Meeting Matthew E. White, A Southern Musical Messiah
    • MONDAY, MAY 13, 2013

    • Posted by: Matt Howard

    Whether I discover a new favorite artist prior to, or long after his/her hip wave crests, I'll persistently jam out to a single album for a solid month, constantly sending friends links to YouTube streams of their music urging them to agree with me. My latest monthly obsession, Matthew E. White, presented himself months ago with the January release of his debut LP Big Inner, and I must admit that I'm late to join the party of his uniquely charming music. I guess my ecstatic investigation of all things Matthew came late last month when I saw the white-suited, ponytailed man do a jovial jig in his "Steady Pace" music video. Ever since, I've been infatuated by his peculiar, yet enchanting New Orleans jazz-infused spiritual play at psychedelic sounds similar to those of TV On the Radio.

    Prior to finally getting my chance to watch Matthew break it down in person, this evening at his headlining show at Bowery Ballroom, I asked him a few quick questions to get a little additional insight on this messiah-like southerner.

    Each song truly molds into its own off this record. Which track would you choose as the most reflective of the Big Inner, or even yourself?

    "One of These Days".

    For "One of These Days" you chose to hum the chorus - something artists can barely convey effectively. When you started writing this song, did you already have the chorus in mind?

    The chorus was the first thing written. The idea to hum the first one popped into my head as I was working on it and it seemed to make a lot of sense. It allows a lot of room to breathe and gave a quality to the first two minutes of the song, as well as the album that really resonated to me.

    How exactly did the Spacebomb House Band come together? It's almost unbelievable that this is your first album together.

    Well, we incubated in a band called Fight the Big Bull for five or six years. That was a band that we all grew up in together and allowed us to play TONS of gigs together and really grow to appreciate, understand and learn from each other.

    Big Inner encompasses almost every human mood. From unrequited love to sorrowful gloom - how did you go about recording these songs? It must be difficult to transition from playing a track like "Gone Away" and then going into "Steady Pace."

    At a point it becomes about music, about notes and tones and rhythms and fitting those things together to make something special. The emotional content is something that is deeply embedded in those decisions but isn't necessarily on the surface once it comes down to winning time. As a singer you wear that a little more on your sleeve but a song like "Steady Pace" is a nice break from something like "Gone Away", so that's kind of something you welcome.

    On the subject of variety, how did you map out the order of this album? Did you have any particular intentions for the order?

    Originally, it was a vinyl-only release so you approach what they used to call the "4 corners" - the beginning and end of each side. "One of These Days" was going to be the opening track from the beginning and "Brazos" was going to be the closer, so that was easy. "Gone Away" settled in nicely as the closer of the first side and "Steady Pace" fell in nicely as a reset following "Gone Away"'s pretty heavy material. The rest fell into place after a little juggling.

    Of course "Brazos" and "Gone Away" have their direct ties to religion, and your spiritual presence is clear, both through your words and sound. What can you say about the impact Gospel music, or religion for that matter, has on your message?

    Gospel music has been a great influence, not only directly, but indirectly, as it is a source music for so many American genres we now know by other names - Rock and Roll, Soul, R&B etc. I've listened to tons of Gospel, it's some of the best music in the world. For my money I'd take The Staple Singers Vee-Jay recordings over any other catalogue - it is glorious music.

    As far as religion is concerned, that's a part of the collage of my life that come out just like an old relationship, or a family member's death or any other part of my life's tapestry might. It's something that I grew up with, something that I've seen bond communities and encourage love in tremendous ways, it's also something that can be disturbing and troublesome. It's sorting out what is a journey that we are all on or have been on to some extent, and in that way I'm not particularly unique. For me, having it in my music is an honest reflection of my past as well as an encouragement to keep your spiritual journey beside all your other journeys, as they are all related.

    Your musical predecessors, like Randy Newman and Jimmy Cliff have a detectable presence on the album. Who are some artists you've been listening to today that you can draw inspiration from?

    Blind Willie Johnson.

    The slow orchestral additions and mellow brass sounds give Big Inner a dark, but poignant sound, especially on "Brazos" - right when they're interrupted by the bass. Were these orchestral moments planned from the beginning?

    Yeah, you have to do that or your recording will cost a fortune. I lay out a loose plan from the beginning of rehearsals and from that point there is a constant dialogue between the producer, the band and the arrangers so we can line up things when we need.

    If Big Inner serves to relay a particular message to listeners, above all, what would your music's intentions be?


    Watch the video that got me hooked on Matthew's music, "Steady Pace".

    Big Inner is out now on Domino Records.

    Tonight, Matthew E. White will be headlining a performance at Bowery Ballroom, and we think you should come enjoy the show with us.

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