It’s fair to say that Matt Lovell’s debut album Nobody Cries Today has been a long time coming. Lovell started writing the record in 2012, but it was only yesterday that it actually got released. In those eight years, a lot has happened to Lovell. He’s gone through the process of finding self-acceptance as a gay man, and miraculously survived a shooting in 2016, after which he developed PTSD. While it’s difficult to compress your artistic vision and individual story to just nine songs, Lovell does a good job of introducing himself to the world at large.
There are two things that immediately stand out when listening to the record. The first is Lovell’s beautiful raspy voice that colors each song wonderfully. The second is the reliance on acoustic guitars throughout the album. This should come as no surprise – the singer-songwriter is based in Nashville, after all. But as tempting as it is, it would be a disservice to the distinct variety of influences to pin Lovell down to just one genre. “I have a wide variety of influences. I’d say it will probably fall somewhere in the Americana-sphere. It’s a record that is peppered with all of my favorite things – a little gospel, a slightly pop-leaning disposition, and a good bit of whimsy,” he says.
The record opens with lead single “Trouble,” a playful track that sees Lovell confront the idea of having to roll with the punches. Lovell said that it was the hardest track to write – he wrote the chorus in 2013, but “loved the idea of it so much that I put too much pressure on the verses – which were finally written in 2014.” In the accompanying video, Lovell is joined by a “Trouble Monster” who isn’t necessarily friend or foe – but is trying to teach him how to have fun amid life’s ups and downs. Lovell is always involved in the visuals, who were created together with his friends Jason Lee Denton and Aliegh Shields Denton. “We feel like kids in the sandbox every time we get to make something,” he says. “I strongly believe that making things should be fun wherever possible, and it’s always a lot of fun with them.”
And yet, a lot of the troubles Lovell has gone through are not fun at all. Lovell notes that music has been his saving grace. “Music has always been what I call my ‘tiny rowboat’ – getting me from one day to the next. My cell phones often run out of memory due to my heavy use of the Voice Record App. I’m constantly processing things by verbalizing them in melodies and putting them into little song fragments. Every few days a fully-formed idea will bubble to the surface and I’ll finish a song in its entirety.”
One of those songs that functioned as such is “90 Proof.” It is a lovely ballad that arrives pretty early on the album, showcasing the versatility of Lovell’s voice as the song swells into a gospel-influenced climax. The track was one of the easier ones to write, according to Lovell, even though it came “from a place of pain.” It stems from an interesting phase in his life, “one that held a great deal of excitement, struggle, and color. I always smile when I think of 2015 because it was a year that gave me rich friendships, new ideas, and a great deal of new inner freedom.” Yet, he was also broke and still heartbroken over an old relationship. “I wrote it in the middle of a shift I was working at this upscale-ish burger restaurant in Nashville’s touristy Gulch neighborhood. I was standing near the kitchen and the words of the first verse just came to me straight out of the breeze. I started singing them and realized immediately that if I didn’t record them I would certainly lose them. So, I rushed to the bathroom, and I was in the middle of singing “I’ve been trying to lose your number, but my fingers won’t forget,” when one of my customers walked in on me. They probably still talk about their silly Nashville waiter singing in the bathroom. I wrote every word of that song during my shift that day—probably within an hour or so. When I got home, I sat down with my guitar and put chords underneath the melody that had been written between refilling cokes and bussing tables. And somehow, when I finished this song, I was able to put that old relationship to bed. I was able to—as my brother says— sing a sad song with a little dignity.”
While most of Lovell’s songs tend to include specific anecdotes, there are also some tracks on the album with a slightly more metaphorical or abstract lyric. Still, his songs all come from “an honest place – whether I’m playing the role of myself, or putting on a costume and trying on a different attitude.” One example of that approach is “Sabotage.” Lovell explains that the track was “inspired by something that happened to me – or more truthfully, something that I did. It’s about someone who is afraid to get out of a relationship, so they sabotage it.”
“Alligator Lilly” discusses the seductive nature of trouble, with a melody that leaves you on the edge of your seat. Somewhat reminiscent of the chorus progression of “Exes and Ohs” by Elle King, Lovell regales how the alligator reels him into the dangerous water. “Come on in the water’s fine / I’ll let you come up for air.” It’s one of the older songs on the record. In fact, Lovell says together with “The Gospel,” these were the first songs he wrote that made it onto the record. “At the time I had no idea that I was stepping into an era that would eventually produce a record. I wrote these two songs with my friends Tim Jackson and Mandy Cook. All three of us were experiencing a lot of life-y things in that era, and it was really showing in all of the songs we wrote.”
A life-y thing that Lovell struggled with himself, was finding his place as a gay man hailing from a southern state. The album takes its title from the song that describes this experience in particular. “To me, the song itself distills the overarching message of this album into three little words. My favorite lyric from Nobody Cries Today is “nobody stands alone / I carry your troubles with my own.” I think for many years I felt like some sort of an alien in this world. It can be tough for gay people to find their way in this world. It took me many years to unlearn the things I had been taught in my formative years. Self-acceptance was not something that came naturally to me; it was something that I had to learn the hard way—with many failed attempts along the way. On the other side of all that, I know for sure that I want to do what I can to help other people feel a little more at home here on earth. We are all alive at the same time and that’s such a beautiful phenomenon.”
This sentiment seems to be echoed in the song “Be Free,” which stands out because of its instrumental bridge. With lyrics like “trying to make it to the sun / but I don’t wanna go / unless there’s room for everyone,” Lovell emphasizes the battle for freedom is one that you fight for together.
But while the country/southern influences are very apparent in his music, it has to be said that the industry has perhaps not been the most accepting world when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. When asked how he has experienced his environment in the music industry, Lovell answers that “it can be tough. Just when you think the world has evolved, I’m surprised by the ignorance or judgment I encounter from time to time—even in an industry that is supposed to be known for its progressive values and inclusive spirit. I just try not to focus on it. I can only control what lies in my path.”
Part of being in control of the future means accepting and letting go of the past. In the track “Dime Adiós,” Lovell does just that with a little help from someone else. If you think that the female voice sounds just like the lead singer from Sixpence None the Richer, you’d be correct. Lovell met Leigh Nash through a friend, and she ended up singing on “The Gospel” too. “Shortly after that, we wrote ‘Dime Adiós’ and it made its way onto the record. It’s been a real honor getting to collaborate with Leigh. She’s been one of my heroes as a singer and writer for so long, and I just love her voice and creativity so much,” Lovell gushes. It’s a bold choice to include a half Spanish/half English country song on a debut album, but somehow it works as a bittersweet lullaby.
But it’s the ending of Lovell’s debut, “The Way That It Was,” that really stands out. As the song builds, starting with just one guitar before adding in more instruments and harmonies, the lyrics recount an emotional journey of self-acceptance: “Just because / Somebody said it’s right for me / Don’t mean that it is / The way that it was / Ain’t no way to live.” It’s the perfect closer for the album, as it acknowledges the progress Lovell has made in unpacking himself and his own truth. There’s room for sadness, melancholia, regret, and yet there’s also a sense of pride, strength, and freedom to be found in the song.
Lovell calls it “the most personal song on the record,” and one that he wrote during a very difficult time. “It’s inspired by my experience as a gay man growing up in the American South. I felt very out of place here, and if I’m being honest, it was a bit of a nightmare. The world felt like a maze to me— as I’m sure it does for much of the LGBTQ+ youth. On the other side of that, I was able to see that I had the power to place boundaries around my world. And so, that’s what this song is about. It’s a song about grieving a difficult past, and rising out of opposition and into freedom.”
All in all, it feels like Lovell is closing a chapter of his life with this album. And while there is clearly so much more for him to draw inspiration from, he made a conscious choice not to include that material on this record. “My writing has definitely changed since the shooting – it’s been formed not only by that incident but also by my experiences with trauma and recovery. But those songs will be on the next record.” In fact, all but one of the songs on Nobody Cries Today was written and recorded just months before the shooting [in 2016]. “In a way, this record is a bit of a time capsule for me.”
To have these songs stand the test of time says a lot about their quality. With its crisp production, and reliance on Lovell’s lyricism and powerful voice, Nobody Cries Today is a great first collection of songs. Although the album overall could’ve perhaps benefited from more variation in tempo, each track provides you with a part of Lovell’s story. And while Lovell likes to “tell stories by first explaining how they end,” this project feels like it’s just the beginning of something bigger, rather than the end.