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Matt Hammitt

With the band's fourth studio project, We Need Each Other, less than a month away, Sanctus Real lead vocalist Matt Hammitt chatted on the phone with us about the new album, recording for the first time as a quintet, having their label president play on the opening track, and more...
This interview took place on: 1/25/08.

  • Jesus freak Hideout (John DiBiase): Hey! What's up?
    Matt Hammitt: Not much! Just writin' some music, hanging out with the fam. All that good stuff, man.

  • JFH (John): Awesome! It's cool you're touring with Third Day this Spring - what's it been like to tour with artists like Steven Curtis Chapman (last Fall), Audio Adrenaline, Third Day - bands you probably grew up listening to before forming Sanctus Real?
    Matt: Yeah, totally dude, it's a pretty big deal for us. We try to get outside of the stage as much as possible and remember what it was like before we were on tour with these guys, y'know? Before we were putting out records. Just yesterday, I was helping my parents move some furniture at their house and, in my old bedroom there's this poster from a long time ago - it was the first Delirious? record. And it was signed by the guys, I think on their first U.S. tour. And, in May, we're co-headlining a festival with Delirious? in England. And when I saw that poster, I thought to myself, "Man, when I bought that poster and I was that kid in the front row at the Delirious? concert on their first U.S. tour while I was in high school or whatever, I never thought that I would be doing something like that today." And same to be on tour with Audio Adrenaline, especially. Those guys were a huge influence. Their first tape was my first tape that I ever owned. And I just remember going to see them when they opened for the Free At Last Tour with dc Talk, and I got my picture with Mark Stuart. And now, I talk to Mark and we're friends and we've been on tour, it's just weird! Every now and then I get that moment, "Man, what would I have thought if I'd had known how big the plans God had for me were." So we try not to take those things for granted. I really reflect on those times and remember how good God's really been to us. I'm sure somewhere along the way I'd hoped that one day I could do that. So it's pretty cool. I told Toby when we did the Winter Wonder Slam dates with him - we were doing the meet and greets and we'd stand next to Toby and watch these kids walk by. And one day it hit me when there was this one kid that, for whatever reason, looked a little like me when I was younger, and I told Toby, "It's so weird, man, I feel like I'm watching myself walk up to you right then!" Cause I've got those pictures - like I said - of the early days... With dc Talk, I was just a little kid, man. Michael [Tait] had his flat top. Toby wore bright baggy clothes. It was pretty fun!

  • JFH (John): Let's talk about the record... first of all, "Turn On The Lights" is one of the best opening tracks I've heard in awhile. What's the story behind the song?
    Matt: Thanks man! We were feelin' that too. We thought, "This has GOT to be the opening track!" That actually was a song that we just started jamming one day in the studio. It's weird, because... *laughs* we were actually doing the last song on the record, "Legacy," and we kinda started diverting from it. The whole vibe started changing. Basically that "Turn On The Lights," what we'd done at the time, was burnt out of a side-jam of "Legacy!" *laughs* And it ended up, obviously, evolving and evolving into a very different song. We just kept going. But immediately, when Chris started playing that riff, we all knew this is gonna be cool. Cause we already had the chorus from what we'd been jamming, and then Chris just kinda came up with that thing and Pete kind of followed with the octave riff. Aw man, it just felt so energetic! It really lit up the room and all of us were feeling it. So we went in the studio and pretty much were done in terms of the music and the melodies, but we just kept tweaking the melodies and the big change that happened was the chorus, because we had the chorus where we thought it was really cool, but we were like, "We gotta throw this thing over the top. We gotta just really do something weird or something different, catchy, punchy or something." We didn't even know if we could put our finger on it, but we could feel it when we landed on it. And we just kept messing around and finally were like "Let's just try something really rhythmic" with the melody and the lyric and that's how we landed on the whole "Send a shock through the power lines," like all that stuff. And we saw the quirky elements of it and we were so excited in the studio cause it was so much fun coming up with a catchy, punchy kind of sound. It's almost reminiscent of kind of like an 80's pop thing or something. I don't know. It just felt really cool to us. So that's kind of how that song developed.

  • JFH (John): How'd you get Peter York involved?
    Matt: Well, we really had wanted Robert Randolph to play on the bridge. He's with Red Light Management, and at the time we were with Red Light, and we asked our manager about it and it didn't come through. We were sitting around the dinner table one night with Peter and we were like, "Peter, we would just love for you to play sometime on our record," cause he played with Phil Keaggy and 2nd Chapter of Acts, and all these legendary, old school Christian bands. And he hasn't done a [recording] session in about twenty years. And we were like, "You gotta come up here and mess around on the guitar and play on our record!" And he just said, "I'd love to!" We were like, "Seriously?!" He said, "I'm serious, man. You tell me when and I'll be there." Sure enough, our producer set up a time to have him come in and ripped a solo, man. First time in twenty years! President of Sparrow [Records]! It was great.

  • JFH (John): Where did the concept for "We Need Each Other" come from?
    Album cover Matt: Basically, I'm the kind of person - I really like to communicate my feelings to people. Some kinds of people are really internal and they keep everything to themselves, they don't want to tell you how they feel or what they think. I'm the person who has the need to say, "Hey look, I feel 'this way'" or "I feel 'that way'" whether it's good or bad. But when I don't, it kind of eats me alive - especially when it's a conflict that I'm having with somebody. Last year, I was just going through some of that stuff where I hadn't been open about a series of small things in my life that were kind of unresolved issues that I just needed to talk about. And I sensed that inside of me, these issues were just building and quite honestly, it was just making me miserable. And I thought, "If I don't go to people and talk to them and open up to them, then this is going to continue to grow and root bitterness into my life." It was in that moment I decided that keeping my friendships sincere and honest and taking the energy and the time and the courage to go to people and open up was more important. I didn't really have a choice. It was either choose that and do that or keep it all inside and feel miserable. And so the whole song is kind of based on that concept. We really need each other. If we want to work together to learn to love each other better, we have to be willing to communicate what we need from one another. And then if you're willing to give back as well what others need from us. It's just part of working together, y'know? It's not always easy, but it's important. It's necessary.

  • JFH (John): Are you planning any headlining tours this year?
    Matt: Yeah, man. In the Fall. We're planning "We Need Each Other - The Tour." We have some really cool stuff in the works. We really are aiming to make it an event that can be something really inspiring to people. We're going to bring along a speaker with us. So we're in the process of - I can't say what it is yet - but we're excited to get it all nailed down for sure.

  • JFH (John): How did recording as a five-piece band for the first time affect your recording process this time around?
    Matt: It was great because not only did we have Chris coming up with great [guitar] parts, but Pete's equally creative in a different way. And Dan as well. Dan's really creative in his bass lines. So we have two other creative guys coming to the table throughout the process, giving their input, writing new parts that we wouldn't have thought of ourselves. It was really awesome. It added to the texture of the whole record. So I think it was really beneficial to have those guys writing with us. We're excited to have Dan and Pete be a part of this thing. They're definitely solid members of the band and we're going to keep both of them - hopefully for a long time. They definitely added a sort of really unique, fresh element to the texture of the band.

  • JFH (John): Who'd you work with on this record?
    Matt: Chris Stevens. Same producer as on The Face Of Love. The cool thing about working with him is when we worked on The Face Of Love together, he'd just moved to town and just started producing heavily in the Christian music scene. And so, in the same way that we've grown as writers and musicians over the last couple of years, he's grown a lot as a producer. So we were all ready to come together and do something beyond what we thought we'd do. We were pretty excited to work with him again.

  • JFH (John): Were there any specific musical influences for this record?
    Matt: Man... I don't know if we could specifically reference any influences while making the record. I do know that some of the records we were all really into last year was the Wilco record, Sky Blue Sky, which kind of had this really raw... they recorded that record live. So that was really cool. The Paul McCartney record came out while we were recording. That was really inspiring to us with the creativity on it. I think those definitely inspired us for sure - to try to capture a different kind of sound.

  • JFH (John): Speaking of a different kind of sound, "Half Our Lives" is a different direction for you guys. Where did that song come out of - thematically and musically?
    Matt: Well, Chris had that riff that you hear at the beginning of the song - the chord progression and stuff, and he brought it into the studio and into the rehearsal space and we just started jamming it. And we all, for whatever reason, right away, felt like it was a song about childhood. So we all were like, "Move forward with this!" Later, that song was written, pretty much top to bottom in a couple hours -lyrics and everything. It was just kind of one of those things that was maybe waiting to come out of all of us and we were in the right place, right time, right atmosphere, with the right focus. It was really cool.

  • JFH (John): How'd you connect with Katie Herzig to sing with you on it?
    Matt: A friend of ours, who was a producer for the Oceans Above record, had Katie sing on that record. But we were calling around to get some recommendations for some female vocalists of her style, and that's the first person he told us. So we looked her up and called her. And she came in, I think, the same day! She was like, "Yeah, I'll come by, sing on that" and that was that, man. She came in for like an hour, I think. *laughs* Yeah. And knocked it out of the park. All her stuff is good. Make sure you tell people to check her out. Her solo stuff's just amazing.

  • JFH (John): Yeah, it's funny cause I was driving in the car recently with my Dad and I was playing the record, and a couple times, he's like "Who's this?" and I said, "Sanctus Real." and then "Half Our Lives" came on and he heard Katie singing and he asked again, "Who is this?" and I'm like, "It's still Sanctus Real." and he's like, "Oh! This is a good record!"
    Matt: *laughs* That's cool! I think the older demographic can really connect with "Half Our Lives." We played it live on the K-Love morning show, which gets like four million people, and they got so many requests for it they had to pull it out of the archives and play the live version! And that's AC / Contemporary radio! We played four songs live, and people were flipping out about that one. They kept calling it "The Firefly Song." Like, "Play 'The Firefly Song'!" *laughs* So I think that that might have more potential than we thought.

  • JFH (John): What's the story behind "Lay Down My Guns?"
    Matt: There's this guy named Doug McKelvey who contributed some of the lyrics for "I'm Not Alright" on the last record and he was really the first cowrite we used with the band besides producers who had contributed stuff here and there. What he had basically done with that song, "I'm Not Alright," is he came in and had done such a good job with helping us edit the lyrics and taking them to the next level. So we had been looking to get stuff from him ever since, if it works. So instead of just cowriting, he'd send us some random lyrics. We actually weren't going to use any outside writers on this record, and then Doug sent over kind of a b-file of extra lyrics and he had a worship song that had the line, "Lay down your guns, lift up your hands." And I just liked that one line. We didn't use any of the other lyrics and I basically wrote a whole new concept on that one line, and then even changed that line a little bit. Because it immediately made me think of the war that's going on right now and what soldiers go through, and just thinking of these guys away from their families for so long... They basically live to defend themselves in our country. And how good does it feel when you can finally come home and set your guns down and be able to not be on your guard anymore. Just be able to have that release, y'know? And then it made me think of how that's life too. That, while we're on this earth, kind of like spiritually and emotionally, we have so many defenses up all of the time that we have to have because we have an enemy. What would it feel like? How good would it feel to get to heaven and lay down our guns and lift up our hands and learn to completely love again. It's really just a metaphor using the war in Iraq as a metaphor for our spiritual journey. I like that song a lot.

  • JFH (John): It's interesting, because when you mentioned Doug's original worship song, it made me think of your new song, "Sing." It's really fresh - I don't know how to explain it. It's not so stale...
    Matt: Yeah, it doesn't feel like a manufactured worship song or a worship cover. Thanks man, that's real important to us. Well, worship is part of my past. I was a worship leader for like five years at my church. For my youth group, for my college group. I mean, that's kind of really how I learned to play music. So that's just a huge part of my spirit, my desire with music. It's rooted in worship. With the whole modern worship movement, there's so much that sounds the same and creativity throughout the years - and I'm not saying we're the most creative band - but, it's been important to us to try to be creative, fresh, in the songs that we're making. And we have to be true to ourselves no matter what other people think about it. We've always tried to avoid doing worship covers or similar to what everybody else is doing, and we've just been desiring to write a worship song. When we first started writing it, we kind of saw the potential for it to really be somewhat of a corporate or congregational sounding worship song and we wanted to do it a service in that way but yet still keep it sounding like a Sanctus Real song. It's really good to hear you say that because it was very much our intent.

  • JFH (John): Any last comments?
    Matt: Well there is one thing, you might have already heard about it from us talking about it, but we have produced "". It's just a site you can go to, it's very simple, but it's personal blogs from every band member, several times a week. Also, our video podcast docu-series is there. *laughs* So, check that out. We also have a new myspace page - all re-skinned with new stuff. You can actually get the Sanctus Reality stuff from there too as well.

  • JFH (John): Awesome! I don't know if you noticed, but we did our "Highlighting 2008" top 25 releases of 2008 we're looking forward to --
    Matt: Number four, baby!! *laughter* Thanks, man! We appreciate that. We notice that stuff. We always kind of sniff around, y'know? *laughs* We're feelin' the love.

    Sanctus Real's We Need Each Other hits stores everywhere February 12th!

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