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HomeArts & CultureMusicUnleashing the Music Within: One Man's Journey from Corporate Conformity to Artistic...

Unleashing the Music Within: One Man’s Journey from Corporate Conformity to Artistic Freedom

Matt de Heus’ path from the corporate world of mergers and acquisitions to his current gig as a well-known – and well-respected – Bay City musician and songwriter began in Oscoda 57 years ago. 

If you want to know about what’s going on in the local music scene, de Heus is the guy to ask.  

Known for his work as a solo artist and as a bass player for local bands, de Heus is uniquely qualified to offer his perspective on up-and-coming performers and notable new recordings. 

So how did a regular kid from Oscoda climb the corporate ladder before finding his true calling and a full-time music career? A “pretty non-descript student” by his own assessment, de Heus grew up in a family where college degrees were uncommon. And he may never have attempted more than a high school diploma if not for his stellar results on the required college admissions exams. 

“I didn’t really understand the importance of it,” he says. “I wasn’t in the Top 10 in my class, but I was suddenly on the radar of a lot of the best schools in the U.S.”

His impressive test scores lead to numerous inquiries and offers from top-ranked colleges and universities. Ultimately de Heus opted for one of the country’s most prestigious engineering schools – Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind. He completed a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and served as the president of Alpha Chi Sigma, the honorary society for chemical engineering. He was captain of the Rose-Hulman Debate Team and competed in the national championship for four consecutive years. In his senior year, de Heus placed third in the nation in his debate category. And he was awarded an Honor Key for his contributions to campus life. 

de Heus went on to complete a master’s degree in manufacturing engineering technology at Eastern Michigan University. He was recognized as EMU’s Outstanding Graduate Student in the College of Technology. 

“After school I worked my way up from manufacturing to management, eventually settling into a role in corporate development, basically strategic planning, mergers and acquisitions,” he says. “By this point I was with Burmah Castrol, and I caught the eye of the senior management of the parent company.”

That attention from the top brass resulted in an offer for de Heus to spend three years in England, where he was tasked with identifying acquisition targets. However, those plans were upended when de Heus’ company was purchased by British Petroleum. de Heus helped the new owners spin off the industrial chemical divisions of his old employer before returning to the U.S. two years later than planned. 

He returned to Oscoda in 2003 along with his wife and two young daughters. But the marriage soon ended and de Heus found himself in a difficult role – an unemployed single father. Jobs in his field, which also offered the flexibility he needed as a single parent, were in short supply. So, he put his engineering background to work and started his own companies. 

His businesses included Zovida, which manufactured veterinary bandages, and Lure Lipstick, a fish attractant. de Heus also ran the Great Lakes Business Incubator.

In 2010, while working as a chemical processing instructor at Delta College, de Heus welcomed a VIP to his class. “Joe Biden came to our lab and gave a national address about our program,” he says. 

After his return to Michigan, and away from the rigors of a Fortune 500 job, de Heus was able to turn his attention to his lifelong passion for music. “Music took a back burner while I was in corporate life, though buying, selling, and fixing guitars had always been a hobby,” he says. 

Known across the region for his skill as a bass player, de Heus says he’s “pretty good at guitar and maybe a little less than that on mandolin.” 

“I picked up bass as a kid,” he says. “My mother was the landlord at an apartment complex in Oscoda.  When we had a tenant move out and leave behind all his stuff, so she brought me home an electric guitar and a huge stack of albums. I turned the guitar into my first bass and figured out how to play along to my albums through my stereo headphones.”

His early musical influences, which are still evident in the tunes he writes and performs today, came from the songs he heard his parents play – crooners, classic country and western, early rock and roll, and Herb Alpert. 

“I came up in an age with the Beatles, the Stones, and Led Zeppelin were all that, and Kiss played a role, but I was always all about The Who,” he says. “The bass was more or less the lead instrument and Pete Townshend wrote lyrics that resonated with me.”

The first album de Heus bought was Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” “Every song on that album is different and I kind of try to do that myself,” he says. 

As his daughters got older, de Heus started playing bass in cover bands around Mid-Michigan. “After one band broke down, I decided it was possibly time to branch out and write my own songs,” he says. “A lot of my friends in the area had original bands. Scott and Michael Robertson of the late, great Maybe August were a particular inspiration.”

So, the consummate bass player bought a guitar and started writing songs. “My song ‘Last Train to Anywhere’ was basically written on the afternoon I got the guitar, just noodling on it like a bass player,” says. “I joined the Mid-Michigan Songwriters Guild and with the encouragement of people like Bob Hausler, Jeff Yantz, and Tim Nuemeyer, I started to put together a pretty good catalog of songs.”

A few years ago, de Heus was named best country songwriter by “REVIEW” magazine. Based on nominations and votes from readers, the publication also honored de Heus for best new single release, best music video, and best country video for his song “Gone.” 

In May, de Heus will release his fifth studio album, “SO*P (Soup Without You),” which he recorded at Andy Reed’s studio. The first single, “Just Write the Book,” will be available in April. His solo project, Matthew de Heus, and the Workhorses, which will concentrate on original material, will debut on April 15 at Saginaw on Stage. 

When he’s not performing, recording, or writing music, de Heus is an in-demand string instrument technician at Herter Music in Bay City. A chance visit to Herter led to a part-time job fixing guitars at the music store a couple of days a week. Perhaps it was serendipity that propelled de Heus to find a job that dovetails so well with his musical interests and technical skills.

“One of the things I love about stringed instrument repair in comparison to any of the other jobs I have held is the tangible result,” he says. “When you fix something that was broken or make a good instrument play great, it’s a lot more real than when your result simply ends up on a balance sheet or profit and loss statement. Songwriting and inventing are interesting, because you end up with something that didn’t exist before, but nothing beats handing an instrument back to its owner and realizing you have met or exceeded their expectations.”

Now a full-time member of the Herter staff, de Heus has worked on everything from kids’ first instruments to vintage and collectible items during the last 5 ½ years.

“I come from a long line of tinkerers and woodworkers, and this is my version of that,” he continues “I work on anything from guitars and basses to violins and autoharps. It’s really interesting work and I meet all kinds of cool people.”

Thanks to de Heus, readers of “Live. Love. Local.” will meet plenty of cool performers, too.

Jane Meade-Dean
Jane Meade-Dean
With over three decades of experience as a former newspaper reporter and college public relations officer, Jane has a knack for capturing the essence of intriguing people, places, and things. Jane hails from the scenic mountains of Southwest Virginia and is a proud graduate of The University of Virginia's College at Wise. Apart from her contributions to LLL, Jane serves as a freelance writer for two neighborhood magazines in Midland. Since relocating to Michigan in 2007, she has developed a deep appreciation for Michigan summers, craft beer, and the Michigan State Spartans. Jane's passion for storytelling and her love for the Mitten State shine through her engaging articles.
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