Facing Your Fears with Neon M
Welcome to the sixth edition of the IMF Artist Profile, a series dedicated to the Indie Music Feedback community. The goal of this series is to take a look at the personal lives of some of IMF’s biggest contributors, giving you a peek into who they are as human beings. We’ll pull back the curtain as far as our guests allow and hopefully, we will all walk away with a better understanding of the music these individuals are creating as we learn more about them.
If you ask Neon M, depending on the day, the M in Neon M is either a mystery or stands for his actual name, which is Matthew. Originally from Birmingham, AL, Matthew moved to LA right after college, having almost no idea what the city would be like. Ten years later and Matthew is now living with his fiance, Kyle, of 6 years with their two dogs Walter and Gus (not named after Breaking Bad characters, in case you were wondering). Matthew is a Project Manager for a new division of the Walt Disney Company called Disney Location-Based Experiences. Which is perfect for him, as music and theme parks make up the majority of his interests. Matthew is also a huge Halloween/haunted attraction fan. He hopes to open his own haunted attraction one day, a place that plays around with the idea of occult mysteries, not the typical Halloween shenanigans we’re all used to.
In addition to being an Alt-Rock genre master, an incredible vocalist, and a highly stylized lyricist, many from the IMF Community know Neon M as someone who gives valuable and thoughtfully critical advice to fellow musicians. Today we will talk about his music, his life, Batman Forever, and many more facets of what makes Neon M such an intriguing person and talented musician.
Now onto the questions:
Baaz: Your general vibe tends to be a nice mix of Alt Rock, 90s Grunge, and classic Rock all mixed with modern production techniques. A lot of folks will compare your tracks to Muse, while I myself get a lot more nostalgic (thinking of Silverchair and that 90s scene) when I hear your tunes. Did you set out to create music in this style, or is that something that developed over time for you? What influences (musical or otherwise) have left the biggest impact on your style?
Neon M: Since I was born in ’87, I spent my formative years surrounded by the sounds of the early ’90s. I think most people have a nostalgia for the music of their youth, but mine may be borderline unhealthy, haha! I don’t intentionally set out to make music reminiscent of that era, but my love for grunge and alt-rock runs so deep that I think it’s more of a subconscious thing for me. I get a lot of comparisons to The Smashing Pumpkins, but I never set out to make a song that sounds like them. However, I will say I’m very biased and think that music peaked in the ’90s and nothing has even come close since, so maybe I’m attempting to bring some of that back.
The biggest musical influence for me is kinda funny. I got the cassette to the Batman Forever soundtrack when I was about 7 or 8 years old and it pretty much defined my taste in music for the rest of my life. Now before you laugh, that soundtrack is straight-up gold. We’re talking U2 (their song “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” which is unlike anything they have ever recorded to date), PJ Harvey, Mazzy Star, Massive Attack, Sunny Day Real Estate, Nick Cave, The Flaming Lips. It blew my 8-year-old mind! I’d say the other biggest influence for me would be Jeff Buckley, who I didn’t discover until high school. His music helped me round out my musical preferences quite a bit.
Baaz: Being what IMF considers a Critique Master, what do you think is some of the most important feedback you’ve ever received, and what advice would you give someone new who has a hard time accepting feedback?
Neon M: I think the best feedback I’ve ever gotten came from Inforkill/S². I was telling him how impatient I was becoming with learning the mixing process and he said I might as well be patient and take the time to do it right because no one is out there just waiting for me to drop my next tune. It sounds harsh at first, but he’s so right. It doesn’t take much to see how saturated the world is with new music constantly being released. There’s no reason for me to put out a half-assed track just because I’m impatient and want it out there in the world.
As for advice for someone new, I feel like I see a lot of folks in the subreddit that say “I tried to make a song that sounds like (insert popular artist name).” I get the temptation to say that because you want to try to attract listeners who like that artist, but I think this is at the detriment to your own music. I don’t ever think you should set out to make music that sounds like another artist. It’s one thing to be influenced by it, but I think you should put more effort into sounding like yourself. Leave it to others to make the comparisons. It’s more important to be authentic to yourself.
Baaz: I’m an October baby, so I am totally on board for your haunted attraction dream. What is the coolest haunted attraction you’ve seen to date, and how would you improve it?
Neon M: I’m also an October baby! (Authors note: Fun fact, Matthew and I share the same birthday and it’s amazing) The coolest haunted attraction I’ve ever done was called Fear Is What We Learned Here. A friend told me there was a crazy Instagram account I needed to follow. So I found the account and requested to follow. Within an hour I received a cryptic message that asked if I was interested in learning about fear. After hesitantly replying yes, I was sent a link to purchase a ticket and was told that after purchasing, I would be sent a date, time, and address at a later date. Sure enough, a few days later I received an email saying to show up at an address about an hour away at midnight the following night. At this point I was like WTF have I gotten myself into?? My partner was not thrilled that I was doing this btw haha! So I drove to this random address an hour away from me and arrived at this random neighborhood in the middle of the night. The next instructions were to find a gate where I would be met by a “shape.” After finding the gate, the shape instructed me to fill out a waiver (always a good sign when you’re at a strange house in the middle of the night). After signing, the experience officially began; although, everything leading up to this point was just as much a part of the experience. I was given a set of headphones (which played very carefully curated audio/music tied to each specific encounter that was to come), as well as a headband with a light pointing down at my face that greatly reduced my eyesight. What followed was an hour-long mind-fuck where I slowly made my way alone through a garage. This wasn’t a typical haunted house with monsters jumping out at you. This was a very high-concept, psychological experiment. I don’t know how, but they made the inside of this garage feel like an ever-changing labyrinth. If you’ve ever read “House of Leaves,” it was a lot like that. There were moments where I thought my heart was literally going to beat out of my chest from fear. By the end of the experience, though, there was an overwhelming sense of exhilaration and satisfaction that I had faced my fear. Fear truly was what I learned there. The folks that put this on did a few more of these in subsequent years but drastically changed the experience each time. None of them lived up to that first one, though. I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about it. As much as I’d love to recreate it, I think it’s just one of those ephemeral experiences that only existed in that one moment in time, never to be recreated.
Baaz: I imagine growing up in Birmingham, AL is quite a different experience than living in LA. What called to you about Los Angeles and how did the initial move affect you personally? How did your family take such a drastic move?
Neon M: In order to answer this question, I’m gonna have to get real deep for a minute. Growing up in Birmingham was a mixed bag of experiences. I knew at a young age that I was very different than everyone around me because I didn’t like sports, my views on pretty much any topic differed from the status quo conservatism, but most of all, because I was gay. I grew up in a very conservative half Catholic / half Southern Baptist family, so coming out of the closet never was an option for me. In college, I had a girlfriend and there were moments where I thought I could overcome being gay by remaining in a relationship with her. She got a job offer in LA so I made the decision to move to LA with her. At that point, I just wanted to get the hell away from Alabama. We remained in a relationship for almost 4 years, but by the time I was 25 I reached a breaking point and finally came out. It was a gut-wrenching experience. I spent a bit of time living out of my car and staying with friends until I was able to find a place of my own. My family had a very difficult time with it. My dad hung up the phone when I called to tell both him and my mom. I’m happy to say that my relationship with them is now better than it ever has been. It’s far from perfect, and some of them still hold on to some ignorant beliefs, but whose family doesn’t?
LA might as well be a different country when compared to Birmingham. Though I had never been to LA before moving there and had no plans when I arrived, I truly believe this is where I was meant to land. It’s an amazing city that has so much to offer. There are days, of course, where I just want to escape the crush of people and traffic, but whenever I think about living somewhere else, I already start to miss the city I’ve called home for 10 years now.
Baaz: Working for Disney has a lot of common conceptions among people. Right or wrong, people have some serious opinions about the Mouse House. What do you find to be some of the biggest misconceptions and what are some of the things you love the most about working for Disney?
Neon M: Disney is a funny thing. I don’t think there’s another company in the world that has the reach that it does. So many people feel the indelible stamp Disney has put on culture and their lives, and because of that, people have A LOT of opinions about it. I was working for 20th Century Fox when Disney acquired the studio last year, so my experience with Disney so far has been that of a corporate monstrosity. Make no mistake, Disney is a very different company than it was when Walt first envisioned Disneyland. Those parks are there for one thing: profit. If you look past that, though, you’ll find what originally drew me to the themed entertainment industry in the first place. If you get past the corporate and executive bullshit, you get to the heart of the company, which are the people that create the amazing experiences you see at Disney parks. It’s the passion for telling a compelling story and taking people to places they otherwise could only dream of that makes what the company does, and what I do, all worth it. There’s nothing more satisfying than working on a project that will take people out of the real world, even if just for a moment, and put a smile on their face.
If you or someone you love is facing the challenge of dealing with their sexuality and need assistance in any way, please consider visiting The Trevor Project.
Love and support, always — Baaz and Neon M.