Meet Matt Ellis and “Greyhound 89”
Crossing the country by bus as a teenager wasn’t where Matt Ellis saw his life changing forever.
Thanks to his dad Frank’s readiness to forego the typical tourist vacation to instead see the U.S. from a local’s perspective, the family booked their Ameripasses and hit the road from Los Angeles to New York City, stopping for a couple of nights in different cities along the way. With his Walkman and Camcorder in hand, 15-year-old Matt shot six hours of home movies on this trip.
For Matt, this trip wasn’t just a vacation. This was the trip that inspired him to become a songwriter.
We caught up with Matt to talk about his song “Greyhound 89” off his latest album.
Q: Let’s start out by telling our fans more about yourself.
A: I’m an Australian singer/songwriter with a sound on the rock end of the Americana and roots music genres. I’ve been based in Los Angeles since 2005 and am currently recording my sixth album.
Q: When we first spoke you mentioned your dad wasn’t the kind of man who was interested in a typical vacation with guided tours or just going to Disneyland. What inspired him to take your family on a cross-country trip with us?
A: We were lucky to have been to the United States a couple of times before and we’d done a bit of the tourist stuff. This time around we were older and ready for some new experiences. I think dad saw it as a way to see more of the country without having to drive, but he was also a big Willie Nelson fan, so maybe there was a bit of that tour-bus-fantasy in there too.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories from this trip?
A: You get to see so much from the window of a Greyhound bus. I remember getting lost in watching landscapes change, locals commuting and other families on summer vacations commuting cross-country. I really loved just blending in and being a fly on the wall.
Q: You’ve also credited this trip across America with us as to why you wanted to become a songwriter. Why is that?
A: I had started a band shortly before the trip and music was quickly becoming my main focus in life. I was exposed to so many new places and people on the bus, I found myself imagining the stories of each traveler. I had my Walkman permanently on, listening to local radio stations and was discovering so much new music. It was a coming of age kind of experience in creativity, both literally and figuratively.
Q: Tell us about what inspired “Greyhound 89”?
A: “Greyhound 89” is lifted from my latest album, “The Greatest Escape,” 12 songs written shortly after the loss of my father. It’s a song about the life-changing experience crossing the country on Greyhound buses back in 1989. I was going through a lot of reflection when I was writing. and this particular holiday kept coming back to mind. It’s pretty plain spoken, but in the last verse, I bring the focus back around to my dad.
Q: The music video is compiled of your home movies from this great cross-country road trip with your family. What was it like re-watching these years later?
A: Such a great flashback! I stayed up late one night and watched six hours of footage to work out how we were going to approach it. There’s enough footage there to make 10 videos!
Q: Unfortunately we don’t all get the chance to travel across America meeting new people and seeing places like you did. How do you think people can relate to this coming of age story in this song no matter what their personal story is?
A: I want to say the deeper meaning in the song is to never take a person or situation on face value. There’s always more going on to the story than we know and always at least two sides to any situation.
Q: What advice would you give to someone hitting the road for the first time and just beginning their music career?
A: Do it for yourself and the songs. It’s an incredibly rewarding journey if you’re in it for the right reasons. These days, indie musicians are their own label, PR firm, booking agent and promoter, so divide and conquer the workload amongst band members.
When I first relocated to the U.S., I was touring mainly as a solo acoustic act. I jumped back on the bus for several legs on the East Coast, which was a great way to get around. For any young solo performers I’d recommend they check that out as a mode of transport. Meet people, observe them, talk to them and listen to their stories. Have experiences. And in a practical sense, it’s a great way to catch up on sleep and save on gas! (Editor’s note: we did not ask Matt to say this, but musicians everywhere: we’re ready to be your tour bus when you need us.)
Q: What’s next for you and what are you working on?
A: I’m about to release a new single with another singer-songwriter, Paul Chesne. The duet, titled “They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To,” will be out in October. I’m also in the early stages of recording my sixth album due out in 2017.
All of Matt’s albums are on iTunes, Amazon and are streaming on Spotify, Pandora and Soundcloud. Follow Matt on Facebook for updates and more info.
Photo credit: J.D. Narro