Photo by Stacey Bode
We’ve all fell in love with coming-of-age stories like Almost Famous or 500 Days of Summer. You know, the ones where a boy meets a girl, moves to a new city, lands a new job, eats an overwhelming amount of pizza, gets depressed, bounces back, and ends up discovering himself in the process.
SUPPLY.com UX Director, Matt Hobbs, has spent the past three years writing, and nine months recording, his very own coming-of-age tale. It comes in the form of a 13-track album entitled 17th Street. At its core, it’s a story of a young person in his early 20s who moves to Atlanta, not sure who he is, not sure he even wants to be there, but then he ends up finding himself in a beautifully chaotic world.
During a candid conversation while heading west on I-20 (from the Octane in Grant Park to the SUPPLY.com campus in Austell), we talked with Hobbs about his sophomore album and how his experience in UX at SUPPLY.com has helped shape his music.
To start off, Atlanta played an important role in making this album. From the places (recording at historic Doppler Studios) to the people (working with co-producer Ben Holst). Can you talk about how the city helped make this album happen?
Atlanta is such a great city; it has everything. I always compare Atlanta to Sam’s Club – a massive place with an overwhelming variety of distinct things. While there’s not a readily available map to uncovering the department you’re after, once you identify the city’s unique communities, you find yourself at home. I found Dad’s Garage, and that’s where I met Ben and a lot of the artists I worked with on this album. Atlanta ended up being a community where I could be comfortable with myself.
The second-to-last track on the album, “Night This Town Got Beautiful” (featuring a mean harmonica) is filled with Atlanta references. Talk about the line, “Tonight I finally realized that I had all I needed all along.”
The narrative arc of the album sees a lot of things happen to the main character (me), and there’s a lot of coming to grips with his place in the world. Some people say happiness is a choice, but what that line is trying to get at is that the main character had what he needed to be happy, he just hadn’t had the experience to understand that.
The night I realized everything was okay was actually a night in which everything went on as usual. I was rehearsing all day at Dad’s [Garage] and I wanted pho, so I went up to Buford Highway. I was driving back down I-85 at 9:30pm at to get to my house in Old Fourth Ward. Although it was a pretty night, it was kinda the most unremarkable thing ever. It was on that drive back that I realized that I didn’t have to wait for some kind of extraordinary event to happen. You have everything you need already and it’s up to you to decide what to make of it.
When you started at SUPPLY.com a little over four years ago, what was your initial role?
I first got hired as a Content Strategist. I was doing some UX stuff, like improving the information architecture of the site, and some SEO things, like creating more original content. I was working under the then-UX Director, who’s a friend and mentor of mine.
SUPPLY.com has given me tons of opportunities to learn about myself, how to be efficient, and how to make decisions. I learned how to present information to people that resonates with them, and how to motivate people in terms of customers. I think my favorite thing is the people I’ve been able to work with; they’ve taught me so much. Even when it’s as simple as inspiring me to keep doing great art like Aaron Price, our VP of Technology, does every day. There are just so many wonderful people that I respect so much; and that includes the people on my team who I get to lead now.
How has your growth in the company helped with your growth as an artist?
There are so many parallels with working at SUPPLY.com and making an album. Whether I’m in the studio or theatre working on music or I’m in the office with the Creative team, I’m working with a team of talented people who are really good at what they do. It’s humbling and powerful to see an idea come to life when all the contributors involved make it their own. It doesn’t matter if I’m working on a new song or a new ad campaign. Understanding how to piece it all together is a unique skill I’ve been able to learn here.
You mention working with some pretty talented people at SUPPLY.com. How did the people you work with help you out on the album?
It’s funny, my team at work played a huge part of in producing the non-musical parts of the album. Justin Jackson did all the artwork and lead the art direction for the album and website. He’s my favorite designer ever. Our front-end developer and UI developer, Mike Owens, coded and customized my website on WordPress. Lauren Rowell and Alina Bikineyeva are two super talented artists who helped with typography and drawings for single releases. There’s definitely a ton of SUPPLY.com influence that you’ll see throughout the album.
Photo by Stacey Bode
How has your experience in UX helped shape you as an artist, and shape this album specifically?
UX work is always steeped in some human experience insight, and similarly I think good art should be based on something real. If I want this music to connect with someone on a personal level, it needs to be relatable. It needs to be told honestly and believably. In writing this album, I tried to tap into a lot of personal areas of my own life, but I’m pretty sure those same things probably happened to other people too. I tried to tell stories in a way that makes them accessible to the listener.
The other thing is this idea of, what I’ll call, artistically viable choices. If I’m writing a song about a guy being lonely and having nobody to go out with, I probably shouldn’t include a rippin’ guitar solo (a la Scorpion). Just like when we were trying to build the SUPPLY.com brand, which is very human and all about full-service, we had to make choices that fit that style – an not have just solid black and white boxes. We spend a lot of time re-shooting photography every week because we value showing off our people, it’s a part of who we are.
I try to focus on making artistically viable choices in both my music and my work in UX. I think it’s just a muscle you have to flex. Some of it’s common sense, but some of the nuance comes in layers. This is good to practice in the studio. What else does this song need, not what you want the song to be, but what else does it need? It’s the same thing with a campaign, or when building a new tool. What does this tool need that will help the user? One day, maybe I’ll write a book about that.
Do you think working at a place like SUPPLY.com (with co-founders who understand side hustles) had an impact on making the album? Talk about the work life-balance at SUPPLY.com that allows you to work on such an in-depth project like this.
Companies need people who are committed, but they need to also value people with diverse experiences. It’s a fine line. If you’re too committed, you don’t have the experiences needed and you have no life outside of work. But, if you’re too into the side hustle, people may think you’re just going to leave at any time.
I definitely value that about SUPPLY.com. There’s a good culture that supports that here, but I think this job asks a lot of me, and I go pretty full throttle – I’m probably not the best example of work-life balance. I choose to have less of a life outside of my day job, with my music, but I make it work.
What’s next? Where can people in Atlanta see you play?
So Matt Damon called, we’re going to start on a screen play…
Hahaha no, not really.
Folks can find me off and on at Dad’s Garage, where I play two or three shows a month. Check out my site heymatthobbs.com or @heymatthobbs on Twitter for updates. The album is out on Spotify, Itunes, Amazon; wherever you listen, it’s there. You can also head to www.17thstreetalbum.com and download the album for “name your price.” I’m also currently planning a free album release show that’ll be at 800 East Studios in Old Fourth Ward on November 12. Finally, I’ll have a single coming out with really exciting contributors sometime early next year.
You may say we’re dreamers, but we’re not the only ones. I hope someday you’ll join us, and apply now at SUPPLY.com! Calling all dreamers to check out our careers page or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And find out more about some other SUPPLY.com dreamers on our profiles page.