Out of Hiding
By Mike Berlin
The story of Matt Alber's fledgling success as a gay singer-songwriter is complicated, to say the least. Raised in St. Louis, he developed an interest in music at an early age in high school began singing with Christian choruses and youth groups. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time until being gay caught up with his spiritual beliefs and in college, he was abruptly asked to leave the Christian Fellowship to which he belonged.
At 23, Alber moved to San Francisco where he was free to explore his sexuality and he eventually joined Chanticleer, a rigorous, full-time male ensemble of classically trained singers. Five years of touring, and two Grammy-award-winning albums later, he began devoting time to writing and producing music at home with a Mac and some bare recording equipment resulting in his first solo album, Hide Nothing.
Recently Alber chatted with Out about growing up gay in the church, partying at Carrie Fisher's house with Sean Penn and Gus Van Sant, and writing songs with sixth graders about nasty school lunches.
OUT: You've got quite a few love songs on your latest album. Do you consider yourself a hopeless romantic?
Matt Alber: Well, hopefully, a hopeful romantic. I don't want anyone to be hopeless.
What about your fans?
I always encourage them to make out during my songs. And a lot of guys also hold hands while they're listening. Sometimes I'll open my eyes and I'll see people resting their heads on each other's shoulders. Then I'm like, OK, I'm doing my job, right?
Some of your songs also deal with themes of spirituality. Was religion a large part of your life growing up in Kansas and St. Louis?
I didn't grow up in church, but I started going when I was in high school. I kind of got swept up in it, and I was taught some really harmful things about what it is to be gay.
In college, you were asked to leave a Christian group that you had become really involved with because you were openly gay. How did this affect your relationship with the church?
I had sort of invested my whole life into the psyche and message of God's love. And when it got turned around, I realized that it wasn't quite so -- I realized that it wasn't unconditional. And [my friends] had demands, like you had to agree that it was wrong to be gay and you had to agree that you were trying to change. Those kinds of ideas and requests are incredibly harmful and impossible. Getting shunned and excommunicated -- even though it was harmful -- was good for me because then I was out and I had clarity and I realized there was no reason to change.
Do you worry for other young people that might be in the same situation today?
I actually think it's still incredibly tough come out, even today. There are thousands and thousands of gay teens that are sitting in churches, hearing that they need to change. You know, there's a right to have your own beliefs but I that that right doesn't extend toward teaching lies. So I have a real problem with kids having to listen that kind of stuff as somebody who went through that.
And you've done a little bit of teaching yourself, right?
Last year I taught sixth grade after-school music. It was a trip! And it turned out to be incredible. I mean, everyday I would meet for three hours with a group of sixth graders, who all wanted to sing and dance. And that was the only reason they came to the class. So it was my job to come up with entertaining things for them to do.
Instead of just recreating Dream Girls, I said, 'Why don't we write our own musical?' And they just looked at me like I was from another planet. And I said, 'You know, it's not hard to write the song.' So I got my guitar out and I said, 'So what was for lunch today?' which was a ridiculous adult question to ask kids. And they were like, 'It was disgusting, it was so gross. It was nasty pizza and chicken legs, and it made us want to hurl!' So we wrote a song called 'Hurl' all about school lunch.
Did you guys put on a full-scale performance at the end?
Yeah, we performed it for all of their parents and it knocked my socks off. I'm actually approaching some producers about possibly publishing it and getting a chance to maybe take it on stage elsewhere.