MNERVA hit the music scene with one goal in 2020. He wanted to turn the conventional wisdom of hip hop on its head.
Originally from Germantown, Maryland, MNERVA moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2015 to “hone his craft” by playing drums for various pop artists. Today, he’s forging his own path by fusing his rock, trap and musical theater influences into original artistry.
MNERVA, also known as Matt Wagner, entered the music scene in early 2020 with a bit of controversy surrounding his viral trailer for a musical based on the catalog of the band twenty one pilots. The project was soon defunct after receiving a cease and desist letter. However, this did not discourage MNERVA from continuing to create and perform. A drummer from a young age, he worked as a “hired gun” before releasing a handful of singles throughout 2020.
“I decided I wanted to be an artist while I was working a terrible desk job at a guitar shop,” MNERVA said. “I was listening to the song ‘Minerva’ by Deftones and was completely enthralled with the track’s atmospheric guitars and synths. I thought, ‘What if someone took those sonic elements and then fused it with hip hop and trap drums?’”
At that point, MNERVA knew he found his sound and has been working on his music ever since.
“I’ve technically been a musician for 20 years now, which is wild,” MNERVA told the Planet. “Both of my parents were musicians so my dad started me on the drums when I was five years old. At first, it was just a thing I did with my father, but eventually I joined my first band at 13 and everything changed!”
It was then when MNERVA first caught the songwriting bug, feeling firsthand how powerful and validating it was to be part of a unit making music.
“I also quickly discovered that songwriting was a fantastic outlet for my negative emotions and the art form helped me feel in control whenever my life felt like it was falling apart,” he said. “I didn’t have the confidence to admit it yet but I knew that I wanted to share my story as an artist but first I had to learn to believe in myself and that didn’t truly happen until after I finished college.”
MNERVA is also ready to see change surrounding the stigma of mental health, something he himself has struggled with, starting with the release of his new single “Stuck.” The song is the first of many musical projects for MNERVA in 2021, including his upcoming debut EP later this year. MNERVA co-wrote the song with fellow musician Kory Shore, who also served as the track’s producer.
The writing process for “Stuck” soon became an outlet for MNERVA’s frustrations while in an all-time creative low during quarantine. When asked about the deeper meaning behind “Stuck,” MNERVA mentioned how he’s experienced the emotions expressed in the song before as well.
“I actually felt the same way at the end of 2018,” the musician stated. “I was just about to move to New York City for my last semester of college because I felt trapped living in Nashville. Every day, I found myself just binging anime because I felt like nothing I did mattered until I reached New York City.”
According to MNERVA, he had just experienced a massive falling out with his friend group after going through a breakup months prior.
“It was the loneliest time of my life,” he said. “Thankfully though, things did improve when I finally moved to NYC. But that time in my life was also a big inspiration for ‘Stuck.’ I’m just praying I don’t bottom out into that sad routine ever again.”
Most of MNERVA’s songs are inspired by his fears and insecurities.
“I love long-form storytelling and I want nothing more than to write a critically acclaimed concept record in the same vein as ‘American Idiot,’ ‘Trench’ or ‘The Black Parade,’” he stated. “I’m not there yet creatively, but I just finished up my debut EP, ‘Talk Too Much,’ and the record definitely has a cohesive through-line and theme. I only hope to get more ambitious with future projects.”
According to MNERVA, he doesn’t dream of being the “best rapper” alive.
“My goal is to expand hip hop’s scope and further fuse it with rock music in new and innovative ways,” he stated. “I truly believe that two genres were made to be put together and I want to be on the forefront of giving rap rock a fresh sound and hopefully help it gain acceptance with mainstream audiences again.”
When it comes to music, most of MNERVA’s music pulls inspiration from his real life experiences.
“Most of my songs are inspired by my fears and insecurities,” he said. “I have recently learned through therapy that I struggle at processing my negative emotions so music gives me an outlet to healthily express myself. I have been told that my songwriting ‘super power’ is saying the relatable thing that everyone is thinking but will never say, so I always try to dive deep and be as vulnerable as I can be when writing lyrics.”
If just one listener feels heard when listening to his songs, then MNERVA knows he’s accomplished his job as an artist.
Comics and manga spark inspiration
MNERVA is also a self proclaimed nerd with core loves rooted in both comics and manga.
“As far as comics go, Miles Morales has always been my favorite so him getting such an outstanding feature animation debut in ‘Into the Spiderverse’ was a dream come true for me,” he said. “Being the son of two former musicians, I’ve always related to his fear of not living up to Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man so his journey has definitely helped me forge my own path as an artist.”
In regards to manga, MNERVA said the following:
“My favorite character is hands down Killua Zoldyck from Hunter X Hunter,” he said. “The kid’s journey to discovering his inherent self-worth has helped me gain so much perspective on my own life and finishing that anime truly helped me find my path to self-acceptance.”
MNERVA stated that characters are inspirationally powerful.
“They are a fantastic lens from which we can gain a new perspective on life and examine our own behavior,” he said. “I always encourage people to analyze media because so many of life’s lessons can be learned through careful observation of the fiction we enjoy”
The love of storytelling
Stories are important to MNERVA. That’s why he tries to iterate one in each of his songs.
“Music has given me a healthy way to voice my negative emotions,” the artist stated. “I’ve recently learned through therapy that I have gotten really good at cutting myself off from feeling things as a defense mechanism so music allows me to feel like I’m a normal person instead of being emotionally detached.”
According to MNERVA, playing music live is one of the few times he feels completely confident in himself.
“I’ve worked very hard to become good at my craft so music gives my life focus whenever I don’t know where I’m going in life,” he said. “But most of all, music makes me feel understood and there is no better way to connect with people.”
MNERVA’s musical influences
When asked about his top musical influences, MNERVA mentioned a variety of talented artists.
“My favorite band, hands down, is Linkin Park and I constantly revisit all of their albums for inspiration,” he said. “I love how they broke down the idea of ‘genres’ so I also work very hard to fuse my desperate inspirations into a cohesive sound for MNERVA.”
MNERVA grew up listening almost entirely to 2000s rock, such as Breaking Benjamin, Three Days Grace, Papa Roach, P.O.D, Flyleaf, Paramore, Blink 182, and Deftones.
“I eventually discovered my passion for hip hop in college because of J. Cole, Eminem, NF, Logic, Jay Z, Childish Gambino, and Kanye West,” he stated. “I’m also very influenced by my musical theatre background and Lin Manuel Miranda, Jonathan Larson, and Pasek and Paul push me as a storyteller every day.”
Mental health, music and the pandemic
In his latest track, “Stuck,” Samples of news reports regarding the coronavirus introduce melodic beats and emotional lyrics that mirror dejected feelings many experienced during this historic time. In the song, MNERVA opens up about his personal mental health struggles revealing he began quarantine by moving home. According to the musician, he kept in high spirits before ultimately hitting a creative slump.
“I hit the ground running and was the most productive I had been in years,” MNERVA said. “But within two months, I had lost all of my momentum and found myself reliving the same day over and over again. Before I knew it, I stopped responding to my friends, became reclusive, and couldn’t even recognize the person I had become. I had never felt like more of a loser in my life.”
Realizing his mental health was taking a toll, MNERVA took solace in the familiar act of creating.
“Writing [Stuck] was actually my first step to escaping the negative feedback loop and I started therapy soon afterward to finally get my life back on track,” he said. “I really hope that people can relate to this song and I want them to know that there’s no shame in feeling trapped. What matters is how you take steps to keep pushing forward.”
Mental health is very important to MNERVA and he encourages his current and future fan base to reach out to their loved one’s when life feels like it’s falling apart.
“It’s okay to not be okay and you don’t have to suffer through your struggles alone,” he said. “[It’s] important it is to be your authentic ‘weird’ self. Until recently, I have been so afraid of judgement and it’s prevented me from accepting who I am and finding a community. It was so bad that I literally wouldn’t tell people what I enjoyed until someone else opened the door for conversation.”
MNERVA was bullied a lot as a kid and is now learning through therapy that it took a toll.
“I would encourage people to be themselves and do what makes them happy, as long as it’s not hurting anyone, because that’s the only way you’ll find a community of like-minded people who will love you for you,” MNERVA said.
MNERVA also provided advice for others struggling with their own mental health.
“If I had a time machine, I would tell my stubborn self ‘for the love of God, go to therapy,’” he said. “Honestly, talking to a mental health professional has changed my life for the better and I cannot recommend going to therapy enough, especially for creatives.”
In MNERVA’s opinion, having an unbiased source validates one’s feelings truly empowers them to want to improve and work through their issues.
“I recommend that my fellow creatives take the time to invest in themselves and find the right counselor whenever they start to struggle with their mental health,” he said. “Nothing is worse than bottling your emotions up because they will come out at the worst times.”
MNERVA believes this next year will be important creative wise.
“[Recently], I officially received all of the final masters for my debut EP, ‘Talk Too Much,’ and I’m currently getting ready to finally release the project’s first single, ‘Quarter Life Crisis,’ in early July,” he said. “Additionally, I’m also in the process of writing an original musical and the first draft will be done as soon as I finish up the second act’s script.”
Listen to “Stuck” below
If you are in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, you are not alone. Call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a trained counselor. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7.