New Faces NJ: Matt Duke

Matt Duke picked up a guitar—and a career.

Matt Duke.
Photo by Bo Streeter.

He started taking piano lessons as an eight-year-old, but once Matt Duke was a teenager, his personal—and musical—priorities began to change.

“It’s safe to say that girls were becoming my number one focus.  It’s funny because I’ve been criticized for [saying] I picked up the guitar to pick up girls, but there’s really no pretense about it; at the time, that was the reason I switched from piano to guitar. The piano couldn’t be dragged off to parties and hang outs.”

Now 24, the Mount Laurel native is thankful for the switch. “The more I got into playing and writing, the more my focus changed and music served as a great outlet for ideas—therapeutic even,” Duke says. “And that was when everything started to come around.”

He started performing at The Treehouse (formerly The Living Room) in Collingswood—“every show was trial and error”—and eventually created a sound that is uniquely his own, with lyrics inspired by the likes of writers John Updike, Leon Uris, John Milton, and Don Delillo. “I’ve gone from playing folkier, acoustic stuff to jamming out and playing Weakerthans covers with my three piece band at live shows to recording this new record [Kingdom Underground], which has a pop feel, but has a nice focus around the lyrics,” he says. “I guess throughout I’ve kept a kind of folk approach when it came to writing lyrics and even in the way I perform live, so…I guess we could call it folk/pop/rock. Or Foprock.  Yea, Foprock is good.”

That “Foprock” got Duke noticed. At the time, he had dropped out of college in Philadelphia and was working at a local wrap shop—not exactly, he admits, where he wanted to be. But it allowed him to move forward with what is now a career as a singer-songwriter; and a growing one. “For the number of doors I might have shut behind myself in the past, here was one that was wide open, turning out to be a wonderful opportunity, and over time I started to realize that I might be able to keep at this for a long time.”

He gives plenty of nods to his past—a sister who is an actress, his piano teacher and grade-school music director (at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Moorestown) who “instilled a love of music” in him, and supportive parents. He still keeps ties in South Jersey. His favorite Jersey spot? “The Shore, without question,” he says. “There’s a nostalgia that comes with the Shore that I can’t escape and I love being able to go back every year.”

As for the future, Duke is nothing but excited, about the success of Kingdom Underground, about getting back on the road this summer, and about the new material he is working on. He says he hopes to keep writing—whether it’s music, a book, a play, or anything else. “And if for some reason things change and I’ve got some time to kill, I’ve always wanted to train for the Iditarod.  Or be an astronaut.  Or a dinosaur.  Whichever comes with a 401(k).”

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