Matt Graham rolled up to practice in what he called his “Beetlejuice” outfit.
He began to pull out his guitars and lavender guitar cabinet out of his black BMW to set up for practice. He’s really into lavender lately.
“I’ve just never seen anyone with a lavender cab before and I really wanted one so I figured I’d make it,” Graham, 30, said. He finished unloading his electric guitars and pedals for his band’s small practice space off 22nd Street.
During rehearsal, he kept trying to fit the intro to “Bye Bye Bye” by NSYNC into one of the songs he plans to perform. It wasn’t vital or even remotely similar to his genre of music, which is mainly emo and punk, but he thought it would be funny.
In Graham’s eyes, he can’t really pinpoint what makes him unique—he’s just being himself. However, the social media sphere thinks otherwise. He has amassed almost 48,000 followers on TikTok after releasing a joke track titled “I’M SOFT.”
He is set to release his sophomore album “Prescribe Whatever” on April 29, the next step in his self-exploration journey.
First guitar from a fair
As a boy growing up in Mira Mesa, a neighborhood in San Diego, Calif., Graham would practice on cheap acoustic guitars that his father got at a state fair.
It wasn’t until he was 12 years old that he received his first black Squire electric guitar with a small Fender amp for Christmas. He used it until he was 15, when he stripped the paint and attempted to paint it green. Since he had no prior experience on painting guitars, it began chipping and was borderline unusable.
“I ended up bringing it to a bonfire and throwing it in there. I regret it now but at the time I was very much like, ‘light that bitch on fire,’” Graham said chuckling.
When he was 14-years-old his family moved to Vail, and he graduated from Cienega High School. He moved out of his parents’ house for the first time at 23 to pursue music. Phoenix was meant to be his start and big break, but after getting mixed with the wrong crowd and turning to heavy drinking and drug use, the dream faded. He returned to live with his parents after only a year, miserable that his plans didn’t work out.
“It was really embarrassing to move back in with my parents,” Graham said. “I just felt like a failure.”
Cement Shoes and addiction
In 2017, Graham started the punk band Cement Shoes, but had to fold it by 2019 after several cease-and-desist letters. Turns out the name was trademarked.
Graham is not one to shy away from his past and decides to learn from it. His past struggles with alcoholism taught him about what really matters to him.
“It tore me down in in a necessary way. One day I woke up and I realized I was 28 and I had so many things I still wanted to do,” Graham said.
He gives a lot of credit to his girlfriend of three years who called him out on his habits. He decided he didn’t want to give her up and has been clean since 2019.
“I started drinking a lot of orange cream soda. One, because I like them but two, alcohol metabolizes as sugar so it gives my body a sort of placebo effect. I’m holding something and although it’s not the same effect, it does the job,” Graham said.
Graham decided to take a break from music after Cement Shoes when he was getting clean. It wasn’t until the next year, when he had an abundance of time in quarantine, when he stumbled onto a new music outlet through social media.
Quarantine and TikTok
Graham figured the best way to pass the time quarantining in his downtown Tucson two-bedroom apartment was to write music. At first, he played around with some old riffs from a few years prior.
He found success on TikTok after uploading a song that wasn’t really meant to be a song. The track “I’M SOFT” was originally just meant to be a few seconds long and for fun. But after people on social media begged for it to be a full track, Graham decided to finish it and upload it to Spotify.
Soon after, people started using the sound, duetting his videos and eventually he had more than 1,000 uses on the platform and now sits at 354,000 streams on Spotify.
The track, which is an emo/punk tune about being too sensitive for the internet, is a testament to his tongue-in-cheek style of writing. Many of his tracks are self-deprecating but in a way that allows him to laugh at himself rather than pity his experiences.
“I’m Like an egg: I have a soft gooey center and a slightly tougher exterior that’s still pretty sensitive,” Graham says in “I’M SOFT”.
His 30-second mini-song videos on YouTube and TikTok, shaking his shoulder-length Jesus hair, includes such lyrics as, “I’m on fire. No really. I’m on fire. Please put me out. Holy $&@! Don’t you just stand there. Grab a damn water gun and call 911. I’m seriously asking for help.”
His sense of humor also translates to his stage name, Mattstagraham, which is a play on words of his name and the social media platform Instagram.
“I didn’t really like it and it was mostly a placeholder name, but the label loved it and when I got a larger following on TikTok, it just stuck,” Graham said.
Graham signed onto I Surrender Records in 2020, following his social media success.
“It wasn’t like in the movies where it’s this really big important moment,” Graham said. “It was just me in my living room, I signed some papers and mailed them in. One minute I wasn’t signed, and then I was.”
By April 2020, he had released his first album, I Get It, just after COVID-19 hit.
As Graham weathered the pandemic in his apartment, he eventually got to work on his second album.
Although Graham says there’s no specific theme to the new album and it’s mostly a collection of songs, there is an air of the dread many felt during quarantine and the many stages of feeling unproductive, learning to self-love and self-care, and being bored.
“It’s very much a quarantine album,” Graham said. “It was just me in my home office/studio. It was not a focused environment, and it took me about a year to finish it.”
Graham recorded most of the album in his home office that doubles as his at-home music studio. The room’s closet also doubles as a vocal booth and the rest of the room holds the bulk of his instruments. The only part not recorded and produced in house were the drums, which Graham outsourced to Cash Filburn, a drummer based in Phoenix who also did the drums for I Get It.
“He recorded himself, he did minor time edits, and then he sent it to me. He is super talented and has definitely done awesome things for my records,” Graham said.
A stand out track from the album, “Not Everyone Is Gonna Love You” encourages the listener to love themselves, regardless of what others may think.
The lyrics, “Don’t act too tough but don’t be to see through,” relay the expectations put on people to act a certain way, but the pre-chorus comes in with “There’s always gonna be an audience so live like there isn’t.”
Graham said he is taking his life in stride, enjoying the moment he has and not worrying too much about the future. Although music has always been his main interest, he is not afraid to eventually branch out and try new things.
“I love building things, much like the lavender cab,” he said. “Maybe one day I’ll get into building drum sets or pedal boards. I just know that I definitely want to become a more well-rounded person.”
By overcoming his past difficulties, and being open to see the humor in them, he’s learned to love himself and move forward.
“Vulnerability is our best superpower,” Graham said. “Nobody gets better with shame.”