Matt Stell is a talented, country singer/songwriter who made a big debut last year with the release of his breakthrough hit single, “Prayed For You.” This song steadily moved up the Billboard country chart to become a number one hit, and it established Stell as an artist to watch. This single was certified platinum by the RIAA, and it helped launch his EP Everywhere But On (on the RECORDS/Arista Nashville label).
Now in 2020, Stell has released his follow-up single, “Everywhere But On” (the title cut of his EP). This single is currently moving up the Billboard country chart, and it appears likely to continue his momentum as a rising artist.
Stell, who has a strong, soulful singing voice, is originally from the small town of Center Ridge, Arkansas. Unlike some young artists who quickly have success in their early 20s, Stell’s music career has been a slower, gradual climb. Interestingly, at a key moment in his life, Stell had an opportunity to pursue a career in medicine, but he decided to follow his dream of being a music artist.
Stell moved to Nashville in 2014, and his big break came when he met music exec Ash Bowers, and signed a music publishing deal with his company, Wide Open Music. This led to a creative partnership between Stell and Bowers, which includes writing & producing together, plus Stell’s signing with Bowers’ record label and for management.
In 2019, Stell released his hit “Prayed for You,” and the 8-song EP, Everywhere But On. Besides the singles “Prayed for You” and “Everywhere But On,” the EP also contains the song “Home in a Hometown,” that features a duet with hit country artist, Jimmie Allen.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Matt Stell. He tells how he got started in the music business, and how he co-wrote his hits, “Prayed for You” and “Everywhere But On.”
DK: I read that you’re from Arkansas. How did you get started as a singer and songwriter?
Here’s the video of Matt Stell’s hit, “Prayed for You.”
Matt Stell: I got started when I was in college (at Drury University in Missouri). I was playing on the basketball team and it’s a winter sport, so you’re on campus all winter break. There’s not a lot to do, so I asked my mom to bring me the guitar she had given me when I was 12. Then I just sat in front of my computer screen, and learned how to play old country songs and blues songs. And as soon as I could play guitar a little bit, I started writing my own songs.
DK: Several years ago, you had a big decision to make—to pursue a music career or potentially go to medical school. Can you talk about that point in your life, and how you decided on music?
Stell: I applied to a pre-medical program at Harvard’s extension school, and I’d gotten in. At the time, I’d moved to Nashville, but I hadn’t had the opportunity yet to sign a music publishing deal; the right opportunity hadn’t come along. So I applied to this Harvard program because I needed some hard sciences (physics, math, chemistry) before I could apply to med school proper. Then I got accepted and I was headed there, But about six weeks before I was leaving, I got the opportunity I was looking for, a publishing deal with a company I believe in, to write songs for them. So I decided to stay in Nashville.
DK: Last year, you released your EP, Everywhere But On. Can you tell me about the making of this EP?
Stell: I first released an EP (called Last of the Best) that contained “Prayed for You” and five other songs. This was about six months after I signed my publishing deal. And that EP got the ball rolling, and we put out the Everywhere But On EP after I signed my record deal. This EP included “Prayed For You” and a song (“Better I Drink”) off that initial EP, and some new songs which included “Everywhere But On.” So we sort of took my first EP to build the other, once I signed my record deal.
DK: Are you working on a full album now?
Stell: I sure am. I’m going back into the studio and track a couple more songs. But as it stands right now, I’ve got a record pretty much done. I’m lucky that I get to be involved from the start of the songwriting process, all the way to when the songs are mixed and mastered. I’m able to produce and co-produce my own stuff, so that’s something I really enjoy…doing the creative process of making a song come alive.
Here’s the video of Matt Stell’s single, “Everywhere But On.”
DK: I like your hit, “Prayed for You,” which uniquely combines a religious theme with a love song. What inspired you to write this song?
Stell: I wrote “Prayed For You” with two of my friends in Nashville: Ash Bowers and Allison Veltz. Ash is my manager & publisher, who I co-produce my records with. For the writing session, Ash and I were in the room, and then Allison came in and she had this great idea. A few days before, she’d met the man who’s now her husband, so she was riding high from that. She came in with this idea, “That it was more than I could fathom, I didn’t know you from Adam but I prayed for you.” And we said, “Man, that sounds cool,” so we wrote that at the back of the chorus. And we started writing a song about a character that’s a lot like me, who’s a lot luckier than he deserves, especially when it comes to life in general, not just relationships. But it’s also in terms of getting to do what I want to do…live my dream and do what I love for a living.
As for the religious, spiritual aspect of it, that has a lot to do with showing the gratitude of things working out. It’s like, “Man, it really feels like there’s dominos that are falling my way. I try not to preach to anybody in any way when it comes to their own spirituality, but this guy in the song…he’s really thankful for the opportunity that he had, from sticking things out and from persevering.
DK: Your new single “Everywhere But On” also has a unique hook and concept. How did you co-write that song?
Stell: Yeah, that’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve been a part of. Usually, when we go in the writer’s room, we’ll all talk about ideas, and typically ideas will come in the form of a title. We walked in the room that day, and my buddy Paul Sikes, who just had a #1 hit with Jimmie Allen on “Make Me Want To,” came in and said, “What about…I’ve moved Everywhere But On?” And that really struck a chord with me, and I said, “Man, that’s a great title.”
So we started writing that song, and there’s a lot of my true life in there. We talked about, “My mail’s still going to my mama’s house”…it’s one of my favorite lines. And it’s true. I went on the road for so long, that I had to have my mail sent to my mom’s house. And even to this day, she still gets some of my mail (laughs) that accidentally goes to her house. So there’s a lot of life that I’ve lived in that song.
Here’s the video of Matt Stell’s song “Home in a Hometown”
(feat. Jimmie Allen).
DK: Also on your EP is “Home in a Hometown,” where you sing a duet with Jimmie Allen. How did you hook up with Jimmie to record that song?
Stell: Jimmie and I have the same manager, Ash Bowers, and he also co-wrote “Home in a Hometown.” Ash and I wrote it with Matt Rogers, and we realized that the song was about what makes a small town great, which is the people. I’m from Arkansas and I grew up in Central Florida as well, and Jimmie is from Delaware. But one thing that we have in common is, that it’s the people where you’re from that makes it special. And having Jimmie hop on that and help us tell that story, really broadened the meaning of it, which added something special.
DK: Matt, currently with the coronavirus crisis, everything has shut down. For you, did you have tour plans and other events that you had to postpone or cancel? What has it been like for you?
Stell: Oh yeah, we had to cancel a bunch of stuff that was scheduled. We had another five dates left on our first headlining tour, that we had to reschedule. And we had promotion and radio stuff that had to be canceled. You know, nobody wants it to be happening, but it is what it is. It’s like getting mad at the rain…you just have to take it how it comes. So we’re trying to keep a positive attitude, and I’m chomping at the bit to get started again for sure.