Kamilah Q & A Interview with Songwriter Matt Butler

December 9, 2022

Senior Writer: Kamilah Foster

New York Based Musician
1. What inspired you to travel the country to perform in prisons?It was never something that I planned to do, and in a lot of ways I feel like it was something that I just got swept up in. I explain it a bit in the opening of the show, but what happened was that through some connections I made after writing music for a documentary film, I was given the opportunity to perform in the Albany County Jail. It was a pivotal moment I’d never felt more purposeful in my life. The show was also really well received by the inmates and the story got picked up in the news. Before I knew it I was getting invited to perform in facilities all over the country and so I hit the road. It didn’t slow down until the pandemic.

2. What were some of your experiences in these facilities?
I’d say I’ve collected some pretty wild and amazing stories over the years, and I try to talk about the most profound and poignant ones in the show, but one thing I learned is that people have more in common with each other than they realize. it seemed to me that for the most part people want the same things in life, despite where we’re from or what we’ve been through.

3. Did you have any idea that from your experiences in these facilities you would pen “Reckless Son”?
When I was out there, it always felt special to be able to enter these facilities and spend time with folks behind the walls. I felt honored to be trusted with the things I saw and heard and felt somehow like it was my responsibility to find a way to tell the story with humility and in a way that was respectful. Although I didn’t quite have it in my mind at the time, Reckless Son came about pretty naturally from years of stage banter telling the stories behind my songs.

4. What was the passion and the reasoning behind Reckless Son?
Well, I’ll say I’m probably more passionate than reasonable! When I first started visiting correctional facilities, I really had my eyes opened to quite a lot. On one hand, my heart truly ached for the individuals I was meeting that for the most part, I believe, really felt forgotten about, left behind and uncared for. I wanted to show them that somebody cared. On the other hand, every time I came home from a tour I felt like I had to tell people what I was seeing. The average person doesn’t have the first-hand experience I was having, and I was learning things about our country that I felt people needed to know.

5. What is the message that you want your audience to take from Reckless Son, the one man shows?
Ideally, I think I want people to walk out of Reckless Son inspired to be a little kinder, a little more compassionate. The show itself is about service, and how service to others can transform us, how we can use our own unique talents to serve something greater than ourselves, but it isn’t about saving the world or anything like that. It’s about the small things, about how big of a change you can make trying to help just one person

6. On Jan. 27, 2023, you will be releasing the EP from the show, how excited are you about this achievement?
I’m pretty thrilled and also pretty nervous! I’ve been living and breathing this body of work for years, and finally having the chance to record it I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to get it right. Like I said, I feel a duty to do the story justice. But nervousness aside, more than anything I’m grateful, very grateful for everyone that has supported me and believed in this work. A lot of people have worked very hard.
7. What was the inspiration from the first track,” Time to be a man”?
The more time I spent in jails and prisons it seemed that, to many of the guys I met, becoming a man meant either getting locked up or becoming a drug addict or an alcoholic, usually all of the above. That was the only kind of behavior many of them had ever had modeled for them. It struck me as tragic, like their fate was sealed unless they were able to really make a conscious decision to break the patterns and do whatever it took to stick with that decision.
8. What were some of the lessons you learned from the inmates?
That under the right circumstances it could be any one of us in there, that there are so many factors that lead to incarceration that are beyond an individual’s control. And with that in mind, I feel compelled to do what I can to be helpful.
9. When did you know that you were a writer who was drawn to deeper and darker matters?
I’ve felt that way for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was always fascinated by war and war stories, horror movies, but I was also really fascinated by the philosophical. Stuff that makes you think. I was an ambitious reader and when I hit my teens and got obsessed with music, I was drawn to artists that I felt were really trying to say something. I always felt like I had something to say too, and I feel like the work of an artist is trying to figure out what that is and how to say it.
10. What has been the feedback from the prisons and prisoners about Reckless Son?
I’ve never actually performed Reckless Son inside a jail or a prison. Maybe I will someday, but the show wasn’t written for the incarcerated. It was written for those who haven't had the privilege of meeting these people and hearing their stories for themselves. The people in jail know their own story already. Reckless Son is about making sure everyone else hears it.