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RapidChat: Mat Churchill

While his last solo album came out in September 2014, Mat Churchill has still managed to stay at the forefront of the Grand Rapids music scene. By playing bass for several local bands and artists, he has forged relationships with like-minded songwriters that kind of took him in and showed him the ropes. While musical talent is key to success, Mat emphasizes that plugging yourself into the community is crucial.
Mat Churchill

While his last solo album came out in September 2014, Mat Churchill has still managed to stay at the forefront of the Grand Rapids music scene. While musical talent is key to success, Mat emphasizes that plugging yourself into the community is crucial.
Rapid Growth: Why Grand Rapids?

Mat Churchill: I think Grand Rapids is a great town to play in. When I started playing here, it was really easy to get connected to and to contribute to the music community. In my experience, that kind of welcoming community still exists, but it has grown along with the city, providing more quality bands and venues.

RG: Have you ever tried living outside of the state of Michigan to pursue your music career?

MC: I haven't. I thought about Chicago or Nashville (I still think about Nashville) but for me it's hard to beat the overall quality of life that Michigan and Grand Rapids in particular has to offer. The cost of living is low, the scenery is beautiful, and I don't feel overwhelmed by the size of the city. If you want to start plugging into the bigger markets, Chicago is only a few hours away and I know musicians who make the drive back and forth from Nashville on a constant basis. You can get your feet wet and decide from there if it's something you want full time.

RG: Who are your favorite local artists to collaborate with?

MC: You know, I think unfortunately I haven't really done a lot of true collaboration. I play with several bands and definitely have musicians in my community that I love working with, but to me collaboration is outside of that—reaching across boundaries of social circles and genres.

I love playing with Chain of Lakes and having Kyle Rasche sing on my albums. Eric Ellis and I play together in four to five bands at a time, usually with me on bass, so it's great to have that kind of rhythm section familiarity and connection. When you play that much together, everything just moves so much quicker and easier. You know each other's tendencies, you know how to communicate, you just kind of gel. But it becomes more and more rare that those kind of relationships will push you or challenge you, so even though I haven't done much of it, I think it's important to work outside of those conditions, too. And I think the community benefits from bringing different circles together, too.

RG: When it comes to the music scene, what do you think Grand Rapids is great at or potentially missing the mark on?

MC: It's a little hard for me to say, because I think the amount of changes Grand Rapids overall has gone through in the last few years has had a significant impact on the music community. I will say that there has been a more concerted effort to bridge some of those gaps I had mentioned between genres or even social circles.

The Pyramid Scheme has been doing these "local showcase" shows I think once a month, and they've done a great job of just putting good bands or artists together without feeling like it has to be a punk show or a hip hop show. I love that. As a band, you get to play your songs to a lot of people who haven't heard them before and then as an audience you get an opportunity to hear something new. The night flies by because each band is new. Usually by the time the third bluegrass band starts, you're a little burned out. That's not a great experience for the audience or for the bands. When I started, and for several years after, I didn't see very much or any of that kind of inclusion—for lack of a better word.

RG: What was the first band you every played in?

MC: My first band was called Torpedo 7, a punk band I joined when I was 13. I played bass for them after their first bassist left and I only played a handful of shows with them, though we did record one song together, too. But that was enough of an experience to know that it was something I wanted to do more.

RC: What was the most valuable knowledge you learned from that very first experience?

MC: So I think that was probably the most valuable knowledge I gained: being in a band was a thing I could actually do. You can just do it, nobody is really going to stop you. You don't need a new piece of gear, you don't need a publicist or a record deal or any of that. Get some friends together, write some songs, practice them like crazy, and then find a place to play a show. You're not going to get booked at Meijer Gardens right way, but you can find a place to play.

The more I played music, I think the more I got away from that. I felt like I had to do everything the "right" way. It's burdensome. Just go do it. Sure, it's nice if you can put a couple of grand into an album, but if you can't then don't worry about it, just go make it happen. Yes, it helps if you can pay someone to promote you and your music, but if you can't, then make it anyway. Work toward being able to do those things if you want, but don't let it get in the way.

RG: What do you attribute your success to?

MC: Like just about everything else, hard work goes a long way. It sounds simple and cliche, but I really think that's the biggest thing I can attribute to any sort of success I've found. Some people are more naturally talented than others, but that only goes so far. The most successful people I know put in the work and don't rest on their laurels. You're not going to wake up every day and want to practice, or write, or play a show. But you do it anyway, and hopefully you do it well.

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media
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