Matt Wixson: A ska anomaly

There's more to local musician than Phelps bashing

By Andrea Poteet

Matt Wixson isn't complaining.

Despite lyrics packed with rants about topics from failed relationships to homophobic Westboro Baptist church pastor Fred Phelps, the 27-year-old frontman for local punk-ska band Matt Wixson's Flying Circus is really kind of an OK guy, he promises.

"I'm usually friendly, smiley, full of jokes and everything in my day-to-day life," Wixson says. "I think all the negativity channels itself into my songs. I usually end up with something I can think positively about after I've written the song."

As a solo artist since 2005, Wixson had used his music as an outlet for his griping and, until 2007, as a place to subtly discuss his sexual orientation.

"I was definitely singing songs about guys," Wixson says, "but I was doing the old pronoun trick, singing to 'you' instead of 'him.' It was a cheap way to do it, and rather unsatisfying."

But his view of music as a place he could "get away with it" changed when his friend Jeff Rosenstock of New York-based punk band Bomb the Music Industry! released the song "Save the War," a gay rights anthem that made Wixson reconsider his privacy stance.

"I thought, 'If this guy is making gay rights music, I have no reason not to,'" Wixson says.

The result was the 10-song release from Wixson's electronic-ska-reggae side project Babylon Party Machine, "God Hates Babylon Party Machine," released on Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, in 2007. The album was nominated for a Detroit Music Award that year.

Between bashing closeted gay Republicans and Phelps, he said the disc was his attempt to find other people like him.

"I really didn't have anybody to look up to like that," Wixson says. "There's been gay-fronted punk bands for a long time, but at the time - and even now - I don't know of anyone singing openly gay ska music ."

After coming out, he said his friends, most of whom had also been in the dark, gradually "caught up." Fans and friends alike have been mostly supportive. He said the liberal leanings of most ska and punk listeners have helped.

"My musical preferences really benefited me, because I was going right into an accepting scene," he says. "Some people have suggested that people won't buy shirts because I'm gay and maybe there's some sort of connotation with that or people might not come to the shows for that reason, but that's not really something I see."

Wixson, who lives in Shelby Township, started his self-named band over a year ago with drummer Mike Land and bassist Josh Young of local ska-punk band Cbj. The project paired Wixson's lyrical tirades with his folk and ska influences and Land and Young's deceptively bouncy beats. The group has hit local venues and toured around the country. A full-length album, recorded during a stop in New Jersey last summer, is awaiting finishing touches before its release. Their first six-song EP, "Jeffy," was released last month on New Orleans-based Community Records and can be downloaded at http://www.communityrecords.org.

"My drummer suggested we name it as if it were a child of ours," Wixson says. "The first name out of his mouth was 'Jeffy.'"

At first, Wixson said audiences who had attended his solo shows seemed put off that they were hearing mostly punk-based songs instead of the ska they had come to expect. As time went on, he said crowds have warmed up to the band.

Land said he's seen nothing but positive responses from crowds, and Wixson's orientation has helped bring a topic not often heard in punk lyrics to the forefront.

"I've never heard anyone say that because he's gay I'm not going to hear his music, or any other negative feedback from what we're trying to bring to the table," Land says. "If anything, it brings something that isn't really talked about very much at a lot of punk shows."

Though he has played music since he first taught himself the piano as a child, Wixson doesn't know if there will ever be enough demand for him to turn it into a career, but he said he's happy just to get the chance to share his songs with audiences.

"I feel like music is probably not going to be a career for me," Wixson says. "It would be great if it were, but I'm realistic enough to not really expect that. I try to enjoy it as much as I can, whenever I have the opportunity."

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