Interview: Matt Hoffman of New Mexican
Q: What was your introduction to music? How old were you, and how did it affect you?
A: The first music I can remember was in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where I was born. I must have been three or four years old, either in my folks’ adobe house or my grandparents’ house. My dad played keyboard instruments and oboe in high school marching band (where he met my mom, fellow oboist), and his dad owned Hoffman’s Melody Shop in Alamogordo, NM. My folks had instruments around the house and my grandparents were involved in music on each side of the family.
I’m sure that being exposed to music at a young age affected the way I’ve experienced it into adulthood; by the time I was a teenager I was in bands, writing original music, immersing myself in any music classes I could find at school, and taking private piano and drum lessons. I remember being emotionally connected to music in a deep way as early as junior high school, at which point we were in Fort Collins, CO.
Q: Did you grow up in a musical environment?
A: Yes. As a young kid I remember my dad playing the organ, my grandma on my mom’s side (“Oma”) singing in the house. My folks also listened to The Beach Boys a lot, so I remember listening to those records. And I was lucky to go through school with good music programs that gave me a chance to explore different types of music growing up.
Q: What styles of music had the greatest impact on you creatively?
A: When I started really focusing on original material I gravitated toward Americana, songs with a “less is more” ethos. There was a beauty in the simplicity of these songs, both lyrically and musically. I heard Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker when I was in grad school in Indiana. I remember being floored by the simplicity of the music but how real the performances on the album felt to me. I collaborated on some tunes with buddy of mine from my program and we loved that record. Since then, really anything remotely in that vein; but I listen to a lot of different genres and sounds, incorporating ideas and taking inspiration from a lot of diverse material.
Q: How would you describe your musical style?
A: The short answer is probably lyric-driven Americana, singer-songwriter, rock.
Q: What are your goals, artistically speaking?
A: I tend to steer away from being too literal as a writer. Most recently on Take It On Our Shoulders I tried to create a situation in an environment—some balance of fact and fiction—that would be suggestive to the listener, give just enough information for someone to hear a line or a song and then filter it through their own life experience. I also tend toward a more objective, fact-based narrative that has deeper layers and meaning to it. Like “this happened, then this happened” and then let the listener put together what the larger issue behind those facts is, on their own terms.
Q: When did you decide to be a musician, and what fueled this passion?
A: For me it has been a longer process. I’ve had non-music jobs in the past, and with each move in life figured out a little piece of how to make a creative life work for me and my family. It really wasn’t a single moment, but the aggregate of those little changes that finally led me to working in music full time about two or three years ago. I guess I’ve always been driven by the fact that nothing feels like making original music; I like a lot of different types of work, but at any job I find myself sort of existentially pulled to spend my time making art.
Q: What artists influenced you the most growing up?
A: I’m still growing up (haha), so I’d say Hiss Golden Messenger, Big Thief, Ryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, War on Drugs, Wilco, Tom Petty. Tip of the tip of the iceberg . . .
Q: How have you evolved creatively?
A: Overall I’m always trying to be aware of musical tradition, but also be sure to be saying something new. Balancing those two forces is really the overarching goal of a good song. I’d also say I am now thinking more melodically than ever. Songwriters write in so many different ways and I’ve come at songs from the guitar a lot; in this next phase of writing I’d like to have lyrics and melody drive the writing, and have the arrangements serve the melody.