Former pro snowboarder, musician, and biker Kirk Matthews finds freedom in music and motorcycles
Words by Joy Burgess
Photos by Will Fox, Ben Shaw, Bobby Gutierrez
and Kirk Matthews archives
Music and motorcycles; the two cultures are heavily intertwined. Attend just about any motorcycle rally – Sturgis, Laconia Bike Week, Daytona Bike Week, the Tennessee Motorcycle and Music Revival – and it becomes obvious they go hand and hand. Perhaps it’s because with both music and motorcycles there’s freedom. People from all walks of life come together, and despite their differences there’s a feeling of family.
While former pro snowboarder, musician and biker Kirk Matthews has spent more than 20 years in the music business – pulled away from his professional snowboarding career by injuries and music’s gravitational force – motorcycles were his first love. Bands have come and gone. Songs have climbed and fallen on multiple charts. He spent years touring the world. He’s reinvented himself as a musician and moved from the perceived glitz and glamour of Los Angeles back to his small-town roots in New Mexico.
But one thing has remained the same…a love of two wheels.
Growing Up Racing
Born in western New York, Matthews dove into two-wheeled life early when he, his brother and his dad got into motocross racing. “I started racing around the age of five,” Matthews said, “and I had the chance to meet Jeff Ward and Bob Hannah at the Broome-Tioga Nationals around that time, which had a huge influence on me as a kid.”
“My older brother got a ride with DMC Kawasaki on the Juniors Amateur team, and I was team green then and still kinda am today.” [Something this author can attest to after having a spirited debate surrounding who should win the 2020 Supercross season – Honda rider Ken Rozcen or Kawasaki rider Eli Tomac – Ed].
“Dirt bike racing was big for me,” he continued, “and it’s still one of my passions. Years later, I’m still passionate about motorcycle racing – it’s in my blood.”
After racing as a kid, life happened – as it does – and the entire family moved west to Taos, New Mexico where there was no dirt bike scene going on at the time. “Finances were tight and we had to sell the bikes,” Matthews told us, “and it’s not a cheap sport to be involved in. I still paid attention to the sport, but that’s where the road stopped for me at the time.” Although life would bring him back to riding and racing again and again.
Both of Matthews’ parents were professional ski racers, and at one point his mother was on the professional ski team for the United States, so it was no surprise that he dove into snow sports like ski racing and snowboarding as a teen, too. “At age 15 I became a professional snowboarder,” he said, “and from age 15 to 19 I competed as a pro, competing in my first X Games in 1997.”
Like most extreme athletes, injuries became a problem. Matthews was only 19 when he had reconstructive surgery on his knees. And that would be a turning point in his life.
Unexpected Music Career
“As I was rehabbing,” Matthews mentioned, “I went back to Taos, New Mexico, and somehow ended up jamming with some high school buddies. Somehow that turned into a band named Tabularasa, it got popular, we started doing shows, and we ended up on the road. It’s kinda like music just happened to find me. I’d never planned on being in the music business [despite his parents both being musicians – that’s what brought them together while they were professional skiers – Ed], and while rehabbing my knees I just happened to be in a band that did well. And I never went back to snowboarding. It’s crazy, and it really doesn’t make sense because I was just getting into professional snowboarding, but music…it was the stronger pull.”
Matthews calls Tabularasa a Latin version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers that did “a lot of fun party stuff with a hip-hop vibe.” It was a time when bands like Sublime and Incubus were getting big, and it was the perfect time for a band with a punk-rock, Latin, hip-hop vibe to get going.
In 2001 the band moved to California and had a good run until about 2005. “We piled into a ’78 Dodge Van, went to Los Angeles, and spent the first eight months there living in that van. And then that van broke down, naturally [laughs]. So we upgraded to an RV and spent four years living on the streets of LA in that motorhome. But eventually, all the boys started to have their own lives and wives, and the band took a back seat to life,” Matthews said.
The band scattered, but Matthews stayed behind in LA in the music industry, and that’s that point where success really began to happen for him. From 2005 to 2018 he excelled as a solo recording artist under the name Ceekay Jones. In 2007 and 2008 he was singer for Stereo Chemix, a side project with members of LIMP BIZKIT and La Coka Nostra. He went on to co-front the New York hardcore band Skarhead from 2007 to 2011 alongside well-known punk rock and hip-hop recording artist, producer, actor and model Danny Diablo, and fronted the NMHC/Thrash band Dead|Love in 2019. From 2012 through the present, he’s been a platinum-selling music producer and songwriter with award-winning songs and collaborations like Bliss n Eso “My Life” feat. Ceekay Jones (which went multi-platinum in sales).
For some time, touring and playing music kept Matthews from riding. Living in LA and being a touring musician made having a motorcycle difficult. But around 2007 – right in the middle of his music success – he knew it was time to start riding again. “I got a Harley-Davidson Nightster 1200 in 2007,” Matthews said, “and about a year later I got a motocross bike and got back into that. Since that time I’ve always had both a dirt bike and some kind of Harley around. I love Harleys. I’m a V-twin guy and I just love twisting the throttle out there on the highway.”
And amidst the chaos of touring with some of the biggest hardcore, punk rock musicians, life on the road, and eventually completely redefining himself as a musician, it was that love of motorcycles he’d come back to – the place where he could always find freedom…and family.
Since 1999, Matthews has constantly had a job in the music business. But one of the challenges that comes with the music industry and the constant hustle that surrounds it is losing yourself. “I’ve done so many different music projects in my life,” Matthews said, “and I was such a chameleon in the industry, I realized I’d lost touch with the core person I was when I started. I got to a point after so many years of touring and being a part of certain styles of music where I realized I didn’t relate to it anymore. I’d built a name and a pretty good fan base in the industry, but I wasn’t connecting to that person that people knew anymore.”
“I realized I needed to start over,” he continued, “recreating who I was as a person in music.” And he did that by reinventing himself with Kirk Matthews music and making the drastic move from Los Angeles to New Mexico.
“Kirk Matthews music is kinda like the phoenix rising,” Matthews went on, “I had to burn down what I’d built for 20 years to start over, not just musically, but as a person. What I was doing wasn’t fulfilling me on a soul level anymore. I’d come back to New Mexico to work on a record and I realized it was exactly what I needed – I needed to get back to where I started.”
But it’s not easy to recreate yourself these days in the digital music age. Going from underground hip-hop, punk rock, and thrash roots and transforming to an Americana, folk, southwestern, country sound is nearly unheard of.
“It’s just like in motorcycle racing where you’re only as good as your last win,” Matthews explains. “In the music industry you’re only as good as your last song, so making a big switch in the industry is tough. You’ve got to be in it all the time to keep yourself relevant.”
“Rap is a battle form of music,” Matthews said. “It’s all about ego and bravado, and it especially was in the ’90s. I let go of that side of me, both as a human and as an artist, and music has become very introspective for me now. I’m not the same person anymore. The songs I write today as Kirk Matthews I relate more to than I ever have to any music I’ve done. Now with my music I’m baring it all, wearing my heart on my sleeve, and I’m fully invested in it. And I’m grateful to be doing this new style of music – I’ve found myself again.”
Since establishing his self-described “southwestern Americana” sound with Kirk Matthews music, he’s put out popular songs like “Simple Life” [this author’s favorite], “Let Me Sign,” “Killer” and “Secrets.”
Finding Flat Track
The change in scenery that came with moving back home to New Mexico also gave Matthews a chance to indulge in his passion for motorcycles more often. “I moved back to New Mexico to enjoy a better quality of life,” he said. “I wanted to enjoy more in my life beyond music, like reconnecting with friends and reconnecting with motorcycles.”
“A friend of mine, Thaison, has a company called Rust is Gold,” Matthews continued. “It’s a motorcycle club that’s also a coffee shop and garage. They build motorcycles, sell coffee, and are involved in the motorcycle community of Albuquerque. Thaison even has a racing team called Rust is Gold Racing, and they do vintage road racing, flat track racing, and more. I started going out to the raceway out here, reconnecting with friends, and really started getting interested in flat track. I’ve always paid attention to flat track, but seeing my friends doing it, that made me want to get into it myself.”
While Matthews loves motocross racing and spends plenty of time on the dirt, he knows it’s not the safest profession for a musician who really needs his hands (he plays guitar, piano, and more). “I really love to jump,” Matthews said, “But I know it’s not if, but when, you go down in motocross racing – I have experience [laughs]. I’m an adrenaline junkie, so I thought maybe I’d give flat track a try.”
“The flat track community is vibrant here in New Mexico,” he went on. “I’m a competitive person, and I’m stoked to be able to go out and race on a local level. It’s a band of guys locally who race, the builds are really cool, and I love the idea of getting to express myself through a build in an artistic way and then get it out there on the track.”
While he’s always got a Harley around, he found a cheap 1986 883 for sale and decided to turn it into a flat track race bike. It hasn’t been going well. The bike is from one of those eras when parts are obsolete. He’s run into some interesting snags along the way. But he loves spending time in the garage wrenching.
“Wrenching on the bike is a perfect thing for me,” Matthews said. “You can’t work on the bike and think about something else or you’ll screw it up. And reconnecting with a group of like-minded people who are passionate about motorcycles like I am has been great, too.”
He’s been out on the track several times, but the pandemic put a bit of a damper on his summer flat track racing plans. But he’s not done. He’s building another flat track bike and can’t wait to get his license to get out there and tear it up turning left on a dirt oval.
Whether it’s twisting the throttle on the highway, wrenching on bikes, or tearing up the dirt – on his dirt bike or a flat track bike – Matthews is head over heels in love with motorcycles. “If I’m not thinking about music, I’m thinking about motorcycles,” he said. “When I made my decision to get into music and leave snowboarding, I left all that behind. I don’t even have a passion for that anymore. But the one thing I’ve kept up with since I was a kid was motorcycles.”
“There’s a connection between motorcycles and music,” he continued. “Motorcycles are iconic in music videos. You’ll never go to a rally or race where you don’t hear music. The two go hand and hand. I think that’s because music is a freedom-based expression, and so is riding a motorcycle. There’s nothing more freeing than riding a motorcycle – in that moment you’re completely free. And music is the same way for me. When I’m on stage performing, nothing else matters. When I’m on a motorcycle riding, nothing else matters. It’s moving meditation.”
Music and motorcycles. The simple life.
You can check out Kirk Matthews’ music at www.KirkMatthewsMusic.com or follow him at @KirkMatthewsMusic on Instagram and Facebook.