Wooster native Lee Miller Matsos transitions from opera to pop with ‘Metamorphosis’
Wooster native Lee Miller Matsos was on track to follow in his opera singer father’s footsteps until a series of tragedies set him on a different path.
Matsos has used music to work through his grief and pain and write lyrics that express hope and healing.
In late 2023, the artist released his EP, “Metamorphosis, Pt. 1,” debuting his evolved artistry. The album represents his journey of struggle and being reborn.
“It plays around with the analogy of how our lives are, like the transition from the caterpillar to the butterfly,” he said. “We focus on the beauty of the butterfly, but we don't often think about what the butterfly had to go through to become that.”
While each person’s experience is unique, Matsos writes that no one is ever alone in pain.
After losing his mother to cancer in 2016 and suffering a fall that led to several concussions throughout 2019, Matsos started writing songs. His passion for songwriting ignited a new phase of his life.
Growing up in a musical family
Matsos’ upbringing in Wooster was heavily immersed in music, largely due to his father’s involvement in the Ohio Light Opera for decades.
After immigrating from Greece, his father performed in clubs throughout New York City before meeting Matsos’ mother and settling in Ohio.
Comic operettas and concerts shaped Matsos' early music experiences. At a young age, he saw performances by Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. at venues like Playhouse Square and the Richfield Coliseum.
His mother performed in theater and directed one of his plays while he attended high school at Central Christian in Kidron.
“I was playing Tevye in ‘Fiddler on The Roof,’ and I had a moment on stage where I... got so emotional. And I felt that the audience was locked into what I was doing and all of that emotion,” Matsos said. “It was kind of like a key indicator for me, feeling a real connection with performing and feeling like I have a passion for this kind of a path.”
After high school, the young performer attended the College of Wooster and was later accepted into the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to study opera.
Matsos said he felt “like a misfit” at the conservatory and dropped out after one year.
“I was surrounded by people that were spending hours and hours in practice rooms, couldn't get enough of learning the ins and outs of Italian and French diction,” he said. “And I was in practice rooms, and I was playing Coldplay songs.”
He decided to leave music behind and worked toward his master’s in business administration, later gaining employment as a grant writer.
When his mother passed in 2016, Matsos said it was the beginning of a “shift” that prompted him to consider his mortality and future.
“I then had this revelation, really, in early 2018, about music school and thinking, ‘What's stopping me from doing that?’” he said.
Entering a new phase as a musician
Matsos said he felt inspired to apply to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, which was directionally aligned with the type of music he wanted to pursue.
“I just knew what I needed to do. I knew that there was going to be risk and sacrifice. And I did get accepted,” he said.
At age 34, he enrolled in the Berklee partner school, Holland College at Prince Edward Island in Canada, which was more financially feasible.
While attending school in 2019, he began writing the songs that would eventually appear on “Metamorphosis, Pt. 1.”
“By early 2019, my plans were well on their way. I was going to resign from my job as a grant writer during the summer and take on a second job in the meantime to make extra cash for school,” he said. “Then life happened again.”
That summer, Matsos suffered a fall that led to a series of concussions, forcing him to go on short-term disability instead of working as planned initially.
He was recovering back home in Wooster when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“After, you know, 10 years went by, I had all this creativity that wanted to come out that was building up for a really long time,” he said.
The pandemic allowed him to finish the songs he started writing and revisit earlier musical ideas.
Crafting his debut album
Matsos completed his two-year music diploma program, and his songwriting endeavors became more prolific.
In winter 2020, he said he wrote as many as three songs in a weekend, and words flowed from somewhere deep inside and onto the page.
On the fifth anniversary of his mother’s death, he was looking through old photo albums and went to his keyboard to turn his memories into songs.
“When I started to have lyrics come to mind, it really felt like my mom was in the room, kind of writing the song with me,” he said.
That song became “Worthy,” which includes the lyrics, “You are the only one who carries what you carry, but you are the only one who can give what you give, so you better pack your bags for the greatest of adventures, discovering yourself is a new world.”
“Something... is guiding me toward becoming who I need to become.”Lee Miller Matsos
“It's interesting because when I wrote the song, experiences, pain, loss, grief, somehow it all contributes to something that's beautiful, healing,” he said. “Something that kind of is guiding me toward becoming who I need to become.”
The album’s theme centers on the butterfly as a symbol of transition and recognizing that before there is beauty, there are ugly realities.
“What happens in that cocoon is pretty morbid, actually,” Matsos said. “I think generally we tend to be pretty uncomfortable with sometimes the dystopian, morbid realities of life.”
Matsos said those situations can mold people into the best versions of themselves.
The singer-songwriter currently lives northeast of Wooster in Rittman, and he has been in the studio working on his second EP, “Metamorphosis, Pt. 2,” with part three of the series coming later.
“I remember dreaming about this when I was as young as maybe nine, 10 years old,” Matsos said. “Loosely imagined songs were kind of swirling around my head, around these visions of performing and doing this kind of epic thing. I'm trying to honor that little kid that's still inside of all of us.
Matsos will perform next at Mahall’s in Lakewood on Jan. 18.