The circumstances of last few years inspired many of us to pause and reflect on our relationships, our accomplishments and our goals. For one Talbot County native, this reflection led to an exciting career advancement, and also to also the pursuit of a long-held personal ambition that would require months of planning across thousands of miles, and the renewal of a creative partnership built more than 20 years ago.
For two decades, Easton native and The Country School graduate Matt LaMotte, Jr., 44, has enjoyed a successful career in the highly competitive music business. Most recently, Matt was head of marketing at Interscope Records, a leading force in the music industry based in Los Angeles, California, working with artists like Selena Gomez, Elton John, Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey, and Imagine Dragons. In 2022, just as the world was returning to office work – and to live concert tours — Matt surprised his peers by leaving Interscope to help launch Giant Music, a new independent record company that is part of the legendary Azoff Company.
But the new label venture was just one inflection point for Matt during this period of transition. Buried in boxes in his garage at home in Sherman Oaks, memories – photos, videos and documents of an earlier musical pursuit — would put him back on a path he’d left behind after his college years,
“During the pandemic I was taking inventory, literally and figuratively, of everything I had created during my life, and in particular, before the digital revolution, Matt explained. “One day I unearthed a box of demos — music I had written and recorded with school friends from Easton and members of my college band, who had kept in touch since we graduated in 2000.”
Called SPEAKEASY, the band was comprised of three friends who attended Washington & Lee University, wrote songs together and performed live dozens of times on campus and in the town of Lexington, Virginia. SPEAKEASY featured Matt on guitar and as lead vocalist, Anthony Allen of Washington, D.C, on drums, and Matt Herman, of Pasadena, California, on bass and keyboard. The three have remained fast friends through the years and even played together a few times at an annual Memorial Day party on the Eastern Shore.
“As a small liberal arts college, W&L allowed me to explore my love for music in every way — from helping run the campus radio station, to playing in the orchestra, to writing music album reviews in the local newspaper,” Matt said. “But the best benefit for me was being able to form SPEAKEASY and playing everywhere we could, from fraternity basements to coffee shops to a local high school charity show.”
Fast forward to their 20th college reunion set for May 2020, where SPEAKEASY members planned a live show in Lexington that was promoted but ultimately cancelled, along with the rest of the W&L reunion festivities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disappointed but not discouraged by the show’s cancellation, Matt surveyed the collection of SPEAKEASY’s four-track demos and VHS tapes, and the band came up with a new plan. As he explained, “We had these songs that we loved, that we had played out dozens of times, but we never had the resources to record them in our time together at W&L. So, we said to ourselves, why not record them together — right now?”
In March of 2022, the three band members traveled to Seattle, Washington and met at London Bridge Studios, a legendary spot where nationally and internationally known groups like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Fleet Foxes had recorded some of their most iconic work. There, in a fully outfitted recording studio, they recorded a four-song EP with the help of accomplished producer Eric Lilavois.
“It was important for us to capture the spirit of what we built together back in college, as collaborators and even more importantly, as lifelong friends,” Matt said.
The self-titled SPEAKEASY EP reflects a mix of influences from the ‘90s Alternative rock era that was their early inspiration, from the riffs-and-percussion legacy of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden to the melodicism of Green Day and Weezer. Also resonant are the more psychedelic sounds of The Doors, late Beatles and the Rolling Stones, all of which still appealed to college students during the 1990s.
When the SPEAKEASY EP music started to roll out in November 2022, band members shared video for each song that showed them in the recording studio and also some of their original performances back in Lexington.
So far, songs on the EP have garnered more than 100,000 listens across Spotify and Apple, and thousands of views on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. The songs and videos tell a story of three college friends who were lucky enough to create and share music – and to renew and refresh their collaboration 20-plus years later.
For Matt, it’s been a long but rewarding journey from playing music in the basement of the family home in Easton with his Country School friends, to a career in the music business promoting world-renowned artists, to his new post at Giant Music. “From day one, I’ve been fortunate to have the support of my family and friends to pursue music and my passion for it,” said Matt. “In addition to some lucky breaks, I can say that passion and dedication have made all the difference when it comes to working with artists and creating the right opportunities.”
Along the way, Matt found time to marry and now enjoys the company of his wife, Jamie, and their two children — and whenever possible, to catch up with family and friends on the Shore. “We try to come home to Talbot County at least once a year to visit. For me, the spirit of how I got into music in the first place, the energy of that time in my life, still remains right here on the Eastern Shore.”
Adrian Blair is a longtime contributor of the Spy. With an interest in social justice, he occasionally writes about his experiences on the road as a community documentarian and the arts He is currently in San Pedro, California.