"I honestly don't know," said the 27-year-old Cheplic, born and raised in Weehawken, last week. "It's funny. I think I've always considered it pop music, but it's really tough for me to describe and explain. The music I make has no shock value, but it's not so light and fluffy. I guess it's somewhere in between. But it's pop.
And that's a statement that may come back and haunt Cheplic, whose music career has certainly taken quantum leaps in the last year.
"I've taken my music cue from people like the Beatles and Elvis Costello," said Cheplic, whose latest CD, "Don't Let Me Lose My Mind," is being released by Bodyguard Records this week. "They made music accessible and made music intelligent. But the problem these days is that people think 'pop music' is a negative word. Music fans hear 'pop' and they think the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, the typical teenage fodder. Because of that, pop music is in a weird place."
But Cheplic is not. His career is finally taking off. After pursuing a professional music career for the last five years, playing in coffeehouses and small local venues, it appears as if he could be on the road to stardom. "I've been at this for a couple of years now, but I think we finally have the channels in place," Cheplic said. "I'm in the ballpark."
After all, there aren't many Weehawken recording acts whose videos have been featured on MTV. Cheplic says that the story behind his recent appearance on MTV is "bizarre."
"I saw that MTV was soliciting videos from independent artists," Cheplic said. "In the past, MTV has featured famed independent artists like Aimee DeFranco and Chuck D. Well, they were putting together videos for a show, entitled 'Under the Radar: Flying Indie.' They interviewed indie artists and spoke of the virtues of the smaller indie labels. They were going to pick 12 videos to feature on the show."
Added Cheplic, "So I sent my video of my single, 'Deliver Me.' I didn't hear anything from them for the longest time, so I just wrote it off. But then, a few months ago, MTV called and said, 'Guess what? We're going to use your video.' I was shocked."
Then, viewers were asked to vote on what they thought was the best video from the independent artists. Incredibly, one of the videos entered among the group was the latest from popular recording act Fear Factory.
"Fear Factory's video had special effects, with explosions and lighting," Cheplic explained. "It was a whole other element. I think they spent more on catering for the crew than I did for my entire video."
Needless to say, Cheplic didn't win, but it did give him exposure on MTV. And the network liked his video so much that they have continued to show "Deliver Me" as part of their regular rotation.
"I've gotten phone calls in the middle of the night from friends who just saw the video," Cheplic said. "The great thing about this was that I didn't expect it, but it has definitely turned into my moment in the sun. I'm getting a lot of mileage out of this."
Cheplic has always been fascinated with music and comes from a very musical family. His older brother, Tom, is a music teacher in West New York and also serves as the vice-president of the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Rescue Squad.
"I started playing the saxophone when I was nine years old, attending grammar school in Weehawken," Cheplic said. "By the time I got to Weehawken High School, I was ready to branch out and started playing the guitar. I joined the jazz band and took guitar lessons. But it was always a hobby."
While he was in Weehawken High, he was introduced to the Beatles by teacher Tony Colasurdo.
"We always had Beatle records in the house, but I never listened," Cheplic said. "But then, Tony Colasurdo got me into the Beatles and showed me some chords to play. Then, the Beatles became my thing. I knew I could play those songs and if I could play them, then what was stopping me from writing songs like that? I think that's how the bug got me."
An English man
Upon graduation from Weehawken High in 1991, Cheplic headed off to St. Peter's College, where he majored in English literature. However, it was at St. Peter's where he started to think about the possibility of having a music career.
"When I went to St. Peter's, I thought about possibly becoming an English teacher or a journalist," Cheplic said. "I liked literature and I liked writing. But I also used to sit around and play with a group of people at St. Peter's. And I was already writing my own original songs. The atmosphere was friendly and I liked to hang out and perform with my friends."
Cheplic then started to perform publicly, at bookstores and coffeehouses. He would get a club date here and there as well, like Maxwell's and the Whiskey Bar in Hoboken.
"I felt I was getting pretty decent at it," Cheplic said.
He made a demo tape and sent it to a bunch of independent record labels, but never received word from any of those tapes.
However, in 1997, Cheplic went to an audition in Montclair, held by record producer John Rollo, who had produced albums for such famed recording artists as The Kinks, Joe Cocker, Fleetwood Mac and Jimmy Cliff.
"John was looking to develop new acts, so I gave it a try," Cheplic said. "I figured that if I knew musicians, no one would be there on time at 10 a.m., so I figured I would get there before everyone. Sure enough, I was there before John."
Rollo saw a lot of potential in Cheplic, as did music business manager Gene Foley, a native of Bayonne. "I always thought Matt had unlimited potential," Foley said last week. "His songs are witty, funny and interesting. And he's very talented."
Rollo and Foley joined forces to begin Bodyguard Records, which recorded Cheplic's CD. It's a compilation of 11 melodic original creations, which definitely shows Cheplic's inspiration by the Beatles and Frank Sinatra.
Now, after three years of preparation, Foley is ready to take Cheplic on tour, featuring the CD, which will be in all the major music stores August 21, as well as major websites amazon.com, towerrecords.com and cdnow.com.
Next month, Cheplic will begin the tour, featuring stops in Boston, Providence, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Cleveland and Atlanta, as well as college towns like Ann Arbor, Mich., Athens, Ga., Chapel Hill and Raleigh, NC, and State College, Pa.
"We're going to service all the college radio stations, especially those who report to the College Music Journal," Foley said. "Each city, on the day of the show, Matt will appear on the air, maybe with an interview, maybe with a live song. We feel that we can increase popularity through the college market." Added Foley, "With his style of songwriting and his style of performing, he should be very popular. He comes on stage with his suit and tie, but then he's playing the guitar, playing the sax, the bass. He's amazing. I can only imagine what is going to happen with Matt."
"It's all very exciting," Cheplic said. "I really like what's happening. It's a good situation for me. Gene definitely knows the business and knows how to book a tour. I think it's going to work out well."
Added Cheplic, "Some people have to wait 10 years to become an overnight sensation. I've waited like five years. But it's finally happening."
For more information about Matt Cheplic's music, log onto www.bodyguardrecords.com, or to check out Cheplic's video "Deliver Me," which was featured on MTV, go to www.mtv.com/mtv/music/flying_indie/poll.html