People who love nothing better than piano-based pop rock will have a treat in Bartlett this weekend. Singer, songwriter and pianist Matt Beilis performs his “Soul of Pop” music at 8 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center.
“It’s really kind of the evolution of pop music, all around the granddaddy of musical instruments, the piano,” he said.
Beilis (pronounced BAY-liss) described this weekend’s upcoming performance as an exploration of pop music from the late 1950s through the modern day, with his original music sprinkled throughout. Most of the songs are not ones he has recorded and placed online with videos. Instead, he has a repertoire he saves for live performances.
“I love that,” he said. “… You don’t really get that a lot today. Every pop musician that you go to hear live, you’ve heard all those songs on their recordings. And exactly the same way they’re saying it on the record is how a lot of times they have to sing it on stage, because that’s what people come for. But I think there’s something special and old fashioned about the fact that that I didn’t record a lot of these and really kind of save them for this live performance.”
“It’s surprisingly unconventional for people to pursue a dream, which is surprising to me in this country, where that is what we were founded on — on the ability to do what you want and to make what you want of yourself,” he said. “I think that is something that is scary as hell. I don’t downplay that to the least bit. But there’s that there is nothing more rewarding than trying your hand at pursuing what you love most and make a living out of it.”
When Beilis plays, his fingers fly over the keyboard to accompany his rough-textured voice with a Springsteen-like rasp.
“My voice kind of betrays my looks,” he said, chuckling. “I’m not the tallest guy in the world, but my voice kind of sounds like seven foot five.”
Music captured his heart early, as he began classical training in piano before he was four years old. He almost missed his calling, though, initially playing it safe with finance and computer science classes in college and internships at companies like Bank of America and Morgan Stanley.
“It wasn’t until toward the end of college that I realized you really only have one chance at life,” he said. “And you have to do what makes you happy.”
He took the reins around 2007, made the big switch to chase his dream and hasn’t looked back.
To pay the bills in his early days, he also worked full-time in one of New York City’s most prestigious piano stores, rubbing elbows with big names like songwriter John Legend and getting to meet one of Rihanna’s frequent producers. The store also let him come in after hours to use their pianos and record some of his first music videos.
The transition sustained him until he began getting so many bookings and commercial placements that he could reduce his hours and eventually quit to go full-steam ahead as a musical artist. Today he plays 30-50 college shows a year all over the U.S., many performing arts centers like the one in Bartlett.
“It’s more of a hustle and there’s less stability than if you have a salaried paycheck, but I’ve got to say there is really nothing more rewarding than eating food off of your plate that you made through your hustle,” he said. “I think that is the American dream, and that’s been my dream forever. And I feel super fortunate to be able to do that.”
He now lives in New Jersey with his family and does much of his music’s production work—what he calls “sweatpants work”—from his basement home studio. His recent commercial work includes ads for MasterCard, Honda and Jeep.
When asked about his musical influences, he immediately turned to memories of his father, who was always listening to classic pop rock such as the Beatles, Billy Joel and Elton John. More modern icons that inspire him include vocal-based pop artists such as Adele and Sam Smith. He takes a lot of vocal cues from John Mayer for songs that are both meaningful and catchy.
He sees songwriting like solving a complex puzzle, as he tries to fit together the right chord progression, melody line and words to convey his message.
“Beyond just the meaning, you have to get the right words that sing well. Because not every word sounds good when it’s sung.”
He’s eager to showcase his music in Bartlett too. As someone who started out in a market as large as New York City, Beilis said he loves the personal aspect of performing in regional markets because of the contact he can have with his audience.
“I love meeting the people, and I love talking and hearing their stories around the songs I’m playing and how they related to their lives,” he said.
Tickets for Saturday’s concert are $25 and are available at http://bit.ly/ BPACC-Beilis-tickets.
Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or firstname.lastname@example.org.