Farley poses for a portrait while sitting behind his piano on Wednesday in Danvers, Massachusetts. Farley, who has tens of thousands of songs to his name, saw his music go viral on TikTok earlier this month.
But that doesn’t stop the Massachusetts native from writing a song about those towns or over 3,000 other places across the country. It’s a massive project he plans to finish up by sometime in July when he records his 50th state album.
“It’s always just been my instinct to create a lot,” Farley told HuffPost earlier this month, “I generally feel guilty if I’m not being creative. I just feel like I’m wasting time. I’m wasting time if I’m not in the midst of a project.”
Farley, who touts a catalog of 24,000-plus songs penned under over 80 names, hasn’t wasted time canvassing the country ― and the world ― with his music.
The musician has made tracks under his “The Guy Who Sings About Cities & Towns” moniker for over a decade, and, as of late, he’s growing a new audience on TikTok, where users can’t get enough of his music.
“I need matt farleytok to become a thing,” user @erikaspondike captioned in a video with over 44,000 views breaking down Farley’s career.
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♬ A Song About Asbury Park - The Guy Who Sings Songs About Cities & Towns
Farley is familiar with his nationwide fame thanks to his performance of “Used to Be a Pizza Hut” under the stage name Papa Razzi and the Photogs on “The Tonight Show” in 2016.
Now, nearly seven years later, he’s embracing a growing Gen Z audience despite his lack of activity on the app.
“I peruse it sometimes, but I’ve never put out a video or anything,” he said.
“I think it’s better that way. Let the TikTokers do their thing, and I won’t mess it up.”
Farley’s inspirations include Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. He said the more he listens to music, the more he finds the comedy burrowed in it ― noting The Beatles’ “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” as an example of humor from some of his favorite singer-songwriters.
“What’s funny is I’ve taken the least popular and successful part of the best bands, and I’ve completely run with that style,” he said.
Farley crafts his albums starting with a visit to Wikipedia, where he heads to a state’s municipalities pages, sorts places by population from highest to lowest, and proceeds to get to work penning songs about at least 50 different places.
From there, he’ll improvise as he reads through facts about a place on its Wikipedia page, but he may sway toward a line that rhymes that he wrote down in advance of the recording.
“People will say, ‘No way he’s going to cover the 48th most-populated city in West Virginia,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah? Get ready.’”
Farley plays a guitar at his home on Wednesday in Danvers, Massachusetts. Farley has so far tackled 46 states with his ongoing "Cities & Towns" project.
Listeners falling down the “Cities & Towns” rabbit hole will slowly realize a common theme to his songs, too: He tends to focus on the positive parts of each community.
“I think there’s a cumulative effect if you’re just listening to one after the other. Where you’re just like, ‘Oh my God, this guy thinks every place is wonderful. He’s out of his mind,’” Farley said.
“I just like the idea of someone who’s so completely supportive and happy. But also, if you live in a town, who wants to hear someone critiquing it?”
Farley isn’t the first artist to take a shot at recording albums about all 50 states.
In the early 2000s, Sufjan Stevens revealed his plan for a “Fifty States Project” before owning up to the project as a “promotional gimmick” toward the decade’s end.
Farley, who has so far tackled 46 states with his project, said part of his inspiration stems from hearing classic odes to places like “Theme from New York, New York” and “California Girls.”
His music isn’t just limited to places in the U.S., though. The singer has albums about spots in Australia, the U.K., France and Canada.
Farley admits it’s fun to learn new facts about places across America, although he said he tends not to hold onto his newfound knowledge.
“Frankly, the facts are coming into my head and leaving my head pretty quickly,” he said.
Farley’s massive creative output isn’t anything new, either. However, he cites his songwriting with his friend Tom Scalzo in the 2000s as a testament to his productivity, adding that the duo forced themselves to record an album every day in 2006.
“Just under this belief that if you put this athletic approach to creativity, if you just force yourself to create something ― fight through the bad songs, finish the bad songs ― that will free you up to write the good songs,” Farley said.
“When you’re done, you listen and you realize the bad song wasn’t bad to begin with.”
He said he later noticed how his “weird” songs received a fair share of attention and started playing to that tune.
“People would type in anything into a music search engine, so it became my goal to have a song to anticipate what people might be searching and have a song for every possibility,” he said.
Farley smiles while lounging at his home on Wednesday. In addition to his music career, he's also a published author and released his book "The Motern Method" in 2021.
He admits he’s 100% received his share of criticism for his output and maintainsthat the critics have no understanding of what he’s devoted his life to.
“People worry about perfectionism so much it’s like they get frozen and they can’t finish a project. They say, ‘I’ve worked on this song for a year,’ but the truth is they worked on it for two hours in January, and then they worked on it for 30 minutes in December,” he said.
“So they really worked on it for two-and-a-half hours. So I just avoid those 11 months of procrastination.”
Farley, who has written about his creative process in his book, “The Motern Method,” admits his work is “pretty cool” and acknowledges that it’s a “full-time job that pays for itself daily.”
With his newfound TikTok fame in tow, the singer plans to bring his maximal approach to creativity to his nine-hour, seventh annual “Motern Extravaganza” event just north of Boston on Saturday.
The singer, who spoke to HuffPost while on a 20-mile walk, chalked up his style to “excessive creativity.”
“Like right now, it’s like, why do a walk if it’s going to take less than six hours? It’s crazy. It’s on brand, and it’s also just true to myself,” Farley said.
“I tell people they’re allowed to leave. They can get dinner and come back. I’ll still be entertaining. It’s hard to get people to attend events, so you want to make it worth their while.”