As college student Matthew Schuler found himself getting hooked on Season 3 of The Voice — and getting inspired by eventual winner Cassadee Pope — he also found himself becoming enamored with the music and life story of British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.
“He left his home at 16 and went to London to really pursue his dream,” Schuler explains. “And I got to thinking, ‘Ed Sheeran’s the man, he’s super young and he’s a beast.’ I knew if I wanted to really make a career out of this, I had to start young and I had to go out there and test the waters and try it out.”
Flash forward to Season 5 of The Voice: Schuler auditioned, scored the fastest four-chair turnaround in Blind Audition history and wound up on Christina Aguilera’s team. And who wound up being Xtina’s Battle Rounds advisor? None other than Ed Sheeran.
“Craziest thing ever,” says Schuler, laughing. “Ed Sheeran is the reason why I went to the open call for Season 5.”
TVLine caught up with the eventual sixth-place finisher to discuss his epic rendition of “Hallelujah,” his dedication to his (still undetermined) future wife and the decision to involve backup dancers in his cover of Imagine Dragons’ “It’s Time.”
TVLINE | What made you decide on “Cough Syrup” for your blind audition?
I love indie music. I’m a huge fan of Young the Giant. It’s a song about taking the bad stuff and turning it into something good. Like cough syrup, it doesn’t taste good but you need to take it to get well. I want my music to be able to uplift and encourage people. And I wanted to sing something for my Blind Audition that would sound like the kind of record I want to put out in real life.
TVLINE | All four coaches turned around after you’d sung just a few notes. What went through your brain when that happened?
I can’t even tell you. It was crazy. It was amazing. I was freaking out in my head. I’m like, “Oh my God, I’ve got to finish singing the song!” But there was kind of a release as well, because the hard part was over. I had their attention and I was able to really interact with them. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to America.
TVLINE | One of my favorite performances of yours this season was your Battle Round against Jacob Poole, where you guys sang “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark.” I was especially impressed how both of you sang the crap out of it, and never went off pitch while jumping around and physically getting into it. Was that something you worried about going in?
Oh man, it’s a high-energy, crazy, in-your-face song, and Jacob is my bro. We still talk, so to be able to do that song with him was a blast. We wanted to show you can have fun while you’re performing. I don’t think we were too worried about our pitch. We rehearsed it enough that we felt like it was going to be solid, that we could sing it with that same intensity and still do the song justice. It was an amazing opportunity to sing a really cool song by one of the first bands that I got into, Fallout Boy.
TVLINE | You followed up with Florence + the Machine’s “Cosmic Love” in the Knockout Rounds, which from a degree-of-difficulty standpoint, seems fairly off the charts. How did you come up with that particular track?
Florence, I have so much respect for her. She’s just an amazing storyteller. That song really speaks to me, and it was an awesome way to show my emotional side and also show that storytelling side as well. That’s the kind of music I want to make. I want to tell stories and paint pictures, create worlds with my music. The song is definitely challenging though, like you said. I had to make it my own, but what changes can you actually make to Florence Welch? Her work is remarkable. It was probably one of my favorites that I did this season. It’s a beautiful thing that music can transport you to different places, take you on a journey.
TVLINE | How much work goes into mapping out where you’re going vocally on a song that is huge from start to finish, without much room to take a pause?
There’s definitely a process that I do. First, I try to look at the content and find out where I can really invest my heart and emotion into it. The lyrics in that song are so poetic: “In the dark I hear your heart beat, I tried to find the sound.” There are certain things being said that need to have certain emotions attached to them. That ends up influencing the melody — putting different inflections on certain lines depending on what the lyrics are saying. If you’re just doing a random run or high note on the word “the,” it’s not going to come across. You have to really highlight the important things, the things that really speak to your heart. I definitely tried to do that going into this song. There’s a lot of rehearsing involved. [Laughs] I wanted to stay true to the song but not do a karaoke version, either.
TVLINE | You obviously had momentum going into the live rounds, and then Coach Christina picked Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” When I read the song spoilers for that episode, I thought maybe it was a joke or a misprint. But it turned out to be a major moment for you. Did you have the same hesitation when Christina first suggested it?
There was so much hesitation going into that. When Christina was like, “First up, I want you to sing ‘Wrecking Ball.’” I was like, “Really? What? This is a No. 1 hit right now, and you want me to sing it?” It was a tall order, but I really appreciated her challenging me. I mean, I was on the show to grow. I wanted to become a better artist and I wanted to take risks like that. Praise God, that was a risk that definitely turned out in my favor. It’s a beautiful song, the lyrics of the song, the melody, it’s just amazingly written. It was an honor to sing it. But it was intimidating to say the least. Going into it, once again, I wanted to make it my own, accent those things that really touched my heart, and sing it from a true place.
TVLINE | Probably the highlight of your season was your Top 12 week cover of “Hallelujah,” which went to No. 1 on iTunes and stayed on the chart for weeks afterward. I have to wonder, though, if you’d watched a lot of reality singing competitions before your time on The Voice — and if you were aware it had been done a gazillion times by contestants over the years.
To be honest, man, I knew this was everyone’s favorite song, and that everyone has sung this song at some point in their careers. Going into it, I don’t know, it’s one of my favorite songs, too. It’s one of the best songs ever written. I just wanted to go into it and sing it from a true place in my heart. This wasn’t anyone else’s song. It wasn’t Jeff Buckley’s. It wasn’t Leonard Cohen’s. It was my song and I was singing it from a true place in my heart.
TVLINE | You struggled a little in Top 8 week, with Imagine Dragons’ “It’s Time.” It seemed like your vocal wasn’t what viewers had come to expect — maybe because you were dancing as well. What’s your take on the performance?
I mean, I was definitely hoping for a better reception to that song. It’s one of my favorite songs. I went on stage and had eight background dancers, and it was a lot of fun to perform, but I ended up being in the Bottom 3. I’m not totally sure what happened. I definitely gave it 110 percent, like I always do whenever I’m on stage. I always want to present my best self, to do everything that I can possibly do to put on a great show. I think I did that but, hey, things happen. I think it was a tough week for me because after being on that high from “Beneath Your Beautiful” and then “Hallelujah” before that, it was tough.
TVLINE | Do you have any regrets about that performance? Any regret about the choreography even?
Actually, no. I have no regrets. I had a blast. Throwing in a little choreography, that was so much fun. It’s something else that I can take off my list. The way that I did perform it, I was doing it as an homage to our armed forces. It was an honor being able to do that. I had so much fun with that. I definitely have no regrets.
TVLINE | You mentioned “Beneath Your Beautiful,” so I have to ask you about that pre-performance package, where there was a lot of talk about it being a dedication to your future wife. And then all the judges mentioned “future wife” in their critiques. Were you thinking, “Oh my God, please don’t lay it on so thick?” or were you amused by the whole thing?
Actually, to be honest, I still haven’t even [watched] that episode, so I don’t know all the stuff that they showed. When we’re ready to go on stage, we don’t really get to see our packages. They’re playing on the screens, but when we have our in-ears in we don’t really hear anything. I’ll say this: Whenever I’m on camera, I’m just being myself and I’m just being honest. That was a beautiful song that I could dedicate to my future wife. I’m saving myself for her. And it was the first time I had done a love song on the show. Usually, I stay away from them because I’m only 21, and I haven’t actually been in any serious relationships. I’m not worried. Everything that America has seen is me, every little facet of me. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to introduce myself to America and to let them into my heart.
TVLINE | Your final week on the show, was there any concern about tackling One Direction and Percy Sledge, when at the end of the day you’re kind of an indie rock guy? Did that worry you?
Christina really challenged me. She was throwing a whole bunch of different genres at me, and it was cool to show off my versatility as an artist. I want to be able to sing songs that reach people…I want to be able to touch people who love classic old stuff, people who love pop stuff, people who love indie stuff. And being able to dedicate “Story of My Life” to my family, that was probably the best part of the night, just being able to thank them. They’ve been there for me on this journey, they’ve always been there for me. I’m blessed to have them in my life. I really enjoyed my final week. I think I left on a very high note. I don’t think it could have been any better.
TVLINE | So, if you could have gone back and tweaked anything about either one of those performances, you wouldn’t have?
I don’t know. I don’t think I would. I sang it from a true place in my heart and dedicated it to my folks and my brother and sister. I’m really glad how it turned out. I definitely have zero regrets.
TVLINE | So, post-show, what can your fans expect from you? And how much songwriting have you done on your own?
I’ve written 100-plus songs. They can definitely expect some really cool indie, electronic, alternative stuff. I love telling stories. I kind of like the idea of a concept album.
TVLINE | A concept album? Involving…?
[Laughs] Well, if things go my way, it’ll be kind of like an odyssey like The Odyssey or Lord of the Rings. It’ll definitely be a journey, that type of storytelling. Like certain characters changing into the people that they want to be — but in a more modern perspective. It’ll be pretty cool.