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New Artist of the Week: Matthew James Adkins

By Amanda Wicks

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Michigan-based singer/songwriter Matthew James Adkins has lived a life as close to a country song as you can get. But those experiences, as hard as they were at times, only made writing songs all the more intuitive.

Adkins began drinking at a young age and considered himself a "full-blown alcoholic" by age 17. His rock bottom was reflected in what he often heard in his favorite songs. "It finally got to the point where my entire life imploded", he said. "I lost my house, just like the country song...broke, in debt, you name it".

Adkins eventually got clean and kicked not just the booze but the other substances he'd started taking to feel better. "I ain’t never going back", he said.

His forthcoming debut album, Stoned On My Own, examines substance abuse, depression and other dark matters, but with a country-soul approach that exudes resilience. Adkins tapped three of the four brass players known as “The Woodward Horns” — Jimmy Smith, Bobby Streng and James Hughes — to back his songs and bring a soulful edge to his country material, their presence on the album adding a resplendent warmth.

On 'Rivers and Streams', Adkins begins with an acoustic guitar before building in piano. "Rivers and streams / They flow where they will / They'll carry you away / Leave you left with a chill", he sings on the relaxed, meandering song - working rhythmically like a flowing stream.

Stoned On My Own will be released September 17 via WhistlePig Records. In advance of the release, Adkins spoke with Holler about his influences, how he goes about writing a song, and what fuels him most.

Where are you from and has that influenced the type of artist you are?
I was born and raised in Howell, Michigan. I spent most of my adult life there as well. Growing up, Howell was a small town with that small-town feel. I currently reside in Mason, Michigan, where I have met and collaborated with local musicians and poets. While Howell gave me my roots in country music, Mason has given me wings to experiment, explore and develop my songwriting style and my musicianship.

Speaking of influences, what were you listening to growing up?
I have always had a strong connection to country music. The storytelling and passionate vocals are what grip me the most. George Jones and Don Williams were among some of the early influences. In the 80s, I transitioned to 80s hair bands such as Motley Crew, Twisted Sister, and my all-time favorite band, KISS! However, once I heard Randy Travis’ voice, it was over and I went right back to my country roots.

Did you ever want to do something other than music?
I've always had a passion for farming; I’ve dabbled my whole life with various different types of farms. I’ve come to the realization that the conventional farming of today isn’t necessarily what interests me at all, but rather the art of growing and or creating things such as a plant that produces fruit from a tiny seed. I have also always loved animals, so the art of animal husbandry connected me to farming as well.

Are you more creative when you’re happy or when you’re sad?
Most definitely when I’m happy! The sad times produce content, of course, but the happy times produce the drive, inspiration and will.

What drives you the most?
Love.

In general which comes first for you, the title or the song?
The song always comes first for me. I can make a list of song titles and write something about each one, but they won’t be natural or authentic. I prefer waiting until the song falls from the sky and into my pen - those are the special ones, those are the good ones. I’ve found the more I pay attention to my surroundings and to the universe, the more this happens. Songs are everywhere waiting to be noticed.

Who would be your dream collaboration?
I would have to say Chris Stapleton would be a great collaborator.

What’s next?
“Next” will always be writing another good song.