The Heart2Art Project’s Gillian Rule interviewed Joseph Matveyenko, a 17 year old musical artist living in Portland, OR about his artistic expression through music and what the youth have to offer the artistic world amid adversity. Here’s what he had to say:
GR: What is your passion and when did it begin? How did it develop and grow throughout your life?
JM: Music is my passion. Ever since I saw a pianist play at my cousin’s bar mitzvah when I was 4 years old, I knew that I wanted to play and create music. At first, I played classical piano and felt that I could release all my stress from school each time I practiced. When I started high school, I joined a pop music performance program that opened me up to countless other genres of music and styles of playing. As my horizons widened, I began to develop my own sound as a keyboardist and gravitated toward R&B/soul music. Since moving to Portland, OR, I’ve entered the local music scene and perform with several groups. Meeting unique musicians and songwriters here has further expanded my musical tastes and abilities.
GR: How do you express yourself creatively? What mediums do you use?
JM: I grew up being taught that piano wasn’t an artform, but rather a talent. I try to challenge that everyday and express my creative side through my playing. Whether it’s a jazzy keyboard solo on stage or writing and recording songs at home, I strive to release my innermost feelings in my music.
GR: What kinds of obstacles did you face in pursuing music, either as a hobby or career? Did you have any supporters along the way?
JM: Playing music as a career has many challenges in today’s content-swarmed society and modern economy. Not many, if any, resources are offered to full-time musicians and artists. Contracts with venues or bandleaders hardly ever exist and make it easy to be taken advantage of financially. There have been times where I’ve suffered from my lack of financial experience and young age.
Last year, I rehearsed weekly for a few months to play 3 shows on Cinco De Mayo weekend in Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver with a Latin hip-hop artist. Payment for all the hours spent learning songs, playing the three shows, and my job as the band’s arranger was verbally agreed upon. On Cinco de Mayo, I drove up to Seattle and was ready to check into the hotel room that I was promised. But strangely, there was only one room for all 5 of us, and to make matters worse, the hip-hop artist who hired me brought 4 other females with him that would all share the bed with him. The venue and the show weren’t as described and my payment changed to being offered in the form of girls to sleep with and alcohol. It was easy for me to decide to drive four hours home and not play the show. This painful experience and many others my Portland peers and I encounter regularly have helped us grow and not put our trust and talents into the wrong hands.
GR: While more spotlight is being brought to the voices of our generation in recent years, history has shown that the perspectives, activism, and art of teenagers are often dismissed. Have you personally experienced this as a teenager?
JM: I’ve definitely experienced my opinion and perspective dismissed due to my age. I mostly play with musicians in their 20s, and at times, I feel uncomfortable being around the alcohol and drugs. Luckily, my music friends understand that I don’t smoke or drink, and they never try to force it onto me. However in Portland, music venues and the Oregon Liquor Commission assume that all kids my age drink, so we are barred from playing at any venue that serves alcohol past 9pm. Also, some venues decide that minors can’t ever be inside at any time. I’ve gotten better at getting around these restrictions and have negotiated agreements with venues I frequently play at, but it’s definitely very frustrating to show up to a gig and not be let inside.
People watching my shows are often surprised to see someone so young performing with bands, and it’s hard to be taken seriously as an artist at this age. Comments that I get after shows often relate to my age rather than my singing/playing, not that they’re negative. I know that as I get older, I will continue to overcome this small hurdle.
GR: You mentioned that you have an EP coming out this summer, can you tell us a little bit more about that?
JM: I started singing seriously during the past summer and take lessons with Moorea Masa (singer for Allen Stone and Emily King). Writing songs feels so liberating to me, and I’ve been able to release all the emotions built up inside of me after leaving the city I lived in my whole life and experiencing a rough break-up. I played my first solo show in December and am playing my material with a full band for the first time next month! I’m currently in the process of recording my EP and am working with friends in Portland and LA on this special project. You can expect some more details soon!
GR: Any last words or advice you would like to share?
JM: This might seem corny, but I think everyone should strive to do what they love, even if there are obstacles and challenges in the way. A lot of people live to plan for the future, but tomorrow isn’t always guaranteed. Go do what you want to do now!
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