You can't go home again, or so the adage goes. But many young professionals — whether unable to find that first big job or whose plans have hit a snag — know a different story. In between touring, Florida-based singer/songwriter Matthew Fowler found himself back at his parents' house, which produced a flurry of emotion. He captures that tangle on 'I'm Still Trying', a song pinpointing how one failure tends to highlight them all. Listen below.
Fowler plays his reflective new single with an earnest air. 'I'm Still Trying' begins by reminiscing about a romantic relationship that didn't go the distance. "I could touch my past, feel the heavy air / Hear the branches scratch / I lay looking back", Fowler sings wistfully. But being back home opens the floodgates, and that memory pivots to other shortcomings. Still, Fowler refuses to succumb. "I'm still trying", he sings.
"In the writing, the song shifts from remembering personal failed romantic relationships to a deeper recognition of feeling like a failure as a brother and family member", Fowler said in a statement. "I’m quite close with my family and, at the time, felt a distance that I was coming to regret. I wanted this song to serve as an admission of guilt to that distance, in the hopes that vulnerability leads to reconciliation."
The song appears on his forthcoming album The Grief We Gave Our Mother, which arrives September 10 via Signature Sounds. Fowler traveled far north to record the album, working with Shane Leonard (Field Report, Anna Tivel) at a studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The Grief We Gave Our Mother documents the changes he experienced in his early and mid-twenties, as he quit a job, moved away from Florida briefly and went through a breakup.
Fowler spoke with Holler about growing up with two immigrant parents who introduced him to wider sounds, that time he thought about being a teacher for a brief minute and what he's planning next.
Where are you from and has that influenced the type of artist you are? What were you listening to growing up?
I was born in Orlando, Florida to immigrant parents. My mom is from a country called Mauritius and my Dad is from South Africa, so the musical combination was definitely quite interesting.
Frank Sinatra, the crooners and big band music was a BIG deal in our house! That was the soundtrack to every event growing up. My mom was a huge 80s music fan too, and we had bands like The Cure, Duran Duran, and Tears For Fears playing a lot though the speakers.
Being the first “American” in the family, I did a lot of my own searching at a young age for music, based on the snippets I would hear my parents listening to. I remember Simon & Garfunkel being the first real “songwriting” music I fell in love with and using that to branch into classic rock, Bob Dylan and that whole world.
Did you ever want to do something other than music?
I tossed around the idea of wanting to be a teacher at one point. A lot of my favorite folks growing up were teachers and I always loved learning and being a part of the discovery process. But really, once I started writing songs and playing music at around 14, nothing could hold a candle to it.
Are you more creative when you’re happy or when you’re sad?
I have a greater tendency to just relax when I’m happy, to take stock of what’s around me and just live in the moment. The sadness brings out a frustration in me that can sometimes be retargeted. I find it more cathartic to be creative during moments of unease, as a way to move past it.
What drives you the most?
Drives are strange. Sometimes it’s just being a broke musician that drives me to get more shows on the calendar and write more. Sometimes it’s the pure act of creation that drives me, or the desire to grow my career and find more stability. Recently, it has been more about family and self-preservation: The drive of just trying to be a happy person surrounded by loving people, ya know?
In general which comes first for you, the title or the song?
Definitely the song. I don’t repeat a lot of lyrics in my songs and the choruses are rarely lyrically identical, so a lot of times I’m not sure where a song is going until it’s finished. It feels better to name the thing at the end.
Who would be your dream collaboration?
As a producer, it would have to be Blake Mills. I’m such a fan of his solo records and LOVE the beautiful and textured nuance he continues to achieve. It would be a dream to sing with Laura Marling, to have Andrew Bird play on my recordings, or to get Kamasi Washington involved somehow. too. I can go on for days about dream collaborations.
Tour! COVID completely destroyed my favorite part of the job, so I’m excited to get things cooking again and hit the road. It’s the best way to travel.