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Matt Kim looks back on a life of rock

  • Matt Kim of Matt Kim's Academy of Rock on Main Street in Greenfield. July 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Matt Kim of Matt Kim's Academy of Rock on Main Street in Greenfield talks about music and how it helped guide his life. July 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Matt Kim of Matt Kim's Academy of Rock on Main Street in Greenfield talks about music and how it helped guide his life. July 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Matt Kim of Matt Kim's Academy of Rock on Main Street in Greenfield talks about music and how it helped guide his life. July 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Matt Kim of Matt Kim's Academy of Rock on Main Street in Greenfield plays his electric guitar in one of his sound studios. July 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Matt Kim of Matt Kim's Academy of Rock on Main Street in Greenfield plays his electric guitar in one of his sound studios. July 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Matt Kim of Matt Kim's Academy of Rock on Main Street in Greenfield talks about music and how it helped guide his life. July 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Matt Kim of Matt Kim's Academy of Rock on Main Street in Greenfield talks about music and how it helped guide his life. July 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



Staff Writer
Sunday, August 12, 2018

GREENFIELD — With metal, as in the likes of Iron Maiden, not iron, Matt Kim just feels better.

Listening to the soul-thumping drums, driving bass lines, and most importantly, high-octane guitar riffs, keeps Kim grounded. He found a permanency in metal, which was important since his childhood was filled with a series of moves — his father was in the military — across the country and personal struggles.

“The music got me through,” Kim said during a talk at the Greenfield Library recently. “Metal was never exclusive. It was always inclusive. If you don’t feel good, you can come here.”

Kim operates the Academy of Rock, where he teaches anyone how to, well, rock, along with his wife Kristy, who teaches vocals, and drummer Michael Bartlett, who teaches the drums. But it is more than work for Kim — and don’t ever call it “work” when talking with him — it’s a passion.

“This is a great luxury to get to know someone, to teach them how to feel good,” Kim said. “Music on top is icing on the cake.”

And while the people who go into his academy are interesting — Kim listed doctors, lawyers, police and children as some of his clientele — it was the journey that got him to this point that really strikes a chord.

Kim talked about this journey at the library as part of the “Libraries Rock” series, while highlighting the stories with select songs from his youth and playing along with them on guitar.

Rock origins

Kim reminisced about his time in the basement of one of his childhood homes when he was 7 years old. His two brothers had a room there, and as Kim said, “whenever the door was closed, I could see purple light underneath the door” and smoke that he said smelled weird.

And it was there that his brother Richard first showed him rock ’n’ roll.

“He was it to me, my Rock and Roll mentor,” Kim said.

Kim said he went into the room and heard “Earache my Eye” by Cheech and Chong for the first time. For those unfamiliar, the Cheech and Chong track is off the comedy duo’s “Wedding Album.”

In the song, a teenager, voiced by Tommy Chong, puts on a rock ’n’ roll record after waking up. The teenager’s father, played by Cheech Marin, storms into the teen’s bedroom and turns off the record, yelling to get ready for school. The two argue and while doing so, Chong’s character said he can’t go to school because of an earache, to which Marin’s character responds “earache my eye!”

He said his brother then exposed him to “Cat Scratch Fever” by Ted Nugent and “Detroit Rock City” by KISS.

Those songs were life-changing for Kim.

Kim eventually heard metal, from Iron Maiden to Dio, leading Kim to take up the guitar. Kim said the instrument was more than fun to play; it made him feel welcome.

“As soon as I picked up guitar, any guitar, that was it — I was in the club,” he said.

The ‘ax’ that grinds

Kim said he picked up his first guitar in his early teens after a friend asked him to join his band, but said even before that, he “always knew the guitar was filled with special powers.”

Kim said he struggled with writing complete songs. He could play whatever he was shown, he said, but to write something intricate was a more difficult process.

As Kim got older and experiences in bands piled up, Kim realized that learning more kinds of music would be the key.

“All that heavy stuff wasn’t giving me all the information, so I started playing jazz,” he said.

Kim said jazz, particularly the music theory behind it, “opened the gates.”

“Before jazz, I could only play notes,” he said.

All that jazz

Eventually, Kim turned jazz into a job all its own, in spite of that he never really enjoyed the music. He said he was moonlighting as a jazz musician at clubs like the former Green River Cafe, where the People’s Pint now is on Federal Street, while spending his days working at the local record store, About Music on Main Street.

Eventually, Kim said, what he was doing just wasn’t fulfilling enough.

Kim said while playing one night at the Cafe, he drank a jug of wine and finished his set on stage. He walked off and told his then-girlfriend — now-wife Kristy — “I quit. I quit everything,” went home and put his guitar under his bed, intent on forgetting about the instrument.

He said he continued to work at the record store but, “I stopped playing guitar. I didn’t touch it, talk about it, think about it for a year and a half.”

In spite of these efforts to forget about the instrument, people continued to ask him about it, including a woman who would come into the store and ask him repeatedly to teach her son how to play.

Kim said he continued to decline but she was persistent, continuously asking. Eventually, Kim begrudgingly acquiesced in spite of never teaching anyone how to play the six-string before.

“I finally sat down with the kid but I’m nervous. I have no idea what I’m doing,” Kim said.

But instead of going terribly, Kim said “the kid was looking at me like I’m God,” and the child started to play and a smile flashed across his face.

“That’s when I realized I actually can do something. I don’t need to look for a job. I don’t need a plan for the future,” Kim said.

A journey starts with a single step

This started Kim’s journey as a guitar instructor, first taking on students part time, then teaching from his home. While his teaching increased, Kim was in a band again and the record store he still worked at neared closing.

This meant Kim had to make a decision: the band or the students.

Kim said he quit the record store before it closed and decided that he would focus full-time on his band. But the night he went to tell his band mates this, they informed him that they couldn’t be in the band anymore because life events, like children and marriage, had taken over.

“That was the end of my rock star thing,” he said.

But it was the start of Kim’s career as a full-time instructor, as he took more students from home, then moved on to a local music shop and academic institutions, eventually opening his own school with his wife that is now coming up on 10 years.

“I must be doing something right,” Kim said. “I keep my mouth shut, head down and try to do a good job for everyone.”