Matt Koziol

Rock, Pop, Soul, Blues and Back Again

Linden, New Jersey is a very blue-collar, working-class town. It was best-known for years as the location of a major Exxon refinery and a large GM factory. It lies roughly midway between the major music centers of New York City and Hoboken to the north and Asbury Park and Red Bank to the south. Thanks to the Garden State Parkway, the Turnpike and Routes 1&9, one who lives in the area has easy access to thriving music scenes with vibrant histories.

It's not the sort of place that generally produces its own talent, but that could change. Recently, the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park had a show headlined by Matt Koziol, who calls Linden his hometown. Koziol isn't your typical Jersey rocker, but a mix as eclectic and obscure as the state which birthed artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Count Basie and Lauren Hill.

Koziol, as he discusses in his interview with Chorus and Verse, began his musical journey hearing classic rock and Elvis. Throughout this college student's musical development, he's absorbed influences as diverse as Soul and Gospel, Motown and Pop, from the white-boy blues of John Mayer to white-bread boy-band pop.

What it all produced is a dynamic sound that's part throw-back soul and part modern rock. As Koziol, who is lead guitarist and vocalist, and his band - Anthony Amato (bass), Nick Veltre (drums) and Tracy James (back-up vocals/percussion) - continue to build their reputation across New Jersey and New York City, they should be ready to break-out just about the time they walk on the stage to pick up their diplomas.

You had a gig last week at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Any thoughts on the show and how it went? Does playing the Pony have any special meaning for you, being a Jersey boy yourself?

Well, playing at the Pony is always a great time! There's such a good vibe when you walk in the door. Most of the staff knows us there by now and they're always happy to have us back, so the greeting alone sets out the pace for a good night. The show on the 28th to me went fairly well. I know I had a few sour notes on my guitar in the first song, and our bass player's string broke in the third, but that was just our way of getting our nerves out. From that point on it was smooth sailing. That night was a live recording so we didn't try to stray too far away from what we were used to playing, but we did try out some new material and we added a few cool finishing touches to our set.

There's always a great feeling playing at the Pony being a "Jersey" boy. I mean, granted, I didn't grow up down there like Bruce Springsteen. But, if you grow up in New Jersey, you have pride in New Jersey. I know that Linden, New Jersey is the place that made me the musician and the person I am today. If I grew up in another state I would bet I would not have been the same. So I am proud of where I'm from, and proud of the great musicians who have come up in this state before me.

Playing the Pony is this type of "out-of-body" experience that gives you no other feeling in the world. Just standing on the stage and realizing all the people who have played here before you and all the history that has past through those doors is incredible. It really is such a humbling experience.

Give us a little run down of your history. When did you first start becoming interested in music, and how did that interest develop into songwriting and performing?

I was born in Linden, and ever since I can remember the very first song I ever heard was "Hound Dog" from Elvis Presley. I must have been about three years old, and it had blown me away! It was from that moment I knew what I wanted to do. I know it seems a bit ridiculous that a three-year-old would know what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, but once I heard the sounds coming out of the oldies station on the radio in my mother's car, I knew I was meant for that.

As I grew up, I discovered different styles of music and one of those was Motown. The way I stumbled upon this genre was actually from Saturday morning cartoons! The California Raisins would sing "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" every Saturday morning and I would be glued to the television singing along! So if you meet anyone who says you can't learn from watching TV, they're wrong! (Laughs.)

Once I hit the fifth grade I started listening to current pop music. At the time the currents artists were The Backstreet Boys, N*sync, Britney Spears, 98 Degrees, etc. That is where I really started developing my voice. I would turn on their records in my room everyday after school and sing as much as I wanted until someone came home!

Do you remember the first time you performed a song that you had written for someone? Were you always confident in your songwriting ability or did it take you a while to be able to put it out there for people?

Yes, I do remember singing my first song I ever wrote and I was SCARED AS HELL! (Laughs.) I mean, it was the very first time someone was actually going to hear what I thought and how I felt expressed in my own way! It's a very hard thing to put your heart and soul out to the public like that because sometimes the public can be cruel. You're looking for people who'll appreciate it, rather than put it down. The comfort comes with time, but I can still say every time I try out a new tune I still get nervous to know what people will think about it.

When and where was your first paid gig? Since you have a laid-back reputation, do you naturally take to being on stage and performing, or do you deal with nerves before a show? Do you have any pre-show rituals that you go through to get ready to hit the stage?

My first paying gig was when I was a freshman in high school. I played at a coffee shop in Union, NJ called Van Gogh's Ear Café. My high school choir teacher actually recommended it to me. She said [they] had open mic nights on Tuesdays. So, one Tuesday night, my entourage - which consisted of my mother and grandmother - and I went to the café and I played for five minuets. Right after that that had asked me back, and that was my first real gig; and I played for an hour.

Nerves are never a huge issue for me. I grew up doing a great deal of musical theatre and that kind of killed the nerve aspect for any show. I mean, of course I'll still get nervous, but it's not to the point I can't play. I put it this way; if you're not nervous, you're not ready. Nerves show that you're excited to play, and so what you hit a bad note here or there! That's just you getting comfortable, and once you get past that, you're golden!

You cite John Mayer as an influence and there's a YouTube video of the band performing a Michael Jackson cover at the Pony. Do most of your influences tend more towards blues, soul and R&B, rather then rock and pop? What sort of music attracted you when you were growing up and what do you find yourself buying and listening to these days?

Yes. Yes. And yes. Those three genres are what I believe to be the essentials of life. Blues, soul and R&B are the three styles that get me through whatever it is I'm trying to get through. They are what wake me up and put me to rest. Without those three, I honestly do not know what kind of person I would be. Now I can't say they're the only styles to influence me. I mean, some country and some rock. I love rap, and even club music. Then throw in a little gospel on Sundays and you've got it made!

Like I said before, I listen to everything. While I was growing up it was Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye and the Temptations. Then I went into the Pop scene with the Backstreet Boys and N*sync and Hanson. As I went into junior high school I became more familiar with Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. As high school came around, I started listening to Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Guy, James Taylor - my father's favorite - and B.B. King. Then, about a year ago, I got big into Gospel music with artists such as Kirk Franklin, J Moss, and Hezekiah Walker.

Right now I've been listening to a lot of Beatles stuff. The Police's "Greatest Hits" is on heavy rotation in my car. John Mayer and Stevie Ray Vaughan are a constant must everyday. I've been listening to a new artist that has just come out named Marc Broussard. He does a lot of old soul music and I really dig it. And it's still safe to say that Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life" has not left my car stereo since I began driving!

In a recent Myspace blog, you mentioned that you're ready to head back to school. Where are you attending and what's your major? Is there a good music scene at your school and how is the campus for places to catch live music?

I go to Kean University and I was a Vocal Music major up until about two weeks ago when I changed to an Audio Broadcasting major. I'm not knocking the program, but it's a mainly classical department and, I'll be honest, I wasn't looking on becoming the next Pavarotti.

The music scene on campus is slim to none. I'm guessing that goes to the fact we're 20 minutes from New York City. So, if we wanted to play, or hear good music, we could just go there. However, the campus is not music heavy.

Is it a challenge keeping the band together and building on your music career while keeping up with school? Do you plan to keep playing locally until you graduate and then pursue your musical career full-time?

It's not really hard to keep up with the group being we all still live in Linden. The only one who doesn't is our bass player, Anthony Amato. He attends Rowan University in Glassborough, NJ. It's rough sometimes for him to come home, but like the true "king" he is, he makes it up here to play and he's ready at all times!

The way I look at it is like this: I will keep going to school and play as many places as possible. I will not [let] school get in the way of a dream. However, I will not let prior engagements interrupt my education. Now, as far as waiting till I graduate to go full time into music is concerned, if something happens then school will always be there. If I'm given a once-in-a-lifetime chance, I'm going to take it! There is no one to tell me otherwise. School will always be available. However, a chance to do what you love may not. So, if the time comes and I can take the safe road and stay in school and finish, then try, or go for it and hope for the best. I guess I'll be crossing not only fingers, but my toes too, because I'm going to take the chance!

What are your plans for going into the studio and recording a new album? Do you have material ready to go and do you anticipate that fans will be able to get their hands on a CD from you guys in the near future?

I do plan to head into the studio soon. I have all of it laid out and ready to be worked on. We have some of the tracks down now, but haven't been back for a while due to the shows we've been playing. We haven't really had time to collect ourselves and get back to the studio as of now. However, over the winter we are going to take the time and really knock out track-by-track of the record. I'm looking to get it out to fans within the next year!

How you see yourself promoting your band and music in the future? Is Myspace still the way to go, or are there other avenues opening up for bands to get out there? Do you hope to do gigs outside of the New Jersey area and what other ways do you hope to connect with fans and build a reputation?

I think Myspace is still a great tool for bands to use to promote their music and I'm a big believer in it! However, I have always been comfortable with playing gigs to let people hear your music. I mean it's great that you can cut a great demo and put it on Myspace for everyone to hear, but unless they see it live they won't connect with it. So I would like to play many more gigs in the upcoming year! That is how, I believe, the real promoting should be done; by just simply playing the music live for people. We have played a few shows in NYC as of now, but I would love to play more outside of the state, sure. It's always interesting to see new faces and meet new people from different parts of the country and see how they react with your music! I like to meet every fan. I just like to be their friend. I don't want to be looked at as some musician that is "too cool for school." I mean, I'll be their friend; if they come up to me during a show, I'll talk to them and get to know who they are. If they send me a comment on Myspace, I will hit them back up because I usually spend most my time on there anyway. It's addicting! So, I would like to promote the music, and myself, by just talking to the fans. I know it seems too simple to work, but I think they would appreciate someone more if they could just talk to them and not worry about if they're going to be snobby or rude. I just want them to come say hi!

What else would you like to say to your fans who might be reading? Are there any shows or upcoming projects that you'd like people to watch out for, and where you do hope to see your music progress over the year ahead?

We have a few shows coming up. Our biggest is on the 8th of December at The Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ. We will be opening up for The Machine, a Pink Floyd cover band. We also have a local show at Van Gogh's Ear Café in Union, NJ on October 23rd. To stay updated with all the upcoming shows, fans can check out: Hit us up! Add us as your friend and leave us a comment!

And for those who are reading, fans or not, I would like to say that this music is from the soul. I hope those who hear it enjoy it, and for those who haven't heard, maybe you should test drive it. But I can promise one thing, and that is once you hear it, you won't be able to get enough, and I have so much more to give! So this train won't stop as long as you come and enjoy, because I'll keep putting it out there for you to enjoy!

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Matt Mrowicki

Matt Mrowicki founded Chorus and Verse in 2001. He is a rock star designer and technologist, Internet professional, content creator, and entrepreneur specializing in web development, IT consulting, branding, social media and online marketing.