Matthew L. Fisher is a remarkably gifted musician whose music has captivated me from the very first song I ever heard by him and Spotify is who I can credit for the introduction. That song – Home is ahead – the World is behind – so captivated me I not only played it over and over, I looked for anything else I could find by him. That search lead to information about Matthew that in turn compelled me to try to find him and in some way make a connection. Thank you, Facebook. He is as kind and generous in person as his music is beautiful.
Matthew’s story fascinates me for several reasons. One riveting aspect to his story is that in spite of having composed a large body of work over a remarkable range of musical genres, Matthew does all of it “by ear”. He cannot read or write music. He did not start out as a small child being given music lessons. He did not train for years to become a composer. One day as a teenager he heard a piece of music that woke up something in him and triggered a desire to move others as he had been moved. Longing became pursuing. Pursuing became creating. Creating became accomplishing. Accomplishing became a foundation. This pursuit from the beginning gave Matthew a channel to develop discipline and focus, and it offered him both an outlet for his deep creative capacity and shelter through times of difficulty. Through one man’s art another man received his calling to his own art. Art begets art. Another aspect of Matthew’s story that interests me is that when he responded to that call he did not treat it like a passing fancy. He did not let go of it when it became hard or when it did not make practical sense. The call took hold of him and Matthew did not walk away when the cost might have seemed too high or the developing the craft to create too demanding. He didn’t quit when it would surely have been easier to do so.
The other element that drew me irresistibly to Matthew and his music is how deeply integrated his faith is with his composing. He does not compose on one side of himself and keep his faith “a private matter” on another side. Faith itself is woven into the fibre of the music Matthew makes and that music becomes a part of the vocabulary of faith, not only for Matthew but for every one of his listeners whether or not they recognise it. Beauty speaks for itself and woos the wary mind to open the heart.
Allow me please to introduce you to one of my great joys of this past year ~ the brilliant, kind and persevering composer – Matthew L. Fisher.
LES: Matthew, your music is strikingly evocative and emotionally nuanced and it covers a remarkable range of genres. You started playing the piano through a rather different approach than many do. Would you share some of your story with us about how you came to play at all and how that process has developed since?
MF: Well it all started when I began playing piano by ear in high school. I was about 17 years old at the time. I had always thought it would be “cool” to be in a band, so I gave the piano a try. Sitting at the piano immediately felt natural and comfortable for me. All of the notes were laid out in front of me and each note gave a different feeling in my mind. My songs started out as simple single note ditty’s. Then I gradually learned which notes sounded well together, and how to express emotions by hitting certain notes. That led to an understanding of how chords worked. Needless to say, the process took many hours and sleepless nights! I kept playing piano as a fun hobby and then I got to college. I decided to take some music theory classes to get a better understanding of what it was that I was actually doing on the piano. Frankly, I hated it. I don’t even know how I passed the classes! I dropped out and relied purely on feelings to continue composing my music rather than theory. Shortly after dropping out, I composed a few songs on the piano and shared it with my friends and family. I was completely taken back by the positive response I got. It was at that moment that I decided to record my first piano solo album titled, “Home Is Ahead… The World Behind.” The album had success and I stuck with it! I continued to be inspired by all sorts of genres and knew that if I kept relying on my ears and the melodies in my head, there was no limit to the music I could create! That’s when I started delving into the world of orchestral music. I loved film scores, so I listened to the scores and carefully evaluated the sound of each instrument and what instruments were used to create certain textures and emotions. I dug deeper and read about the technology and techniques I could use to create orchestral music, and I am currently learning and studying more every day.
LES: Why did you want to impact people creating your own music and in what way?
MF: I was listening to a film score from Hans Zimmer titled, “The Da Vinci Code” in my car at night. The song was called, “Chevaliers De Sangreal”. While listening to the song, something came over me, and I was struck with emotion and imagery of God and the book of Revelation. I’m not sure why those images came out in my mind. I began to cry. Music had never touched me on a spiritual level like that before. I knew in that moment that I wanted to compose music that affected people the same way it affected me.
LES: Why did you choose “a path to compose by feeling and emotions rather than reading and writing notes on paper”?
MF: Learning theory and reading notes felt so restrictive and frustrating to me. I understand that knowledge of theory can give someone more flexibility when writing, but it was the opposite for me. There was something liberating about making music purely by feel. It gives me a more creative approach to the whole writing process.
LES: Does the fact that you cannot read or write musical notes limit you or liberate you or is it something else for you?
MF: Definitely liberates me and allows me to enjoy the limitless possibilities of sound.
LES: Given that you do not write musical notes, Matthew, how are you able to offer Sheet Music?
MF: I compose my music on a midi keyboard. A midi keyboard is basically a full sized, weighted piano that I can plug into my computer using an Ethernet cable. I am able to record whatever I am playing on that midi keyboard into my computer. The notes I play on the keyboard get recorded into the computer as “midi notes”. When the song is finished. I send the “midi note” files to my arranger and he translates it into musical notation.
LES: I have read that Hans Zimmer’s music has strongly influenced and inspired you. What did you hear in his music that inspired you and what was different in it that you perhaps didn’t hear in others? What called to you in his music or through it?
MF: His score for “DaVinci Code”, as I mentioned earlier, was a huge influencer for me. I think that is partly what makes his music so special to me. Another huge reason is that he never went to music school or had lessons. He, like me, learned to make music using only his ears and the emotions he felt. He does not limit himself to the confines of theory and what music is “supposed” to be. I look to him as an example of what I can accomplish if I stick with it.
LES: A Dark Hero reminds me of Hans Zimmer’s Molossus and Vespertilio for the Batman Begins soundtrack. Both pieces are very intense with dark undercurrents and yet moments that have some wisp of light. What do you tap into in yourself to create this kind of music and the music you use for Epic Trailers?
MF: I think it may be inspired from what I see around me in our world. We live in a dark place here on earth. It is filled with sin. Our life here is a constant battle with the devil. Light and darkness constantly conflict with each other. I equate that with the bigger epic music I create. I love telling a story on a grand scale using both good and evil as inspiration in their own way. I also heavily rely on images of nature, the universe and the vastness of everything God has created.
LES: How does your faith inform and influence the music you compose and why you compose?
MF: I believe that all our gifts are given from God and feel extremely blessed each day that God gave me the gift of music. I feel a responsibility not to squander and waste it. In so doing, I have felt that it was absolutely necessary for me to send a spiritual message using my music as the avenue. My faith is often the influencer of my songs. It puts the melodies in my head. When I go through a struggle or a life-changing event, I sit down at the piano. Those are the times that God really speaks to me and works something in my heart to make something special on the piano.
LES: Would you tell me about the song “Home is ahead – the World is behind”? That is the first piece of music I heard of yours (heard via Spotify) and I fell instantly in love with it. I am especially struck by the implications of its mirrored meaning to J.R. R. Tolkien’s poem “Edge of Night” in The Fellowship of the Ring which includes these lines:
LES: What is the story behind that title?
MF: My friends and I are huge Tolkien fans! The title for that song was completely inspired by what he wrote in his book. The song had this feeling as if someone were leaving the struggles of this earth and ascending into glory. While trying to find a title I remembered Tolkien’s phrase, “Home is behind, the world ahead”. I looked at it and realized that if I switched the words around it would make perfect sense for my song while giving a nod to an amazing author.
LES: What is the story behind your song “Uganda” which is now titled “Life of Africa”? This piece of music is texturally very rich and very animated. How did you compose and then create the layers of it that make it into what we hear as your audience? What feeling were you hoping to inspire or what actions?
MF: My brother Chris felt the call to do some mission work in Uganda about 3 or 4 years ago after adopting their child from Africa. I composed the song for him to use on the slide show they used for their fundraisers back then. That was the real motive behind the song. Since then, I have fallen in love for ethnic/world music and trying to learn more about the musical styles of all types of cultures. My process is always different when I write music, but for this one I started out with a lot of experimentation. I explored a huge variety of different African style instruments. Then I put all the ones that I liked together and started composing. I wanted the song to feel like you are in Africa so I made sure to draw attention to the ethnic percussion right at the beginning. Then I knew I had to create a sense of wild life and excitement by adding lively strings. After that, the song also had to reflect the many struggles and hardships in Africa. I showed this by using an emotional female vocalist backed by deep drums. Then I knew the song had to lift out into something inspiring and memorable, so I transitioned into a soaring string melody and end with a triumphant climax. Through this piece, my goal was to move people and allow them to get a taste for what many people in Africa feel in their lives every day.
LES: On a related note (please excuse that pun!) tell me about your African Style Collection on Audio Jungle at Envato Market? I absolutely love the piece Inspirational Africa. How does purchasing a license to use your music from Envato Market work?
MF: I’m always a sucker for a good pun! Good one! The process of purchasing a license is very simple on Audiojungle.
1.) Sign up an account from the home page
2.) Connect your paypal or whichever payment method you would like
3.) Start exploring my portfolio and find a song you are interested in
4.) Select what type of license you want (most small independent projects only require standard license)
5.) Then click “Buy Now”
That’s it! I’m always available for questions as well if anyone gets stuck – just send an email to me.
LES: I am really mesmerized by your entire collection of music for licensing. You have African, Oriental, and Desert for global sounds in that collection and the drum collection has a decidedly African undercurrent. What makes you able to create music that evokes such a sense of place for global areas and why does this matter to you?
MF: Thank you! I think a lot of it has to do with how much nature television I watch. I always had a passion for nature and wild life growing up. BBC and Discovery Network always travel to different countries and locations to film exotic places and creatures. Watching that allowed me to gain an understanding of what the world is like. I think that has given me the most inspiration. I am also a huge fan of African and world film scores. One of my favorites is “Blood Diamond” composed by James Newton Howard. I drew a lot of influence from that.
LES: Another piece that I love is from your fabulous Christmas album Glorious Christmas – “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. I have played it more than a hundred times and not simply at Christmas. How do you come to a piece of traditional music that has significant history and recreate it with fresh sound and perspective?
MF: I listen to Christmas at all times of the year, so I’m glad to hear I’m not alone! I really wanted to recreate this song to have a really emotional and modern feel. I suppose a majority of my influences are modern composers, so it comes out that way. I always felt that “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” should have this serene yet epic feeling to it that people didn’t usually associate with the song. A new approach is always refreshing to traditional music that people have heard done the same way for years.
LES: I love your new website! How did that come about? And tell us about your logo!
MF: Thanks a lot! Fortunately, I have an amazing friend named Brad who is a computer guru and web designer. Brad and I have been friends since 2nd grade. We grew up in the same church, went to the same school and had the same passions. He has helped me along my musical journey from the beginning and is a huge reason I’m doing music today. My cousin is a photographer and took all the photography, which I was so happy with!
The logo took a lot of trial and error. I wanted something that looked professional, yet simple and clean. Brad and I sat and played around with shapes and drawings until we stumbled across a diamond shape. We put my initials in it, but it still felt like something was missing. After more trial and error, Brad had the interesting idea of putting an audio symbol at the top of the diamond to polish it off. Then Brad created it in the computer and the logo was born. I feel that branding yourself is something that is becoming more important in today’s society. There are so many people trying to do the same things, so you need to have something that sets you apart. I knew a unique logo was absolutely a must!
LES: Right now, you have a beautiful new release out now titled “Lullabies”. A number of these pieces feature the beautiful vocals of Bree Fisher (your wife?). What prompted you to take on this an exploration of this genre? What is it like collaborating with Bree?
MF: Yes, Bree is my wife. Fortunately I found an amazing woman who is willing to put up with my crazy career path! She also happens to love music and has a passion for singing. What more could I ask for! I played piano in the streets of my city at a big art festival called, “Artprize”. During the day, many moms would be walking around with their children at their side or in their strollers. Many of those moms found the music I was playing relaxing and meditative. In between playing, I talked to many of them and they all said they would love a soft relaxing lullaby piano cd for their babies and young children. I happily obliged and took the advice. Having a baby on the way was a pretty big catalyst for the creation of the album as well! Collaborating with Bree was a fun experience. We are both very critical of ourselves, but once we get over the initial self-doubt phase, we were good to go and it was smooth sailing from there!
LES: Matthew, every artist I have ever known personally or have read about has faced dark times in their lives and creative work. What gives you the courage to keep creating and to develop your craft when it is difficult and you go through dark times? What drives you to create beauty when the world around us is so filled with ugliness and fear?
MF: The ugliness and dark times in my own life are something that I coped with through my music. God gave me a way to escape the fears and anxiety of this world. That way was music for me. I always struggled with finding my purpose in life. I know we are put here to glorify God, but I always had a tough time finding something I was passionate about and helped fulfill me in my life. Music was an answer to my prayers. All of my fears and darkness is filtered out through my music. I think this is why much of my music is dark and emotional with an uplifting touch to it. It is so much easier for me to make emotional music than it is for me to make happy upbeat music.
LES: What anchors you in life and holds you in a stable place as a creative?
MF: God, my wife, close friends and family. I rely so much on God to take care of my needs. I think God has brought me closer to Him throughout the process of my musical career. There are so many times in my life where I literally don’t know where the jobs or money is going to come from. I continue to pray and trust that God will provide, and He ALWAYS does. He does not abandon us when we place our trust in Him. I am living proof! I rely on Him more and more as I get older. Making a living composing music has always been a struggle, but it was always something He called me to do no matter what.
I used to pray that God would take the passion for music away so I could settle for something stable and safe.
That was not His plan. I took a leap of faith, quit college and followed my calling.
A few verses that kept me going over the years:
LES: What role do close relationships and community play in the success of your work as a creative and in your maturity as a believer?
MF: Having friends and family of like-minded faith is of huge importance. They are there to keep you grounded and keep your head on straight as a follower of Christ. The entertainment and music industry brings forth tough decisions for me. My friends and family are there to help me make those decisions. In fact, I was recently offered a great job doing music for a Horror film. The temptation was enticing. It could have catapulted my career and offered huge success. I was offered a large sum of money and we needed the money so bad. Upon reading the script, I knew it was something that I needed to pray about. My friends and family were there to back me up and encourage me in my final decision as a Christian to decline doing the music for it. That was the most recent example of why a Christian community is vital to your growth in maturity as a believer.
LES: What are you most satisfied with in your work? Are there pieces that you feel you got closest to capturing the elusive “bird in the net” as C.S. Lewis called it – capturing the song you heard inside yourself or the emotions that inspired it?
MF: I am my worst critic. I always feel that I can’t make something as good as I want it to be. I always fall short of my expectations for myself. I’m still waiting for that moment where I can sit back and say, “Wow, that was it. The best piece I will ever compose.” The day may never come, but I will continue to work towards it. I have a huge project I am thinking about doing many years down the road, which I can’t talk about yet, but I hope that moment will come then.
LES: Where do you hope to see your music going in this next year and the years ahead? What do you hope your legacy to be as a composer and man of God?
MF: Honestly, I don’t know. I have been letting God guide me each day. I have given up on trying to plan out my life. God’s plan is perfect. This year has taught me a great deal of patience in so many different ways. I have learned that you just need to do what God calls you to do in your heart, and He will take care of the rest. At the end of the day, I hope people can continue to be more inspired and spiritually moved by the music I create!
Additional Resources and links:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtxyY1zwCI0 – Broken Vessel
My hearty thanks to Matthew Fisher for taking the time to share in this interview and for creating music that is so magnificent!
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is the Founder & Executive Director of Cultivating & The Cultivating Project. She has served in executive management, church leadership, boards, and Art & Faith organizations over 30 years. She & her husband Peter have parented 7 children, & have a flock of beloved grandchildren. Lancia loves garden and website design, beautiful typography, road trips, being read aloud to by Peter, & cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.
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