I was born in 1974 on Hill Air Force Base in Clearfield Utah. My mother, a nurse, had married an Air Force man and we were soon to relocate to England where he would be stationed for several years. My mother grew weary of the dreary English skies, not to mention the marriage, and when I was three years old she returned home with me in tow and a new lease on life. Home for my mom was Cleveland Ohio, and Cleveland's been home to me ever since.
Music has always been good. I didn't know it at the time, but when I would don my Walkman at night, and dig into the likes of Simon and Garfunkle, The Beach Boys, Neil Diamond,
ABBA, James Taylor, and other gems from my mother's modest collection of cassettes, I was learning the ropes. I had the third harmony to Simon and Garfunkle's greatest hits, and eagerly awaited their call. I was learning song structure without trying, and when I finally picked up an acoustic guitar at the age of 15, it came very naturally to me.
By then my musical tastes still included those classic acts I was turned on to as a kid, but a new set of influences were also presenting themselves to me. Pink Floyd's "The Wall" was a bit of an epiphany. While Paul Simon had inadvertently taught me the ins and outs of song construction, Roger Waters blew the roof off the thing. Suddenly songwriting didn't stop at the end of the song. The whole album could be the song. Who knew?! I dug in deep to the Pink Floyd catalog, and as that band essentially dissolved, Roger Waters' solo albums, two in particular "The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking" and "Amused to Death", showed me that while David Gilmour's guitar playing is unmatched, it was the creative genius of Waters that spoke to me. These albums are epic, and while the musical style isn't necessarily reflected in my writing, hopefully with my debut album "Cosmic Yonder", and the follow up, "Childhood Dreams", due in 2016, the larger scale story telling is there.
From the very start, when I got my first acoustic guitar along with an instructional VHS tape, I was off to the races! As soon as I could seamlessly change from one chord to the next, I had a musical canvas to work with, and a whole lot to say. Lucky at first to have a good and equally creative friend to learn and play with, original songs started coming immediately. Of course we were beginners, and the earliest material hasn't necessarily stood the test of time. But the lesson was an immediate understanding that I wasn't Jimi Hendrix. I wasn't David Gilmour. I wasn't Paul Simon. I was Matt Harmon, and the key to my musical success would not be to sound like any of my influences exactly, but to process what I'd learned from them through the filter of my own experience.
I owe a great debt of gratitude to a little carriage house in the University Circle district of Cleveland. The Barking Spider Tavern is a legendary listening room, where six nights a week there are at least two musical acts. There's never a cover charge, just an actively passed tip jar. It was here that I honed my skills as a performer. This singer/songwriting business is tricky, you know? You have to learn your instrument. You have to learn to sing while playing your instrument. You have to learn to write words you're proud of enough to sing out loud. And then, as if that's not enough, you have to shed your anxiety and play to a room full of folks.
Regular appearances at the Spider made this possible for me, and no matter where I'm playing, from a coffee shop on Cape Hatteras to a Biker Bar in Detroit, mentally, I put myself at the Spider. It was here that I learned not only how to manage a 90 minute or longer set of original music, but how to assess and connect with an audience. By the end of a show, I want to know that the woman at the table by the fireplace relates to ironic takes on heartache, while her husband prefers a tale of a lonely soldier at war. Martin Juredine, the late owner, pulled me aside after a show one time and said quietly "Matt, you're finding your voice". That was it. No other review or praise will ever trump the feeling of acceptance, confidence and satisfaction that I had at that moment. I could tell people that I'm a singer/songwriter, and mean it.
In addition to always writing and performing my songs, primarily solo, but with great players behind me if a situation calls for it, I spent some time playing in JiMiller Band. Jim Miller is a four decade journeyman of the mid-west jam band circuit, having founded Oroboros, a fixture in Cleveland's music history. In high school, my friends and I would sneak into Oroboros shows. We were blown away that these guys were playing Grateful Dead tunes so well. Jim's orginals were no joke either, and he is a uniquely talented guitarist of the highest order. So years later, I was honored to get the job as his rhythm
guitar player, and no experience has been more valuable to me as a professional musician than this. It was through Jim, that I got to open for the likes of Little Feat (one of the great southern rock bands of all time), play on large stages at big festivals, and just generally improve as a guitarist in the comfort of a stellar band. I did eventually leave that band, to focus on my writing, and on building a base of supporters for these tunes of which I'm increasingly proud.
Today, I have no delusions of grandeur. As a kid, sure, I wanted to rock the big arenas (and to an extent I still do). But now, I'm happy working out a new tune while my dog snores on the couch. In an era where 1 million plays on Spotify nets the songwriter about 120 bucks, I have achieved the greatest possible success simply by lowering the bar that defines it.
This is not to say I've given up on the dream. It's just that I've refocused my objective. My objective is for the last song I wrote to be the best song I've written. I want to entertain my audience no matter how big or small it may be. I want to mark my existence in this world with songs on my observations of it.
Thank you for listening,