Matt Gardiner is no stranger to the South African music scene. His pop-country sound has seen him open for artists such as Prime Circle, Arno Carstens, Desmond and the Tutus and many more.
Influenced by the likes of Matthew Mole, Ed Sheeran and Jeremy Loops, Matt has had hit singles on most of the major radio stations in the country.
“This girl that I love is wild at heart, and so fiercely her that it’s inspiring. She’s literally the life of the party, she’s my living ray of sunshine, and of course, she has brown hair and brown eyes.”
Q&A with Matt Gardiner
Q: When did you get into the entertainment industry?
A: I remember singing in the car with my mom from a really young age, I must have been around four years old. As I got older I watched my dad playing drums and guitar and I wanted to play as well, so I saved up and paid half for my first guitar and my parents put in the other half for my 12th birthday present.
I went to Maritzburg College, and in Grade 9 I was in my first-ever musical production. When I got to Grade 10 I played my first gig, and it was opening for Prime Circle in the band I was in called Offshore, and they let me do a solo song where I played by myself and sang. Ever since that moment walking out onto the stage, I knew that’s what I wanted to do my whole life, and I’ve never looked back.
Q: How did growing up in Pietermaritzburg shape you into becoming a musician?
A: Growing up in [Pietermaritzburg] has made me who I am. I got bullied at my first school, and I was told that I didn’t have a singing voice by the choir teacher.
I went to Merchiston, where Mr Beetar was the first person besides my family to believe in me. He made me choir captain when I got to Grade 7. I went on to Maritzburg College where a wonderful lady named Mary-Ann Hartley took me under her wing and saw something in me. She awarded me the once a year cultural bursary at the school, and when my voice broke in Grade 9, she told me that I need to look after my voice and not push it because if I did that then, I was going to have something special.
She made me feel like I could make it, and she was absolutely instrumental in who I am as a musician today. I’ve also had the amazing opportunity to be mentored a little bit by Neil Breytenbach from Prime Circle and got incredible opportunities at Music in the Hills. I’m incredibly blessed to have grown up here and to have the people I have had around me. I wouldn’t change a single thing about growing up here.
Q: Could you give us a little background on your choice for the single’s cover and how you decided on the title of the song?
A: The title came about literally just by chance. I was on my way to work and the phrase “brown hair, brown eyes” just kept running through my head.
I knew that was the name before I even wrote it. I sent the song to my friend Wade Weirdson, and he created the album artwork that we have today. I told him my ideas, but I told him to create what he thought would fit the song. He’s a super talented guy, all of his work and all of his illustrations are crazy good!
Q: Why have you chosen country music as your primary genre of music?
A: The country element that is in the songs I’m writing at the moment is there because I love the genre. I love the storytelling and the musicality that you find in country music. A lot of my stuff may not sound country, but there is 100% a country influence in everything I write.
Q: How has being in the entertainment industry during the Covid 19 pandemic been, and what were your biggest challenges?
A: Yoh man, I think every single person has had a rough time during the pandemic. The entertainment industry was basically shut down for what felt like forever though. I can’t tell you how many messages and emails I got just cancelling everything. It was terrifying to watch my only source of income disappear right in front of my eyes.
The biggest challenges were trying to remain optimistic, and keep the mental health strong. And the stress of not knowing when I was going to get to do what I love again, or even if I was ever going to be able to do it again, was really hard-hitting on mental health, and I know it’s the exact same thing for a lot of my friends in the industry. A positive aspect though is that it gave me the opportunity to write a lot of songs. I have so many, and an EP is 100% happening now.
Q: I believe there’s a special lady behind the song. Could you tell us a little about her and your relationship with her?
A: Ah man, she’s amazing. She’s everything I wrote in that song and more. She’s my living ray of sunshine, she’s the life of the party and she has brown hair and brown eyes. She experienced country life for real in America, and she came home and introduced me to it. I thought it was amazing to be able to give a country song to the person who introduced me to country music.
She’s just so special and so amazing, I love her. We spend a lot of time together, and she’s my favourite person to be around, she brings out the best version of me there is. I’m so grateful to have her in my life.
Q: What does love mean to you? What is your understanding of love?
A: To me love is one of the most important things in the world. Love isn’t just a feeling, love is so much more. Love brings people together, and love can fix broken hearts. Love is basically real life magic.
There’s obviously different kinds of love like family love and partner love, but in terms of partner love, to me it’s all about who you want to talk to when something good or bad happens, when you see something funny and the first person you think of is them, when the face you want to see when the day’s done is theirs, when your heart beats just a little bit faster when you see a message from them, when you want to experience everything life has to throw at you with them by your side and so much more… That’s love.
Q: What do you get up to in your free time when you’re not creating music?
A: I really enjoy going to the gym, spending time with my loved ones, meandering in the Midlands with my person and playing golf with the boys! Also I absolutely love sport, I never miss a football or rugby game.
Q: What do you hope this single evokes in your listeners?
A: I hope this single invokes a feeling of love in those who hear it. I want people to think of their person, and all of the things they love about them, like writing this song did for me.
I want people to feel happy, and give them that feeling of excitement they get when they know they’re going to see their person. I love that feeling, and I love love and I want everybody to feel it too when they hear Brown Hair, Brown Eyes.