Matt Alber is one of the few openly gay singer-songwriters out there. His video for "End of the World" may have one of the most romantic endings our community has seen on YouTube. He returns to his roots in Chicago for an important date Wed., May 25.
Windy City Times: Hello, Matt. I can't stop watching your video for "End of the World." Tell me about your background.
Matt Alber: I am glad you like it. I grew up in the Midwest, in St. Louis. I was born in Wichita, Kan. I was always a choir geek. I started singing in choirs when I was a little kid. I went to school for classical music after high school. I was always on the fence between classical and pop music. I loved singing Handel arias and then Billy Joel. I did both on my senior recital.
I continued that practice onto my adulthood. I moved to California after college to join a group called Chanticleer and toured for five years with that professional group. They have 12 members and they are a full-time classical group. I got to sing in a choir for a living, which I didn't think was possible. We made a bunch of records for Warner Brothers. Two of them won Grammys when I was with the group.
Windy City Times: That must have been an experience.
Matt Alber: It was. Then I decided to start writing solo songs. I left Chanticleer and maxed out all of my credit cards; bought a computer and some recording equipment; and hired a tutor. It was time to start writing my own music. That was in 2003. I released my first record on Tommy Boy in 2008. They helped me make that video that you saw. Nowadays I don't work with a label anymore and I am working on my own. That video spurred enough interest for people to come and see me sing. I started touring about a year and a half ago. I very made the transition into full time touring so that is all I do now. I give solo concerts and write songs. It is basically a freaking dream come true.
Windy City Times: What a journey!
Matt Alber: Yes. It is cool because there are a lot of people writing music now. Before an artist had to have a record deal or someone had to discover you, now with computers and software everybody can make records in their bedroom now. I think that is really exciting. Part of what I do is encourage people to be creative in general. Hopefully, when people come to a concert they get inspired.
Windy City Times: You seem very positive about the music business.
Matt Alber: You caught me at a good time! [Laughs] I am really happy. I just moved to Seattle. I live on a tiny little island just off of Seattle called Vashon. I moved there with my boyfriend and two pups. I have a beautiful place to write music.
Windy City Times: You will have to leave Paradise Island to go on tour.
Matt Alber: I love coming to Chicago! I can't wait to get back there. It is the only place that I gave a concert that was sold-out. When I sang at Jackhammer two years ago, 250 guys showed up that I didn't know and gave me the glimpse that I could do this as a living. I am always very excited to come back there and sing.
Windy City Times: I am sorry I missed it. That bar is right by my house and would have been very convenient for me.
Matt Alber: You better make it out to Schubas.
Windy City Times: I will be there. Are you a fan of Rufus Wainwright?
Matt Alber: Oh, yeah. I love Rufus!
Windy City Times: Your sound is similar to him in some ways.
Matt Alber: Some people say that. I am totally flattered. He is a great songwriter. I just started working with a new booking agent and I am convincing them that it is possible, like Rufus, to be a gay singer/songwriter, be out onstage and be successful in the music industry. They booked a bunch of shows around the country. This show in Chicago is a to prove to them that a gay artist can sell at a mainstream venue.
Windy City Times: The pressure is on!
Matt Alber: Yes, it is so get the word out.
Windy City Times: Hopefully, it is not the "End of the World" for you! What is the meaning behind that song?
Matt Alber: For me it is like The Star Spangled Banner. The end of the song is a question. Being in love can feel like a roller-coaster sometimes and you are always wondering, "If this is really going to last or am I capable?" All those questions are going through your mind. The last line leaves it open-ended: "If there is nothing left then why are you holding on to me like it's the end of the world?" Hopefully, when people walk away from the song they will have hope that love can happen.
Windy City Times: People can go to http://www.mattalber.comand find out more about you.
Matt Alber: Yes, my whole album streams from there. I hang out on Facebook a lot and love to talk to people that are coming to the shows. I like the feedback to songs people want to hear. I hear stories like I brought my boyfriend and proposed to him at your show.
Windy City Times: Now we can have civil unions here in Illinois so that could happen at Schubas.
Matt Alber: For this special show I was contacted by a singer called Nick Howard. He's from the UK and is a super-cute straight guy. He's going to open for me at Schubas at 7 p.m. We are both excited for this particular show because there is an organization in Chicago called UCAN [Uhlich Children's Advantage Network]. They provide services and programs for LGBT homeless youth. I am teaming up with them for this show and portion of the proceeds will benefit UCAN. They serve about 12,000 families in Illinois a year and are making a big difference in the lives of LGBT youth who are trying to get off the streets.
Run out and get your tickets for Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, on May 25. For more information about UCAN, log onto to www.ucanchicago.org .