By Bre Power Eaton | Mercury | February 25, 2015
As an elementary school teacher at Kingston Hill Academy in Saunderstown, Matt Fraza loves putting on plays with his students. The actor and director enjoys the feeling of unpredictable chaos, of not knowing what will actually happen onstage. This same feeling he now thrives on as a musician. Three years ago, the Perryville resident decided it was time to stop just listening to music and make his own instead. His debut album “Let Trouble Go” was released with 75 or Less Records last September.
Congrats on the release of your debut album!
Thanks. The late-in-life debut.
Well, you’re also busy acting and directing, right?
I kind of came to music through that. I had always played guitar, but from acting and directing, the methodology and work in that I brought to music and found out that I could write and perform songs. Before I didn’t know what my place in music was, but then it was like, Oh! You just have to work at it and memorize the best version of what you want to do. It was like acting like a musician, but now I’ve been playing music long enough that I am a musician.
If the album was a cocktail of your inspirations, what is the recipe?
The mixers that come to mind are the artists that I’ve listened to over and over again. Gram Parsons and the early ’70s Stones. I really love Elliott Smith too, but soul music at the same time.
It kind of reminds me of old punk.
That’s something we always hear too. The Velvet Underground, growing up I loved that. There’s a certain quality to it, I think. People wherever we play, they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s got some ’70s New York punk to it.’ I’ll take that as a compliment. I love that kind of music.
Has the album been a work in progress for a while?
I’ve been working on it for about three years maybe. I’ve only been doing the musical performing thing for about three years, but I had that idea, I was in “King Lear” and I was really tired from moving sets and learning all this stuff, and I wanted to do something that I could do on my own time, on my own schedule and not have to listen to what other people were telling me to do, so I wrote the songs in a couple of batches. To get through the recording, it was about three years. Kind of learning how to play shows, playing shows, and learning how to add musicians to it little by little, getting the songs from just one person playing them up to a full band.
How long have you been playing guitar?
12 or 13, around that age. I was playing but I really didn’t know what I was doing. I was messing around.
So now do you feel like you know what you’re doing?
To a degree. I know I have a place in music. I practice a lot to get better at it — just being in the frontman role and playing the guitar. So now that I know what to do, I can get better at that. I hid in the background for a long time because I didn’t think I could, didn’t think I had a good voice, but then you don’t have to feel that way. Anybody can do it.
Teaching, acting, singing. You’re kind of a Renaissance man. Is jumping to the next thing kind of a life pattern for you?
Sort of. It has been a pattern, I guess. I had that accident [in which he lost his lower left leg] when I was 16. Probably for 10 years after that I didn’t do sports. I was active. I worked all the time. I was growing a family at a young age. As I got a little bit older, I went skiing and learned that I could ski, I learned how to surf and got really into surfing for a long time, then picked up the acting. I almost made a conscious decision with music — you never get to the end of learning.
Do you mind if I ask about the accident?
Basically I got hit by a Thunderbird and that was it. I got crunched.
Have you been on crutches for a long time?
On and off. I’ll go long periods of time on the prosthetic, too. I’m kind of in a tricky spot with it right now. Because I’m on crutches and it’s icy, and then I’ll wear the prosthetic, but it hurts. So it’s hard, but it’s not stopping me. The physical stuff, it’s a challenge. But most people that know me don’t see it after a little bit. It’s not that I act like it’s not there, but I try to be fully engaged in whatever I have going on. If you have something that hurts all the time, the best tactic is to fully engage with something.
Which song seems to strike a chord with your fans?
People like “Hit the Wall” a lot since we kind of rev it up.
And it’s motivating. You sing, “I hit the wall, I kept on going. That wall couldn’t stop me.”
It’s a defiant sort of deal. And “Seventeen” people always seem to like because there’s something about it that’s heartfelt.
A nostalgic sort of feeling?
Sort of. I was thinking back on what it’s about — I’ve been married for almost 24 years — but those days, about being 17, I was friends with my wife, since when we were 12 or 13. I just remember we’d be out drinking or whatever in bars with other teenagers and she was holding me up, and she still is! (Laughs.)
Because you got married in your early 20s and started a family, do you feel like now you’re reliving those younger years?
Not really. You can’t. You know too much to be back in your 20s.
If you could open for anyone, who would it be?
Because she’s a daring singer and lyricist and tours with her dog!
Another area of performance in your life is teaching elementary school, where you also teach drama.
We put on so many crazy good plays at Kingston Hill Academy. And that was part of the music thing for me, too. I like putting on a show, dressing up, and having these certain chaotic factors. A lot of it comes from that. The chaos factor is so high when you’re putting on shows with kindergarten to fifth graders. The fun of it is gigantic!
How is that similar to playing music?
Just the excitement of having a show coming up and getting ready for it.
So what do you enjoy more — making records or performing?
They’re two different parts of the same organism. The creation part was fantastic. Working with Tom Chace and Kraig Jordan on the record, making everything as good as you could make it. I think the performance is as or more exciting just because there’s an audience there and there’s a certain element of not knowing what’s going to happen.
Yeah! Keep the band on their toes. Not tell them what’s going to happen. (Laughs.) Bands surprise each other with mistakes. Not in a bad way. Mistakes are a part of performance.
What are your favorite theater roles?
I’ve played in a lot of Shakespeare with Mixed Magic Theatre in Pawtucket: “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Tempest,” “Comedy of Errors.” I played a major role in this show called “An Iliad” with The Wilbury Group. It was one actor and one cellist. I played Homer and all the characters in the story. It was painful to learn, but I did really enjoy it. … It’s the kind of role that I’ll be able to play again down the road. It’s kind of back to the Homeric tradition, like “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” They were passed on for thousands of years by these guys called rhapsodes and basically you’re a rhapsode when you tell the story because you memorize not the whole thing like the rhapsodes did, but they would go from place to place and present it in an exciting way. So I know I can do that.
So you’re a rhapsode?
I kind of have a rhapsode in my back pocket! I’m just happy to know that it’s there. It was worth the work.