Matt Venuti hears a lot of talk radio shows while touring, and they serve as a constant reminder for why he puts on his meditative shows. “The hosts are so bombastic and divisive,” he says. “I’m trying to offer a way to sit back and have an affirmative look at the cycles of life.”
Even Venuti’s instruments are forward-looking. For example, the Hang instrument, which looks like a hubcap, is metallic and melodic at the same time. It’s an ideal complement, in other words, to Venuti’s lyrical interest in the natural world. But, he says, “I don’t like to be typecast in a way that makes me all about having a spiritual, New Age sensibility.” He’s also put on larger-than-life parties for George Lucas, Cher, Apple and other tech giants.
Calling from the idyllic Wintergreen Resort, Venuti spoke with Style in anticipation of his Firehouse Theatre show on April 24.
Style: Even young musicians say constant touring can be a grind. How do you stay balanced throughout the year?
Venuti: One of the keys is being alone, as opposed to touring with a band. I try to make enough time for myself to get out into nature. Being in that kind of environment is where I recharge myself. And you know, after I’ve been landlocked for awhile, I love exploring the amazing world out there. I feel like a troubadour but also a diplomat representing a certain exotic culture.
You grew up playing trumpet, but the electronic valve instrument is like a mash-up between a trumpet and a synthesizer. How did you find out about it?
I walked into a club in Boston and saw Mike Metheny, whose brother is Pat Metheny, playing the electronic valve instrument. He said Pat got it for him at a store in New York City, but that they didn’t make it anymore. I called the store and said, “Geez, if one ever comes back, let me know.” Well, a couple months later, I got the call. I bought the instrument and had no idea how to use it. I taught myself and about a year later, [the company] contacted me because I was one of the only ones who played it and asked if I wanted to fly around the country and demonstrate it. That was my first professional gig, so to speak.
Do venues affect how these instruments sound?
I’ve played everywhere from the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca for a big ritual in Bolivia to a cave in south Florida to the islands of Hawaii. I must say that I favor the more intimate venues, musically speaking. I love playing small theaters, like the Firehouse Theatre.
Do you miss playing those maximalist parties for companies like Apple?
It’s decadence, like you could possibly imagine. These parties cost a million dollars plus. You know, those aren’t my favorite gigs. They’re very impersonal. The money is great and the music is awesome, we end up improvising and experimenting a lot. And my bandmates are amazing. But I had to choose what was going to make me happy. For me, going on a solo tour and having these quiet spaces is much more preferred.
Perhaps getting outside that bubble helps you find constant inspiration, too?
One of my projects started by creating lyric content for each one of the desert states I toured. Then, next time I toured through there, I took video of all those places, added it to the music and called it “Desert Dreams.” So, yeah, a lot of my songs come from the experiences I have. The experience of nature. Or of loss, you know, my wife passed away after we were together for 20 years. That was one of the things that really shifted my priorities. My music does have that way of putting people in touch with what I call the rhythm of life. Which includes loss, change, coming back to home. Coming back to what’s really important. I know the reason why we are in such a place of turmoil in this country is because we’ve lost that. So if my music can touch people and wake something up in their heart, then I say great.
Matt Venuti plays the Firehouse Theatre on April 24 at 7:30. $10 in advance/$15 day of/$5 student. www.mattvenuti.com