Less than two months after the release of his powerful EP, In Defiance, Christian rock artist Matt Sassano has now partnered with the mental health nonprofit organization The Hopeline on an exciting new project. My Dear God Letters offers a safe space for those in need to write a letter about any traumas that may be impacting their mental health. Matt’s team will then help to offer support to them, if needed, using assistance from The Hopeline. “Music is what brought us together, but community support is what will keep us united. If you have something on your heart, my team and I are here for you”, the website proudly claims. I had the honor of chatting with Matt just before the initiative launched.
MSM: So, first of all, I just wanted to have you introduce yourself and tell me about your background. Where did your interest in music came from? And was it something that you always wanted to pursue?
Matt: Yeah, sure. So, my name is Matt Sassano. I’m a kind of an electronic rock artist from Knoxville and I just recently signed to Rock Fest Records, in conjunction with Capitol Records. Growing up, I was in a small town called Canisteo in New York. There were basically more cows than people and nothing really going on, ever. And I was a small town kid with really big dreams. I was raised in a pastor’s home, and my mom was really heavily involved in music. She was a piano player at our church. And, from a young age, I remember just really loving music and kind of the church music was kind of the gateway into that. I played for the youth worship team back in the day, but really what turned it around was when I was introduced to my first Tooth and Nail compilation CD. There was a group of kids from the church, they had their tattoos and their piercings, freaked my parents out enough to where I was like, I kind of liked these people. They introduced me to Tooth and Nail, and that was kind of my entryway into music. And from a very young age, music was like the one thing that made me feel super empowered. I started playing bass around the age of 19, but never thought that I would ever be a singer. I kind of grew into that role. So it’s been a ride, man.
MSM: Yeah. I have to ask, though — Tooth and Nail — was Emery on it?
Matt: Oh, yes, from a very, very young age. I remember Emery would be on a ton of the rotation. So I listened to their song “Walls”, and they were one of those bands that was just really different at the time, they had really rockin music, but at the same time, their voices were just different for something in the scene. So anything on Tooth and Nail was kind of my entryway into rock music. But I also was very much into all sorts of styles of music. I like rap a lot. I really was just kind of open minded to it all. But like I would say that like the Tooth and Nail was a huge influence on me. I’ve got an MXPX logo tattoo on my arm. And, like I said, as a kid who really came from a small town with not much going on, I remember walking the block late at night or whatever with my headphones on and just hoping one day that I’d be rockin stages. And so, you know, years later, here we are, and I’m very blessed to do what I do.
MSM: You’re very open about your childhood obstacles and traumas. How has this affected your relationships with your fanbase? Do you find that it helps people relate to you more?
Matt: Yeah, I think I think it’s a very unique opportunity. Because for a long, long time, like for those of you people who don’t know, I struggle I have two very distinct disabilities. I struggle with Cerebral Palsy and I also have a disability called Discalcula, which only 4% of the world has. And so, growing up, and even to this day, I’m fairly reliant on family for a lot of the things that I do, like, I can’t drive. I remember feeling very deflated, and just very depressed because in a lot of the regular workforce situations, getting fired, or losing track, or having to work that much extra hard just to kind of keep my head above water, because I’d get lost on certain jobs or like, my navigation is really bad. And so yeah, I grew up just really struggling with my education. And, you know, when you couple that with disabilities and stuff like that, it just kind of like deflates your confidence. For years, I just never really wanted to talk about it, and it was something that I was scared of the stigma attached to having disabilities. But gearing up for my EP, I wrote a song called Not My Name, and it’s for the person with disabilities or just the black sheep that just doesn’t feel like they fit. And it’s all about combating those labels. And so, yeah, I think it helps people connect to me, I’ve finally gotten to a point now where I’m, like, 100% honest with who I am and what I deal with. And when you do that, and you’re honest with who you are and what your struggles are, I think that amazing breakthroughs happen. But it takes a long time to finally get to that point.
MSM: Yeah, I think telling, well, speaking your truth, really helps people connect with you genuinely.
Matt: Yeah, it really does. And we’re seeing it now to where I’ll go to a concert — I’ve done two tours, or three nationwide tours with Seven Day Slumber, they were the first to bring me on — and after every show, there’s somebody that comes up to me with a disability or something that they’re dealing with, and they confide in me. I’ve talked to people for a half hour or even more after shows just about what they’ve come through and how I’ve seen people that have…there’s this girl, Allison Keller down in Ohio, and her family was raising her and she has Cerebral Palsy. And we’ve become friends since she saw me on tour with Seven Day Slumber. And it’s cool because she’s come from this really shy, introverted kind of person to a person that just really wants to discover what her purpose is. And her parents credit me, and she credits me all the time. And so I’m glad for it, man.
MSM: So you admit to having been abused by your father, who was a pastor. How has this affected your relationship with religion? Did you ever start to lose that, and if so, what had brought you back?
Matt: It’s kind of funny, but it’s weird that deep in that abuse and everything, I always had my mom, she was the person that stood by my side through all of it. And I think we all just kind of didn’t know where to go with the problems because we were raised in them. And when you’re raised in certain things, it takes a long time for you to reason that it’s different. But I remember just routine fights and arguments. A lot of times me and my father would get into physical altercations right before a church service, so I’d have to come to church and cover up black and blue marks or whatever it is. But I always believed that there was a God, I always believe in the message of the Bible, and all that kind of stuff. But I think, for me, it took me a long time to kind of dissect the real from the fake. Yeah, and there still is kind of that healthy dose of skepticism. Sometimes when I see certain things, and I’m like, you know, I wish I could say that I’m all through it, but it’s a process. And I’ve never turned my back on God, I’ve never really thought that he didn’t exist. But just like sometimes those messengers really can, you know, mess with you when you’ve had all that kind of kind of like abuse in your life and stuff like that. And so, what I tried to do is be the best example I can be and just admit that I’m not perfect at all. You know what I mean? Like, I don’t want anybody putting me on a pedestal, but at the same time, I’m going to try my best to be transparent, even when I’m going through something that people might criticize me for. I think what the hiddenness of my past life with the church has done for me is forced me to be transparent in the way that I have approached things even when it’s uncomfortable. And that’s what I really want people to do that listen to my music, talk about their issues and really put things out on the table because that’s the only way of true healing.
MSM: Yeah. Sounds like it’s (religion) always been a source of comfort for you. And music sounds like that’s been your therapy as well.
Matt: Yeah, I love it. Like it’s a huge part of who I am. We do a lot with churches and prisons, and I’ve also opened for a lot of people that don’t profess to have faith or whatever. I’ve opened for like Bubba sparks. I’ve done a whole bunch of different types of events. So, the music, I think, is just universal to everybody. They don’t necessarily have to have a religion. They don’t necessarily have to believe exactly what I believe. But hopefully by the end of it, they feel encouraged, and they resonate with the music, and I think that’s a good first step. I want to see people change through it. So I’m excited to see how it goes, man.
MSM: Yeah. So time for the important question now! You’re launching a very exciting project, on October 14th, called My Dear God Letters. Would you like to briefly explain your mission?
Matt: Absolutely. So yeah, you’re one of the first podcasts to actually bring this up. So we’re breaking it here first, My Dear God Letters is going to be a project. First, let me just kind of explain how it ties into what I do. My song Dear God, is basically a song about when I was at my darkest point, when I was battling my disabilities, when I was battling my faith and what I believed and what my surroundings were with my father and everything…I used to feel like I had nowhere to go. And what ended up happening to clear my mind, and to kind of try and figure out what I was feeling and facing, is that I would write letters to God about my frustrations, and ask him his purpose for my life, if for nothing else than just to clear my mind. And so, MyDearGodLetters.com is a place where people can go online, and do their own Dear God letter. Whatever they’re facing, whether it be divorce, whether it be abuse, whether it be mental health issues that they can’t overcome. I think oftentimes, the internet is a place where on Instagram and Facebook, everything looks polished, and clean and nice. But this is a place where people can go and just be real with what they’re facing. And also I’m going to be partnering with this thing called The Hopeline, and they are basically a place where people can go to get mental health help. So people are going to be available 24/7 to talk to people and provide them with resources to get mental health healing. It’s amazing and I’m very excited about it.
MSM: And then my last question for you is, other than your website (the project, I mean), is there anything else that you would like to say to any of your fans that may be struggling with trauma?
Matt: I would say that the first very first step that always helped me, and this goes back to what we we talked about a lot, is being open and honest and calling things what it is. If you have an addiction, if you have an abuse situation in a relationship, before you can get the help that you need, you have to admit what you’re going through. And sometimes it’s hard when you are going through something, it’s easy to just kind of cloak it. And I remember when I was going through things with my family, I wouldn’t call it what it was I just like, oh yeah, we get into some fights sometimes. It wasn’t until I was in counseling where somebody said, You know what, you’ve gone through abuse, man. And it really started helping me like call things what they are, if you can’t call things what they are, they can’t get help. So I would just encourage anybody that’s going through a mental health battle, or an abusive thing, or whatever it is — just be honest, transparent and call it what it is.
MY DEAR GOD LETTERS
Listen to Matt’s Recent EP, In Defiance:
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* HEADER PHOTO BY TYLER BYARS