Brite Winter 2015 Artist Spotlight: Roses

Laozi, a famed philosopher and poet from ancient China, once wrote “if you do not change direction, you may end up where you’re going.”

This advice may seem completely arbitrary, and it most definitely came from a website of inspirational quotes, but I think that this piece of prose accurately sums up Matt Scheuermann’s year, starting a new musical project called Roses and finding himself somewhere he hadn’t been before.

“I think moving was symbolic. I didn’t know it was symbolic at the time. I moved because of the reasons a lot of people move,” reflects Scheuermann over the telephone, dialing in from Philadelphia.

“It’s the type of thing that happens and you don’t know it’s happening. This was so necessary, it was so perfect, but I had no idea. To me, it was the simplest decision. I’ll see what happens, but subconsciously I was saying ‘I need to move, you have to move, you have to symbolically change around this. Your thoughts, the way you approach things, the people you surround yourself with,’” he says.

Last year on February 21st, Scheuermann was in Cleveland, celebrating his birthday and having a hard time finding a job, but he also unveiled Roses to Facebook friends eager to hear something new from the solo musician who had for so many years operated under the moniker, American War.

In May, he played a show as Roses in Chicago on the way to record an album with The Sidekicks, whom he’d been recording and touring with for more than four years. However, Scheuermann’s path diverged with Columbus-based Sidekicks and he moved to Philadelphia in June.

Scheuermann has thrown himself heart-first into his new project, releasing a three song EP via Facebook, with its physical release due out on cassette via Stereophonodon on Valentine’s Day, just in time for Brite Winter Fest.

“A big part of American War was questioning whether or not people would like it,” Scheuermann says. “It’s different with Roses; it’s more of a personal thing. I feel better about the songwriting because it’s more about what I want rather than what I think other people want. It’s kind of a strange thing to say, but I think it allows me to be weirder and I want to do that. I need to do that.”

American War always shined through its flaws and became one of the most endearing acoustic acts in the local punk community that revered Scheuermann’s aesthetic on albums such as Rhetoric (2009) and Symptoms (2013). The songwriting on Roses’ debut songs are in comparison, flawless.

“What I’m interested in now is not necessarily my capabilities, but my ability to control [them…] I don’t want to just sing as loud and hard as I can all the time, just because I can. Sure I can, but I don’t want to keep doing that. I want to hone in, I want to find a vocal range, I want to find a key to play guitar in, I want to find all these things and work on it like a craft,” explains Scheuermann.

“Boys”, “Preacher”, and “Summer Sounds” are much more balanced in their approach on Roses’ EP, with lovely melody, instrumentation and harmonization stringing each song along, instead of driving guitar chords punched out hastily to keep time, which became characteristic of past projects. Roses still sounds like Scheuermann, but where American War mimicked folk music of yester-year arranged for his friends to enjoy, Roses is a sweet meditation in calmness and a mantra for what is to come.

“Maybe certain people would like aspects of what I used to do, but I would say that the stuff I’m working on now is more refined,” Scheuermann says in anticipation for his performance coming up in February. The last time most Clevelanders would have seen him was at Weapons of Mass Creation Fest in 2013 as American War, where he played a rousing rendition of “Linger” among his own originals.

“I’m thinking way more about every aspect of my song; I don’t want to just push the highest note, I want to work on the things I like to do. I think that people will understand once I play a couple songs. It’s honing in on my abilities, it’s not exaggerating them,” he says hopefully.

Scheuermann seems to be onto something with Roses and is happy with the amount of growth he has experienced in his personal life and his continued passion for creating music since moving to Philly. “It’s very interesting how the physical makeup of the city affects art,” he says.

Often, the direction that we find ourselves angled towards is the exact course we were meant to take. It may take moving a state or two away, abandoning outgrown endeavors, and embracing change but in the end it’s worth it.