If there’s one thing that characterizes Matt Lawrence’s approach to work, and life in general, it’s the power of positive thinking, and speaking to me from his home base in Chandler, AZ in mid-February, he’s decidedly upbeat: “I’m doing great. It’s 63 degrees, the sun’s out, and I just got back from a rep road trip.”
Lawrence is about 10 months into his relatively new role as U.S. western regional sales manager of Allen & Heath for U.S. distributor American Music & Sound. In fulfilling the demands of that job and developing his approach to sales after years as a full-time freelance front of house engineer, he simply notes: “It’s all about perspective.” It’s a perspective based on experience mixing the likes of Lauryn Hill, Fifth Harmony and many other acts over several years on tour.
The positive approach doesn’t hurt either in dealing with both the sales representatives and customers he now regularly interacts with. “I’m sure you’ve caught on that I’m a ‘glass is half full’ kind of person,” he says. “This job basically boils down to this: finishing a visit to a territory with the reps feeling positive about Allen & Heath, and it’s about being available – no matter what.”
Maintaining a relentlessly optimistic outlook is, in part, a product of his years on tour, where even when things go terribly wrong, the mantra is “suck it up and keep going.” He offers an example from early in his life on tour, traveling with punk band Strung Out: “We had to hole up in a hotel in Philadelphia at 2 am, and it had bulletproof windows as well as security cameras, so we were like, ‘We’re safe.’”
However, within just few minutes of their arrival, the van, trailer and all of the gear that both contained had disappeared. For some, it would be a tour-ending situation, but for Lawrence and crew, it was merely a bump in the road, and they figured out a way to continue. “Again, perspective,” he says, laughing.
Reporting For Duty
Born in Wyoming in a town of about 7,000 people, he ended up in Arizona at age 12 when his family relocated. It was then that he first became interested in music. “There was a guitar at my grandmother and grandfather’s house. I picked it up, and from there I wanted to be a rock star,” he says.
An abrupt about-face occurred after he discovered audio, however. “I played in bands, but quickly became the guy that wanted to adjust everybody’s stuff. At 18 years of age, I went to the local club and said, ‘Sign me up,’ and the engineer replied, ‘Go pick up the trash on stage.’
So I was an intern, then I moved on to backup mixing at a local 500-capacity place called The Clubhouse. When the house engineer left to work with a touring act and his position opened up, that was it. I was 20, and since then I’ve been doing sound at a professional level.”
Both Strung Out and California’s The Dirty Heads played at The Clubhouse, and Lawrence maintained contact with them in associations that ultimately helped launch his touring career.
“The Dirty Heads were a huge chunk of my life. I was with them from the days of riding in vans, staying at Motel 6 and fighting for couch cushions to gold records and tour buses.”
Through that gig, he connected with Lauryn Hill’s manager and took on FOH for her tours, which proved to be a challenging environment, he notes: “In two years we went through six monitor engineers and four tour managers.” Lawrence credits his lengthier time with Hill partly on an ability to make artists feel “at home” with him and, again, just generally being a positive human being.
Granted, his capacity for positivity was stretched on occasion, he admits when recalling a show in Ghana, Africa during the height of the Ebola outbreak. “Basically, Lauryn said, ‘Matt, are you available? We’re going to go to Ghana.’ So I got three shots, took two pills and was there within a week.”
Looking back, the arc of his career was impossible to predict, he continues, and was sometimes impacted favorably by random connections. That was certainly the case with Fifth Harmony, he says: “Basically I knew a guy that was potentially going to be hired as tour manager for Lauryn Hill. We were in contact for about a month.”
While the prospective tour manager never did a single show with Hill, he did connect Lawrence with Fifth Harmony’s tour manager. It was just prior to the emerging female group’s debut record, Reflection, so they were playing at smaller venues, but when the album hit the market a bit later: “It was private jets, Wembley, Madison Square Garden, Brazil, Tokyo,” he says.