The indie-folk artist, who recently moved to Denver, is releasing the album as his label debut with Signature Sounds.
“It’s about my life: growing up, learning about love. It’s about travel,” he adds.
With the release of The Grief We Gave Our Mother, Fowler is focusing on making a sustainable career out of music. The album was produced by Shane Leonard (Field Report, Mipso), and the album’s evolution mirrors the growth discussed in the songs.
Growing is a constant process, he says: “Those themes and ideas don’t really go away. They just become more nuanced."
Fowler started playing gigs at his parents’ restaurant in Orlando as a teenager. When he turned nineteen, he started touring. Back then, it “was truly: ‘Put my guitar in the car and send some emails and go for it,’” he says.
During the next seven years, he crisscrossed the country, honing his sound and opening for the likes of Angel Olsen and Damien Jurado. He also gathered fuel for his songs through those experiences. The Grief We Gave Our Mother encapsulates moments of young adulthood, “that growth period, coming into your own for the first time,” he says.
Intertwined with such relatable themes are Fowler’s personal musings on following a musician’s path. “I’ve flirted with doing other things,” says Fowler. “Nothing’s come close with performing, playing and writing. The music is the sound of someone going through the process of understanding the impact that decision really does have on a life.”
He sings about this choice in songs such as “Reprise”: "I’m making up my mind / On which lives I choose to lead / 'Cause I have always been a lover / I have always been a lover of the dream."
But while he continues to hold on to his childhood dreams, he’s been changing his approach to making a career out of music. “I have to have my ducks in a row as an adult,” he says. “That’s changed what music is to me in my life. It has become more weighty as time has gone on.”
Fowler first made moves to advance his career in March 2020. He quit his job managing a music venue in Gainesville, Florida, and moved to Atlanta, hoping to establish a strong home base for continued touring. But the pandemic put those plans on hold.
Instead, in April 2021, Fowler decided to move to Denver to be closer to his brother. “I took stock of what was most important to me, and that was being a part of family,” he says. Plus, he really likes Denver and the Colorado mountains.
His other big push was investing in The Grief We Gave Our Mother. Fowler started recording in 2019 while still in Orlando. The base recordings are by him and Tana and Addy Prado, whom he often toured with, as well as an upright bass player. They tracked it live and captured the intimate sound that Fowler and the Prado sisters had developed during years of performing together.
Producing the album with Shane Leonard allowed Matthew Fowler to find potential in the songs and his sound.
They then took the initial recordings to Shane Leonard in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for production. “Shane really understood that I was more than the acoustic-guitar guy,” Fowler says. Together they added instruments such as trumpet, clarinet, pedal steel and drums to create texture and timbre within the songs.
The musicians who worked on the album in Leonard’s studio “were very aware and precious to what was there already,” Fowler adds. “The small moment that we had as a trio got to have new life.”
Fowler is proud of the bold choices they made during production and how the songs evolved beyond how he initially wrote them. “It was something I didn’t realize I was capable of,” he adds.
Having those recordings is now inspiring Fowler to envision the different sounds he might experiment with in future songs. And it’s not just the sounds that are changing. He's also thinking differently about subject matter.
Previously, “songs were about hit-you-over-the-head emotions," he says. "They’re shifting into more subtle emotions. Nothing’s either happy or sad only. There’s more things going on. There’s history. There’s drama."
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