Ten years ago, music was just a hobby for Chris Mathewson, a tattoo artist in Fredericksburg. Today, his music is being played on radio stations across the United States and in London.
Mathewson, who goes by his middle name, Earl, said his passion for music began as a child, but he didn’t recognize it as his calling until several years ago. He uses his music, which he keeps positive and clean, to bring people hope.
“Music is for a purpose,” Earl said. “I want to break the barriers of what is being played by being a representative of Christ in the secular music world.”
While God comes first in his life, Earl is careful to point out that his music is mainstream—not religious. He believes people absorb the music they listen to, often without realizing it, and music with a positive message can resonate with people without being pushy or overtly Christian.
“I don’t feel led to be a praise and worship artist—though I greatly respect those people,” he said. “When you hear my music, you don’t think ‘oh, church song.’ ”
Earl also doesn’t confine his music to a specific genre. His music gives off a hip-hop vibe, but he enjoys writing and recording a variety of music. His goal is to fill a void he sees in the music industry with more positive and uplifting messages.
“The purpose of my music is to share a positive message that is Christ-like,” Earl said. “But this is just regular music that is for all people to enjoy.”
Although his faith is integral to who he is today, Earl was not raised a Christian. He said his past reveals a number of flaws and imperfections, but his experiences have led him to where he is today. As a child, his mother described him as an “entertainer,” but it took years before he realized music was his calling.
“Music makes almost every situation better,” he said. “I kept saying I loved it, but I didn’t realize it was my passion.”
When he was 8 years old, his grandmother passed away from complications related to alcoholism. Seeing her struggles motivated him to avoid drugs and alcohol. However, he grappled with other demons, particularly fear of failure and the need to feel accepted.
“I still fight struggles every day—I am imperfect,” Earl said. “But God continues to open doors for me.”
As a high school student, he played football, but often neglected his school work. He ended up taking an extra year to finish school.
Earl later opened a tattoo studio in Fredericksburg. Although he enjoyed his profession, he struggled with the challenges of owning a business.
Everything changed on Nov. 9, 2014. Earl walked into church thinking it was just another Sunday, but it ended up being a day that will remain etched on his heart forever.
He heard a sermon that seemed personally tailored to his unique struggles. The topics covered during the sermon included taking risks, searching for fulfillment, and finding one’s passion. It also discussed the part in the bible where Naomi changed her name.
“All of a sudden it dawned on me that creating music that speaks to people is what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said. “I didn’t feel alive until that day. God revealed to me my purpose, passion and call.”
To this day, he wears a homemade necklace with that date engraved on it. It is also the day he decided to go by his middle name “Earl.” As an artist, he goes by the acronym E.A.R.L., which stands for “Existence After Real Love.”
“I believe it is after you experience God’s unconditional love that you can find your purpose and truly begin to live,” he said.
Earl ended up shutting down his tattoo studio and devoting all his energy to his music career, which gradually began to take off. He met a publicist through an old friend, then put out his first four singles on iTunes. Just last week, he was the celebrity guest on the court for the Washington Wizards t-shirt toss.
“It was a really cool experience,” he said. “I appreciated their willingness to create awareness of a new artist in the area.”
Even with the national buzz, Earl hopes to continue generating support from the local community. Although a North Carolina native, he has lived in the Northern Virginia area for most of his life and is proud to call Fredericksburg his home.
His wife, Nicole, owns a hair salon downtown and they recently bought a new house. With a little girl on the way, they are eager to put down roots and build deeper connections in the community. They attend Mount Ararat Baptist Church in Stafford County.
“This is my home,” Earl said. “My music has been playing on radio stations in London, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Hawaii, the Bahamas and other locations. But I want to see it happen here.”
What’s next for Earl? A new recording studio in his basement is almost complete, which will allow him to record several new singles and music videos in the next few months. He is also exploring the possibility of a national tour.
In addition, he hopes his recent consultations with MTV and VH-1 will lead to some exciting opportunities in the year ahead.
“My goal is to just get my music out there,” he said. “This is the reason why I get out of bed every morning. I want to see how far this will go. If I’m not dead, God isn’t done.”