Many young men dream of playing in the National Hockey League. Others imagine themselves becoming rock stars.
Matt Lashoff has made both of those goals come true … sort of.
The 24-year-old defenceman is working very hard at becoming a regular defenceman in the NHL. It’s something he feels in his heart is within his grasp. The 22nd overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft with the Boston Bruins spent most of this past season playing in the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies, but gave a good account of himself in 11 games with the Maple Leafs and feels he is on the verge of be coming a full-time NHLer.
At the same time, Lashoff has released his first album, Living On Heart, on iTunes and Amazon.com. This isn’t just some run-of-the-mill home recording by a kid with a few bucks and a modicum of talent. Far from it, in fact. Lashoff gathered some of the studio musicians in the business to support him and the record really packs some punch.
For Lashoff, who grew up in East Greenbush, NY, it is all part of a natural progression in his life.
“Music has been around me my whole life; just like hockey,” Lashoff said. “When I was a kid my dad played in bands and held band practice at the house so there was always a surplus of musical instruments lying around the house. My dad is a great musician, who can play everything from fiddle, to banjo, harmonica, guitar…everything. It was cool for me to grow up around that.
“My mom loved music, too. When I started playing, we had a drum kit in the basement and that’s what I started on. I loved the banging and crashing and I got pretty good at it, but right when I started getting serious my cousin took the kit away for the band he was playing in. I had always played around with the guitar and my dad had shown me a few chords so at that point I started taking it seriously,” Lashoff continued.
“Once I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan I locked myself in the basement and tried to learn everything he had ever done. It just kind of flourished from there and I got introduced to all kinds of musicians such as Eric Clapton and Sting at the age of 10 and 11 which was pretty cool.”
For Lashoff, his life was hockey-music and music-hockey. He had a passion for both and pursed each with equal vigor.
“We had a great set-up at my house,” Lashoff said. “We have a lot of land so we dug the backyard up and built a rink. If I wasn’t outside playing hockey I’d be in the house playing my guitar. We never really watched TV when we were kids. When people asked me how I balanced them, it wasn’t really a matter of balancing the two. It was just the way I lived. If I wasn’t playing hockey I was playing guitar or listening to music. I look back and think to myself that I really didn’t waste a lot of time doing stupid stuff which a lot of kids do. I was never into playing video games.”
Lashoff worked hard on his guitar playing and thanks his dad for helping him take his game — his musical game, that is — to the next level.
“When I was younger I was able to play songs and my dad came downstairs one day and said, ‘You’ve got to start singing. You want to perform these songs and want people to listen to you, right?’ ” Lashoff recalled. “He said I’d have a lot more fun singing the songs instead of just playing them on guitar. I just sang the songs the way they felt to me. I don’t know if I realize yet that I have a good voice because I’m still working on it. I’m a guitar player first, rather than a singer, but it’s definitely something I work on.”
“I actually worried about how this might be perceived by people; if they thought I might be leaving hockey or was my head not in the right place as far as advancing my hockey career.”
– Matt Lashoff
Lashoff is a very good singer; a rich, breathy vocalist whose passion for his work comes through in every song. You can go to his website, www.lashoff.com and hear snippets of the songs on his album.
The release of Living On Heart still seems a little surreal for Lashoff who actually recorded the songs nearly two years ago. He has never hidden his love for music and once, while playing a live gig on NESN TV in Boston, he was discovered by record producer Loren Harriet. Harriet has worked with other professional athletes such as Bernie Williams of the New York Yankees, Bronson Arroyo of the Boston Red Sox, NBA star Wayman Tisdale as well as other celebrities such as actress Megan Mullally from Will and Grace, Jay Leno and Billy Bob Thornton.
Harriet gathered some of the biggest names in the business to work with his hockey player. The backing band included the likes of veteran bassist Leland Sklar (Jackson Browne; Phil Collins; Crosby, Stills and Nash; James Taylor and Carly Simon), guitarist/keyboards David Sancious (Bruce Springsteen; Peter Gabriel; Sting and Eric Clapton); drummer Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp; Elton John; John Fogerty and Bob Seger) and guitarist Brent Mason (12 time winner of the American Country Music Guitarist of the Year).
“Loren said to me, ‘If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right,’” Lashoff said. “He said these are the people I have lined up to play with you. It was like, ‘Oh my God!’ To go in and record with these people knowing you are on the bottom rung of the totem pole of musicians makes you rise to the occasion and bring your game. It’s the same as playing hockey with better people; you raise the level of your game. I had my ears open all the time. I asked a whole mess of questions and I really grew as a musician. The coolest thing is I still stay in touch with the guys today. It wasn’t like they came in and did the record and then disappeared.”
Lashoff said it was intimidating to work with musical superstars, but it was also a valuable learning experience. He wrote most of the songs on the album and said the guys in the band allowed him to control the direction of the recording.
“When I first met them I walked into the room and they were all sitting there,” he said. “It was so weird because I had to be the ringleader for some of the world’s best studio musicians. They asked me what I wanted them to do. They had practised the songs, but they wanted me to tell them how to play it. I would give them direction as to what I wanted, but at a certain point you just sat back and said, ‘Just play it the way you want.’ They were such cool and great guys it made the process easy.”
Songwriting is something Lashoff takes very seriously. Asked if he had a particular favourite song on the album, he couldn’t narrow it down to one.
“I’m actually quite proud of all of them,” he said. “These are songs that I have been collecting for the better part of my professional hockey career. I started writing my own songs when I was 13 and we didn’t use those songs, but I can listen to the record and recall what was going on in my life at the time I wrote a particular song. Save Me is definitely a song that came out really, really good and I think it’s the one song that will attract people to listen to it. It’s really catchy. When I listen to the songs I listen to them as a fan as well because I can pick out parts that the guys played and I remember when they were doing it in the studio.”
Although the album was only released a week ago, Lashoff is pleased with the feedback he has received.
“I can’t believe this is actually out there and people are listening to it because at the end of the day I am a hockey player,” he said. “That’s what I do. I live and breathe the game and to be able to have people look at you in a different light and see you differently is a little nerve-wracking because you are putting yourself out there. You are putting your thoughts and feelings out there. For me the best part is to be able to share it with others and to have people tell me that they enjoy it is something I’m still trying to process.”
Make no mistake about it, regardless of how his music is received, Lashoff said he remains a professional hockey player first and foremost.
“I’m a hockey player at heart,” he said. “I would never, ever leave the hockey for anything. Some people, when the season is over, play golf. For me, I’ve always been into music and it’s something I could do during the season. When hockey practice ended I could go back to my apartment and play music. I could never put hockey anywhere but No. 1.
“I actually worried about how this might be perceived by people; if they thought I might be leaving hockey or was my head not in the right place as far as advancing my hockey career. I actually thought about not doing it because of that, but I worried that I’d look back when I was older and think about having had the opportunity to do this and regret passing on it,” Lashoff added.
“It’s funny; I was searching for old pictures to include on my website and I found a piece of paper that I had written my goals and dreams on when I was a kid. The top one was to play in the NHL and now I am changing that to play consistently in the NHL. But another one was to make a record. It’s a pretty cool experience to be able to do it. I’m taking extra pride in it because I have pretty much done all of it myself, from writing the songs to getting things together and releasing it. I have been hands-on through the whole process and I’ve learned a lot about the music business and about music in general.”
Lashoff is in the process of planning some live shows to promote his album, but said nothing he does with his music can interfere with his training for the 2011-12 hockey season.
“I think this season was a huge step in my development,” he said. “Going into this year I knew I was an NHL player. Something just clicked in my head where I felt good about my game. Getting sent down early in the year was a bit of a blow, but I handled it differently. I went down and worked on my game knowing somehow or some way I’d get my opportunity which is exactly what happened at the end of the year.
“I have grown so much and in doing that I have simplified my game without sacrificing my offensive game. I think I’m at the point where I can be a full-time NHLer and I can contribute on a nightly basis.”