Due to social distancing guidelines, Matt Stell played all 13 different characters featured in his "If I Was a Bar" music video himself

By Brianne Tracy
July 08, 2020 10:00 AM
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The coronavirus lockdown hasn't slowed Matt Stell down — if anything, it has only made him more creative.

Last month, the "Prayed For You" singer, 36, released his new track "If I Was a Bar" and its accompanying music video, which PEOPLE has an exclusive behind the scenes look at the making of.

Due to social distancing guidelines, Stell played all 13 different characters featured in the music video himself. So, he tells PEOPLE, getting ready for the shoot "was like packing for a trip to Europe."

"All those clothes were mine," he says. "Dustin Haney, the director, was able to really come up with something cool that was creative. It was a lot of fun."

Among the characters Stell plays in the video — which was filmed at Nashville’s Fleet Street Pub with only three crew members, including Haney — is "cool guy Matt," "post-breakup Matt," "drummer Matt" and "bartender Matt."

"I enjoyed them all, but the one we call Purnell Hawkins, the truck driver guy, was a lot of fun," he says. "So was the fiddle player, Atticus. He was a lot of fun to play because the first time we were filming I had to Google how to hold a fiddle, and it turned out I had been holding it backwards the whole time. So we had to do another take."

In the hilarious behind-the-scenes clip, Stell says they tried "to utilize all the silver linings from quarantine — like an empty bar where we can film and a homeless-level of facial hair that I have that we can exploit for some different looks."

Matt Stell
Matthew Berinato

Written by Dan Isbell, Zach Kale and Jonathan Singleton, "If I Was a Bar" was produced by Stell and Ash Bowers. In the chorus of the song, Stell sings, "If I was a bar, I'd be a beer can dive/I'd have a little buzz in my neon light/I'd have a sawdust floor and a cover band playin'/With a fiddle and a steel guitar/I wouldn't have this broken heart/Wouldn't take your leavin' half as hard/I wouldn't be falling this apart/If I was a bar."

"I think [Jonathan, Zach and Dan] sent it to me the night they got done writing it because they probably knew that it was right up my alley," Stell says. "It's got this kind of fun, upbeat, heartbreak thing that country music does that I really love. I knew right when I heard it I wanted to be the artist that cut that song."

Though Stell recently went through some heartbreak of his own — he revealed to PEOPLE in November that his upcoming wedding and relationship with fiancée Sophie LeBlanc had "dissolved" — he says that "If I Was a Bar" doesn't directly relate to his real-life situation.

"I think about a lot of my favorite songs that there's a character in it," he says. "Like if you think of Kenny Rogers singing 'The Gambler.' He wasn't actually the gambler, or the hobo on the train, you know?"

"That's how I think about songs," he continues. "I have written songs that are a lot more personal because that's the way that I deal with stuff."

Of his split, Stell says, "Obviously, that's never something that you want to happen."

"Especially when it ends on good terms, as good a term as something like that can end on, you wish the other one well and then you always care about them," he says. "So dealing with those feelings is a lot more what [my other] songs are about than 'If I Was a Bar,' which is kind of a fun romp through heartbreak."

Matt Stell's "If I Was a Bar" cover art

During the pandemic, Stell says he has been keeping it "as low key and safe as possible" when it comes to his personal life and dating.

"I think it's probably going to change dating for everybody, because it's like, you either have to be in a relationship by the first time you meet from social media, or you meet them out at Kroger and you don't know what they look like because they've got a mask on," he says with a laugh. "It's a really interesting time."

Stell says "If I Was a Bar" is just the start of what's to come from him in the coming months, as he has been using the time in quarantine to write new songs. He expects to have new music out by Labor Day and, eventually, a full-length album.

"It definitely is a creative time, and in the best way, it's been really taxing because I've written so many songs," he says. "Before, when I was writing songs I'd think about what artists we were going to pitch to. Now when I write songs, we're typically trying to write a song for me, which is great. But at the same time, my well of ideas for myself dries up. So it needs a little time to replenish. I'm at just about that point where I'm starting to repeat myself, so I know that's when we've maxed out. All that's to say because I've gotten to write with some very talented people and got to write so much during this quarantine time that I can't wait to share this music with folks."

Matt Stell
John Shearer/WireImage

The extra time in quarantine has also allowed Stell to reflect on his journey, particularly his breakthrough 2019 after "Prayed For You" became the only debut single to top Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. The single also earned him more than 182 million streams and scored him an invite to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.

"It changed [life] in just every conceivable way," he says. "Before then I was a songwriter, and I still am, but that was my main thing. We wrote that one and we put it out, and it started to get its own momentum before we even knew what to think. At a certain point we cut a record deal, and that turned into a song on country radio, and then that turned into a No. 1 song for a couple of weeks. Just watching it grow organically and turn into something was really special."

A moment that sticks out in Stell's mind is the first time he heard the song play on the radio in a state where he has "never had mail sent to."

"I was in Vegas for something, and I got an Uber and it was on the radio," he says. "I was like, 'Ma'am, you're not going to believe this, but that's me right there.' That was a crazy moment. She was in disbelief for a little bit, like, 'Are you for real?' I was like, 'Yeah, honestly, that really is me.'"

Stell says it's crazy to think now how all of this almost didn't happen, as he once considered going into medicine and was accepted to the (post-baccalaureate) pre-medical program at Harvard extension school.

"I mean, there's a non-zero chance that I failed out," he says. "Let's be honest. But I hope that I would've been getting to help on the front lines with a lot of this stuff. That's what I wanted to do in the first place: try to help. It would be totally a different life, for sure, but I haven't regretted this path ever since I got the opportunity to write songs. I'm sure that there's way better, more qualified people that are helping people now."

After "Prayed For You," Stell released his single "Everywhere But On," the same title of his 2020 tour which had to be put on pause because of the pandemic. As to what he's looking forward to most when life resumes post-pandemic, Stell says it's "100 percent" going back out on tour.

"I can't wait to get back on the road with the guys," he says. "I can't wait to play these songs and some new songs for folks live.

The second that they let us, we'll be there with bells on."