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Matt Lenny on his latest album and the challenge of perfectionism



Matt Lenny started his journey in music and in life in Connecticut, making numerous stops before finding his home in Stevensville and his current place as a recording and live artist. Though he has learned plenty along the way, he is quick to point out that additional growth awaits and he has already planned his goals in the new year.


Lenny fell into playing guitar at the age of fifteen, prompted by both the need for a lifeline and a bit of misunderstanding. He was recovering from the culture shock of his family’s move to Tulsa, Oklahoma, as a self-described “chubby, artsy nerd” dropped into the land of football. At a youth religious retreat, a pastor handed him a guitar under the assumption that he played.


“I’d touched a guitar before, but I didn’t know how to play,” Lenny said.


A back and forth discussion was not enough to convince the youth pastor of that fact, so he found himself playing in front of a room of kids, watching another guitarist while trying to keep up. After three days, he had risen to the challenge and discovered his new passion. The young Lenny would play guitar all day on the weekends, as well as performing in a church band, picking up the skill quickly.


“I could play,” he said. “This is something I could do. Maybe I could be cool.”


Lenny spent time in Chicago and eventually attended Northwestern University after high school, following the path to higher education more out of responsibility than knowledge of what he wanted next. Interested in writing and hoping it would help his lyrics, he studied Poetry and Creative Writing. He moved to New York City, taking a job at Matt Umanov Guitars while he considered his next step. The renowned shop was regularly visited by major names in the world of music, including legend Steve Earle, who would change Matt’s life with a few simple chords. He described Earle picking up an inexpensive guitar and applying a few basic strums.


“Every country song ever written walked into the room,” Lenny said. “It really blew my mind. The barometric pressure in the room changes. I call that when the song arrives.”


Earle simply commented on the “nice guitar” and walked out. Lenny, however, was changed forever. He set out to take his playing to the level he witnessed in the guitar shop, aiming to draw power and soul from his music and to learn how to beckon the song to arrive.


Perfectionism has assisted Matt Lenny in honing his craft, but it also created challenges in promoting his music. Always hoping to better a project, he found himself hesitating to promote or release his work. He once found himself with the opportunity to record in a studio in Switzerland, but he never released the work because “it wasn’t good enough.” The challenge to show himself to the world is what drives him today.


After time back in Chicago and finally moving to Stevensville with his family, Matt set about breaking free of his crippling perfectionism. Coming out of the isolation of COVID-19, he arranged to record an album at Local Legend, a studio in Grand Rapids. He recruited his favorite fellow musicians, known from playing for 25 years, asking them to join him on the recording. Each one said yes.


“It was very humbling,” said Matt.


The team worked for three days, learning the songs as they went. He instructed the musicians to learn a tune, be bold, and move on, ignoring worry over whether or not a song worked in the end. Each track was recorded live. A long weekend later, Matt Lenny, along with his band, The Breakdown, had the album For the Birds.


“I’m proud of the record,” he said.


With the music recorded and released, Lenny now turns to the challenge of promoting it. He wants to show his children, one of whom also endures a perfectionist mindset, how to avoid holding oneself back. He hopes to push that further, promoting the album by showing the world his process, his learning, and his stumbles.


“I want to see how sharp a sword I can become,” Lenny said, describing his goal of sharing that process online as a method of also marketing the album. “I want to make music that connects with people.”


Matt Lenny plays out locally at a variety of venues. Information on upcoming shows and on the For The Birds album can be found at mattlenny.com.


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