Matt Mueller's tremendous passion for life and music remembered by friends
Matt Mueller, a businessman, father of two, and music devotee with strong ties throughout the Midwest, was tragically killed in a traffic accident on Monday evening. He was 42, and was best known in the Minnesota community as the former owner of Cannon Falls-based Pachyderm Studio.
City Pages reached some of Mueller's friends and studio mates to uncover details of his one-of-a-kind life -- including Rocket Club vocalist-keyboardist Don Smithmier, who has a history with him that spans past three decades. As Smithmier says, "Matt wasn't big on secrets anyway."
Smithmier says they met in 1982, when Mueller moved to McFarland, Wisconsin. "It was a very small town, any time somebody new moved to town, it was scandalous," he says. "It was totally exciting any time there's a new person in town. But it wasn't just anyone, it was Matt. He probably wasn't even five feet tall at the time, but he put on an air like he ran the school."
The pair went on to be in school plays, and played baseball, basketball, and football together. "We got in a lot of trouble together too," Smithmier adds with a laugh. "I think I've had five run-ins with the law in my life, and he was responsible for four of them."
After they graduated in 1988, Mueller went straight into the mortgage lending business with his father. This made for good years during the boom of mortgage industry and harder ones during the bust. "He had great depth," Smithmier says. "He was deceptively smart, really sensitive, extremely giving, and fiercely loyal to his friends and family. He also had a great work ethic that I think gave him an edge in everything he did." His many ventures included owning a music shop in Madison, the Cardinal Bar in Madison, a piece of a resort in Jamaica, and then Pachyderm Studios.
"He had a tremendous passion for life and music," says studio engineer Paul Marino, who started working regularly at the studio in 2004, took a three-week trip to Africa with Mueller to do recording for the dance troupe Les Ballets Africains. It was right before he bought Pachyderm, according to Marino, and the trip symbolized Mueller's "courage to pursue projects that other people would balk at." They last spoke in early August, and Marino says Mueller was in good spirits during a call that mostly was just catching up.
Another one of Mueller's associates at the studios was Littlebig Studios' Brent Sigmeth, who took a break from recording with Haley Bonar today to tell City Pages: "I'll say this about Matt: No one could keep up with that guy. He was a force who could juggle about 37 visible or invisible motives at once. I remember him saying to me, 'You'll never meet anyone like me in your life.' How true. Sad to see him go and leave behind such a young family."
That final day that Smithmier spent with Mueller was a fitting one. They met unexpectedly at the annual Detroit Lakes country music festival We Fest in 2011.
"We were playing there for the first time, so it was a huge day for us," Smithmier recalls. "The lineup was awesome. Darius Rucker, Miranda Lambert, and Rascal Flatts. Just as we were setting up on the main stage and getting ready for sound check, I looked over, and he was at the side of the stage smiling at me."
As he eventually found out, Mueller had made a yearly pilgrimage to We Fest from wherever he was every year to work the show as part of the crew. They ended up spending the day together.
"He had a cart, so he took me and my wife around," Smithmier says. "He loved being around the music scene in every way, shape or form. It was just so funny. I think he had made a complete life change. It sounded like he had leased some land out in California and was farming with his family."
Smithmier says Matt Mueller packed more life into 42 years than anyone he's ever met. "He tempted fate in many ways and in many forms," he says. "He was a total thrill seeker. Sky diver, scuba diver, motorcycle racer. Always on that edge, but I know from the day we spent together that the kids had changed him and they were the center of his life."
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