Four years ago, Matt Bekker was a shy Seattle area high school student who, after getting thrown out of several rock bands for being “too jazzy,” wrote his first song with the John Mayer–Dave Matthews–David Gray vibe—and found an instant natural expression.
Now he’s earning the praise of KZOK 102.5 FM Classic Rock Morning Show Host Bob Rivers as “One Of Today’s Next Great Singer-Songwriters.”
Matt recorded that song with a friend, and much to his surprise, the track received airplay on some local radio stations—truly the First Of Things To Come, the name of his upcoming debut EP on the new Seattle based indie label Sound Records as part of Bekker, the acoustic pop/rock band the singer, songwriter and guitarist fronts with keyboardist, bassist and backing vocalist Bryan Watson.
The October release of First Of Things To Come follows an exciting whirlwind year and a half since Watson became a permanent member of the band in early 2008. Together, they toured over 50 colleges in 10 states in a span of six months, including a recent stretch of 61 days and 31 colleges in nine states, from their home base of Washington to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
While they gig in Seattle about five times a month and have headlined at hometown hotspots like El Corazon, The Columbia City Theatre, Studio Seven, KTUB, The Old Redmond Firehouse and The Lyons Den, Bekker and Watson—both of whom cut their musical teeth singing in local church choirs–have the most fun at sorority gigs, where they hold court and share their infectious songs with 30-100 college girls a night. They also do frat houses, bars around the colleges and major events like a recent festival at Oregon State where they performed with R&B artists Sisqo and Swayze. Bekker’s college hookups drew on Watson’s several years of experience playing the circuit with previous bands.
“While we’re eager to evolve and play with other bands and different venues, for the foreseeable future we’ll be finding a happy medium between those gigs and the college shows, which we love,” says Matt. “As an up and coming indie band, they make sense to us. If we hit the road randomly and played a bar in Kansas, they’d charge a cover and no one would know us. With fraternities and sororities, it’s a captive audience and it’s easy to build a strong following via word of mouth.”
While Bekker mostly hits the road as a duo, recently as a three piece band they shared the stage with 2007 American Idol runner-up Blake Lewis at an acoustic benefit show in Seattle. They’ve also shared the stage with artists like Butch Walker, Blue Scholars and Pedro the Lion and, as a five piece band in 2008, placed in Top Eight out of over 7,000 bands at a national battle of the bands contest hosted by Bodog. The event was held at the Avalon in Hollywood, a room famously known as the Palace Ballroom where The Beatles performed their first West Coast show; Bekker is slated to appear on a reality TV series later this year to claim their prize as one of the top bands.
While Bekker is calling First Of Things To Come an “EP” because it’s their debut project, it’s actually a ten song set of tracks that perfectly represent Matt Bekker’s tremendous development as a songwriter these past few years. He and Watson re-recorded five songs that Matt originally put out as an earlier EP, in addition to keeping four songs from that project as they were and adding one new cut to the mix.
Matt says, “The funny thing is that when my dad listens to my music, he describes it as ‘silly love songs,’ and that’s kind of true because I write about things that we all go through in life. Most of them come from some sort of personal experience. Except for ‘Nothing But Needles,’ which was written for an assignment in a songwriting class where we were given initial cliches to build themes from. That one is about living in a house and remembering all that has happened there and wishing a person who left would come back.”
Bryan adds, “Besides the catchy melodies we play, one of the reasons we’ve been so successful with sororities is the honesty of Matt’s lyrics. ‘Shade of Red’ is definitely the feeling you get when you like a girl, or in this case, the color she turns any time a potentially sensitive topic comes up. ‘Kid In A Corner’ is another concept we can all relate to, about liking that special girl who doesn’t notice you at all. Sometimes when we play the songs live, there are unexpected emotional consequences. Like at the sorority house when we played our breakup song ‘Empty’ and a girl got up and ran out crying because she had just broken up with her boyfriend. Of course, we like our music to make people happy, too. It’s just interesting the way these emotional connections happen.”
It’s testament to the emotional power of Bekker’s music that they attracted the attention of upstart label Sound Records at one of their local gigs. The label was mostly looking to start by signing local hip-hop groups like Project Lionheart, but a rep who just happened to be in the audience fell in love with the songs and approached them about a deal.
Launched in 2008, Sound Records is the vision of partners/principals as president and VP, respectively. The independent startup already sports a roster of established and emerging artists from the rap and pop/folk-rock worlds, including Keith Murray, Canibus and Bronze Nazareth.
Sound Records took shape when Noah Hartkopf, manager for Ken Stumbo’s successful, Seattle based property management collection agency IQ Data, was in Phoenix on business and met members of the Wu-Tang Clan in his hotel lobby. After talking music with them, Hartkopf suggested the group get in touch when they visited Seattle the following week.
Hartkopf and Stumbo received a random call three weeks later from Wu-Tang Clan affiliate, the Grammy Award winning de facto leader of the group, about possibly investing in a recording project. This inspired the two to follow through on something they had discussed in the past: launching their own record label. Deriving its moniker from Seattle’s nearby Puget Sound and tying in as well with the city’s storied musical legacy, Sound Records was born.
While gearing up for the release of First Of Things To Come, Matt and Bryan are currently in the studio working on fresh material for a follow-up project that will mark what they call their “official” full length debut album, to be released early in 2010. The label has also expressed interest in a Bekker Christmas album.
“We’re really excited about all these new opportunities coming our way, but as much as we enjoy working in the studio,” Matt says, “the real fun part is connecting with live audiences. As we’re performing, I’m thinking how fascinating it is that songs created in my bedroom which probably started with me scribbling on a piece of paper are now out there for people to enjoy and listen to. We step in front of them to again express the feeling I had for a few minutes a long time ago and the song takes on a whole new life.”