By Alex Mitsiopoulos |
On a cold December night late last year, Matty Carlock grabbed his acoustic guitar and took the stage at The Bowery Electric in New York City.
With a paltry four people in attendance and his beloved grandfather, whom he called Bepa, in a hospital bed back home, Carlock, 26, of Middletown, found himself at one of the lowest points in his life. But, little did he know, that night would change his life, and subsequently, the trajectory of his musical career.
New York punk and folk-rock legend Jesse Malin was among the four in attendance and, after telling Carlock how much he enjoyed his music, made dinner reservations for Carlock and his friends at his restaurant in the East Village after the concert. He later booked Carlock to open for him on a handful of sold-out shows.
“I went home after meeting Jesse and in that moment, on cloud nine, I woke up in the morning to an email from Cage. And that’s when everything changed,” said Carlock.
Cage, the underground rap icon from New York, listened to Carlock’s single “Meet me on the Parkway,” from his debut solo album “Loveless,” and said he thought that the pair would make a great track together.
Carlock has traveled the country playing intimate house shows and skate parks, fronting New Jersey hardcore band Back and Forth. He has also toured parts of Europe playing sold-out clubs as interim front man for New York-based metalcore band, Shai Hulud, and just last year released his aforementioned debut solo folk-rock album, “Loveless.”
But he had never seriously considered transitioning to hip-hop until his interaction with Cage.
From a young age Carlock was inspired by the grim lyrics rapped by Cage on projects like “Hell’s Winter” and “Movies for the Blind,” as he related to similar struggles. That alone was enough reason to collaborate, but what really inspired Carlock was Cage’s involvement in the writing process.
The two talked on the phone constantly and Cage told the singer-songwriter that he had a certain concept in mind and would help construct the instrumental from scratch. He was very hands-on with the project despite his busy schedule recording a new album.
And thus, the collaboration process began and eventually “Veins,” was born.
The song tackles themes of overcoming depression as well as losing loved ones, which is certainly a commonality regarding both artist’s subject matter, as they have both spent time in mental facilities fighting similar demons.
“We were trying to figure out how to paint the story about this guy, who I’m tackling, who is a burden on everybody because he’s depressed and wants to kill himself, things that I went through,” said Carlock. “Chris’ (Cage) part comes in and he’s trying to paint this story of the same dude who’s just trying to get through it.”
Carlock’s soft, emotionally driven voice soars over the very somber accompanying beat, and Cage’s verse adds a jolt of aggressive energy. The folk influence bleeds through the song, largely due to the chord progressions taken from an unused song off “Loveless.”
The end result created quite a unique take on hip-hop.
“The songwriting process is exactly the same, and I think that’s the only reason it’s working, because it’s a lot different than what most hip-hop and pop artists do,” explained Carlock.
After recording “Veins,” the track was kept on ice until its release on Nov. 2; in the meantime, Carlock continued to delve further into the hip-hop landscape.
Feeling inspired by his previous collaboration, Carlock reached out to Asbury Park rapper James Anderson, better known by the moniker Bulletproof Belv.
The two met through mutual friend Joe Mattioli, a member of New Jersey hardcore band Shattered Realm, who featured Bulletproof Belv on their track “Bring the Violence.” Once the two met, they began to shape their single, “Dark City Lights,” which was released July 26.
Carlock repeated the formula that had worked with “Veins,” by including his folk-influenced vocal style on the hook. “There’s magic in the air tonight,” sings Carlock over the ethereal beat, as Bulletproof Belv lays down a gritty verse about life in Asbury Park.
The two quickly formed a strong friendship through the recording process.
“Matty is one of the coolest kids I know. We are both humble and love music, so it was quick chemistry between us,” said Belv. “All music, in my eyes, is made through emotions such as pain and happiness, so matter what the genre, we’re all saying the same thing.”
On Nov. 11 the duo drove down to North Carolina to play a record release show at Papa Doc’s to celebrate the release of Bulletproof Belv’s latest album “11:11 Wishful Thinking,” for which “Dark City Lights” was a single.
“It was incredibly warm and surprisingly a major success,” said Carlock about his first hip-hop performance. “We had no idea what to expect, but everyone in the venue knew the words, sang along, and were super encouraging.”
Since the release of “Dark City Lights,” Carlock has gone on to work with New Jersey hit-makers Albee Al and Chad B, both of which have songs in regular rotation on Hot 97. The project has also garnered the attention of Paterson’s own Fetty Wap.
While his grandfather, Bepa, was on his deathbed, Carlock told him he would shake things up and, with his latest musical venture, he feels he has.
“Veins” and “Dark City Lights” are currently streaming on Apple Music and Spotify. Collaborations with Albee Al and Chad B will be released in the near future.
This article was first published in the Dec. 7-14, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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