Matt Zarley is a singer/songwriter and actor who has lit up the Broadway stage, television, and has released 3 solo albums thus far. Matt began his career at 12 years old, dancing with "Tony the Tiger" in a Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes commercial. Subsequently, his career has taken him to Broadway where, still just a teenager, he made his Broadway debut in "A Chorus Line." He has also appeared in "Cats," "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Chicago," and has played the title roles in both "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and The Who’s "Tommy" on Broadway.
Matt’s passion for music led him from Broadway to songwriting and recording. His first solo album, "Debut," which was released in 2002 received critical acclaim, and featured the Billboard dance hit, “You Always Want (what u ain’t got)” and "Say Goodbye;" which is also featured on the all-star Human Rights Campaign (HRC) benefit CD, "Being Out Rocks," alongside such artists as Cyndi Lauper, Sarah McLachlan, and Rufus Wainright, among others.
Matt's next CD, "Here I Am," released in 2008, had its title track chosen as one of the 2008 "American Idol Songwriter" competition’s Top 20 finalists in the prestigious national contest. The EP also features the ballads "Had I Known," "Deep Inside," and "All That Matters," a duet with Ty Taylor that focuses on gay marriage. Matt's latest CD, "Change Begins With Me" features the hit singles "WTF" and "Perfect."
Additionally, Matt is also an internationally published songwriter and has had numerous songs recorded and released overseas by some of the biggest names in international music. He had the distinction of being named the first openly gay bachelor in People Magazine’s "Hottest Bachelors" issue in 2002 – opening the door for other openly gay men to be featured in the mainstream publication.
No stranger to television, Matt has appeared in the Disney adaptations of "Cinderella," "Annie," and "Geppetto." He has also had the good fortune of working with such artists as Vanessa Williams, Whitney Houston, Usher, Reba McEntire, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Brandy, and Peabo Bryson.
A huge supporter of the LGBT community, Matt has performed at a variety of events including the 2008 LA Pride Festival, on the Rosie O’Donnell Family Cruise, Atlantis Events, various HRC dinners, Market Days in Chicago, and major fundraising appearances including the S.T.A.G.E. benefit in Los Angeles.
Matt just released "Trust Me," his latest single and accompanying video, about a fictional "sweater-vest wearing" GOP presidential candidate who gets caught in a hot tub with his male lover. The video features many of Matt's former Broadway buddies including Jolie Jenkins (they did "Tommy" together) as his wife and Chuck Saculla ("Aida" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") as his "hot tub" lover. The song is currently climbing the European dance charts jumping from #30 to #7 after only two weeks. Matt is set to perform at numerous Pride festivals this summer, as well as, Broadway Bares Fire Island in June!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a singer/songwriter/performer? I've always been a performer in some way or another. When I was a kid, I used put on shows for my parents and their friends. That was the beginning of my performing. In terms of what inspired me, believe or not, my first musical infatuation/obsession was Captain & Tennille. When I was about 5 years old, I was obsessed with them. I know I'm dating myself, but I loved them. When I really started singing and getting honed in on wanting to work in music, my biggest inspiration was Whitney Houston and that was around the same time she was becoming really big. I would really dissect and study her performances. I was very, very influenced by her and that mid 80s-early 90s era. I would also study Babyface, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Kahn, and Billy Joel. There are many more that influenced me.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? I would love to work with India Arie. I love, love, love her. She's one of the few artists who's album you can put on and listen to the whole thing. Her music tells a story, she's unique. I'd love to work with is Pink. I think she's one of the best artists of the last decade. There are not many other people out there who are on the same level as her. She can sing, she can write, she can put on a great live show and she's interesting and unique.
3. I've been listening to your latest album, "Change Begins With Me" and I have to say, I think your music is very honest and heartfelt and I think a lot of people can identify with your music. I find this album to be one of deep introspective of love and growth and I was just wondering how did you decide that "Change Begins With Me" would be the name of the album and how did you decide on the concept of it? That's probably one of the biggest questions I get, "Where did that title come from?" It's really the most pop friendly title, but the whole album was born out of a break up I had a few years ago. The first song I wrote for the album was "Forgive Me (For Not Forgiving You)," which is sort of a 180 from "Change Begins With Me" in the sense that when I was working through break-up in the beginning, the wounds were very fresh, and it was at a time of the break-up when your partner isn't reacting or taking responsibility in the way you want them too and you sort of hit a wall. That's where "Forgive Me (For Not Forgiving You)" came from. I can't go any further than what I've done, now you have to step up to the front. Then I realized through the course of writing the album, over the next six months and as cliche as it is, you can't expect people to change, people are who they are, and out of that realization came "Apology," "I'll Always Remember," and "Change Begins With Me," which are definitely on the other side of the spectrum. During this whole process, I really took ownership of my responsibility and my contribution to the break-up. If I wanted things to be different in my life, I had to make changes within myself first and make sure that doesn't happen again. I think that's true for anything in life. I think we all get caught in a rut at times, but if you want things to be different, you have make the changes yourself. So, that's where "Change Begins With Me" comes from.
4. One of your most recent singles was "Perfect," which I liked a lot. I think most people dream of finding that perfect person. What I like about your take on it is that in the song you say "You're perfect to me." I think that's very important to relay to people and remind people that it doesn't matter what some else thinks of who you're dating or with, it's what you think.
Matt: Yeah, I think that is so true. The lyrics and the choruses of that particular song are "I never thought you'd be everything I thought I need," which means that I never thought you would be what I would want, whether that be physically or emotionally or whatever that is for somebody. I think sometimes you have expectations of what the other person, your perfect soulmate, is going to turn out to be, but then you meet someone and their nothing like what you thought, but instead, they exceed all your expectations. That's what the song is about and in the video it depicts all kinds of relationships. Everyone has the right to love who they want to love, whether you are gay or straight. That's why I wanted to depict that in the video, to show we are all the same, we all need and want love in our lives. I love that song.
Me: I agree. I think that's what we are all looking for.
5. What have you learned about yourself from being a singer/songwriter and how do you feel your music has grown over the years? Like most artists, I think it's really much easier to write from a place of heartbreak because your emotions are more accessible. I try to tap into the moments when I'm happy, like "Perfect." It's hard for me now to go back and listen to my old music because I don't feel it's written very well, but I do think I've become a much stronger melody writer over the years. Lyrically, I can always push myself further and take a little different approach sometimes. I think people identify with my music so much because the lyrics are relatable, but there are other writers that are stronger than me who can really create images with their lyrics and it might take an additional second to get what they are saying and has a brilliant resolution at the end.
On the next project, I am going to push myself more in that direction of painting a picture. For this album, my objective was to be very obtainable and I just wanted people to connect with that.
Me: I think you did achieve that. In listening to the album there were many songs where I felt, "I can identify with that." With "WTF," I've had plenty of dates where it hasn't worked out and I'm like "WTF" just happened.
Matt: That song wasn't even going to be part of this project. It wasn't even about my ex. It was about someone I dated after my ex and I had the idea on my way to Chicago, where I was going to write with the producer I wrote "Trust Me" with and we were going to write another song together, but then "WTF" came into my mind and I got off the plane and said, let's just write this song and we wrote it that night. We were 't even going to have the word "fuck" be in the song and we were going to have it bleeped out which I thought would be funny, but then I played the song for my dad and I asked him what he thought and he said that he liked it and I should keep the word in, so we did. So, it was my dad that was the deciding factor.
Me: That's so awesome. Well, I think it works too, so I'm glad you kept it in.
6. What's the best advice you've ever received? Keep studying and try to get as much experience as you can performing. That was the advice of my first voice teacher in NY. I think that is the advice I would give to a new artist as well. Studying and performing builds your confidence and stamina as well.
7. You started out in theatre, performing on Broadway. What made you want to move more into music? What do you get from performing your own music that you did not get from starring on Broadway? That's a good question. I always wanted to do music and the theatre thing was sort of an accident. I auditioned for "Cats," at an open call, the summer I graduated high school. I started out as a dancer and I thought to myself, "Let me go to this open call and see what happens." I had never been to an audition before for theatre and I went, got the role, and moved to NY which was very surreal because it was not in my game plan to move to NY and do theatre.
I still wanted to do music and while I was in NY doing theatre, I started moving from a dancing role to singing and understudying a lot of the leads. I had always wanted to record, that's where my passion was, so I started writing then, and decided after the last show I did on Broadway closed, I really need to go back to LA to pursue this. After the show closed, I got a Broadway tour and took it so I could save up enough money to go back to LA and do my first demo and get the ball rolling. It was a work in progress for many, many years.
It's funny, I was talking to my mom a few months back and told her I would love to go to NY now with the experience and tools I have now, which I didn't have before. Now I have more of an appreciation for the kind of work I did on Broadway. I was always thinking about my next job instead of looking at the whole experience of what was happening. I would love to come back to NY now and do Broadway for about 6 months.
Me: It would be great to have you back on Broadway. With your voice, talent, and looks, it would be really great!
8. How did you make the decision to be an openly gay artist and what did it mean to be the first openly gay artist featured in People magazine? That happened by accident too. I was in talks to sign with Sony records at one point and some questions came up like "Are you gay? How are you going to handle that?" At that time it was on the heels of Ricky Martin's resurgence and the label was dealing with that, so I knew that was an issue for them, but then I ended up signing with Universal about 6-9 months after that and People magazine approached my publicist and asked if I would be interested in being the first openly gay bachelor in the issue. We've never had one and we would really like to have one. I was about to release my album and I wasn't really open about it, but it was an unbelievable opportunity and it just felt right and that is how it was born that I became an out artist.
Me: I'm glad you decided to be out and open. I always hope more artists do that. I think it helps others.
Matt: Now, it's the only way. I can't believe anyone would want to be any other way than who they are. It's definitely more acceptable. I think the more of us that are out, it helps pave the way for others.
9. Favorite way to stay in shape? Don't eat...hahaha. I love spinning. I love doing cardio. I love hiking with my dogs. I love being outside. I'm not a huge gym person, but I do go because it's part of my regime.
10. Boxers or Briefs? Oh briefs. I need the support...hahaha. I like old school briefs...like tighty whities.
11. Favorite website? Probably yours...hehe. CNN and the Huffington Post are the ones I go to the most, but there are some fun sites like D-listed I go to (he named me "Hot Slut of the Day" a few months back, and at that time I hadn't gone to the site that much, but my friends were like, "Oh my god, that's such an honor" and I was like "Really?" They were like, "Yeah."), so now I go to D-listed often.
Matt: Do you agree that there is a lot of nastiness on many of these entertainment sites?
Matt: I found that there is. It's so easy to get your voice out there now, for me and for you, and it's really easy to be hurt. I think there is a lot bad energy and cattiness out there and I just try to stay away from that.
Me: I definitely think there is a lot of that bad energy out there, which is why when I started my blog, I made the conscious decision not to do gossip or news. It was strictly to be interviews and reviews of shows that I like and that's my content. I think in the long run it will be good for me, but I don't get the millions of hits that other sites get, but at the end of the day I'm not hurting anybody.
Matt: I think it's great you have your own voice and a positive one.
Me: Thank You.
12. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? I never really got to know my grandparents because they passed away when I was a kid. I wish they were around so I could have a relationship with them as an adult.
If I could dream about any celebrity, it would definitely be Ben Cohen. He seems like an awesome person with all that he is doing.
13. Superman or Wonder Woman? Superman. I know Wonder Woman would be more gay, but...