“Musicians of New York” is a series where I interview various musicians with the intention of understanding what it’s really like to live and gig in New York. My aim is to learn about each musicians personal attitude towards the music scene, how they survive and their unique approach to their career.
In this episode I had the pleasure of interviewing bass player Matt Clohesy. Originally from Australia, and now residing in the big apple.
What’s your favourite thing about living in New York City?
For me it’s the access to a huge number of great musicians in a wide variety of genres. You can find music of almost any kind here, and the level is always really high.
Do you feel like New York City is where you need to be if you’re a serious musician?
I think for a serious jazz musician NYC is a place to be for at least a year or two. It’s kind of like going to school for jazz, the ultimate training ground. I don’t think musicians necessarily have to stay there for decades and also perhaps someone who is focused on different music like pop or country for example would be better off in other hubs like LA or Nashville.
Do you feel like you could be the musician you are today if you didn’t make the move to New York?
Not quite. I’ve learned a lot of major things about my playing since being in NY. That’s just my story though, everyone has a different path to take.
Did you consciously choose what “scene” you’re currently involved in or did you “fall into it”?
I think I pretty much fell into the things I’m doing now. I couldn’t call it just one scene though. I have pretty strong connections with various bands I work with that are basically unrelated. I certainly came to NYC wanting to play jazz and then maybe rock, pop, funk etc and fortunately over time I’ve gradually met people I was able to do it all with on a professional level.
What’s your template for making ends meet in such an expensive city? (do you teach, take other work etc)
I’ve been lucky to make a living playing bass all my adult life and never had another job. I do a little bit of teaching but it’s only ever a few private lessons with students that have specifically wanted to study with me.
With the world rapidly going more digital, are you using cryptocurrencies for performances or is that something you are staying clear of?
I have never been offered a payment in cryptocurrencies but who knows what the future has in store for me?
Regarding the digital world, how much time and energy do you invest in social media/online presence vs the face to face meetings, networking and branding etc.
I personally don’t spend a lot of time on any of this, I’m lucky to be a bassist who is around working and visible in a lot of circles. I think if I was starting out again I would spend a lot of time on social media and also just be out at people’s gigs a lot and trying to jam with everyone who was willing.
How much of your time do you spend at your home between touring/gigging?
Not quite as much as I’d like but it’s still pretty good. I’m out of town at least 3 months of the year and then when I’m in NYC I’m usually running around gigging, rehearsing and recording so yes sometimes I think about trying to free my schedule up a bit. But there are always so many fun musical opportunities coming up and I don’t want to miss out on anything. Also, I have to keep earning a living. The cost of living in Manhattan is obviously very high!
How much of your time do you spend practicing between touring/gigging?
Again, not as much as I’d like. It really goes in phases and most often the practice I do will be in preparation for an upcoming project rather than just personal musical development.
What’s the most valuable career investment you’ve made to get to where you are now?
Probably the money I saved up in Australia right before the big move to NYC, I ended up using most of it getting settled here and a huge bulk of it on immigration lawyer fees. I’m now a US citizen but being able to simply be here all this time was the best investment for me.
What’s the hardest thing about being a sideman musician/musician in New York City?
I would say having to jump from gig to gig learning different music every few days. Along with being the hardest thing, it’s also extremely valuable experience and it’s one of the things that’s made me improve as a player the most.
What drives you to work on your craft/skills everyday?
For me it’s usually just the pressure to get through the next gig of challenging/new music and hopefully do a good job.
What are the biggest sacrifices you’ve made to get to where you are as a musician?
I think I’ve sort of sacrificed the possibility of having a low stress, somewhat predictable life. Sounds like something most people don’t want anyway but the grass is always greener.
Is there anything you wish you did differently that in hindsight you feel would’ve positioned you better?
Possibly getting to the USA sooner, maybe going to music school in Boston or NYC straight away (I went to college in Melbourne, Australia, gigged around after that and moved to USA at the age of 27) I might have had more career opportunities if I had started making connections in the US at age 20 or so.
What’s your favourite thing about being a musician?
Apart from just actually making music, I’d say the travel. I’ve seen many parts of the world for free, thanks to my job.
Have you ever wished you weren’t a musician or felt stuck?
Yes, many times.
What are the key things you feel a musician needs to succeed in New York.
Obviously a certain level of skill and good ears – the ability to adapt to musical situations as they change around you. And beyond that, a musician should just try to be a good person and get along well with everybody. Really though, you just need a good amount of drive to keep improving and try to get into better playing situations.
If you could only practice three things what would they be?
Time, tuning and tone. The three Ts!!!
What’s your advice to musicians considering making the move to New York?
Try to plan ahead a little bit, if you have a time frame you’d like to be in NYC predetermined, make sure you have some money saved. Also be prepared to maybe play in some musical situations you think may be beneath you. You never know who you might meet on a terrible gig that can turn out to really help get you into some way better work situations in the future.
What’s your mission as a musician/artist?
Just to continue making creative music and improve my playing in the process.
Any other comments or insights you wish to share?
To anyone thinking of trying to settle in NYC for music, be open to taking some different paths musically to the ones you might be dreaming of. These paths might get you where you wanted to be eventually anyway, just by taking the back route.
For more information on Matt head to