(The following interview by queerguru was published on Sept 28th 2017 by www.edgemedianetwork.com )
Singer/songwriter Matt Alber was once a member of the Grammy Award winning vocal group Chanticleer, but when he decided to go solo in 2010 he very quickly became THE singer that nearly the entire Bear Community fell in love with. It wasn’t just because he was one of them (and extremely handsome to boot), but his lyrical emotional songs about his life really struck a chord with them.
EDGE met up with him at his annual sold-out performances at Ptown’s Crown & Anchor earlier this summer, and discovered that he has ambitious plans to follow another passion of his, advocating for LGBTQ youth.
EDGE: I’ve been listening to your music non-stop for the past two days, but rather than me make a hash of trying to describe it, can you tell us how you tell people about your music?
Matt Alber: The easy way is: I’m a singer/songwriter living in the 2000s but stuck in the 1970s. I’m a big fan of Billy Joel, Elton John, Rufus Wainwright, Indigo Girls. They all inspired me to write my life into songs.
EDGE: Are you something of an iconic figure in the Bear community now?
Matt Alber: I am?
EDGE: Yes, but did they fall in love with you first, or was it you falling in love with them that kicked it all off?
Matt Alber: Gosh I don’t know. I started doing solo concerts back in 2010 and the first people to show up were Bears and their husbands, Bears and their best lady friends, and they just kept showing up, so I guess it was kind of mutual. And I love singing here, because this place is magical.
EDGE: As an outsider who doesn’t remotely fit into any of the Bear categories I had no idea what sort of music that the community would be attracted to too, but, nevertheless, I am still surprised that they love such gentle emotional songs that you write and sing, as I simply did not equate that with them.
Matt Alber: Really? Well to me Bears are some of the most emotional guys around. They love to hang around in groups, and they love to have their arm around their husbear. You know you don’t have to be a big person to be a bear, I think it’s more of an internal thing.
EDGE: So you telling me that they are all sentimental?
Matt Alber: (Grinning) Well, maybe not all, but the ones that come to my shows are.
EDGE: Less I give the impression that you spend your life just singing to big hairy men, you’ve had a really varied career that has included being selected by the U.S. State Department as a musical ambassador to Russia, Hungary, Kosovo and to Sudan etc. What was that all about as there are no Bears out there?
Matt Alber: Well there are, they just don’t get to have a community unfortunately.
QUITE A TRIP
EDGE: So how did this all come about?
Matt Alber: I’ve gotten to take several trips on behalf of the U.S. State Department both as a musician and a music educator. When I went to Khartoum and Sudan for example I was teaching young people how to plug microphones into computers and working with recording arts and album production. I worked with young rappers, young singer/songwriters, and our goals were to equip them with some skills to say what was going on with their lives.
It was quite a trip. Those kids live in a place where it is very difficult to just exist, but they have the same hopes and dreams of any other teenagers. They want to fall in love; they want to be a singer; they want to be a rapper… and so much more. We were there to help them.
EDGE: So you are currently in the middle of touring with your fourth album “Wind, Sand and Star?”
Matt Alber: Yes, but I haven’t actually made a new record for a couple of years as I have focusing on a new TV project called “Room To Grow” that I have been making with Jon Garcia (the writer/director OF the highly successful gay movie series “The Falls”).
NEW DOC SERIES
EDGE: What is “Room To Grow” exactly?
Matt Alber: It is a new documentary series for families. It’s telling the up close real life stories of LGBTQ teens, their parents and their allies because we think their stories are really important. There are a lot of headlines flying around about what transgender people need, what they don’t need, what they want. We thought just lets ask the kids themselves and listen to what their stories are.
We’ve been filming since March, and it will be an eight episode series that we will offer on the web for free in December. This is season one and we are asking people to help support it by going to our website and checking out the trailer, and seeing if they want to be part of the Crowdfund.
EDGE: How did you get involved?
Matt Alber: To be honest, when we got a new President I thought, what can I do to help these kids who still need to hear they are not alone? We’ve come along way, but if you are 13-years old and live somewhere like Tallahassee and you have to go to the church your parents tell you too, and the school you parents tell you too, it might as well still be 1982. If you don’t see the possibility to be who you are in the life that you live in, then it call all feel pretty hopeless, and that’s why so many of these kids are still committing suicide.
EDGE: Do you think it is worse for LGBTQ youth of today than say in our time?
Matt Alber: What we are learning is that these kids do not want to be put into one box right now, so in some ways they are forging new territory by using words like “I’m non binary.” “Don’t ask me to choose what gender I am because I don’t want to be put in a box with all the expectations that come with gender.”
In some ways I feel like they are the new activists so they do have a tougher time of it, and it’s our job as the adults in their lives to create the space for them. So that’s what we are trying to do with the show.
EDGE: What is your role in all this? You’re not just making music?
Matt Alber: No, I’m a co-creator of the show and Jon and I take our cameras out and we sit with families and say “tell us your story.” For example, one of transgender kids is in the ROTC, which is the pre-military program, and he lives just 40 miles from us in Portland. So even though it is the progressive Northwest, once you leave the city, you really are in the sticks.
EDGE: So you are identifying these kids for your documentary, but also what is the next step for them? And you pointing them in the direction of counseling or help at all?
Matt Alber: We are really just witnessing their lives. Of course in the instance of Rylee (the ROTC kid) as he is a great singer I’m going to record a duet with him and help him kickstart his career. If these kids give us access to their lives, of course we want to help them.
The next step for the show is that we are going to take it on the road. We are going to do a screening tour in school assemblies all over the country, so that an entire school will sit and watch an episode together. We think that will have a really powerful impact on some kids.
EDGE: Are you already linking up with any support organizations?
Matt Alber: We are partnering with The Matthew Shepard Foundation and some other organizations that are already in schools. As outsiders we can say things that schools may not be able to say themselves.
EDGE: So will this overtake your singing?
Matt Alber: They are kind of merging. My concerts are turning partly into screenings themselves as I’m showing our trailer at every concert now.
I’m feeling more like a filmmaker right now. I love sitting with these kids and letting them tell their stories. The parents too, as they need support. If your kid comes out as transgender and you are the only parent in your circle of friends, at least through the show you’ll get to meet some other parents and see what their stories are like.
This is my heart and soul right now, making eight episodes of television takes my whole time and attention when I’m not performing.
Matt Alber upcoming dates are Friday, September 29 at the Purple Room Palm Springs, Palm Springs, CA; and Friday, October 6 at City Winery, Atlanta, GA. For more information about Matt Alber, visit his website.
For more information on “Room to Grow,” visit the “Room to Grow” website.
Watch the video of Matt Alber’s song “End of the World”: