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Interview: Matt Donaldson, singer, songwriter

29 July 2022

‘The music industry: it’s such a dark culture, it really needs God in it’

Matt and the Zeal is a solo project of mine. I write all the songs, and then workshop them with the backing band who play in my live shows. The bassist is my housemate, and there are two backing vocalists and a guitarist, drummer, and keyboard player from my song-writing course at the college. 

It’s really a passion project, as I love writing songs and creating music. The goal is basically to be as honest as possible and to write music about experiences, life, and to get across my personality in my music. I write for quite a young audience — 18 to 30 years old — like me. The only thing that’s the same with every song is that God has given me a talent that I love using for his glory, and so hopefully God can use me more through this.

“Take it Slow” is the newest single. It’s a song I’m extremely proud of and so blessed to be able to release and get out into the world.

For the imagery for “Take it Slow” we really, really wanted to have a choir on the song; so we recorded the audio for the choir in my church, and thought it would be a cool opportunity to record it as well. It was a real mix between having fun making the music video together, and recording elements of my life and what’s really important to me. One of my friends filmed and edited it, and then we directed it together.

It’s on all major streaming platforms, and a music video is out on YouTube, which gives an idea of how we recorded the choir in my church in Manchester — such an amazing experience.

My mum plays piano and guitar, and she has a really nice voice as well, and leads music in my church.

She taught me a few chords on the guitar. I basically got bored of playing those few chords; so I learnt other people’s songs, then got bored of playing other people’s songs, and so decided to make my own songs, and completely fell in love with it.

It doesn’t pay the bills just yet. I’ve just finished my degree studying songwriting in Manchester, and I’m currently trusting God to show me what my next step is. I went to the British and Irish Institute of Modern Music, where they taught us how music is progressing, and all about the music business. They teach a lot about how to write pop songs, but what I found most useful was definitely the business side of things, especially as the industry has changed so much because of Covid.

Soul music, gospel, and hip-hop are the main three genres of music I love and listen to. But I try to listen to as much as possible, because the more I listen to the more inspired and creative I can be.

I love Kanye [West]’s lyricism, and Mac Miller, and Samm Henshaw is a really good vocalist and singer; but there are so many genius lyric-writers that I love listening to. I’m very influenced by the lyrics of those three. Their craft is amazing.

I try and make music that matches my personality, mood, and thoughts at the time of writing; so I just try to make the chord progressions, lyrics, melodies, and sound in general “happy, chilled, and wholesome”, as someone’s described them.

You have to understand that these rappers — and a lot of young people — don’t have God in their lives, and they’re searching for God in their lives. That’s the biggest secret I have. I wish it wasn’t a secret — I wish more people knew about it.

Once you’ve appreciated God’s love for you, it’s really hard not to try and put that into every area of your life — especially in the music industry; it’s such a dark culture, it really needs God in it. God loves those people as much as anyone else; so why would we not try and reach them as well?

I believe that music is an amazing gift God has given us, and so every song and melody I write is for God as worship.

I’ve been brought up by two amazing God-loving parents, and even if I didn’t realise it then, the way that my parents have brought me up is to thank God for everything and to look for God in everything. So I don’t have a specific memory of first experiencing God. I’ve seen him all my life.

As I’ve grown up and become more independent, I’ve just got so much closer and grown so much in my relationship with God. Nothing’s really changed — instead I’ve just got deeper and closer to God as time’s gone on.

I love sport; so that’s something I love doing when I’m not working. But I don’t really see making music as working. I play cricket and football competitively, but I also play squash, tennis, and golf, and run and swim. . . My family was very sporty, and I was brought up in Africa where sport is such a big part of culture.

I was born in Zimbabwe, and spent seven or eight years there, and then we moved to South Africa. Then we moved to Jersey. It was my dad’s job that brought us there. We’d never heard of it before, but it sounded like a dream. It’s an amazing place — the safest place I’ve ever been, with such a sense of community.

No, it’s not a good place for pop music; so the plan is to stay in Manchester.

There’s so much else that I want to do in life, but I try not to think too much about it, because I really want to see God’s calling for my life in action right now. I try and think what God wants me to do now, and do that.

Not a lot makes me that angry, to be honest.

I love worship. That’s what makes me happiest. I try to bring it into absolutely every area of my life — easier said than done. I write a lot of worship and love songs to God. I try and make everything I do for God’s glory.

Serving people: that’s something I’m not very good at, and I’ve had to work hard at. But it’s a great way to worship God. Something tiny, like cleaning someone else’s dishes, might be a way of seeing God’s glory. My housemates aren’t Christians; so I try to show them what living for God looks like.

My hope is in God, and he’s a God that never fails. I have so much hope that God is working in my life and using me to work in other people’s lives.

One of the most revolutionary prayers that I’ve prayed is “Lord, have your way”, and that relates to everything. It’s so amazing, because it gives all control to God and means that I don’t have to worry — because in my life, in my music, in my friends’ lives and every area that I pray into, if God has his way then that’s the best outcome that could possibly happen.

If I was locked in a church for a few hours I’d choose to be with someone who I’m super close with, so I don’t feel the need to impress or get distracted by them. You know what? I think I’d probably choose my mum, because I’m so close to her, and she’s one of the best worshippers I know. She just loves God, and I’d want it to be a place of complete worship.

Matt Donaldson was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

“Take It Slow” is on YouTube

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