The person that came up with the adage “Still waters run deep” has obviously never met musician and producer Matt Oestreicher. Oestreicher is a multi-talented man who is in perpetual motion and possesses a deep understanding of the world around him. He has shared the stage with the likes of Lady Gaga, Blink 182 and late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. He has also traveled to far flung areas of the globe as a student of Eastern spirituality and cultural practices.
Nowadays he is spending some of his time working at the famed Apollo Theater in New York City as both a keyboardist and guitarist for the house band. I recently had the privilege to sit down with him for an in-depth interview where we talked about his career, the music industry, Eastern spirituality and his advice for aspiring musicians.
Gonzalez: How did you get started in the music industry?
Oestreicher: One of my first gigs was playing on a cruise ship. I realized that I could travel the world and get paid for it. The cruise ship also proved the maxim that “hell is a paradise that you can’t leave.”
Gonzalez: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the music industry?
Oestreicher: I would tell him or her to “do the music that you love.” If you are doing what you love, people will feel that and you will do well. Also, be easy to work with. This business is built on relationships; if you make things easy for the people around you, you will have more opportunities.
Gonzalez: How often do you practice?
Oestreicher: I practice many things every day: drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, singing, writing music, recording music. Ever since I was in high school I have been locking myself in a room for several hours a day with the aim of getting better at something than I was yesterday. These days, my practice is more creative and less structured than it used to be.
Gonzalez: Where do you see the music industry headed in 5 years? 10 years?
Oestreicher: My opinion is this: Music will always be valuable to people. The question that is on the minds of many in the music business is “how will this value be transferred into money in the future?” It used to be obvious. Selling CDs (among other things: tickets, merchandise, licensing songs, etc) = making money. The widespread downloading of music has changed that. I don’t think that the availability of free music can be stopped. The floodgates are open. I think it will have to be embraced. I don’t think that this is a bad thing. In the past, companies and individuals with lots of money to promote have been able to decide what we, the public, get to hear. Now people are more reluctant to invest that kind of money in promoting an album. The financial risk has become too great. I think that public opinion and word of mouth will become the primary deciding factor in which artists become popular. This is leveling the playing field such that people will give attention and money to music that moves them. In my optimistic vision of this, I imagine more artists becoming popular based on the expression of their heart and soul and less on their age, look, etc. But of course many new business models for music will emerge and be tested.
Gonzalez: The Apollo Theater is such an iconic piece of New York City’s heritage that it just exudes music history. What does it feel like to go to work every day in such a historic and venerable venue?
Oestreicher: It feels great. For me it’s a dream come true. The energy of the place and of everyone involved in the production is so positive. There is a lot of love at the Apollo. I think that even the performers who get booed can feel the love.
Gonzalez: Other than your job with the Apollo Theater what other projects are you currently working on?
Oestreicher: I have recently built a studio in Connecticut. I am spending lots of time there writing and producing music, everything from “avant garde” jazz to yoga music. I love the process of having an idea and then putting it into form.
Gonzalez: I’ve read that over the years you have shared the stage with an impressive array of musical artists including Lady Gaga, Blink 182 and Panic at the Disco. Is there one particular artist or musical group that you hit if off really well with and if so please elaborate?
Oestreicher: I would like to acknowledge the group called “The Langley Brothers” that got me started playing “soul” music. They played at the Apollo in the early 70’s. It was led by two brothers Jerry and John Henry Langley. Several years ago I moved back to the town I grew up in because my sister was in a coma and the doctors were saying that she wasn’t going to survive(she is doing well now). After being there for a few months, I was depressed and I went to a club to hear some music. That night there happened to be this group playing R&B classics. They were playing songs by The Spinners, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Barry White and Earth Wind & Fire. The way music felt, so good and uplifting. I think it was the first time that I smiled in months. After that I started bugging them to let me play with them. They were kind enough to oblige, and I ended up playing with them for the next couple of years. They were tough on me and always were telling me to simplify what I was playing to make it fit with the group and to make it groove better. After 2 years with them, my approach to playing with bands changed.
Gonzalez: What artists do you especially look forward to in the future?
Oestreicher: The next artists that I am looking forward to playing with are Sting and Dave Matthews. Of course, they don’t know that yet, so that might be a problem. The psychic said that Sting will be calling me any day now. So I’m pretty sure I’m all set with that one.
Gonzalez: I’ve heard that you spent four years living at yoga and meditation centers in India and other places. I’ve also heard that you are a certified yoga and chi gong teacher. What inspired you to do that and how has it impacted your life?
Oestreicher: After my formal education had ended I did not feel that any of my “big questions” of life had been answered. I wanted to take some time to give attention to them as they seemed important. I did some research and found some places where I could study Eastern spiritual and body practices (including meditation, yoga, martial arts, etc.) in exchange for working in the kitchen. I ended up staying at places like that for about 4 years. I cleaned a lot of dishes.
Gonzalez: So, what exactly is chi gong?
Oestreicher: Chi gong is the name given to Chinese exercises and practices that are meant to cultivate one’s body and inner energy for health, vitality, martial arts, and spiritual growth. I personally find that they can be helpful for music as well.
Oestreicher: Thank you for these great questions. I really appreciate them!
Gonzalez: You are most welcome, and thank you for taking the time to be interviewed! Namaste.
I am a native New Yorker with a history of working in the travel and tourism industry. That experience has garnered me connections within the arts and entertainment industry.
Source: Personal Interview
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