Musical artist Matthew O’Neill is based in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Born in Ontario, Matthew grew up outside of Philadelphia, and spent much of his youth joyously alongside his father in the Eastern woodlands. “I try to express my love for the planet through music and words.” For him music is a way to access unique realms and to share them. O’Neill’s music embodies a deep connection to nature, spirit, and indigenous ways. In bridging the gap between indigenous ways and the contemporary world, his music is a humble attempt to express feelings that are fresh, wild, curious, and celebratory. His songwriting features poetic allegory centering on non anthropocentric articulations of gratitude, pain, and joy. Reviewers have compared his work to Neil Young, Robbie Robertson, David Byrne, Nick Cave, Roger Waters, and Jerry Garcia.
Matthew O’Neill got his start in the Philly area DIY scene of the 90’s. He had a band called Milkweed and put on house shows and benefit concerts. At the age of nineteen, he removed himself from society and sought out the education of experience in wild nature immersion. He lived in the backcountry of vast National Forests and Wilderness areas across North America. Everyday was an adventure of deepening reverence. It was a time of interaction, prayer, thought, and study. A shedding of domesticity that yielded immense spiritual strength and personal freedom. Matthew documented and channelled these experiences into music and writing. During these years he became very actively involved in plant medicine, foraging, primitive skills, and indigenous teachings.
Following this time of shedding and renewal, Matthew began working seasonal jobs on remote ranches. He enjoyed working with horses as a wrangler and as a field hand while developing his songwriting skills in places like Colorado, New Mexico, and California. Shortly after leaving Wheeler Ranch in Occidental, California, he formed Maiden Creek Lodge in Northern Arizona. The band performed and recorded locally in the mile high alternative college town. During travels back East he felt himself newly at home in the Catskill Mountains of New York, and moved into a caretaker shack at an old ballet camp in Big Indian, NY. During this time he founded and built Atlantic Sound Studios in Brooklyn, New York with friend Diko Shoturma. In high school Matthew had begun throwing house shows and recording with his band Milkweed, Diko was the bass player in that band. Atlantic Sound is still going strong and Diko has two Grammy's under his belt.
In 2009, Matt moved with his family to Los Angeles, and began performing in the area while working in the day doing eco landscaping, mostly in Highland and Echo Park. He rented an off-the-grid shack at the top of Tuna Canyon above Topanga and there finished an album he’d began in the Catskills the previous year. Fellow Topanga resident and qigong, herbalist, tai chi, and shakuhachi extraordinaire, Bill Fiorella heard him perform several times and asked him to sign to Lone Pine Records. With a classic Sun Ra / Pharaoh Sanders aesthetic they recorded 'Campfire Cook’ in the mountains two hours east of Los Angeles. O’Neill was living in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia at the time, and he flew out the session in Wrightwood, CA. The album was recorded completely analog over the course of 3 days of sonic conjuring with some incredibly sympatico players, including Toby Williams on drums (Curtis Mayfield), using Daniel Lanois' hand me down gear.
He toured nationally in support of Campfire Cook, performing solo and with a band. The tour was capped off with a record release show in Topanga at Carla And Matt's featuring all the players from the record. Returning to Woodstock, he began working on a new album at Atlantic Sound. Co-producing with Diko Shoturma (Bjork, St. Vincent, David Crosby), they began recording in early 2016 and finished at the end of the year. The record is called Trophic Cascade and in May 2017, 500 copies of the double lp were made available via O'Neill's Underwater Panther Project.
The album kicks off with “Bridge Builder”, a fierce folk/rock call-to-action full of stomp and swagger (“I’m a bridge builder/I’m a lonely star / I’m a wildcat criminal / Kicking down your stall”). Matthew says, “’Bridge Builder’ exists at a confluence of Native American ways, failing political systems, concepts of personal freedom and alternative positive futures. The rest of the record follows suit, exploring juxtapositions and relationships from my own perspective, which are deeply informed by Native American ways.” O’Neill sets the tone early—but this is no one-note outing. The album embodies an infusion of many genre sources.
Matthew lives and breathes the kind of spiritually expansive music that allows the listener to bring their own trip to the trip. O’Neill offsets an edgy malevolence on “Poisoning the Well” (“And you got that blood stained white T-shirt from when they took her from you / And I got those guilt- ridden old sneakers, hanging on the line”) with the shimmering soulful “Louisiana”, the delirious psychedelia and tribal drumming of “1000 Years”, and the wisened beauty of “Relaunching” (Just relaunching/Just launching again/Just being born now/Just being born again/So I can see you/So you can see me again).
All songs on Trophic Cascade were written and performed by Matthew O'Neill (guitar, lead vocals), backed by a luscious layering of baritone sax and contrabass clarinet by Stuart Bogie, (Arcade Fire, David Byrne & St. Vincent); synth/keys by Frank Locrasto (Cass McCombs); vocals by Broadway’s Shayna Steele; cello by Dave Eggar, (Patti Smith, Paul Simon, Sia); bass by Jacob Silver (Lucinda Williams, Charles Bradley). The album sees Matthew using the studio in a Bowie-esque way, as an instrument for sound, arrangement, and collaboration.