Matt Lenny is a guitarist, songwriter and singer born of Bowie and Muddy Waters. Whether playing solo acoustic or with his full band The Breakdown, his powerful songs are both lyrically rich and immediately accessible, driven by rock hooks and country blues licks.
Matt grew up in Connecticut where he obsessively listened to Led Zeppelin cassettes, but it wasn’t until he moved to Tulsa at age 15 that he started playing guitar. Although he felt out of place at the conservative churches of his new home, he found solace in guitar, which he learned through his youth group. Ironically, it was not country or gospel music that seeped in during his time in the Bible belt, it was experimental rock and pop music.
“You would have thought that I would learn about country music in Oklahoma,” Matt laughs. “Instead I discovered Radiohead, Spoon and T. Rex. Years later, I moved to New York to become a rock star and fell in love with country music.”
Matt moved to New York City after living in Chicago, playing in a couple bands and graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in Poetry and Creative Writing. “I just really fell in love with New York on a visit,” Matt says. “I actually moved there to take a break from music. I was sorta feeling like it was going nowhere and that I wanted a change. So, my plan was to move and look for a job at a non-profit or something, but I needed something in the interim and the only job offer that came through was at Matt Umanov Guitars.”
He began working at the world-famous guitar shop in Greenwich Village, where he’d regularly see a who’s who of musical talent – including PeteTownsend, Patti Smith, Bjork, Ben Harper, Rosanne Cash, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones – who would come in to buy guitars and have their instruments repaired while they were in town. He even started giving guitar lessons to Minnie Driver and Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba. But one visitor changed everything for him.
“I was sitting in the shop and in walks Steve Earle,” Matt says. “He picked up an acoustic guitar and just started strumming some chords. And…I don’t know how to put it except to say that, when he played G and C, it was every country song ever written. When I played G and C, it was just a couple of chords. But, when he did it, it was deep; it had soul and groove and power. It really blew my mind. I’d been touring the country with all these loud rock bands and had all these fancy guitar chops, but he had the song in every strum. I’ve been chasing that ever since.”
Matt moved back to Chicago and started a new band called The Breakdown, including some of his oldest friends like Dave Mendez (electric guitar, dobro, vocals), Erik Vaveris (bass, vocals) and David Jamison, who was the touring drummer for Hurray for the Riff Raff. Since then the band has grown in size and sound, releasing four albums. Their new album For the Birds, features this core group along with Bucky Hayes (acoustic guitar, vocals), Bryan Trenis (piano, Hammond, Rhodes, acoustic guitar, vocals), Sonny Ratcliff (banjo), Anthony Gravino (percussion, guitar) and guest vocalists Laura Neuroth and Kait Rose.
Now living in Michigan, Matt continues to pursue that powerful simplicity, with a full band and as a solo singer-songwriter. The resulting music is somewhere on the rock and roll side of Americana with simple chord changes and melodies married to heartfelt emotions and old-fashioned storytelling.
When not making music, Matt loves spending time with his family and doing arguing with 3 noisy cats.