Matt Sertori: Crime fighter by day… Original music saviour by night

This article first appeared in modified format in The Australian Songwriter Issue 111, December 2015 (View the original here). Matt Sertori is the Australian Songwriter's Association regional coordinator for Tasmania.

The first time I met Matt Sertori was at an Australian Songwriter’s Association (ASA) event at The Telegraph Hotel around 12 years ago. He approached me from the other side of the bar and with no other introduction asked if I enjoyed listening to the music of David Bowie. My reply: Affirmative – and after this one qualifying question, he handed me a business card, shouted “Call me” and disappeared back around the bar. The card read “Matt Sertori –  Regional Coordinator – Australian Songwriter’s Association.” I flipped it over and it said “Mathew Sertori – Parole Officer.” I wasn’t sure quite what to make of him then, and not much has changed over the past decade.

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Matt Sertori. Photo Productions of Troy.

Matt is a social justice lawyer who maintains an active presence in the local music scene, and has done much to position local original live music where it is today.

12 years ago when I first started doing it there was no scene. You couldn’t get a show as an original artist at any venue. I started Australian Songwriter’s Association events monthly at the Telegraph Hotel. I rang everyone I know who was a musician, and everyone said yes.

200 people attended opening night and 12 years later that residency is still going strong. Matt claims it’s the longest residency in the history of the state.

Everything steamrolled from there. The Brisbane, The Alley Cat, The Loft, The Lark Distillery, Irish Murphy’s – all started doing live music. The Republic started doing original music 7 days a week.

This stemmed from the success The Telegraph was having, getting up to 400 covers a night as well as local press coverage of the events.

Matt was approached by various venues to host music events and realised he could be in business, so he launched events management company Loud Music with then-girlfriend Jennifer Cossins. While working under this banner Matt organised 200 events a year, winning an Amplified Music Award for best contribution to the Tasmanian music industry (2008) as well as a life-time achievement award from the Australian Songwriter’s Association. Today, in addition to being regional coordinator for ASA (Tasmania), he is also Vice President of Music Tasmania, and has formerly been a Chairman of the Arts Tasmania funded record label, Big Fish Music, The Writer’s Centre of Tasmania and The Fringe Festival (Additional background courtesy of Music Tasmania).

Matt has worked with scores of prominent local talent – Lincoln le Fevre, Tony Brennan, Sam Bester, Aria award winner Debra Manskey. He got Top 10 Aria Music Charting artist Chris Coleman his first gig at age 14, and even housed him for a while. In addition to Chris, Matt rates The Bedroom Philosopher among some of the most interesting musicians he’s worked with. Matt met him at at a camp for troubled youth, when the artist was just 15.

He was writing a lot and I said, “you’re really good with words, you should play guitar and write songs” and I encouraged him to write songs and got him his first gig, and he ended up getting in the Triple J hottest 100 – he got 3 songs in over a few years.

Matt spends a lot of time talking-up and helping out fellow musicians, but he is also an established artist in his own right. Matt’s duo Butterscotch Pony got 2 songs (‘Bicycle’ and ‘Why do Bees Die in Space’) in the ASA top 30 song contest this year, and played the Falls Festival on the Regrowth stage in 2014 and 2015 (you can check them out here).

As well as being a comedic musician Matt is also a visual artist. His iconic self-built living space high in the hills of Fern Tree doubles as a personal art gallery, boasting it’s own bar salvaged from a café, and indoor grass covered stage – complete with a pink flamingo. Matt has named his house and venue The Mothership Connection (presumably after US funk band Parliament’s first studio album) and the stage after close friend and occasional musical collaborator Deb Manskey.  His latest venture? Touring artists open the Tassie leg of their national tours doing invite only shows in what is essentially his lounge room. ASA award winning Brisbane based artist Francesca de Valence headlined two Mothership Connection events before releasing her debut album Own Self which entered the Aussie iTunes charts at No 9. Tassie musician George Begbie is another regular visitor to The Debra Manskey stage who’s enjoyed a successful run in the ASA awards this year, as well as radio station Triple J’s unearthed competition.

I asked Matt what had inspired the shift from more traditional venues.

Years ago when you’d do these shows you’d get big audiences and the irony is as social media took off, giant TV’s and the Pokies came in and lots of venues got shut down, and suddenly it was very hard, and even very talented established artists were really on struggle street. The pubs only cared about the sound of the cash register, and audiences became less respectful, talked through sets… So I thought, my response to that was, now that the music industry is dead, no-one buys CD’s, what can I do? And I thought, you’ve got to come up with a big idea, something spectacular, and I had this vision: Build a giant stage in my house with a pink flamingo on it and a tombstone with the date of my death.

Matt had googled ‘date of my death’ sites and ordered a tomb stone from an online company. Unfortunately it never arrived.

So I got a PA system, got a bar from Marmalade Café, and in a frenzy I just set it up. Did I know people would come? If you make an intelligent product, you find an intelligent audience.

But was it successful?

Even though I’m 10 minutes out of town, for a lot of people that’s going to Mordor in Lord of the Rings. But every event has been successful in that the quality of the music and the response of the audience has been phenomenal. I think for the artist to go to an audience where every single person in that room is there for your music and want to hear music, that is really special and the audiences are very enthusiastic and they’re often a lot of musicians. Everyone wants to play there. I get loads of people calling me from other states who wanna play. It’s been a success, and I don’t do it very often, but when I do it’s very special and I go all out.

Since Matt began this project there’s been an increased tendency towards home-shows in other states.

For me, home gigs, getting out of the bars, getting out of the venues, that’s my response to the music industry being dead. You get creative, you get imaginative, you do something no-one else has done.

While writing this article I was fortunate enough to be invited to one of Matt’s events at The Mothership Connection.

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Top left clockwise: Matt Sertori, The Sign, Darcy le Froy, Sara-Jane Neep.

After the show I interviewed headliner Sara-Jane Neep to see what she made of it all. Sara was down from Melbourne promoting her new EP Let’s See How This Plays. It was her first official gig at The Mothership Connection, and first time playing with guitarist Brock Nadler in over 2 years, but she plans to play The Mothership again in a couple of months when her tour is in full swing. She described the venue as ‘homely’ and having a ‘really good vibe’. I asked her what advantage she gained from playing a home-show over playing at a more traditional venue?

It’s a bit more intimate, and people are just here for the music. You go to a bar and it’s half-assed. Some people are coming for the music, but a lot of people are just coming to have drinks with their mates, so it’s a bit more of a concert setting, which is nice.

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The Sign performing at The Mothership Connection. Photo Productions of Troy.

Also promoting new album C The Sign were local electro acoustic folk-rock duo The Sign. I spoke to their better half Jo Volta who also cited ‘intimacy’ and ‘ease’ as favourable factors in playing this kind of venue. She had this to say:

For the musicians who tour, home style shows are their lifelines and I believe that more musicians will flow naturally towards home shows. There are a few networks set up in Australia – Australian House Concerts which is similar to the American House concerts circuit. They are very well organised and booked sometimes 12 months in advance. A house concert may not suit every band but I think it is definitely another avenue.

You can catch the duo throughout December at The Claremont Hotel, Homestead, The Globe and The Republic, before they re-emerge next year with a full band and international tour to launch their new album (Pre-order here).  They’ll also be playing a couple of home-shows! Watch this space for upcoming events at The Mothership Connection.

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Matt Sertori performing at The Mothership Connection. Photo Productions of Troy.

Matt Sertori: I think home-shows might be the future, let’s see…

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