For every rags-to-riches, overnight success story boasted by the music industry, there are countless other amazing artists flying just under the radar, anxiously waiting a turn in the spotlight. But could it be a blessing, perhaps, if that “big break” is not just around the corner? There’s a lot to be said for the subtle rises—artists on a gradual trajectory with more nuanced career paths. Though not always as celebrated, the long road can ultimately be more creatively rich and fulfilling. Just ask award-winning Canadian singer/songwriter Matt Brouwer.
Christian music industry followers may remember the Nova Scotia-born artist from his 2001 Reunion Records debut. With success at radio and retail, his career was budding, yet an immediate follow-up was not to be. Instead, Matt spent the next few years traveling the world—Venezuela, Poland, Jamaica, Guatemala—on a series of mission focused trips.
Returning to call Houston home, he eventually recorded the critically-acclaimed 2005 independent release, Unlearning. The album featured Matt’s Sheryl Crow-penned breakout hit “I Shall Believe,” and showcased the emergence of a fearless honesty in his own writing, landing him in more musically organic and lyrically vulnerable territory than ever before.
“The experience of working in small villages in Guatemala, Jamaica, the inner city in Caracas, Venezuela, and the previously war torn yet fledgling youth culture in Poland affected me deeply,” Matt shares. “All of a sudden I had a lot of questions. I felt guilt, compassion, rage, and hope all mixed together. It burst open a dam in my soul and everything just came rushing out.”
That flood of creativity also ushered in the kind of musical maturity that is gleaned from life experience and wisdom. With his focus on music front and center once again, the next step of his journey is now unfolding on Where’s Our Revolution (Universal Music Christian Group/Fontana), Matt’s newest recording.
“It’s in the spirit of sharing and expressing truth where I feel the most at home as a songwriter, and that focus has continued be the inspiration in writing the songs on Where’s Our Revolution,” he says of the experiences that have inspired him. “It’s incredibly satisfying to put pen to paper in this mindset, and it has changed everything for me as an artist and a communicator.”
At the helm of Where’s Our Revolution is one of the industry’s top producers, Michael Omartian. Matt was an eager student under such a prolific talent who has worked with the likes of Whitney Houston, Rod Stewart and Amy Grant, among many others. “Working with Michael Omartian was amazing,” Matt recounts. “It was a dream scenario. He is such a musical phenomenon, yet the experience wasn’t overwhelming or nerve wracking. It felt comfortable and inspiring because of the atmosphere of positive encouragement and how he moves everything forward creatively. Michael draws a great performance out of everyone, from the artist to the band and everyone involved, because of his talent, love of music, and belief in the creative process. It was a blast to go to work everyday.”
Writing or co-writing all 12 of the album’s selections, Matt’s organic pop melodies reveal a lyrical honesty that is both refreshing and, at times, raw. Examining faith, unveiling the vulnerability of relationships, and issuing a call to justice are at the heart of Where’s Our Revolution.
The title-cut is an indictment of complacency, a message familiar to all of us at one time or another. Similarly, “Beautiful Now” is a challenge to step outside of comfort zones: You need something to break your heart/You need something to tear your world apart. Yet the song, like the entire album, is not without hopeful promise: Love can save a life like music warms the night/Everything is beautiful now/So open your eyes fall into the light/Everything is beautiful now.
A highlight of Where’s Our Revolution is the emotional “The Other Side,” which features guest vocals from Amy Grant and Vince Gill, two of Matt’s seminal musical influences. Not only was having the opportunity to sing with the couple a defining moment for him, it was made even more special by the inspiration behind the song itself. Written by Matt following the loss of his sister, the simple, country-tinged ballad carries the comforting hope of an eternal reunion one day.
Reflected both through his music and his life, is Matt’s heart to serve, to make a lasting impact where there is great need at home and around the globe. Nowhere is his desire better exhibited than through the work of New Beginning Resources (NBRI), a relief organization founded by Matt and several of his friends. Operating in Guatemala, Haiti and Ecuador, NBRI’s goal is to support missionaries and medical work, and to help educate children and give them hope for a brighter future. The organization has built a school in Guatemala, with classes slated to start next year, and a medical mission, Agape In Action, has been set-up in the country as well.
In addition, Matt has most recently thrown his support behind World Vision and TOMS Shoes for the “Love Can Save A Life Tour,” further proof that his heart and his art are deeply intertwined. “The goal is that It be about something more than a great night of music.” Matt explains. “It’s a chance to explore what’s happening in the world and a chance to put faith into action, to live the love and hope that the music celebrates.” Amidst mission travels and music making, a grounding factor in Matt’s life is his church community. He is a part-time worship leader and artist-in-residence at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in Houston, and that connection is an especially important one.
“It provides the stability and ground support that I so desperately need,” says Matt. “No one can stand by themselves, we all need people who are going to stick with us through thick and thin. I can’t overstate how amazing it is to have found a place like this.”
In the years since Matt’s debut, a lot of living, learning and serving has transpired. And while he’s yet to see that meteoric rise to stardom, it just may be overrated. Taking the time to slowly breathe-in each season of life, to reflect upon experiences, and to pour out deeply personal songs that leave a lasting impact are truly the sweetest rewards for any artist.