Circle of friends help musician find his path

Matt Wall has been writing and performing music for about six years now.

In singer-songwriter Matt Wall's case, it isn't that it takes a village to raise a child, it's that it takes a community to create a singer.


Wall's community is centered at Wenda Kennedy's cordwood coffee shop on the Kenai Spur Highway in Nikiski. On a recent Saturday night at The Studio Espresso Shop, he sat on a stool covered with a leather jacket in the corner. Friends sat in the front row to hear him sing and play guitar; a web designer friend of Kennedy's interviewed him for his website after the performance finished; an old family friend showed up to take photos; Kennedy read a poem to give him a break.

Wall's entry to the local music scene didn't start at the coffee shop. Saturday was his second performance there. Jack Neebs, a family friend, plays there when he isn't working on a platform. Wall's uncle told him Neebs played guitar, and the two started jamming. Then Neebs suggested he play at the coffee shop. Kennedy said she's always looking for new artists.

Wall credits those who have helped him for the push and the inspiration they've given. His friends were the first, he said.

"I don't think if I (didn't have) people like you pressuring me, I'd be doing this," Wall said to a friend Aurora after the show.

He started out just singing and strumming in his bedroom, he said. Friends listened.

"Luckily, they're brutally honest with me," he said.

But Wall's very favorite part of the whole experience is just the music.
"The way it makes me feel, definitely," he said. "No matter whether I'm mad or sad or happy, music's always there for me."

On that Saturday, he played for nearly two hours. His favorite artist is Tom Petty, and he performed his own rendition of "You're So Bad." Not everything Wall sang was a classic: he sang his own mix of "Bittersweet Symphony" and "Ridin' Solo", requested by friends in the audience, and Kryptoniye, which he said is a favorite cover.

He also played a favorite original, "Riley's Letter."

"Riley's Letter is definitely one of my favorites to play," Wall said. "It seems like everyone can relate to it."

That song is about an exgirlfriend, who went to Hawaii for an extended period of time, he said. They promised to write every day.

"This is one I wrote when I was like 19," he said. "So like a year ago."

"Riley's Letter," is one of three songs on the demo he's making under Neeb's direction. The others are "Fade" and "Never Saw You."

Neebs said the demo should be out in two or three months.

"He's really a talented singer-songwriter," Neebs said. "He's very young."

Wall is a self-taught musician. He found his older brother's guitar in the garage one day, and his mom's boyfriend helped him tune it. He learned to read tableture from a book. Later, he learned chords. Now he can mostly play by ear.

"I can listen to a song and figure out how it sounds," he said. "...I don't look up much tableture unless it's for a pop song," he said.

At first, playing for people scared him. Now, with graduation and open mic performances under his belt, he's mostly used to an audience -- except when he's playing a new song for a girl, he said.

"I haven't really felt nervous in a long time," he said.

Despite the musical successes, Wall does more than perform and write. The 20-year-old Kenai Alternative High School graduate also has a day job, which starts at 4 a.m., so by closing time Saturday, he said he was tired. But he said he was happy to be there performing, even if it cut into his sleep.

"I'd rather do this than be working at McDonald's," he said.