Like so many before him, Matt’s love of music began at an early age, and he began singing in the church. Growing up in a large musical Christian family in Western Pennsylvania, while peers were dreaming of becoming athletes or businesspeople, Matt was busy organizing his siblings and neighborhood friends into concerts or musical productions. In high school, he took voice & piano lessons and became involved in church youth worship teams and performing bands. One summer he watched on as one of his younger sisters returned home from her first short term mission trip. She was completely changed. There was a fire in her eyes that he wanted too, and so he made the choice to serve on the mission field during the summer between high school and college. At the training the first night for that mission project he prayed, "God, break my heart for the world." It was a dangerous prayer! It would turn out to be the first of many trips to Peru, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Mexico as a missionary, worship leader, peer, and team leader, and eventually as a trip organizer and project director. Matt would go on to become proficient in Spanish and serve in various bilingual worship settings on the Texas/Mexico border, later teaching high school Spanish and becoming a world languages department leader.
Matt’s college years at Eastern University in Philadelphia, PA would be the most shaping time in his life musically. Convinced by a friend to audition for a solo in the gospel choir Angels of Harmony, Matt sang Whitney Houston’s version of “I Love the Lord”; he could not have imagined at the time how this choice would change the course of his musical journey. He spent the next four years being closely mentored by the choir director, learning about songwriting, performing, choral conducting, and providing spiritual leadership to a team. Matt soloed on two independent albums that the choir recorded at Forge Records, and toured the Eastern US, Europe, and Egypt. The choir would provide a community of incredible friendships that remain today. Additionally, he would meet his wife Erin the second week of college, marrying her after graduation.
One quiet evening under the expansive, starry sky on a mission trip to Eagle Pass, TX at the age of 23, Matt felt the Lord tugging at his heart, confirming His call to lead and write music to encourage the church. He decided to begin writing and recording original music and started performing at college and church events, coffeehouses, and songwriting competitions. Matt began working as a worship leader, writing original material but never expecting it to reach many ears. After writing a song for a sermon series topic one Sunday, Matt received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the congregation and church leadership on his original music. This prompted the decision to start the band Right Hand Shade. Over several months of rehearsals, learning techniques for band performances, and testing out the waters of the regional Christian music scene at coffeehouses and church events, the band leaned into God’s leading and watched His hand intentionally open doors on that it never could have opened on its own. RHS landed a spot to play on the Inside Out Stage at SoulFest in the summer of 2017 and caught the attention of another artist who fostered a connection with a producer to record the band’s first professional studio album in 2018 (released in 2019). Since that time, the band has had the privilege of performing the main stages of various festivals, opening for national touring acts, and at youth retreat weekends and camps, church events, beach amphitheaters, and other venues across the Eastern USA.
If you ask the band members what their fans connect most with, they’ll tell you it has little to do with their vibrant rock/pop approach, their unique blend of different musical influences, or their skilled musicianship. It’s not their soulful and lush vocal harmonies over catchy riffs, or their adventurous production that pushes beyond the expected boundaries of style. What seems to unite RHS fans most is the band’s willingness to present their songs while at the same time laying their souls bare with authenticity. Matt explains, “We’re not pretending to have it all figured out. We’re just being faithful to the ministry that God has given us and sharing our message wherever we can. I think people tend to relate to someone who has been broken, who has walked through pain and has asked God, ‘Why am I facing this thing?’, but who has also been redeemed and has found the hope and freedom in knowing that our God will never leave or forsake us. He alone will give us the strength to overcome. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I trust that my Father already has it in His hands. Whatever we are facing, He is still in control, and we can trust Him. Our songs are written from the roots of those experiences.”
Years before forming the band, Matt would learn just what it means to trust the Lord completely through the diagnosis of his 15-month-old daughter with type-1 diabetes. He explains, “my wife Erin and I were newly married, young parents just starting our family, and we ended up in the pediatric intensive care unit one weekend with this diagnosis that we never saw coming. We had no idea how we were going to care for our baby girl. I’m not going to lie, there have been some really hard days. It’s a chronic illness; it never goes away. You don’t get to take a break or vacation. It’s always in the back of your head, and the enemy loves to nag you with the ‘what if’s’.” As the years went by, Matt would experience God’s provision for his daughter time and time again. And then 2020 happened.
Like so many other artists, the pandemic brought unforeseen challenges for the band. First there was the loss of live shows, and with it the funding for their second studio album. Then one of the band’s beloved summer camps closed its doors for good. Next Emma, the band’s only female member and bassist, stepped back from the lineup due to health concerns. If that weren’t enough for a season, Matt and Erin would end up in the emergency room once again, but this time with their only other child, their son. Matt continues, “It was like deja vu. We were going home with the diagnosis of a second child with type-1 diabetes. Our daughter had a one-in-a-million chance of getting this, but what were the chances of our son getting it too? We truly felt like we had the wind knocked out of us, like we had been brought to our knees.”
Matt and his family picked up the pieces and the band continued to tour through 2021-2022, ultimately watching many dreams become realities: Recording with award-winning producers, receiving national radio airplay with multiple singles, and opening for such artists as Mike Weaver (Big Daddy Weave), Phil Joel (Newsboys), JJ Weeks, Mark Schultz, Adam Agee (Audio Adrenaline), Love & the Outcome, John Tibbs, and others. But the fulfillment of these dreams and the band’s rise as one of the fastest-growing Christian acts in the Northeast also came with its share of losses and soul-searching questions. At the end of 2022, the band’s lead guitarist Taylor decided to step back due to scheduling constraints. Once again, uncertainty was inevitable. Matt explains, “Just when I thought we were getting back to ‘normal’, here I found myself again feeling like the ground was moving beneath my feet. But as I spent time being quiet before the Lord, He brought the words of our song ‘Just As I Am’ back to me once again”:
Just as I am, with every broken piece
You lift me up, back to my feet
And you’re always gonna be for me
“He is FOR us. That’s good news! He is more than able to provide everything we need for these songs to continue reaching people if that is His will. It’s funny, but I never imagined the lyrics of my own song to speak so clearly to me when I needed to hear that message the most. You see, it doesn’t matter whether we’re facing an illness, a job loss, a broken marriage, a financial crisis, whatever we can imagine; when we’re in those valleys of uncertainty, God has an amazing way of meeting us there and teaching us to trust. For me, it was in that valley as I was praying for my children that God reminded me: I may not know why my kids must face something like diabetes, but I do know the One who created them and who loves them more than I could ever comprehend. We serve a God of hope. We serve a God who keeps His promises. He’s the same yesterday, today, and will be tomorrow. No matter WHAT we’re facing, He does NOT make mistakes. Ever. And if He has the power to bring dead things back to life, then He’s got my children right in the palm of His hand. He loves them even more than I could.”
Through conversations with friends and mentors, God’s reminders to lean into Matt’s own unique story became clear. He began dreaming of new music that would reflect his gospel and worship roots, combined with his experiences on the mission field in Latin America, and as a parent of two children with a chronic illness. Amid healing, new songs were born. Soul-filled songs. Songs about grace. Songs that enable Matt to access the heart like nothing else can. Continuing his journey as a solo artist and advancing RHS’ mission of strength in a dark age, today Matt shares his story and songs of hope and freedom with renewed authenticity and vulnerability.
Out of this place Matt penned the music for his solo effort. The first single encapsulates the heart of this new set of songs – God’s amazing grace:
Where would I be without your grace?
There’s nothing I could do, to earn or lose your love
Where would I be without your grace?
What you’ve already done, will always be enough
Set to be released throughout 2023, self-produced and co-produced by Chris Hoisington and Eric Andersen (Old Bear Records), the solo songs provide a platform for Matt to explore new creative territory in the realm of pop and gospel/R&B, a clear departure from the more pop/surf-rock roots of RHS. Focusing on complex groove-driven rhythmic patterns, intricate vocal harmony layers, and featuring Matt’s signature soulful and powerhouse vocals, the tracks resonate with freedom, authenticity, and the beauty of giving our whole heart away.
“This Fire” is a celebratory declaration about a touch of the Spirit, written around a catchy melody with plenty of runs and riffs:
This fire, it’s burning in my heart, covering every part
This fire, it’s blazing in my soul, making me whole
“Never Stop Choosing You” is a tight groove-driven R&B outing with plenty of vocal layers about repeatedly choosing the very best, written for his wife Erin:
You will always, only, ever be the one I choose
Because nothing, nowhere, nobody else will ever do
“My World Spins” is a lush, compelling and heartfelt ballad with a dynamic melody about casting out fear and holding to the truth that we are safe in our Father’s hands:
I will not fear when I’ve done everything I can
For my world ever spins in the palms of my Father’s hands
In His hands
It seems God had a plan along, and He has used every choice to lead to this point. When asked what the future holds, Matt is quick to point back to the scripture that defines so much of his mission: Jeremiah 29:11. “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.’ This scripture was written as an acknowledgement of the difficult times the Israelites would face in Babylon. But God’s promise in this scripture remains. As long as He gives us this platform, we’re going to remind people that although we may face tough things, maybe even impossible challenges, if we fix our eyes on our God, not only will He redeem and restore us, but He will give us a testimony that only His work in us can produce. Our purpose is to remind anyone who will listen that God truly does have a future and a hope for each and every one of us.” As the lyrics of an original RHS favorite song reminds, THE BEST IS YET TO COME!