How can we forget the 80s; with the invention by Tim Berners of the World Wide Web, the first global warming attention, the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington, the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Challenger, arguably the worst fashion era complete with shoulder pads, Madonna and last, but certainly not least, the 1983 hit movie Flashdance, the vehicle for the popularization of leg warmers and the mega hit “Maniac”, it was definitely an unforgettable decade.
A song that was born of a news story about a mass murder and written mostly as a joke, “Maniac” was anything but a joke when it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 hits list beginning in September 1983 and is to date one of the highest grossing songs ever written for a movie. The song, though nominated for an Academy Award, was disqualified because the original version wasn't written for the film. With the tour of the new Flashdance the Musical, “Maniac” is once again being seen and heard, no doubt headed for a resurgence in its popularity and perhaps more nominations.
Flashdance the Musical is coming to Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) in a celebratory tour of the 30th Anniversary of the cult-hit film of the same name from Paramount Pictures, March 19 through 24, so we were excited to ask the “Maniac” songwriter and Nashville resident Dennis Matkosky a few questions about his career, upcoming projects and living in Nashville.
Linda Brewer (LB): As a Nashville native myself, I'm always thrilled to find that someone with your caliber of success has chosen to live in Nashville. What made you move here?
Dennis Matkosky: I Love Nashville. Well, the Earthquake totaled our house in LA and I had been coming here producing artists and writing and I fell in love with Nashville. And my mom moved back home to Mississippi and I wanted to be closer to her.
LB: What do you think of the fact that our city is quickly becoming recognized as one of the most diverse and successful theatrical and musical attractions in the country?
Dennis Matkosky: I think it’s great and is only a matter of time.We have more talent in Nashville than any other place I have been.
LB: You co-wrote the song “Maniac” for the movie Flashdance but it was written more or less as a joke at first, the idea coming from a mass murder you heard about on the news, right? And now it's a cult phenomenon, being performed in a musical, put in several movies and even Elmo sings it. How does a spur of the moment jotting down of a thought evolve into such a success?
Dennis Matkosky: I was so fortunate; the timing was right. I was watching the news one night and it was about a mass murderer; I think it was Gasey. Anyway I thought about what if this guy lives next door to me? I wrote down some crazy lyrics and showed my wife the tittle and she thought I should get some help, go see a shrink and then the next day I went over to my best friend's (We grew up together musically from the age of 13) and 30 years later it’s a musical.
LB: What is your most successful song?
Dennis Matkosky: Maniac
LB: You have written for so many stars, including Diana Ross, Leann Rimes , Keith Urban and Clay Aiken. Is there anyone else you would especially love to write for or collaborate with?
Dennis Matkosky: Stevie Wonder, Ray Lamontagne, James Morrison, Adelle
LB: What do you still want to accomplish in your career? Do you have any big projects on the horizon?
Dennis Matkosky: I have a film and TV library co. with Extreme Music (Sony), a publishing co. with four writers, ten Miranda :Lambert cuts and four singles including the #1 "Heart Like Mine." I am developing two artists and teaching and mentoring students from Belmont. I enjoy writing and I still hope to win an Oscar. I have been nominated but if you win you get all the movies every year free!
LB: Nashville is full of aspiring songwriters. What advice can you offer them?
Dennis Matkosky: Love what you do ! Show up and give it everything! Don’t have a backup plan!
LB: Have you seen Flashdance, the Musical yet? Will you be attending it while it's at Tennessee Performing Arts Center?
Dennis Matkosky: I have not seen it yet but will be there opening night.
In Nashville, they say "it all begins with a song," but Dennis Matkosky might amend that old adage to say, "it all starts in the heart." With a creative philosophy that values emotion and inspiration over calculation and classification, and a discography that jumps from Chicago to Al Jarreau, from Rascal Flatts to Teddy Pendergrass, from Kool & the Gang and Smokey Robinson to Keith Urban and Martina McBride, all the way to the 20-million selling Flashdance classic, "Maniac," Matkosky's music consistently crosses boundaries, transcends categories and, most importantly, moves people.
"I write from a strictly emotional place," Matkosky says. "Although I have all the theory and I know the harmonic alternatives, my personality is very direct and very emotional and that's what interests me more than anything else."
Brought up in the urban melting pot of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Matkosky spent summers at his grandmother's farm in Philadelphia, Mississippi. He found musical inspiration in both places.
"I was raised in Philadelphia with R&B, rock and jazz and in the summer I'd be immersed in country music," he says.
After earning a degree in Composition and Theory from Temple University, Matkosky made the move to LA in 1979 and things happened quickly. He was playing a casino gig in Utah when he got the news that Diana Ross had cut one of his songs, "Mirror, Mirror." The song became a Top-5 hit and Matkosky was off and running, enjoying a winning streak that eventually led to mega-smash "Maniac" in 1983. Although he'd headed west with thoughts of becoming a session musician, once Matkosky got his first taste of songwriting success he never looked back.
"When I found writing, it changed everything," he says. "My temperament really wasn't about being a studio musician. I was naturally a writer and I was completely addicted to it."
In the wake of the record-breaking, Grammy-winning success of "Maniac," Matkosky's life became one long creative marathon, with the keyboardist writing and producing hits for some of the biggest names in the business.
Through his association with songwriter Linda Creed (“Greatest Love of All”) he earned his first production credits in Philadelphia, working at the legendary Sigma Sound Studios with artists like Teddy Pendergrass, the Spinners and Johnny Gill. Back in LA, he was collaborating with everyone from Maurice White to Al Jarreau to Chicago. He wrote the No. 1 AC hit, "Heart of Mine" for Boz Scaggs, and followed that with the Smokey Robinson and Kenny G No. 1, "We Saved The Best For Last." The '80s found him producing and/or writing top-drawer artists including George Benson, Sara Brightman, Sergio Mendes, James Ingram, George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Chicago, Eddie Money, Bobby Caldwell and Kool & the Gang's JT Taylor, to name a few.
As the '90s dawned, Matkosky began making frequent trips to Nashville, applying his keyboard and production skills to the burgeoning Christian market and landing 11 chart-topping singles.
When the 1994 Northridge earthquake severely damaged his home, Matkosky moved with his family to Music City, where he continued his Contemporary Christian work and began to focus on the country market. His country breakthrough came with the No. 1 smash, "I Need You." A career song for Le Ann Rimes, it crossed over to become the third longest-running single in AC history. With that intial success, the floodgates opened and Matkosky was soon collaborating with a revolving roster of Nashville's best writers as well as Platinum artists like Rascal Flatts and Martina McBride. From these collaborations, the seasoned songwriter always took away as much as he contributed.
"I didn't realize the depth to what these Nashville guys were writing, but when I get in a room with them, it's just another level," he says. "My aim has been to connect what I do musically, melodically and harmonically to a country lyric."
For Matkosky, that country lyric is what distinguishes the genre from anything on the pop side of the fence, but he also delights in blurring those boundaries. And judging by the string of hits he's been generating, his aim is dead on. Keith Urban's "You'll Think of Me," Reba McEntire's "You're Gonna Be," Martina McBride's "I Just Call You Mine," and newcomer David Nail's recent chart-topping debut, "Red Light" are all part of an ongoing songwriting roll that shows no sign of slowing down.
With Nashville becoming more and more of an all-genre music center, the mutli-faceted Matkosky is exactly where he needs to be. He's currently growing some new writers through his own publishing company and collaborating with the best of the new crop of Nashville writer/artists, including Jonathan Singleton and Ashley Monroe. And despite his busy schedule at home, he still makes time for regular writing trips to LA, New York and the British Isles, working with everyone from The Band Perry and keith Urban to Black Eyed Peas drummer Keith Harris to Snow Patrol's Iain Archer. In other words, he's busy as hell, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Because for all the career milestones, for all the No. 1 parties, accomplishments and industry accolades – including sales of over 70 million records and nominations for a Oscar, two Grammys, two Dove Awards and a Golden Globe – Dennis Matkosky is just getting started.
Dennis Matkosky – Writer/Producer
An Abridged Discography
"You'll Think of Me" (No. 1 single)
"Red Light" (No.1 single)
Le Ann Rimes
"I Need You" (No. 1 single)
"I Just Call You Mine"
"You're Gonna Be"
No. 1 Pop Hits
"Maniac," from the blockbuster film, Flashdance
(No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 and 18 countries, Worldwide Sales Exceeding 20 Million)
"Heart of Mine"
Kenny G & w/Smokey Robinson
"We've Saved the Best for Last"
Hall and Oates
Kool And the Gang
Songs Featured In Films Including:
Message In a Bottle
Pump Up The Volume
Night and the City
Flashdance – Grammy for Song of the year – "Maniac"
Days of Thunder
Elvira Mistress of the Night
She's Out of Control
Summer Lovers (Theme)
Songs Featured In Television Shows Including:
Third Rock From the Sun
Everybody Loves Raymone
Married With Children
Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Saturday Night Live
The Tonight Show With Jay Leno
All My Children
Simon & Simon