by Tracy Darlington
Matt Bronleewe Interview
essence [being a producer] is a kind of combined role of coach, psychologist
and movie director. For me it's all about performances."
Matt Bronleewe is a recognized producer, songwriter and author. He has earned numerous awards producing and co-writing albums that have sold a combined total of over 20 million copies. His songs have recently been recorded by Disney pop sensations Aly & AJ, American Idol finalist Kimberley Locke, and more. Bronleewe has worked with Grammy Award-winning artists such as Michael W. Smith, International pop singer Natalie Imbruglia and Heroes star Hayden Panettiere.
Bronleewe currently resides in Brentwood, Tenn., with his wife and three children. He continues to write and produce music, and he also volunteers through his church to help disadvantaged youth in the community. Bronleewe enjoys reading, taste-testing good food and watching sports, as well as indulging his interests in art, architecture, design and science. Matt has also written two novels: Illuminated and House of Wolves.
Tracy: Some people might not know you were a founding member and guitarist for Jars of Clay. Could you tell us about that and why you chose to go the studio/musician/producer route rather than touring with the band?
Matt: I was roommates with the keyboardist, Charlie Lowell, at Greenville College in Greeneville, IL. In the room next to us was Dan Haseltine, the lead singer, and Steve Mason, the other guitarist. It was by divine appointment that we were all within ten feet of each other. We started playing music together right away. We found that we really enjoyed the same types of music. Jars of Clay was birthed out of a desire to create something we weren’t hearing. We hadn’t seen this kind of throwing together of beats and acoustic guitars and melodies in quite the same fashion we were enjoying. It came out of that. We had a blast with it.
At Greeneville we did a number of shows in the area. To our utter amazement things took off. We won the Spotlight competition, a competition they had in Nashville, TN. Labels came knocking, and offers were being made. It was at that point I realized this was not going to be the journey I was going to take. As much as it looked to be incredibly successful, and I knew it was going to really take off. It was never a question of whether it was gonna do well or not. But I realized this was something that if I said yes to it, it was going to be the next twenty years or more of my life. I had a strong leading at that point to do something different. I don’t say that for any merit to myself, because none should be given to me for making that call. Now I look back, and I realize that I love the studio, I love being able to work with many different artists in many different situations. I still see the Jars guys. I love what they’ve been able to do. I love what they’re doing musically. It’s so fun to see them now and for us to be able to catch up and compare notes about what’s going on in each other’s lives. We do have plans to do some writing and work together in the future.
It’s been said that Tiffany Arbuckle Lee (aka Plumb) gave you your start as a producer. How did that happen?
Very true. In fact, I just saw Tiff and her husband, Jeremy, today. (Laughs.) We continue to be very good friends. We lived not too far away from each other when I first moved to town. I was in an apartment complex, and I’d posted a note in the mailbox area to sell an acoustic guitar. Tiffany was the first person to respond to that ad. She showed up at our door and asked to purchase the guitar. We began talking and realized that she had signed a music deal with the same people Jars of Clay were signed with. That led us to talk about possibly doing some song writing together, which we did. Then we went into the label and played these songs. After every song I would give a short synopsis on maybe what I thought could happen with the song in the studio. Tiffany threw it out there immediately, “What if you produced the song?” To my amazement the A&R person said, “Let’s do it.” They actually made it happen. Tiff was a huge help then, a huge proponent, giving me, who had no production credits to my name at all, a chance in the studio. Yeah, I very much give her huge credit for allowing me to take this music producer path.
What does a day in the life of Matt Bronleewe, Producer, look like?
Production these days can be so varied in that I might walk into my room and be working with the artist writing a song. I might be playing guitar on a song when we’re physically putting it all together. I might be conversing with somebody, maybe even in a different country, about putting together music for the song. But in essence, it’s a kind of combined role of coach, psychologist, and movie director. For me, it’s all about performances. It’s getting the artist to come in and perform behind the microphone in a limited amount of time to the best of their ability. And to try and get everyone involved to perform at the highest level. Sometimes these people may not even be in the same physical space as me. I might be working with a programmer from New Jersey, a composer in Prague, and who knows where else. So, it’s a very wide variety of functions these days. But in end, it’s really trying to create music. It’s trying to take the money the label gives you and bring back to them a bounty of songs.
If you could produce an album for anyone in the entire world, who would it be, and why?
The entire world? You’ve really opened it up! (Laughs.) There is always Sting---who wouldn’t love to work in the studio with him? There is always Paul McCartney. Anybody held in that high esteem for that long would be at the top of my list. Here in town, in Nashville, I’ve had the privilege of working with Michael W. Smith and now Steven Curtis Chapman. So now, it’s like, Amy Grant’s name has always stood out to me as someone I’d love, love, love to work with someday.
What’s been your most memorable song writing collaboration to date?
One of the top ten would be sitting down with Michael W. Smith and Leeland Mooring. The three of us sat in my studio and for a few days cranked out songs. Ideas were bouncing off the walls. Just to be in the company of Michael W. Smith, a veteran of this industry who’s seen and done it all (he’s just prolific in terms of ideas) and this very young artist, Leeland, who I think was about 17 or 18 at the time (and who is also extremely prolific in ideas) . . . just to be in the company of all of that was incredibly intoxicating and rewarding. To watch the energy that occurs between people in that setting was incredible. To see one person have some spark of brilliance, and then for someone else to take some kindling to that and grow that fire a little more. Then to try as a threesome to make that become this blazing fire. That’s really how it felt. Taking songs from infancy all the way to the stage was incredibly rewarding.
How long have you been remixing songs, and why have you moved in that direction?
Jeremy Bose and I have known each other since Greeneville, since the Jars of Clay days. He was on my same dormitory floor. I’m sad to say I barely knew him then. It wasn’t until we were in a band together a number of years later that we got to know each other. Ever since then we’ve collaborated on a number of projects. That includes our Bronleewe/Bose remix team. It’s been so much fun. We were so privileged to have a number one on Dance Radio with Kimberly Locke of American Idol fame. It’s been a really cool world to be involved in. It’s so underground here in America. I made a few trips to London and became very enamored with the dance scene and that electronic style of music. It’s something you really don’t see a lot in Nashville. Jeremy was also a huge fan of it. For us, it’s just having our own little world that we can escape into. To be able to take a song’s essence, just taking the vocals, and wrapping a new package around it is a real challenge as a musician . . . to take the song’s original vision and change it into something completely different and unique, yet still very enjoyable.
How do you choose which songs to remix?
Oftentimes they’re brought to us. But not always. Sometimes we will look at a whole catalog of songs. Tempo has a lot to do with it. There are so many songs that just by virtue of being too slow or too fast, usually too slow, don’t remix very well. There’s this sweet spot where an original song can move into being a remix more easily. That oftentimes has a lot to do with it.
What does the process look like?
Usually the only thing that we carry into the remix is a theme. Let’s say a guitar played a melody on the original that is very integral to that song. We would probably carry that melody onto the remix. But we would probably take that guitar melody and transplant it to another instrument, like a synthesizer. And just by virtue of what remixing is all about, the electronic environment, if you have a song that starts with a singer and acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and a drum kit, those elements really aren’t going to transfer very well. Sometimes the vocal is the only thing that does transfer well. Like for example, “In My Arms” by Plumb. I think we used some of the piano part. But most of the entire track is completely new.
Do you think the Christian electronic/dance club music scene is growing at all?
By and large, America is just not as steeped in electronic music as many other places in the world. I don’t know the exact reasons for that, whether it’s that we don’t have a strong club scene here, but if we were to see a proliferation of that in mainstream music, perhaps we’d see an even greater growth within Christian music. But it may be that the American audience will never quite get into that like the international audiences do.
If someone could only hear one song you’ve written, which song would you like them to hear, and why?
“Love Song for a Savior”, which was a song I co-wrote with the Jars of Clay guys. One of the reasons is that it was really the beginning of this career for me. It was one of the first times I experienced musical collaboration in a whole new way. We were able to each bring our own unique part of the song to the table. And we weren’t destroyed when the next guy would take what we brought and change it. It really impressed on me that as much as we’d like to think we have all the answers, we do really need to be about community. There was a lot of community that happened around that song. Not to mention that I love the type of song it is and what it’s meant to people over the years. I still have people tell me that it’s touched them at a particular time in their life that was really important. Or maybe it was part of their childhood.. (Laughs.)
What project that you’ve worked on recently are you most excited about right now?
I’m very excited about a new band I’ve been developing called the Sailor Sequence. I had a couple good friends: Jeremy Bose, my remix collaborator, and a guitarist named Paul Moak co-produced the record. We just finished it recently, and we’re going to be taking it around to different labels. It’s highly inventive. To me, it’s like where the whole singer/songwriter thing could be going. There are elements of the Postal Service and The Album Leaf and some really cool, progressive ideas. Some really cool beats. And there are these very simple songs. The lead singer has a really incredible voice, coupled with his really unique guitar playing is an incredibly inventive, fresh sounding project. I’m executive producing, kind of helping it along one step back. Trying to get out of the way as much as possible, just a passionate person on the side taking it to the right places.
Tracy Darlington is a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in Brio, Breakaway, YS, CCM Magazine, Insight, Susie Magazine, and other publications. She has interviewed countless Christian musicians including Rebecca St. James, Delirious, Newsboys, Leigh Nash, Barlowgirl, Krystal Meyers, Joy Williams, Pillar, Michelle Tumes, and many others. In her spare time she can be found riding horses or listening to music and sipping a Venti 3-shot sugar-free vanilla latte. Visit her online at her blog where she talks about Music, God, dogs and coffee. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.