His Backstory

Selfie, 2019

Matthew Kenneth Gray is a Contemporary yet Traditional Country songwriter and independent ASCAP music publisher based in Bloomington-Normal, IL. Born in Watsonville, CA, Matthew was introduced to music not only by his parents & brothers, but also by his Grandfather, whose banjo slinging sing-alongs around the campfire exposed him to classic Depression-era Country & Western Songs and Tin Pan Alley standards. This led Matthew to a deep dive into studying major songwriters of that era, including Irving Berlin, Cole Porter & Ira Gershwin. It was this experience that first inspired him to pursue a career as a songwriter.

But Matthew’s ambition to write songs did not take shape immediately. In high school, after dabbling in cartooning and photography, he fell in love with writing poetry. Soon he would become a prolific verse poet, and his work was published regularly in Catztales, Watsonville High School’s newspaper. He also created a book of poetry for his Creative Writing Class. After gaining some local recognition for his Opinion articles, a group of three classmates who wrote music together extended Matthew an invitation to join them in a songwriting session.

It quickly became clear that Matthew was a great fit for the group, and a year after his graduation, Prior Engagement & the WHS Theatre Department decided to write & perform an original musical with some Van Halen songs for the students at their high school to perform. The ensuing collaboration revealed to Matthew that even more than poetry, the thing that brought him the most joy was writing words set to music. Suddenly, Matthew’s dream of writing songs was starting to become a reality.

Given his penchant for words and lack of musical training, writing lyrics was the perfect avenue for Matthew’s creativity. He spent his late teen years studying contemporary artists and bands like ABBA, Neil Diamond, Anne Murray, and John Denver before discovering his love of another genre altogether: novelty and parody songs. The Nationally Syndicated Dr. Demento Show was a favorite of his, and the songwriters it featured, like “Weird Al” Yankovic and Tom Lehrer were highly influential in solidifying Matthew’s clever and unique approach to writing lyrics.

After attending several Theatre, Music and Creative Writing classes at Cabrillo College, he was accepted by Trebas Institute of Recording Arts to attend classes in Music Business Administration. While at Trebas, he completed an internship in the Epic Records Media Relations Department. In the years since, he collaborated with long-time friend Phillip Harrington in Matt & Phil’s Band. In the tradition of Bernie Taupin & Elton John, through the years and from different cities, they wrote Music and Lyrics separately. It worked out well as Matthew prefers to write lyrics in the quiet of his home. Phil liked the fun of figuring out the music and editing the words if needed. Thanks to emerging technology, they were able to post songs via early streaming sites and their own website.

In 2018, Matthew joined ASCAP as as a Writer and formed Grandma’s Mantel Music, his own publishing company, in honor of his Grandmother Unruh and her support of his songwriting.

Today, Matthew is a member of the NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International), AIMP (Association of Independent Music Publishers), SONA (Songwriters Of North America) & an Associate Member of The Dramatists Guild. He regularly submits to American Songwriter lyric contests and is always open to collaborating on musical projects in need of lyrics.

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