Matthew Santos has established himself as one of the most exceptional talents to emerge from the Chicago music scene in decades. With a voice consistently compared to that of the late Jeff Buckley and likened to a male version of Adele, he has been the subject of praise from such artists as Kimbra, Eddie Vedder, and John Legend. His highly acclaimed collaborations with Lupe Fiasco for which he received two Grammy nominations, have served to broaden international awareness of Santos whose own style is a unique, homegrown hybrid touching on alternative/indie-rock/soul and folk genres. The Chicago Sun-Times recognized Santos as an artist who is “organic and soulful and moody, full of interesting musical ideas and dripping with serious vocal talent.”
Santos says the musical diversity that marks his work is “the conflict of being a human being vs. being a brand. Obviously a human has multifaceted tastes. I’m trying to be as colorful on my palette as I can.” The painterly metaphor is one both well earned and underscored by personal experience.
Born and raised in Minneapolis, a six-year-old Matthew Santos started flirting with music by picking out melodic themes from movies and TV on his mother’s old piano. While growing up, Santos always saw himself becoming more of a visual artist and exhibited a potent talent for photo-realistic drawings, and a clear knack for painting. Ironically, it was at the age of 17, while attending Oxbow, an art school, that he rediscovered the raw immediacy of musical expression. His own true passion for singing and writing songs began to flourish. Spending more time with the guitar than the paintbrush, it became evident to Santos that his future in the fine arts was in question.
The decision to pursue music was codified when he relocated to Chicago in 2001 to study music composition at Columbia College. After a few years serving coffee, walking dogs, scrubbing toilets, moving furniture, and pursuing his studies at Columbia, Santos dove head-first into creative experimentation. He started a band and hosted what became a legendary, cultural melting pot of an open mic night at Gourmand, a coffee house near campus that exploded every Thursday with an incredibly eclectic line up of talent – everything from bag pipers to singer/song writers, slam poets to sitar players. Inevitably, Santos dropped out of school and took a soul-searching trip into the deep wilderness of Alaska.
It was in the midst of this reclusive and arduous journey that his life purpose became clear. When far removed from civilization and all its distractions, the one thing that mattered most to Santos was creating music. From that point on, his focus was dead set on making an impression — and hopefully a living — doing something he truly loved.
After cashing in his winnings from a 2005 “battle of the bands” showcase at Columbia, Santos self-released an EP titled As a Crow Flies the next year. During the time he was mixing the EP, Santos was introduced to an up-and-coming hip-hop artist named Wasalu Jaco (aka Lupe Fiasco) by a sound engineer who was a mutual friend. The two budding artists began their now-notorious collaboration that would grab the attention of an international, mainstream audience in the years to follow.
After the first official collaboration on the song “American Terrorist” from Fiasco’s debut album Food ‘n Liquor, Santos’ vocals were featured on multiple tracks on The Cool, Fiasco’s sophomore album which was Gold-certified and most widely recognized for the inclusion of the Grammy-nominated single “Superstar” featuring the vocal by one Matthew Santos.
With appearances on David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen, Craig Ferguson, TRL, and performances at Lollapalooza, Coachella, Glastonbury, Bonaroo, and the Video Music Awards as well as on a 56-date tour with Kanye West, Rihanna, and NERD, Santos’ world had undergone a drastic change with the worldwide success of “Superstar.”
While truly grateful for the mass exposure from the lime light of the Lupe collaboration, Santos was ultimately not content in simply being coined and branded as “Lupe’s hook guy”. “I like(d) ‘Superstar’ as a song, but it’s not me, I didn’t write it. I see the video and I’m like, ‘I’m not that dude.’ But it helps that it’s out there. It’s just another way people can get to me.” –Billboard.com
Once “Superstar” frenzy subsided, Santos returned to Chicago to continue working with his band. He was nominated for “Best Rock Entertainer” at Chicago’s 2009 Music Awards. The band — Aviva Jaye (vocals, keyboard), Robert Tucker (drums), Graham Burris (bass), Chris Gelbuda (lead guitar) and Matt Nelson (keyboards) – was named one of the Top Ten Bands To Watch by the Sun-Times, setting the stage for the release of 2010’s This Burning Ship of Fools
In 2012 the release of Quickly Disappearing brought Santos back to his indie roots. The album reflects a concern for the environment that is heartfelt. The overall idea for the album revealed itself to him on his backpacking trip through Denali National Park in Alaska where he had gone to see a glacier. “All that was left was a layer of dirt on top of some snow,” he recalled. He decided to focus his music on the issue of climate change and the album is a result of that decision. “This album is me rediscovering my values — as an artist…as a human existing in a modern world, says Santos,. The title ‘Quickly Disappearing’ refers to the polar icecaps, how we’re affecting the planetary ecosystem, and global warming in general.”
With 2013 well underway, Santos has been focusing on a cultivating a fresh sound with a growing catalogue of brand new songs, while reviving/revamping some unreleased material in preparation for the next record(s) release slated for Fall 2013.