The story of Matt Albers 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 Fishers house with Sean Penn and Gus Van Sant, and writing songs with sixth graders about nasty school lunches.
OUT: Youve 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 dont 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 theyre listening. Sometimes Ill open my eyes and Ill see people resting their heads on each others shoulders. Then Im like, OK, Im 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 didnt 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 Gods love. And when it got turned around, I realized that it wasnt quite so -- I realized that it wasnt 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 its 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, theres a right to have your own beliefs but I that that right doesnt 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 youve 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 dont we write our own musical? And they just looked at me like I was from another planet. And I said, You know, its 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. Im actually approaching some producers about possibly publishing it and getting a chance to maybe take it on stage elsewhere.
You arent the only musical member of your family, right? What about your brother?
Yeah, we actually live together here in Los Angeles. His name is Bryce and hes in a band called Wreck and Slender and theyre just amazing. Theyre somewhere in between Jeff Buckley and Coldplay with like a little bit of Justice League thrown in there. So its been really cool to have him here. Hes just moved here from Texas and were hoping to tour together at some point.
Is this tour happening soon?
Yeah, were working on it right now. I actually just got back from Sundance, where I played at the Queer Lounge party.
What is that party like? Hipster-y film gays?
Nobody shaves the whole time because youre living up in the mountains. So its like everyones kind of mountain-y. Its a huge mix of people. Theres a bunch of people from Salt Lake who show up. And then theres bunch of from L.A. and New York and then everything in between. And they throw a great party -- this guy named Chris, who invited me to sing, threw the party. And before the show, Chris was going around with glitter, like sparkling it all over the carpet like fairy dust. It was a really rambunctious, fun party.
You were also recently at Carrie Fishers house for a party, right?
Oh yeah, my friend Stephen Spinella, who was in the movie Milk, invited me to their nomination party, since they just got nominated for eight Oscars. So he took me along as a guest. I also went with my friend Robin, who is the director for my new music video. And we just had the time of our lives. Id never really been to a Hollywood party like that where Sean Penn is walking by lighting a cigarette and Gus Van Sant is having a martini.
Yeah, you must be somewhat used to stars, though, living in LA. How long have you been living on the West Coast?
Lets see -- ten years.
Was it a strange transition originally going from the Midwest to San Francisco?
Strange, yes, because I ended up in the gayest place on Earth. I was 23 and it was an awesome place to live when youre a young gay guy. I fell in love with that city. Ill always love San Francisco. When I go back, I just park myself on the corner with a Starbucks cup and literally 15 friends will walk by within an hour and be like, Oh my God! Do you live here again? Whats going on?! Its a very welcoming place.
Ive always thought it San Francisco as a gay Disneyland -- not that Disneyland isnt gay enough already--
It feels like a little village of people. And I felt very glad to be able to be a part of it. I lived right in the Castro, and it was amazing to be walking around on the same streets that Harvey Milk had walked around. Knowing that I was walking after his legacy was just a great feeling.
Youve been compared to Rufus Wainwright quite a bit. Is that an accurate comparison?
I dont know. He really paved the way for people like me and people that will come after me. But sometimes I think its weird to even compare anybody because its like, what is the strength in comparison? I guess if you say, If I like this person, then you might like this person.
Could you see yourself doing a duet with Rufus in the future?
Anytime Rufus wants to sing a song with me, Im game.
Hide Nothing is now in stores and available at online retailers.