Accidental Electrician

Matt Sever's shocking story

Accidental Electrician
Photo by John Anderson

Saxon Pub, September 2009

"We are, of course, Megadeth."

With those five sly words, the Saxon audience erupts into laughter. It's Matt the Electrician's job to wire the crowd for Bob Schneider, and often it requires jolting the ubiquitous headliner's rowdy crowd with laughter to get them to pay attention to him. The opening doesn't have to try hard on either account.

Meet Matt Sever, born in California, raised in Oregon, and no longer an electrician in Austin. At 39, he's married, a father of two, and a full-time singer-songwriter releasing his seventh CD, Accidental Thief, which follows up the local success of his previous disc, 2009's Animal Boy.

That's a good trick for a son of "hippie parents" who moved here in 1996 because he loved Poi Dog Pondering.

Outside Kerbey Lane South, June 2011

"I was ready to do carpentry when I got here in 1996," waves Sever. "I had my pick of places, so I went to this guy who said: 'Do you have a skill set, a belt, and a hammer? Okay, come on down.' So, I went to the job site, and it was raining. I worked about half a day and then started looking at ads again, thinking, what job would put me inside the most?

"Of course, I didn't realize that 'Electrician!' meant inside without air conditioning. I called up an electrician, and they were hiring. They asked if I had any experience, and I said, 'I worked with an electrician for one day.' He said, 'Can you read a measuring tape?' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'You went to college?' 'Yeah, for a few years.' 'You didn't graduate?' 'No.' And he says, 'Well, I think we can hire you, college boy.'

"Everybody there called me 'college boy.' That's how I became an electrician."

He went on to work for an electrician for seven years and a couple more on his own after that. It provided steady enough work that he enticed his high school sweetheart, Kathie, from her lush Oregon habitat to hot Central Texas and convinced her to stay, marry, raise a family, and start her own business. Most of all, it offered him the opportunity to compose and perform, if not in the style of his beloved Poi Dog Pondering or his youthful worship of metal bands, then following a muse that came naturally to him, his guitar, and any of the multitude of instruments he plays, banjolele to the toy piano. His day job also allowed him the modest residual payoff from songs appearing in television shows and films such as Playing Mona Lisa.

Having thoroughly blown his chance to be known as either College Boy or Matt the Carpenter, Matt the Electrician relates his life's details while sitting on a bench outside Kerbey Lane Cafe. The brisk early Saturday afternoon buzzes around him. He's been texting, doing those bits of business that being his own boss requires 24/7. As he looks down to close the screen, his thick beard forms a dark ruff around his neck and a square plastic pager sitting beside him comes to life, flashing fitfully with its sole purpose: The table is ready.

Arhos, Denmark, May 2010

"Denmark [2010] was pivotal for me. I spent the year before co-writing with Danes in Austin, and that taught me a lot about co-writing in general, so I was ready from the minute we got there. That put me in a position where I was taking a lead role. We were co-writing with people that had never done it before, so I'm certain that I was steering a little more than I would have before."

Last May, Matt the Electrician joined locals Troy Campbell, Nathan Felix, Danny Malone, and Scrappy Jud Newcomb in a project that jetted them to Engelsholm Castle in Denmark. There, they took a crash course in co-writing with a group of Scandinavian songwriters they'd never met and performed the results at the SPOT Festival after less than a week (see "SPOT Festival," June 4, 2010). The experience exhilarated all who witnessed: Sever and the castle dwellers fairly bounced off the walls in the throes of a triumphant performance, giddy and breathless, laughing, crying.

Matt the Electrician found two heads as good as one. Animal Boy allowed his inner poet to run wild on radio-friendly songs "Osaka in the Rain" and "Bridge to Nowhere." Accidental Thief steals your heart. His is the voice you hear reading familiar material with new inflection and emphasis. "I saw you crying in the rearview mirror/Some things are closer than they appear," begin the lyrics to "I Will Do the Breathing." Thief makes a stronger connection between its lyrics and melodies, and many of the songs were co-written.

"That idea of collaboration was a fresh thing," he acknowledges. "It still is, even now where I think that if you're writing for yourself you're going to fall into patterns. Not a rut, but you are going to fall into patterns. As an artist, I think it's always good to change those patterns. For me that's what Accidental Thief was, and that's what these last couple of years were: changing the way I normally do things, not because I'm sick of myself or totally tired of the way I do things but because it's always nice to try something different."

Inside Kerbey Lane South, June 2011

"I play music; I love people that play music. I love listening to music and being around it, and there's so much of it in this town. You can't throw a rock without hitting somebody with a guitar. There are so many of them, and they're so talented.

"For instance, Bob Schneider. He's been so helpful to me out of his own goodness. From his heart, he's helped me so much. I know he has a varied reputation in this town."

The potato flautas appetizer arrives on a plate larger than Matt the Electrician imagined, so he kindly offers to share. The conversation wanders into oddball areas, like being surprised to find himself raising children in Texas. Ultimately, though, it's the Austin music community he preaches.

"Why does Bob Schneider sell out every Wednesday? He works his ass off! He might not like everybody's songwriting, so he might not extend his hand out to everyone as he did me. That doesn't say that I'm the best songwriter, but just that he happens to like what I've been doing. He's bigger, and he goes out of his way to help me. To me, that means that everybody should. It doesn't mean that everybody is always going to help me or that I'm going to help everybody, but when I like somebody, I do whatever I can to help them out.

"It just makes sense."

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