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Newfoundland and Labrador singer/songwriter Matt Maher answers 20 questions

Matt Maher
Matt Maher. - Contributed

He’s performed all over the world to millions of people — once to an audience of two million. He’s made 11 albums, been nominated for nine Grammy Awards and last week, won his first Juno Award.

And through it all, contemporary Christian singer/songwriter Matt Maher credits his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador for instilling his passion for music.

“It’s such a special place. So much was formed by my experiences growing up in Newfoundland,” Maher told The Telegram via a telephone interview from his new home in Nashville, Tenn.

“Music is such a tangible a part of the culture and it’s not only a vital means of expression, but identity for Newfoundlanders. I think that is just part of who I am. It goes wherever I go.”

Maher was born and raised in Airport Heights in the east end of St. John’s. His father, Mike Maher from Freshwater, Placentia Bay, met Matt’s mother, Melanie (Richards) of Phoenix, Ariz., at the American base in Argentia.

She was a member of a folk-singing group that was touring American bases. The couple eventually married and moved to St. John’s and owned a few businesses, including the Aquarium and the Osprey lounge, where the Duke of Duckworth bar is located now. His mother later became a teacher.

His parents recognized Maher’s talent for music early in life and he went from taking piano lessons, playing in jazz ensembles, singing in choir to playing a garage rock band.

“I was so young playing in a band, we had to get notes from our parents to play on George Street,” he said.

When his parents split in 1995, Maher, in his fourth year at Memorial University, decided to move to Phoenix with his mother.

“It proves that God has a sense of humour,” he said. “It’s the most geographically opposite place from Newfoundland.”

Shortly afterwards, Maher, who was raised Catholic, finished his music degree and started going back to church, where he admired the contemporary religious music.

“I was so young playing in a band, we had to get notes from our parents to play on George Street."

Soon, he was writing and recording his own contemporary religious songs, which quickly drew people’s attention and, in 2003, other artists were performing and recording his songs. Two years later, he signed a publishing deal with EMI (now Capital) and a record deal in 2007. He signed a recording deal with a division of Sony music, a Christian label in 2010.

For close to two decades, Maher toured, performing to millions at various venues around the world, being recognized with various awards.

In 2013, as one of his most memorable moment of his career, Maher performed in Rio in front of Pope Francis and a crowd of close to three million people. He also performed in the 2015 World Meeting of Families with such well-known acts as Aretha Franklin and The Fray.

He makes regular visits back home and has played at the Christian Youth Conference in Newfoundland in Gander and Mile One in St. John’s, and played with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra in 2014, a highlight for him, since he was a member of Newfoundland’s Youth Symphony Orchestra.

He was delighted with latest award. Last week, Maher’s “The Advent of Christmas” was named Canada’s contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year at the 2020 Juno Awards, held virtually due to COVID-19.

“I think every musician, no matter what genre, I think everyone is on a journey to be the true version of themselves,” Maher said. “So much of mine will involve my faith …

“There comes a point to music — whatever you’re making, it feels honest.”

As successful as he’s become, Maher said he doesn’t sing and play music to win awards.

“As nice as a hit to your ego it is, that’s not why you do it. It’s who you are,” he said. “(Music) is how you express yourself … Whether or not I get recognized… it’s not about winning awards.

"The point is I’m free. I’m free in my heart.”

Twitter: @TelyRosie

Matt Maher - Contributed
Matt Maher - Contributed

1. What is your full name?

Matthew Guion Stephen Maher.

2. When were you born?

November 1974.

3. Where do you live today?

Nashville, Tennessee.

4. What’s your favourite place in the world?

Newfoundland, of course.

5. Who do you follow on social media?

I follow a wide assortment of folks. Mark Critch is definitely one of the saltiest.

6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I have two lapdogs. Not one, but two. I wanted a Husky or a Goldendoodle. My wife said not until I stop touring.

7. What’s been your favourite year and why?

Oh wow. This is hard. I would say there were successive years in the early ’80s that were very idyllic. Long summers that stretched into the fall, afternoon matinee movies at the Avalon Mall and neighborhood games of spotlight, BMX bikes and American Top 40 on the radio. Casey Kasem was somehow the voice of the future and had a certain level of grandfatherly gravel attached to his voice. Either VOCM Open Line or Fishermen’s Broadcast on CBC blared through an open doorway like a homing beacon calling me home. Unlocked doors and cool starry nights. They were very special.

8. What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

In 2002, I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. As a mild hemophiliac, I was infected from a blood transfusion in the ’80s. I had to take Interferon therapy for almost two years. It consisted of medication and a weekly subcutaneous injection in my stomach. I usually was sick with flu-like symptoms the next day or so. The first injection I gave myself was one of the hardest moments of my life. I was alone and, honestly, so scared. The next two years were very hard. The treatment ended up not working, but thanks be to God, I’ve been cured of since 2014.

9. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?

The day I found out I was cured of Hepatitis C. There was a pall that hung over my heart that I didn’t know was there that was lifted.

10. What’s your greatest indulgence?

UFO conspiracy theories. Weird side note — my grandfather on my mom’s side was renting a house he owned to a guy named Travis Walton, who wrote a book about being abducted by aliens, called “The Travis Walton Experience.” It was later called “Fire in the Sky” and a movie was made about it in the ’90s.

11. What is your favourite movie or book?

"The Lord of the Rings."

12. How do you like to relax?

With family and friends, dinner and conversation. I actually love having people over. Maybe it’s the not going anywhere that’s so relaxing about it.

13. What are you reading or watching right now?

Wednesday nights, we all watch “Ultimate Tag” as a family. It’s pretty good, mindless fun.

14. What is your greatest fear?

That my daughter becomes a superstar and I become a “dadager.”

15. If you were singing karaoke what would be your song?

"Piano Man," by Billy Joel.

16. What is your most treasured possession?

A 1964 Gibson J-45 (guitar). It was given to me by a youth worker. It belonged to his dad, but it sat in a closet for years. We named it “Stanley.” I used to travel with it, but that kind of instrument, you don’t want it to get damaged. So, it stays home now.

17. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?

My dad for my hair colour.

18. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?

G.K. Chesterton, Chuck Klosterman and my wife, Kristen, because we never get to go anywhere without three kids.

19. What is your best quality, and what is your worst quality?

I’m a sensitive soul. It’s where my art comes from, but that can also lead to a propensity to be self-absorbed and somewhat narcissistic.

20. If you didn’t take this career path, what would have chosen?

When I was nine years old, I wanted to be a Jedi or an astronaut, but I have a bleeding disorder and glasses, so those are bad ideas. Probably a teacher like my mom or an entrepreneur like my dad.

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