In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, local musician Matthew McNeal spoke with arts and culture editor Marcheta Fornoff about “Catch and Release,” his new single, coming out on May 13.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Fornoff: You have a new single coming out on Friday. Tell me what the inspiration behind it is.
McNeal: Most everything we do is myself and Andre Black. He plays drums in the band, but also everything we write, we write together. We produce together. We own a record label together.
Rather than recording ourselves at our own studio, we had the opportunity to team up with a guy that’s kind of been a hero of ours for a really long time. There’s a band called Four Year Strong, and they’ve been one of my favorite bands. One of the guys in the band, Alan Day, we just kind of met online and ended up meeting over the years and then we were like, “Let’s do something together.” So in January of this year, we flew up to Massachusetts and teamed up at a studio and did a single.
It’s like my favorite thing we’ve done ever. The whole experience was killer. We recorded it at a studio called Ghost Hit Recording, and it’s like a 200 year old church on a cemetery plot, which is just (a) really interesting vibe.
We’ve cut a handful of records both with the Matthew McNeal career (McNeal and his collaborator Andre Black work on many creative pursuits together, but the music they publish under McNeal’s name is some of their most visible work) and just a bunch of other bands through the record label, but this was the first time we really gave the producer reins.
I think we got something really special, really cool. I think he pushed us to get something new out of Andre and myself. So it was really exciting.
Fornoff: Tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind the single.
McNeal: The song is called “Catch and Release.” There’s so much storytelling and songwriting journeys within all the Matthew McNeal releases. Love and loss are two common themes. You see it the most in “Good Grief,” which was the record from 2020. You get some of that in “Good Luck” from 2018 and “Along for the Ride,” which came out last year. But “Catch and Release” was more of explaining the feeling of, like the chorus says, “Pull the rug from underneath, knock me off my feet.”
Fornoff: “Good Grief,” and you know better than anyone, that album came out of a very tumultuous time in your life: A car wreck that was almost fatal, you lost some people in your life, and there was one other thing…
McNeal: Well, I had my identity stolen. Yeah, the whole thing was bad.
Fornoff: Is this more of processing that?
McNeal: Some of that, yeah. I guess what’s so hard to explain is that, you know, most often it’s like, “Hey, this song is about I’m in love with my partner and you’re scared of something, but you push through it and find it anyway.” A lot of songwriting, it’s based on a specific instance, but the whole point was to make a song that rings true no matter what’s going on. Whether you’re in a good season or a bad season, you can still sing this song and it still makes sense to that moment. It’s just a song that, whatever’s going on in my life, it connects to something.
One of the things I know to be true more than anything is that things are in a constant state of flux and change and that’s what the song is about. There is constant change in life.
Fornoff: It’s all temporary.
McNeal: Yeah, absolutely.
Fornoff: I would love for you to describe your production gigs with Dave Matthews Band and HAIM. And I feel OK saying this because I doubt they read my work, but …I’m pretty sure you tweeted one time, “I don’t get Dave Matthews Band.”
McNeal: Yeah, yeah.
Fornoff: And here you are working with them. How did that happen?
McNeal: So Andre and myself, we have the record label Matte Black Sound that houses all of our touring, recording and songwriting. But we also have a company called Roadrunner Production Services, and we have contracts at a handful of rooms in DFW like Dickies Arena, House of Blues and the Toyota Music Factory in Irving. And, essentially, we’re a middle person or a connector between the tour and the local area.
I’ve done that since I was 17. We started our own company in 2019 and, yeah, that’s what goes on in our world when we’re not recording or touring or doing anything like that.
We were doing rehearsals with Dave Matthews Band for five days. Andre and I, you know, both of us are like, I don’t really understand Dave Matthews. We grew up in a punk DIY rock and roll kind of thing, and so Dave Matthews doesn’t inherently fit right into that. But I will say after being with him for five days and watching them rehearse and do their thing and seeing that they’re all really nice guys and great people made me see it differently.
That’s how a lot of this gig is. Whether you’re into a band or not, when you get to see how they treat people and just who they are as human beings … you can either be like, “Wow, that person’s actually really cool.” And you know, different strokes for different folks. You don’t have to love everything. But more often than not, most everybody’s cool. And so you’re like, “Oh, well, he’s a nice guy, so maybe I’ve just written them off.” I think that was kind of my sense with Dave Matthews Band.
I mean, I’m not going to go listen to him constantly, but it was really great to know that he’s a really great guy and the whole band was really great and they made it super easy.
Right after that, we had HAIM, the sisters. They’re amazing. That was like the coolest show I’d seen in a while. They were all super sweet, wildly talented.
Before that we’ve had Ray Lamontagne and Charly Crockett, Dave Matthews Band Show and Olivia Rodrigo on Saturday, Paul McCartney. It’s just constant. Looking at this schedule is a lot. I think we’ve done like 60 shows this year already.
Fornoff: It sounds like, and correct me if I’m wrong, it sounds like you’re the liaison between the band and the house engineers. Or how does that work?
McNeal: We don’t handle anything on the audio side. We don’t run sound. We don’t do any like stagehand stuff.
We’re essentially contracted through the venue to take care of the tours while they’re there. So whether that’s like going and errand running, going and getting groceries for their bus or, you know, getting their after show food for the band, driving the band around to their hotel to and from like just kind of odds and ends.
It changes every day. It’s a really fluid gig. You never really know what you’re going to get into when you show up. Sometimes you’re like, “Oh, I’m like, hanging out with the band all day long.” And sometimes you’re like, “Oh, the band’s super kind of locked down.” So, you’re just helping the tour manager and production manager do odds and ends. It’s an interesting, weird little world that no one really sees, but it’s a fun thing to be a part of.
Fornoff: What’s the weirdest thing on a rider you’ve had to deal with?
McNeal: Once I bought Spanx-like compression wear for Marilyn Manson. So it’s interesting. Sometimes you just get funny little odds and ends like the compression wear. It’s funny to go to, like, Nordstrom and hunt down this thing and they’re (like), “Oh, is this for you?” And, “No, (it’s) for someone else.” (Laughs).
Fornoff: Is there anyone that you have been really thrilled to meet?
McNeal: I got to work for Paul McCartney in 2018 and that was one of the coolest things. I’m excited to work for him again next week. But with wildly high profile stuff like that, you’re not directly with Paul, you know what I mean? It’s a little more buttoned up for some of those things.
But when it comes to just like actually meeting people earlier this year, I met a guy named Dallas Green. He’s in a band called City in Colour that made a really big impact in my life and kind of sparked a lot of what I do now. I got to tell him thank him for everything and how big of an impact he’s had on my life, which is really cool. Stuff like that’s really special when you can meet a hero.
I’ve gotten to work with some of the biggest stars like Taylor Swift. I’ve gotten to drive her around in the motorcade. I’ve gotten to, you know, do the largest indoor show in America with George Strait at Cowboys Stadium, all these giant things. But getting to meet Dallas Green, (at) the 2000 capacity show — his first show back since COVID — it was just kind of magical when you get to see certain things in your life come full circle. That was a big one for me.
Fornoff: Does that reinvigorate your commitment to being in music?
McNeal: It really does. Andre and I are both like, pedal to the metal through thick and thin. There’s never been anything that has shaken us to make us go off of our course. I mean, it’s tough for sure, but we’re crazy enough to not let anything stop us.
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.