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This piece is part of the Algorhythms project: artists telling stories about music they discovered from humans. Because where we discover music is an important part of its impact, and not all music is discovered through an algorithm.

Matt Wilson on Big Star

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Matt Wilson and his Orchestra (credit: Paul Irmiter)

“Above all, the most important purpose of my music is to help people who are wandering through the dreariness of life to break through to a release of emotion.” Matt Wilson

It’s hard to imagine a moment better suited for such a purpose. In the midst of a global pandemic and a roiling battle for racial justice, music stands as an essential emotional outlet. Minnesota native Matt Wilson has been providing such an outlet for more than four decades. His high school group The Panic warmed up for Twin Cities linchpins like Husker Du and The Replacements. He then started multiple bands with his brother in the ‘80s, first the Love Monsters and later Trip Shakespeare, a trio that achieved minor prominence with their track “Toolmaster of Brainerd” — beloved by all of us Minnesotans and declared one of the state’s 50 greatest hits.

His latest project, Matt Wilson and his Orchestra, features an unusual instrumentation of harp, banjo, electric bass, guitar, and piano. The gentle textures of the ensemble pair nicely with Matt’s scratchy voice, and in concert they weave a feel-good indie aesthetic that does indeed feel like something of a breakthrough.

For his Algorhythm, in succinct and poignant words, Matt recalls the friends who introduced him to Big Star nearly four decades ago…

In 1981, I had a friend Sam from Buffalo who was a music seeker. And he had a friend I might have met once named Roddy Potter. Roddy made a mix tape of a couple albums by Big Star and handed it over to Sam. This was before the internet and Sam and I had no idea who the hell Big Star was. The music was so heartfelt, and heartbroken, and rock, and yet shiningly beautiful. We and our other friends shared this tape, and we wore it out together. The Big Star songs blasted away all the cynicism of the new wave music we’d been listening to up until that point. It helped me connect my heart to my music in an unembarrassed way.

When I Was a Writer arrived via Chicago’s Pravda Records on March 20. Give it a spin — and listen to our full Algorhythms playlist here.

Looking to try on music with some good friends? We can help with that. Grey Matter is a community platform with new ways to discover music, express yourself, and support creators. Learn more and join the community here.