by Lara Supan
I asked Matt Tarka how he would describe himself in five words or less. His response, after some consideration, is “a sincere, introspective, melancholy poet.” After speaking to Tarka in a crowded coffee shop on a sunny afternoon, I couldn’t agree more with this self assessment.
Tarka has his roots in Hershey PA, living, in his words, a “very charmed life…with an amusement park and a chocolate factory in the backyard.” The solo artist’s first taste of Washington, DC, where he lives now, was on an 8th grade field trip to the area, and he fell in love with the city. Being drawn to the area because of work and a stellar soccer stadium, he dove into the scene with a band named Colonel Potter.
All four members of Colonel Potter met on Craigslist, and the relationships, and practice schedule, were very fluid. Their fourth member of the band was the most elusive.“Quite frankly, I don’t even think we knew what his last name was. He was only referred to us as ‘John’.” Tarka recalls, “‘John Melodius’ was the name he would go by.”
After this band parted ways, Tarka decided to launch a solo career, subbing power chords for other instruments, and has been making quite a name for himself in the process. He lists his musical preferences in wide variety, from AC/DC to the Gin Blossoms to Gregg Allman’s solo blues album. However, he tries not to let his musical taste affect his songwriting. “I have a bunch of ideas and I tend to write in spurts. If I know that I’m going to get into a writing mood, I don’t listen to a lot of music…I try to put my own ideas forward.” He does admit that Green Day has a lot to do with his penchant for power chords and “reckless abandon” strumming.
As an homage to his beloved location, Tarka has recently released a single titled “Farragut Square”, about a park in downtown DC. When asked why he thought Farragut Square was a good next move for him, Tarka replies, “It’s a song that I’ve had for 10 years, but it never really got flushed out. I thought it would be really cool to write a song that had elements that are DC centric. People that walk around downtown are exposed to a great cross section of the population here and I tried to capture that all in this national park.” The story is from the perspective of a passive onlooker sitting on a bench in Farragut Square, watching a small cast of reoccurring characters play out their “very predictable and very lonely” lives.
After releasing this single, Tarka recently had a great experience on the road. Fueled by Honeycrisp apples and Diet Coke, he traveled through Delaware, Tennessee, North Carolina, Southern Virginia and New York City to promote his work. He really enjoyed life on the road, citing Johnson City and Charlotte as his favorites from his last trip. “I liked Johnson City a lot, and not just for the music. There are a lot of interesting historical things you can do there during the day.” Admitting that he is a bit of a “historical home nerd”, he had a lot of fun outings planned in both locations. He will be hitting the road again soon and heading up to Pennsylvania on Saturday, May 31st, to play at Little Amps Coffee Roasters in Harrisburg.
What’s next for Matt Tarka? He’s excited to get back on the road, looking this time to travel through the Midwest via the vibrant college towns along that route. “Musically, I’d like to be able to sustain myself full time,” Tarka explains. “If I was able to pay the mortgage and have fan support to help me make records that would be a really rewarding place to be.”
With his current full time job, Tarka is diligent in finding time to dedicate to his music. He recalls that most of his inspiration for writing comes to him when he’s in the car. “I usually find myself in a place where I either have a phone where I can jot down notes or I have blank sheets of paper. If I’ve got an idea, it’s happened dozens of times when I’ve got to pull off to the side of the road. I’ve got pens in the glove compartment.” He adds that he tries to devote a half hour a day to his musical development, and tends to do writing on the Metro and other forms of public transportation regularly.
When looking back on how Tarka started out in DC, he can’t emphasize the importance of self-promotion enough. “Tell everyone,” he stresses. “Tell everyone about your shows, don’t be afraid to promote yourself. I’m still very guilty of not wanting to talk about what I’ve been up to. Because, yeah, you’re a solo artist and it seems narcissistic to be by yourself anyway, but you honestly hope that the art you’re putting out there supersedes the immediately perceived narcissism. It seems ridiculous, but I think there’s some truth in that.”
Make sure to check out Matt Tarka on his next stint in Pennsylvania to hear his Dylan-esque lyrics and confident power chord guitar accompaniment. He’s come a long way from the chocolate factory, and looks to have a long career in front of him. And next time you’re in DC, make sure to sit on a park bench in Farragut Square!