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Matthew Sturm : Lucky Guy
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
It’s rare that Matthew Sturm channels his energy into interests without getting bored. He used to be the self-appointed number one fan of television’s ‘Alias’, but these days he’s not quite sure if the show is in it’s fifth season. One thing is for certain, he stopped watching somewhere around the third season. He once wrote a screenplay, ‘Time to Leave’, lined up local actors and scouted locations, only to have his attention torn away by the same thing that always wins out in the end: music.
Time and time again, year after year, music has always been the driving force in this man’s life. Since very early on, age 3 or 4, Sturm was singing in the church choir and trying his hand at the piano. Fast forward to his sophomore year in high school when he got his hands on a bass guitar, he no sooner had that figured out than picked up an electric guitar. He used “a little logic, but guessing too” to write a song the very first day he picked up the instrument. He had what he calls “a knack’ for it. We are all the better for it.
Sturm still cannot believe his good luck. He sometimes feels like Wes Anderson, a onetime unknown director of the small budget film Bottle Rocket, who now boasts such stars as Bill Murray and Gwyneth Paltrow in the credits of his big budget (yet still quirky) films.
Sturm remembers trying to get the courage up to play at Toast and Jam, after having gone and sat in the audience to watch such greats as Michael Schwarte and Duane Eby. He doesn’t remember how he got the courage, since these shows were not simply ‘open mic’, they were truly evenings where the best of the best played and sang along. After he played, he remembers Schwarte inviting him over to his house for a jam on the following Sunday. When Sturm arrived, he was met by Schwarte, Eby, Dave Carthol, and Phil Schuger (a fellow who would end up playing in Sturm’s band seven years later) with open arms. It was an incredible feeling of acceptance and camaraderie.
He also noticed a “skinnier version of Noel Gallagher” standing nearby; the fellow turned out to be Elton Bishop, who invited Sturm out to his studio to do some recording, free of charge. These recordings led to some local plays on the radio and eventually Sturm was asked to attend a taping of the Morning Sickness show, which was hosted by J.J. and Chad on, “the edge or extreme.” The show gave Sturm the chance to play one of his songs live on the air and have a pretty good chance to skip school, since all of this was happening his senior year of high school.
In 2001 Sturm was kicking the idea of a band around and started rehearsing with several musicians. Mike Clem, Hubie Ashcraft (now of Twelve and Two), Eric Macky, Matt Gates and Cale Reese all played along with Sturm in several rehearsal settings, but things never gelled and nothing ever materialized. This led to more solo shows and after awhile Sturm thought his idea for a band deserved a second shot. This time he chose to play with Tim Beeler, Kent Klee, and Thom Grant. This collective never quite gelled as well and it was apparent that the intentions were different. A show at Columbia Street had already been booked, but unfortunately it fell through. The next incarnation consisted of Dave Taylor, Mike Deppisch, and Reuben Brenneman and this group actually did appear live on the stage at Columbia Street. The band quickly dissolved, but not before recording a track titled, ‘Breathe’, for inclusion on the Edge/Extreme Essentials volume 6.
In the winter of 2002, Jamie Simon ran into Sturm and asked him how things were going musically. His innocent query ended up putting him in the current line-up of Sturm’s band as the drummer. “I really love having Jamie in this band. He’s my sonic brother,” says Sturm. “There is a lot of common knowledge between us, a sort of shorthand, that is a total result of him being such a professional and seasoned player.”
Jamie brought Jerry Sparkman along to play bass, and Thom Grant filled out the band on electric guitar. Within two weeks of coming together, the band rehearsed twice and then played their very first gig at Pierre’s to promote Sturm’s song, ‘Breathe’, off of the Essentials compilation.
The band has undergone some changes since then; Thom left for a while to pursue school, but is now back and better than ever. “Things that would have needed to have been corrected or worked out kind of took care of themselves in the time that Thom was away,” says Sturm. After the departure of Sparkman, Andy Pauquette took over on bass. He has since moved his attention toward other musical opportunities, and these days Damian Miller is plucking the fat strings.
Sturm considers himself lucky to still be able to do something that he holds so dear. He’s also finding inspiration in others on the scene. “Lee Miles … I love him, but I think it’s out of pure jealousy. Kevin Hambrick, Sankofa, and Left Lane Cruiser. Those are all musicians that I hear and get stuck in my head. I just have to say that I really miss Violated By… and that has nothing to do with John Cheesebrew being in the group.”
Sturm’s future plans include keeping music his front-and-center passion. “It’s a career. Not a profession. That means that yes, money enters into it. I simply want to be able to make a living at this. Tour and make records. I don’t have any lofty dreams of selling platinum, although that would be nice. But, it would still be something I would take in stride. Making enough to live off of and having it be a means to an end is really all I’m looking for. Anyone that thinks they shouldn’t be compensated is selling themselves short.”
He also plans on recording another album. But first he’s going to have to stop re-writing Pete Yorn or Josh Rouse tunes. “I swear I’ve written three songs in the past couple of months, after I listen back, I think, ‘That’s just a Pete Yorn song, only slower and with different words.’”
Difficult as it may be sometimes, Sturm wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s the only thing that has held my attention all these years. I literally don’t know what I’d do without music.”
We shudder to think.