at the University of Texas at Arlington. He started writing his own songs with an interest in indie rock and moved to Fort Worth.
After deciding to pursue a career in music, he recorded his first album at Redwood Studios in Denton with McKenzie Smith and Joey McClellan from Midlake. Released in 2015, "Compadre" revealed McNeal as a roots rocker with impressive songwriting skills reminiscent of a country music artist.
With so many venues in North Texas, many young local acts take advantage of those opportunities and rarely tour. But McNeal hit the road to support his album, kept at it, and ended up spending most of the past three years playing shows in other cities.
“You want to have a foundation and a home base,” McNeal says. “But it doesn’t always translate outward. You can be a band that is really popular locally, but that doesn’t mean people will know your music in other cities. There are certain places where 10 people show up, but it may double or triple next time. We’ve been doing that for years and now there are places like Chicago, where we play 4 or 5 times a year.”
He realizes that touring is essential if he wants to have a career in music. He tours as a duo with drummer Andre Black.
“If you write an incredible record, it deserves to be heard,” he continues, “but no one’s making money on record sales anymore, so you have to adapt and figure out how to reach people.
“The music industry is so much more than music,” McNeal says. “You have to figure out money management, how to eat on the road and not get sick all the time. There are so many little nuisances.”
Album release party
- "Good Luck"
- Matthew McNeal
- Main at South Side
- 1002 S Main St., Fort Worth
- 7:30 p.m. Friday