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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

The Verve: He lets his music do the talking

Matthew Joseph Hughes strums a tune in his basement studio Thursday in Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley)
Matthew Joseph Hughes strums a tune in his basement studio Thursday in Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley)
Jennifer Larue

Some people might describe singer/songwriter Matthew Joseph Hughes as shy. Soft-spoken, he often looks like a deer in the headlights when you’re speaking to him, almost as if conversation pains him.

That all changes when he picks up one of his guitars, first hopping onto his kitchen counter to strum a few chords, then moving into the living room where he sits cross-legged on the floor with his guitar in his arms and begins to sing. This is the kind of conversation he’s good at – heartfelt experiences set to melodies.

“For a while I thought I didn’t even have enough good or bad experiences in life to make music. Artists should have something to say, and I didn’t,” he said. “Two years after high school, I came out of the closet and started getting into real relationships, and then I had something to talk about.”

Hughes, 26, has always loved music. He has a huge collection of records and is inspired by old school singer/songwriters like Marc Bolan from T. Rex, Peter Frampton, Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith. He began his musical journey while still in high school by trying to emulate his favorites while teaching himself to play the guitar. He then wired his karaoke machine into a computer and used mixing software he found online. He recorded dozens of songs, constantly learning, improving and finding his own style.

He has since recorded hundreds of songs, compiling them into albums like “Once in Youth” (2007), “With Love” (October 2014) and “The Road” (March 2014). On the latter, in one of his songs he refers to a Kate Bush song (“Running Up That Hill” 1985) with “Here’s how it began this time, a little running up that road with an ear now tuned by a friend of mine and a heart still looking to unload.” He releases his songs online as Automatic Shoes and submits them to magazines and record companies.

Hughes hit the stage for the first time in January, participating in an open-mic event at nYne Bar and Bistro, 232 W. Sprague Ave.

“Yes. I’m shy,” Hughes said, “but I’ve become addicted to the stage.”

Now he takes the stage at every opportunity. He never banters with the audience. Rather, he pours out his heart once he starts strumming and then exits the stage after a soft thank you.

Recently, he competed in the Sing Out semifinal rounds at Irv’s Bar, 417 W. Sprague Ave. He made the final four and will perform Saturday at this year’s OutSpokane Pride Festival, vying for a cash prize.

“I have always wanted to be a rock star,” he said.

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