Exclusive: Interview With The Shirtless Violinist On His Shocking Cover Of Sia’s ‘Birds Set Free’

We did a piece a very short time ago about the Shirtless Violinist, Matthew Olshefski titled The Shirtless Violinist Helps Us Get Through The Work Week. His musical talent and imagery in the videos we shared were wonderful and breathtaking.  So when we found his newest release we could not wait to watch it.  I expected more of the same, beautiful scenery and wonderful fingering, I mean playing of the violin, but this newest cover of Sia's 'Birds Set Free' was unlike his previous videos.

To be honest, I started to watch his newest creation and I was a little taken aback.  I had no idea where this other guy came from and what he was doing to Matthew.  I needed to get to the bottom of why this video was so different than the other works he had released up to this point so I reached out to Matthew for an explanation and an interview to boot.

We were able to chat via phone with Matthew, the Shirtless Violinist, (I should have done skype, dammit!) from his home just north of Seattle, Washington.  Getting a little background info we found out that he had been playing violin since the age of three, been teaching violin for years, mainly to kids between the ages of three and twelve, and that his brother and sister are violinists, too, so it was clear that his love for music runs very deep.  He has been hired to accompany the likes of Josh Grobin, Andrea Bocelli, and other performers when they come to the greater Seattle area.  His musical professional history also included being a concert master.  For those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s the first chair of the violin section and uber important, second most important I think to the conductor.  I had to ask for clarification, just to make sure.  After all of the introductions and formalities, I then asked Matthew about his experience as the Shirtless Violinist.  Here is the paraphrased Q&A we had with Matthew.

Instinct:  What has been the response to your YouTube channel?

Matthew: Channel response has been great. It started out as a hobby to share with people that do not listen to classical music that often as well as help the community. It’s odd to think that this started just 6 weeks ago when my boyfriend (yes, he’s not single *sad face*) drove from Seattle to San Francisco and back.  The trip to visit family and shoot and play along the way took about 14 days and when they arrived home, they put the video together that had been shot using a simple iPhone and Nikon camera.

Didn’t I see you on Radar.tv?  I sent you an Instinct Magazine shout out when I saw you on there.

Yes!  I thought I saw your message on there. I was contacted by Radar.tv to have a presence on their new live streaming app.  They wanted me to play shirtless and interact with the crowd for about 4 hours a week. 

Good luck with that and we’ll be tuning in.  Only 6 weeks into this process and you have people wanting you shirtless and playing all the time.

What about the #ShirtOffMyBackChallenge ?  How has the response been to that?

We have a couple dozen people that have sent in pictures. We even have a video of my dad donating his shirt, well shirts.  It’s a funny clip that is at the end of our #ShirtOffMyBackChallenge video (inserted below).  We are teaming up with the True Colors Fund that is fighting to end LGBT youth homelessness (truecolorsfund.org) You can find more info about the challenge at shirtlessviolinist.com.

Nice plug Matthew.

The #ShirtOffMyBackChallenge video explains why I’m shirtless and encourages my viewer to give back to their local community. I am teaming with the True Colors Foundation to donate all proceeds to help LGBT homeless youth. https://youtu.be/FKpbcQgOVR4

Join the #ShirtOffMyBackChallenge by taking a picture or video of your charitable donation (it can be anything!) with the hashtag "ShirtOffMyBackChallenge" and posting it to social media. And remember; you don't ACTUALLY have to take the shirt off your back! Just take a cute picture and we will feature it in an upcoming music video! – youtube.com


So … what about this new video of yours where you cover SIA 'Birds Set Free?'  I had a hard time watching it and to tell you the truth, I didn’t finish it.

I’ve received some responses about this video saying that there is too much violence,  too hard to watch so I understand that.  This video is an emotional story about how music saved my life and was the light at the end of some very dark tunnels. It's my most personal work about facing my shadows and overcoming my own demons so that I can live in freedom and light. I grew up around mental illness and spent 8 year in an oppressive religious cult.

I thanked Matthew for opening up like that to us.  I think his struggles may resonate with others. May it not be music but something else that has helped our readers through a tough time, battling demons, social constructs, or even family members.  Asking him if he minded if we shared that personal information with our readers, he said it was definitely fine.  I think it as well helped me understand his latest video as I watched it fully for the first time.


"This is an emotional story about how music saved my life and was the light at the end of some very dark tunnels. It's my most personal work about overcoming my own demons so that I can live in freedom and joy." – Matthew

Is there anything you would like to say about your experience so far as the Shirtless Violinist?

It’s only been six weeks and the response has been great.  I would like to thank everyone that has donated items for shoots, given us the time and property to film on. I would also like to thank my family and my boyfriend. 

There was more to the interview, getting to know Matthew, being jealous of his boyfriend, etc.  But what we know is that we are ready to watch Matthew for a very long time.  Keep sharing your talent and we will keep tuning in.

For other examples of Matthew's talent that he has shared as the Shirtless Violinist, head over to shirtlessviolinist.com or his YouTube channel Shirtless Violinist  or the Shirtless Violinist Facebook Page or our first blog we mentioned at the beginning of this post.  We'll help you stalk follow him and enjoy his gift.

Thanks again Matthew, the Shirtless Violinist.

Did/do you fight demons, challenges, stress like Matthew did? 

Was music your savior?  Your outlet?

If not music, what healthy outlet helped you through tough times?

What do you think?