The Musician

Matt S. Salvatierra '05

"Our roads diverged in this yellow forest, and it’s time that I made up my mind/the road away is always the hardest, but maybe we will find that they’ll rejoin sometime.” Matt S. Salvatierra ’05 is sitting on his bed in Kirkland’s A entryway, crooning the song he wrote after finally getting over a relationship. His feet twist around each other and his toes curl into his carpet as he concentrates. “I feel like the best songs are written about real experiences,” Salvatierra explains. And a touch of Frostian imagery never hurts.

Salvatierra comes to Harvard by way of Arlington, Virginia, where he began playing the piano and later the guitar. His music career took off when he was a sophomore in high school; he and his friends founded “Poor Man’s Pocket,” a Christian rock group. The band broke up shortly after the release of their second CD, the summer following Salvatierra’s freshman year at Harvard. “I felt that playing in a Christian rock band was a little isolated,” Salvatierra reflects. “I’m a Christian…and I feel that my faith still influences what I write. But at the same time there’s something to making your music accessible to a wider crowd.”

After graduation, he will do just that. Salvatierra is planning on moving to Atlanta, “back down South, and out of the cold North Eastern climate—little warmer weather, little warmer people.” He hopes the Peach State’s capital will work the same magic for him and his partner in rhyme, Jeff Hack ’03, as it did for singer/songwriter John Mayer, an artist who Salvatierra considers “a fabulous writer.” Atlanta is a strategic destination in that it has a “lot of places to be heard” and “it’s not New York, it’s not Nashville, where I’d just be one of a million.”

Atlanta is not the only thing Salvatierra and Mayer have in common. Although Salvatierra expects to perform as a duo with Hack, he identifies with the “lone guy with the guitar kind of thing,” a role Mayer has honed to perfection. Salvatierra’s roommate, Mark L. Hill ’05, notices “a lot of the singer/songwriter influence in his music—a little more melodic than some of those guys are, maybe not as rhythmic.” Hill, who plays the guitar and mandolin and often jams with Salvatierra, is honest about his friend’s chances at success in the music world. “Two years ago I would have said he didn’t have a shot just because his music was pretty sophomoric.” Now, he describes Salvatierra’s writing as “passionate.” He says, “I think the words kind of resonate with people.”

Salvatierra agrees. “Recently, I’ve been finding a greater authenticity to my music,” he says, citing complicated relationships and his travels as influences that kicked his writing into higher gear. He spent his junior fall in Spain where he began “playing a cheapo, nylon string guitar that probably made me think more about the melody and the words than the music part because I couldn’t make it sound good on such a cheap guitar.” One wall of Salvatierra’s room is plastered with photos he took last summer in Bolivia, where he worked at an orphanage for street boys, an experience which “absolutely redefined poverty for me.” Although he has left religious-affiliated rock behind, Salvatierra hopes that “whatever I end up pouring my life into I want it to be something with more significance than just giving me pleasure, giving me money.”

Is he frightened about the prospect of moving to a strange city with little more than a Harvard diploma and a guitar? “I’ll get out of college, have no one to support but myself, I have nothing to lose,” he says smiling. “I definitely would regret not trying.”

Until then, Salvatierra, a Comparative Religion concentrator, will juggle writing his thesis—potentially about “the relation of evangelical Christianity and right wing politics”—and working on recording his demo in Phorzheimer House’s recording studio. He speaks with humble conviction about his future.

“I definitely feel that I’m walking into something that is well over my head. Becoming a professional musician—isn’t that every musician’s dream?” Then Salviaterri looks at his guitar and smiles. “I feel if given the chance, I can get my foot in the door and get people listening."