Sitting in a brew pub in North Dallas, Matthew Gray comes across as the proverbial nice guy. Always smiling and with a voice like that of a soft-spoken evangelical, the leader of Matthew and the Arrogant Sea is the guy you want to be your neighbor. And his music is quite neighborly as well. For the better part of 15 years, Gray has been a major player in the North Texas music scene, specifically in Denton, where he plays with a rotating class of singers and musicians. In that time, Gray has proven to be as productive as he is talented.
“I’ve done 16 releases in the past 15 years,” Gray says. “This new album will be my 12th full-length effort.”
Not even the COVID epidemic could slow this man down. In fact, Gray says the suffering he witnessed during the pandemic had a direct impact on his muse and his music.
“Like all bands, we hunkered down and recorded,” Gray explains. “In our case, we recorded a couple of EPs that turned into a series of them. The songs were inspired by what I was seeing unravel in Denton — so many people going through so much. I wrote this song, ‘Motional,’ and it’s been quite successful. The song has kind of given us new life.”
The new album is called If You Find Yourself Floating Away, and it features the smart, dreamy, alternative pop that’s Gray’s forte. Songs like “Rooftops,” “A Little Off” and the title track recall the ethereal work of Neutral Milk Hotel and the Postal Service.
“I don’t think it sounds like any other record I’ve done,” Gray says. “It’s always been my primary goal to never recreate what I’ve done before.”
What makes the new release even more special is that Gray decided to work with a set group of musicians that’s morphed into a solid band. This helps create a dynamic that was missing when all he used was hired guns. Even though, it seems, Gray knows every musician in North Texas, it’s nice to see him settle on a select few co-conspirators.
“This band has become something so much better,” he explains. “We’ve been pretty quiet because I’ve been sitting on this new album, but during the pandemic, I started reconnecting with our fans. I was finding out what they were dealing with, talking about copious amounts of anxiety and panic attacks. I was able to connect with them over my own personal experience with anxiety, something I’ve really struggled with. And this record was born.”
Something else Gray might struggle with is that his band has a bigger audience overseas than here in the States. But in typical fashion, Gray turns any negative into a positive.
“We have a huge cult following in Spain,” Gray says. “People don’t realize that. Our following over there has kept me alive. That’s the reason I’ve made merch for all these years. People are buying it. And it’s been mostly overseas.”
Gray does an impressive job of keeping the band’s social media accounts active and keeping the streaming accounts active. “It’s really just connecting with the people who are listening,” he says. “That’s always been my goal.”
During the pandemic, Gray says he felt like his life and the lives of people around him were coming unglued. His response to this turmoil was to release his inner demons through the best music of his career.
“This record is what I wanted to write for a long time,” he says. “This collection of songs was more driven by what I saw during these times. I saw people struggling with health issues, and I knew people who committed suicide.”
The title track of the new album holds a special place in the artist’s heart.
“That song was the hardest song I’ve ever written,” he allows. “I couldn’t find the voice I wanted to have. I wanted to make something transcendent. That song I would 100% dedicate to my fans, especially those who’ve struggled with mental health.”
Now, Gray is setting his sights on getting back on the road. And judging by the amount of shows already booked, things are setting up well for Gray and his bandmates.
“We’re basically booked up until January of next year,” he says. “It’s a lot of out-of-town stuff. We’re about to go to Colorado in August and then to Arizona later in the year. We have a planned West Coast tour.”
Gray knows the road can be tough on a band without a national profile. Many a band has played shows in front of meager audiences. Gray, however, just wants to reconnect with a live audience, big or small.
“I don’t care if it is 5,000 or 500,” he says. “I just want to put something beautiful out there. Even during the pandemic, I didn’t stop. I just started scheduling virtual shows. I’m 40 years old and, and I think I’ll always be in this musical realm until I cease to exist. I’d be immensely disappointed if I didn’t die with an instrument in my hand.”