“Good songs and stories are sticky notes or a string around a finger – things that stay with me and remind me of the truth and the hope that I so easily forget. Songs can speak deeply, and both uncover buried grief and shed light on forgotten hope – they help me keep faith. In my own life, songs have opened up a way to a world beyond themselves where there’s more redemption, more joy, more beauty, and greater love than I had ever dreamed possible.” – Matthew Clark
In our fast-paced media marketplace culture, connections among people so easily become utilitarian and impersonal. What sets Matthew Clark apart as an artist is his desire to slow down and make the effort to be tuned in to a richer way of living. In a hurried, dislocated world, often the music we take in is like eating candy for dinner alone. Clark’s approach is more like lingering with friends around the kitchen table over a home-cooked meal and the interweaving of life’s stories.
Matthew Clark’s most recent album, Come Tell Your Story, combines an eye for the resonate personal narrative and musicianship one might find in the work of David Wilcox or Paul Simon with the human warmth and spiritual depth of artists like Rich Mullins and Andrew Peterson. Clark’s keen ability to give tangible immediacy to the Bible shines on, Bright Came the Word from His Mouth, a concept album based on Wheaton professor and Old Testament specialist Dr. Sandra Richter’s book, The Epic of Eden (InterVarsity Press, 2008).
“I’ve come to think of every song as an opportunity for hospitality,” Matthew says. “Like little habitats where anyone can be welcomed in to stop for a while, and maybe hear a music that’s been just out of reach till now. I want to be a good host then, and that doesn’t always mean having a spotless house – it means having a cultivated space – cultivated for desperate grief, graceful truth, healing laughter, honest questioning, and ultimately a love that re-members us to our long lost home with God. In my own small way, I try to create that kind of place through songs, concerts, and storytelling. Real change in my life has come from being welcomed like that by a community of friends, until slowly it sunk in that they were mirroring God’s welcome. ”
For Matthew, community and collaboration are crucial. For instance, though easily able to carry his comfortable conversational style into any sized setting, Clark’s favorite venue is the House Concert. Matthew revels in the intimacy of playing in a normal living room, and finds it ideal for his story-centric brand of narrative-folk. His latest album, Come Tell Your Story, is a rich exploration of failing, grieving, and recovering hope in the context of life-giving community. One of the songs on the album, “Weapons”, was born out of experiencing that process first hand.
“People often comment on ‘Weapons’ after concerts,” says Matthew. “It’s funny, since it’s not necessarily the most comfortable subject matter. In ‘Weapons’, I’m confessing how my own hard-headedness and defense mechanisms -all the things I do to maintain the illusion of control and a shiny exterior- always backfire. In trying to avoid the messiness of life, I often end up disconnecting from the people I need to help me get through the mess. Putting that in a song was personal and specific to me, but ironically that’s made it resonate more deeply with other people.”
A beautiful melding of yearning, confession, and hard-earned joy underpins Matthew Clark’s songs. Ultimately, the underground river of joy coursing beneath everything Matthew makes springs from a fascination with the history of God’s redemptive relationship with humanity in the Bible. For his previous album, Bright Came The Word From His Mouth, Matthew enlisted the help of GRAMMY® Award-winning producer Mitch Dane (Jars of Clay, JJ Heller) to chronicle that story, brushing the dust off characters that for many have disappeared under the residue of familiarity.
“Writing ‘Bright Came the Word from His Mouth’ emerged from years of asking questions about the Scriptures,” says Matthew. “Some friends recommended Dr. Sandra Richter’s book, ‘The Epic of Eden’, and it broke through some barrier in me. I began to see a sensible pattern in what had been a confusing pile of Old Testament stories. The characters became vivid and alive. It demystified the Bible, without eradicating its mysteries. So what I hope these songs can do is open up a space where people can finally hear a conversation that had always sounded like gibberish, and begin to participate in a story that was made for them. The Bible itself is, after all, an act of hospitality from God.”
Matthew would be the first to admit though that practicing hospitality is a messy endeavor, even for God, as the raucous narrative of the Bible makes clear. Remarkably, both Come Tell Your Story and Bright Came the Word from His Mouth manage to stay grounded in humanness, sidestepping spiritual cliché and sentimentalism. Matthew attributes this to two things: personal failure and great stories by strong influences like J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and G.K. Chesterton.
“Apparently I lean toward British authors with initials for first names,” Matthew laughs, “but from a very young age I was reading Tolkien and Lewis. Their stories worked on me way before the Bible and set the stage for it. Like Lewis said of George MacDonald, these guys ‘baptized’ my imagination. And honestly, life just falls apart sometimes. And I’m easily discouraged. The times when my own failure has consumed me, these authors, through their stories, were like wise grandfathers who quietly stood with me. Chesterton came much later at a time when I couldn’t believe joy was real. He taught me to laugh again. Of course, I’ve never met them, but I consider these guys very real mentors. I also have a few mentors who aren’t British and dead; they’re great too.”
Matthew’s mother, a sculptor, sang old folk tunes, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez to him when he was very young, but it wasn’t until college that it occurred to Matthew that he might write songs himself, even though he had already been playing guitar since he was twelve. Songwriting had time to mature over the ten years Clark worked as a worship leader and found his place in deep friendships.
“When I look back, my favorite parts of working as a worship leader were the practice times. That’s when we got to know each other – the singing on Sunday morning came out of that, really. Now that I travel singing songs and telling stories, my favorite part is during a concert, while I’m getting to know my hosts, or after a concert the needle seems to drop onto the spinning record and we discover together we’re a part of the same song.”
If there’s a theme that saturates all of Matthew’s work, it’s probably best described by the word hospitality. All the ache of loneliness, the pain of grief, the warmth of good company, the joy and laughter of friendship, and the slow storied fabric of a cultivated and welcoming home-place set a musical table with varied fare for travelers with hungry hearts.
“Bright Came The Word From His Mouth is about a God who might have kept silent about all the brokenness in the world, but he didn’t,” Matthew says, “Instead, he opened his mouth to tell us something good, and it’s like honey on our tongue. Now would you have ever dreamed up the taste of honey? It’s too good to be true. Jesus is that Word ultimately, and his death is like the key that unlocks the house of God so we can come home. Come Tell Your Story is about how hard it is to face the pain of living and remember there’s still life left to live. And it’s an album asking friends for help remembering, and being grateful that, in spite of all my garbage, I end up found when I thought I’d been lost – still looking across the dinner table amazed to see those same loving eyes welcoming me after all.”
Clark’s lyrical storytelling is excellent, reminiscent of Andrew Peterson’s brilliant Christmas record, Behold the Lamb of God.Ashley Thomas
Matthew is a lover of words and music and the worlds made by them in service of the Maker who made us.Lancia Smith
Matthew Clark fit the technical description of the kind of Christian acoustic artist we wanted for our church arts outreach—intelligent and insightful songwriting, skilled guitar stylings, signature vocals, and confident and competent performance. But Matthew brought so much more than his technical gifts as a Christian singer-songwriter to his ministry of music. He brought spiritual authenticity, personal insight, and a thoughtful biblical narrative that elevated his musical offering from just another coffeehouse concert to an entertaining artistic conversation. He filled our spirits with engaging music and challenging biblical insights that kept that conversation going long after the music had stopped. We couldn’t ask for any more from just one guy with a guitar. Matthew delivers.Clay Clarkson
I was introduced to Matthew Clark’s music in summer 2014 and then was treated to a house concert in the fall. I always “grade” music for three things:
- beautiful melodies and harmonies,
- pleasing arrangements and musicianship, and
- intelligent, truthful lyrics.
Matthew’s music excels in all three areas. He is able to convey well-known Biblical stories in a way that helps the listener see from the perspective of the long-ago people and yet bring it close to us in a timeless way. I appreciate how his songs weave together earthly stories with spiritual truths – all the while combining the lyrics with beautiful, accessible music. I hope Matthew’s music grows to be heard widely.Sharon Frazier
Matthew Clark is more mythical figure than mere man, although it would surprise him to hear that, since he got the way he is by simply mining the depths of his humanity. He carries his mantle with the audacious sincerity of the meeker prophets. Matthew is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, spontaneously emerging from the mist to break bread and bless the battle-worn with song and smile. His poetry is the love child of a whimsical imagination and a sober acquaintance with sorrow – wildly evocative, with fearsome candor – and yet he delivers his offerings with a certain wryness, as though life is a delightful joke and he’s inviting us in on it.Joshua Smith