116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Matt Stell came to Nashville in 2014 wanting to be a songwriter cranking out hit tunes for country stars. And sure enough, in 2019, he co-wrote a chart-topping single.
What he didn’t expect was that first No. 1 hit, “Prayed For You,” would be a song he recorded and released himself.
“I moved to town thinking I would write songs for big artists to cut and then make my little records on my own and kind of follow my (inspirations),” Stell said during a phone interview. “Well, my path changed when I put out an EP and had a song on it that (went No. 1).”
“Prayed For You” debuted on the 2019 EP, “Everywhere But On.” Then the title song from that same EP, also co-written by Stell, followed suit and topped the country charts.
Now Stell finds the tables have turned on his original ambitions and he’s getting songs offered to him by some of Nashville’s top songwriters. This is just fine with him.
“Once I had two number ones, I started getting pitched a lot of really incredible songs by incredible songwriters,” Stell said. “And I’ll always operate this way. The best song wins. Some days my name is on that song and I’m proud of those days.
“There are so many unbelievably talented people in this town, that I would be crazy, I’d be doing myself and country music a disservice by not really listening and being open to outside songs,” he said. “That’s what happened with ‘That Ain’t Me No More.’ ”
“That Ain’t Me No More” is Stell’s current single, and for now it’s a stand-alone track. “Prayed For You” and “Everywhere But On” were included on both of his EPs — 2019’s “Everywhere But On” and 2020’s “Better Than That.” Now all three singles figure to be on a full-length debut album Stell has been working on during the pandemic.
He thinks it’s important to have his hit singles available on the full-length album, which may also include a few other songs from the two EPs alongside new material, making it a summation of his work as a solo artist so far.
“Having all of that music in one place for people is important because that way it’s easier to find,” he said. “We paired the singles up with some other stuff that I’m really passionate about and really proud of. It’s what the record is going to look like for me.”
“Pray For You” changed a career path that up to then had seen gradual, but steady progress. A college basketball player at Drury University, the 6-foot-7 Arkansas native started writing songs at that point, and eventually began doing gigs around the South.
“I hit the road in a van and trailer and drove umpteen million miles and eventually wrote some songs in the Texas world that had some success there,” said Stell, who released three independent albums during this period.
“Looking back on it, I loved every minute and I loved all the long hours of driving somehow, and showing up to the show and setting up all the PA and setting up the merch and playing the show and shaking hands at the merch (table), tearing it all down and settling up with the bar and loading up and driving as far as I could and sleeping in the van or finding a Motel 5 or something, which was probably a Motel 6 most of the time,” he said.
“Doing all that, man, I just loved every minute.”
“Pray For You,” which eventually went platinum and became a favorite wedding song, cast Stell as a specialist in love songs. “Everywhere But On” and “That Ain’t Me No More” are both breakup songs, which only reinforced the notion that Stell’s strong suit is romance, although Stell himself feels he can write about a much wider range of topics.
A couple of songs on the “Better Than That” EP went beyond romance. “Chase It Down” is about escaping the limits of small-town life to pursue bigger dreams. On “If I Was A Bar,” Stell muses about how his personality would be reflected in his ideal watering hole.
He may debut some of the new songs on tour. He’ll be opening for Toby Keith on Oct. 14 at Coralville’s Xtream Arena. Stell is adhering to COVID protocols on the road, and hopes those become a thing of the past as touring continues into the fall.
Still, touring at any level is welcome, he said.
“We’ve got some new songs and some new kind of parts of the show put in. Again, that’s another thing that’s a really welcome sight, is getting back to band rehearsals and coming up with ways to play these songs live because they are a little bit of a different animal (live).
“You want to stack some back to back and keep the energy going and you want to get all of the energy you can out of each song,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed that process.”