Matthew O’Neill is a musical artist based in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Born in Ontario, Canada, Matthew grew up outside of Philadelphia, and spent much of his youth joyously in the Eastern woodlands. His music embodies a deep connection to nature, spirit, and indigenous ways. He is a musical explorer. In bridging the gap between indigenous wisdom and the contemporary world, his music offers up feelings that are fresh, wild, curious, fierce, and celebratory. His songwriting acknowledges the interconnectedness of all things and often features poetic allegory centering on non anthropocentric articulations of gratitude, joy, suffering, and loss. Reviewers have compared his work to Neil Young, David Bowie, Robbie Robertson, David Byrne, and Nick Cave. It has always been his goal to make the world a better place through the powers of music.
Matthew got his start in the Philly area DIY scene of the 90’s. A tight band of best friends, Milkweed was his first group. He put on basement shows and benefit concerts. At the age of 19, he removed himself from society and sought out the education of experience in wilderness. For years he lived in vast backcountry areas across North America. Everyday was an adventure of deepening reverence. It was a time of interaction, prayer, communion, and study. A shedding of domesticity that yielded ever increasing spiritual strength and personal freedom. A heart bent of service makes music his calling, his way of giving back and expressing gratitude. He channelled these experiences into music and writing. During these years plant medicine, foraging, primitive skills, and indigenous teachings became an integral parts of his life.
Following this prolonging rite of passage, Matthew began working seasonal jobs on remote ranches and biodynamic farms, and he pursued parallel interests of eco-design and sustainablilty. He enjoyed working with horses as a wrangler while developing his songwriting skills in places like Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Shortly after some time working with draft horses in Northern California, leaving Wheeler Ranch in Occidental, California, he formed Maiden Creek Lodge in Groom Creek, Arizona. The band performed and recorded locally in the mile high alternative college town of Prescott. 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. Atlantic Sound has seen the likes of Bjork, St. Vincent, Harry Belafonte and many others.
In 2009, Matt moved with his family to Los Angeles, and began performing in the area while working in the day doing eco landscaping, mainly in the Echo Park / Highland Park area. He rented an off-the-grid shack 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 Coalition.
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.