Singer, drummer and rapper MNERVA sat down with Courageous Nerd to discuss his new single “Stuck”, musical influences, the origin of his stage name and more.
Read on below for MNERVA’s full interview with Courageous Nerd!
Although you go by the stage name MNERVA, your real name is Matt Wagner. What inspired you to create an alias and is there a story behind the one you chose?
MNERVA: MNERVA was born while I was working a HR job at a guitar company. It was my last day and I was wondering what I was going to do next when I started listening to the song, “Minerva” by Deftones. I was immediately enamoured by the song’s atmospheric guitars and synths and thought it would be super cool if someone fused those sounds with trap drums and rapping.
In that moment, I knew I found my sound and started to look up what Minerva meant. I found out that Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom and decided that I would adopt the name so that I could share my own personal wisdom through my songs and share my story. Especially as a massive nerd, adopting MNERVA felt very natural and I love releasing music under the alias.
What first made you realise you had a passion for music?
MNERVA: Music has been a huge part of my life since I was young because both of my parents were former musicians. My dad started me on the drums when I was 5 but I didn’t get really into it until I joined my first rock band at 13. From there, I caught the songwriting bug bad and started recording a bunch of my songs in my basement with one of my friends.
Eventually, when I got to college, I discovered my passion for rapping because of my college roommate and then dived head first into hip hop. That few year phase is where I finally learned how to be a good songwriter and discovered that I wanted to be an artist!
You have been described as a “combination of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Linkin Park”. With this in mind, which other artists have had an influence on you?
MNERVA: I listened to almost exclusively 90s and 2000s rock growing up so Linkin Park, Deftones, Papa Roach, Blink-182, Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin, Radiohead, Soundgarden, Paramore, and Flyleaf were a huge influence on me. But as I got older, I gained an incredible appreciation for hip hop and the art of rapping because of J. Cole, Kanye West, Fort Minor, Token, Logic, Eminem, NF, Jon Bellion, and Kendrick Lamar.
Nowadays, I am very into a lot of alternative acts such as Grandson, Twenty One Pilots, The 1975, Bring Me The Horizon, and Bilmuri as well as a bunch of musical theatre writers, such as Pasek and Paul, Lin Manuel Miranda, Johnathan Larson, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. All in all, I have a very diverse set of influences but I work hard every day to bring them all together into one cohesive sound.
Your latest single, “Stuck” was written during quarantine. To what extent did the situation worldwide affect the writing process? What is the message you are trying to convey?
MNERVA: After putting on a happy face for the entire pandemic, I finally hit my rock bottom last November. I just felt like every day was the exact same and that working on my career was becoming pointless. I’ve always based my self-worth on my productivity so getting nothing done made me start to hate myself and eventually I couldn’t even recognize who I was becoming.
I’ve never felt like more of a loser in my life and so I wrote “Stuck” to finally express what I had been bottling up for months. With the song, I’m trying to let people know that it’s okay to not be okay and there is no shame in feeling trapped. What matters is the steps you take to move forward. For me, writing “Stuck” and enrolling in therapy was my first step so I hope everyone finds the strength to do what they need to do when life feels like it’s going nowhere.
How does “Stuck” differ from your previous single “Geek”?
MNERVA: I’m really excited about “Stuck” because it’s the first time I’ve ever really sung on a record. I’ve been very afraid to sing on my tracks for a long time now but the response I’ve gotten from “Stuck” is really making me want to sing even more moving forward. I also think the track is great because my debut EP, Talk Too Much, is really moving in a much heavier direction and I think “Stuck” is the perfect song to connect my earlier hip hop singles to my new rock-rap material.
On your Instagram bio, you describe yourself as a playwright. Compared to music, how different is the creative satisfaction offered by playwriting?
MNERVA: Working in theatre is extremely fulfilling because you have the time to dive super deep into a topic and every small decision has intention behind it. Being able to fully explore the entirety of a subject is extremely rewarding as a creative and I feel like I’ve learned so much about myself while writing my original musical “What’s Written” over quarantine.
In my perfect world, I would love to find success in both music and theatre and I really believe that the two sides of my career complement each other well. I just love storytelling in general and music lets me tell short stories while theatre lets me pen grand epics if you will.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and you have personally been open about time in therapy. Were music and creativity sources of comfort during your depression? What advice would you offer anyone going through a similar experience?
MNERVA: Music has always been my healthy method for handling my negative emotions. Nothing is more cathartic than landing on that lyric that scares you because it’s so completely true. I’ve suffered with depression for years and writing music about it is one of the few ways I kept myself sane so I would highly recommend that everyone find a creative outlet when life isn’t going their way.
I will say though, in the end, being creative doesn’t solve your problems though, so I always suggest that people see a therapist if their issues don’t improve with time. Enrolling in therapy absolutely changed my life and I believe that everyone should have some experience talking to a licensed mental health professional.
Professionally or personally, what do you hope to accomplish with the rest of 2021?
MNERVA: With the rest of this year, I want to release a full-length project and try to grow my online presence tenfold. TikTok is a full-time job but I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it.
Additionally, I want to finish writing my musical “What’s Written” and have a workshop completed for the show by the end of the year. I know all this sounds ambitious but I believe that if you work a little bit toward your goal everyday then eventually something good will happen so let’s just say my optimism keeps me going!
To round this off, what can you tease to fans about what to expect in the future?
MNERVA: You guys are actually the first to hear this, but “Quarter Life Crisis,” the first single off of my Debut EP, “Talk Too Much,” officially comes out July 2nd and the rest of the project will drop at the end of the summer.
This project is the best music I’ve ever made and feel’s extremely me. It’s raw, heavy, and completes my transition from a hip-hop artist to an alternative artist. I can’t wait for y’all to hear it!