In 2009, Matt Dylan burst on to a lot of people’s radar with his debut single, “Carolina Moonshine.” The song features NASCAR Hall of Fame Legend Junior Johnson in the music video, and has been showcased on the Travel Channel.
Save for one three song EP in 2012, Dylan has been silent for most of the decade. Dylan broke his silence in a big way in May, as he released his newest single, “Strong,” which is serving as the lead single for Dylan’s upcoming EP, Keep On Keeping On, scheduled for release on August 10.
Before he releases Keep On Keeping On, hear from Dylan about the success of “Carolina Moonshine,” what listeners can expect from his new EP, where he feels he has grown the most since “Carolina Moonshine” and more!
Pro Country: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Matt Dylan: Waylon Jennings was huge. I also love Merle Haggard; he was a poet of the working man. Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison were great as well. I’m a big Johnny Cash fan. If God sang country music, I believe you would sound like Johnny Cash. There were just so many. It was more of the outlaw guys. They just did things on their own terms and didn’t rely on the system quite as much. That was very inspirational. A little later on, I got into Hank Jr., and then Garth taught us how to interact on stage and was a marketing genius.
PC: You began playing guitar at eight years old. What was it about music that appealed to you at that early stage of your life?
MD: Elvis. His charisma, voice, stage presence and persona were larger than life. He had such a huge influence on me. That’s the whole thing about making music; none of us start out with the aspiration that we’re going to make a living doing it, it’s the love of how it makes us feel and the opportunity to get others to feel something with us. Elvis was able to connect with me. He didn’t know it, but he was able to connect with me. That stirred a passion in me.
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career?
MD: I was injured in a car accident during my senior year of high school, which ended my days of playing competitive sports. I got back into playing guitar and trying to write while I was rehabilitating from a back injury. My mother was a singer. She was incredible. I tell everyone she could have made Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette sit down if she walked in the room and sang. She inspired me to start locking in, and I felt like I had written some pretty good songs. I took a chance and went to Nashville to do a songwriters thing, and a lot of folks started clamoring around. I thought maybe it was something I should look into a little bit harder. The title of my new record is Keep On Keeping On and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
PC: What did it mean to you at that time in your career to have your debut single “Carolina Moonshine” featured on the Travel Channel?
MD: That song has been phenomenal. I had tried to write that song for a long time. My wife and I were back from the beach in 2009, and I asked her to drive for a little bit because I had some ideas for the song. I had it written by the time we got home. My dad told me that there was an independent film that was getting ready to release a soundtrack, and I got in touch with them. The song ended up on the soundtrack, and on the DVD. We did the music video with Junior Johnson, and it went viral. The longevity of that song is pretty crazy. I’m talking to the Discovery Network right now about placement in a project they have coming up. It’s been the defining moment of my career. I didn’t realize I was going to be known for moonshine, but it’s worked out pretty good so far, and I get a lot of samples of moonshine, so that’s not a bad deal either [laughs].
PC: Did “Carolina Moonshine” catching on the way it did provide you with a certain level of artistic validation at that stage of your career?
MD: It really did. I remember we were doing a weekend with Jamey Johnson, and there was a show in Winston-Salem, and a CD release party soon after that. The video had been out for a while before the show, and I can remember the folks singing the song with me. There were 3,500 or 4000 people there, and I almost went into tears. At that moment in time, it was like all the work I had put in up to that moment was worth it. All the little small corner dive bars that we played, all the late nights of moving equipment were worth it. It was humbling as well. Typically speaking, when you’re not on a national level, you don’t get as much recognition for stuff that you’ve written. YouTube ended up taking it down, and we were just shy of 800,000 views. The channel was deemed inactive because the producer hadn’t signed in to that account. We lost 800,000 views in a matter of moments, which kind of sucks, because that’s kind of part of the legacy of it. We reposted it, and it’s catching back on again. It’s been viewed like 85,000 times on Facebook. I don’t know what it is about that song that just keeps connecting. All I wanted to do was tell us a story. That’s what I try to do with everything, but I guess in this portion of the world where racing and moonshine are so prevalent, it connected with people more. They have stories about a grandfather that hauled moonshine or know people that did. It’s become a part of our culture. The fact that the song went into the NASCAR Hall of Fame with Junior didn’t hurt either [laughs].
PC: Your song “I’ve Been Redeemed” was cut by The Grascals two years ago, and landed at number one both the Bluegrass and Gospel charts. How did The Grascals come across the song, and what did its success mean to you?
MD: My steel player, Ray Edwards, just retired about two weeks ago. He’d been with me for the past 10 years. He’s been in and around the realms of Bluegrass all of his life. He’s had several number one songs in the Bluegrass genre. I had taken a little bit of time where I was more connected with church and had gotten away from playing for a certain amount of time. I had to feel back up. Through the connection to church, “I’ve Been Redeemed” came out. They got it over to The Grascals, and they were ready for it as quick as they got it. I’ve never seen anything happen like this, but it went number one on the bluegrass/gospel charts, fell off the charts, and went number one again. That’s pretty much unheard of. They did a phenomenal job with the song as well. The harmonies and music that they put on it was very heartfelt.
PC: Why did you decide to release “Strong” as the lead single from the Keep On Keeping On EP?
MD: I like the message. When you think about love and think about how you feel about people that are family or friends, you have that strong love, bond, and relationship. I wrote that song from the perspective of a guy who couldn’t express his feelings any other way other than to do it through descriptive terms like “strong like a double shot of whiskey.” It’s so catchy, and it has a good summertime vibe. We’re using it to blaze the trail to get everybody ready for the rest of the record. The rest of the record is out for final mixing, and I’m pretty impressed with the job that they’ve done so far.
PC: What information can you give about Keep On Keeping On? What can listeners expect to hear?
MD: It’s neat. This is the first project where all of the songs were written by me. In times past, I had a song called “Down Here” that was written by Chris Stapleton when he was playing with The SteelDrivers. There are other great writers on my debut album as well, but this one is all me. People are going to be pretty surprised. I tried to put something on there for everybody. I didn’t get into the pop-country handclaps and snaps kind of sound, because that’s not who I am, but we tried to maintain my artistic vision and keep it current. There’s a song on there that I wrote from my wife called “You Look Good in That Smile” that I’m extremely excited about. I believe it’s going to do well. The song I’m most excited about is a song that I wrote in Myrtle Beach about 20 years ago called “If You Knew.” We never released that song, but we have been testing it on some folks. We played it at CMA Fest 2 weeks ago, and they asked where I had been keeping that one [laughs]. It’s a real, sensual ballad. August 10th can’t get here quick enough. That’s the release date. I’m like a kid in a candy store holding these mixes. You want to throw these songs out, but you want to do it in proper time. I’m a patient man, but when I get candy, I like to eat it [laughs].
The video for “Strong” is also getting ready to come out in the next couple weeks. The presentation of the video is coming out of a living storybook. It’s a huge book in the middle of the screen, and you have all of these interactive images with several images per page. They move in and out and tell the story. I have people from all walks of life holding the sign that says “strong.” There’s firefighters, bodybuilders, couples that have been married for more than 50 years, and cancer survivors. It speaks from all walks of life. That’s what the country music genre is. It’s the strongest, most vibrant fan base. It’s the most loyal group out there. They’re just incredible people. They are the epitome of strength. That’s what we tried to do with the video. Hopefully we’ll have that out sooner rather than later, because we’ve been sitting on it for over a month, and it’s been tough so hold it in.
Another neat thing about the video is that you can watch it three times and still see different things, just because of all of the interactive elements. Hopefully that means we’ll get three times the number of views we would normally get [laughs].
PC: It’s been nine years since you released your self-titled album and had great success with “Carolina Moonshine.” Where do you think you’ve grown the most in the time since that release?
MD: I believe that I’ve matured as a songwriter. “Carolina Moonshine” was a cool song and a great gift to be able to put that together. I’m very passionate about the Lord, and I thank him for the talent he gave me to be able to put that song together. I hope over the last nine years that I’ve been able to season my songwriting, because I think now more than ever, people are looking for stuff to entertain them, tell them stories, and make them feel things. I hope I’ve accomplished that.
I wanted to stay in the vein of that 2009 record, but I wanted to show maturity and progression. I hope that’s what people are going to say. This is my first solo endeavor in many years. We’ve been on a torrid pace as far as playing shows. My whole thing is to “take it to the people and let them decide.” You have to put it in front of them in order to get feedback. Not everybody’s going to love you, but hopefully those that do will tell somebody else, and your shows will grow that way. You just have to keep planting seeds.
PC: You’ve opened for several major artists, including Rascal Flatts, Luke Combs, and Montgomery Gentry. What can you take away from those experiences that can help you in your own career?
MD: I’ve learned that success never changed them; they are who they are. That’s all I know how to be too. I think that’s the cool thing about country music. Most of the large, worldwide acts still have issues just like everybody else. They’re just regular people. Being around them solidified that. During a show I played with Aaron Tippin, the crowd was so into what we were doing that after I played my last song, Aaron motioned me to go back to do an encore. That was so cool. You don’t find many people like that. Montgomery Gentry were a phenomenal act to work with too. We would sit on the bus and just swap stories. We don’t really talk about music, we just talk about life. I think the fans don’t really get the privilege of seeing how normal these folks really are, and that’s something that really meant a lot to me. You always think that success changes people, but it doesn’t have to, and I’ve seen it first-hand. We all started with a dream in a dirty bar somewhere, and they never forgot where they came from, and that’s really cool to me.
PC: Along with releasing Keep On Keeping On in August and releasing the music video for “Strong” soon, what are your plans for the rest of 2019?
MD: We’re really going to start ramping stuff up. I’m going to head out to the Midwest to do radio tour things. We’re going to keep pounding out the live shows within a three or four state radius. Hopefully the single continues to progress and we will have opportunities to branch out a little bit further. I’m also really looking for opportunities to partner up with established acts and do more opening shows. I just want to continue appealing to the listeners. We really depend on our fans, and we hope that when they walk away from a show, they think it was worth every penny. Like the record says, we’re going to Keep On Keeping On and we feel good about our chances.
PC: Is there anything else you would like to add?
MD: There have been a lot of great supporters that have traveled from one city to the next and have supported us over the years. We are so thankful for the continued support. The sacrifices they make to come from one town to the next is incredible. We don’t take that support for granted. We genuinely love these folks, and we’ve made a lot of good friends along the way.