BEYOND THE BORDERS OF ALT-COUNTRY
From alt-country to blues to soul, Matt Joe Gow covers all bases on his third album.
Across his first two albums, Matt Joe Gow laid down some accomplished alt-country, the kind that showed a lifetime growing up on the songs of Whiskeytown, The Jayhawks and Wilco alongside his parents’ record collection that included Petty, Springsteen and Dylan. Now on his third album, Break, Rattle and Roll, he’s widened his own musical palette and let the songs dictate their form and flavour.
Talking with Gow, there’s a confidence and excitement that he exudes when discussing his music. You can see that it’s still a mysterious art to him but one that he’s been exploring long enough that he knows how to harness and guide it to realise the sounds in his head. “In my opinion I think this is my best work as a songwriter and our best work as a band executing the songs. That’s because the influence is so wide on this one. It was also done on the back of lots of playing live and really enjoying playing in front of people and that energy was there in the songs,” he recalls.
“Overall the record takes from a lot of different places,” explains Gow. Opening up the sound to different influences meant the band could really stretch out and try some new things musically. “There’s a straight blues track (‘House That Burnt Down’), lots of rock ’n’ roll elements and the more alt-country sound of ‘Ride On’. There’s an old school r&b soul sound on ‘Ransom’, plus the ethereal 90s Grant Lee Buffalo/Mazzy Star mood of the title track. We also threw some Johnny Cash-type ballads into the mix. There’s a lot of influences across it and we can do that because we’re fans of lots of different sorts of music. It was cool to have musicians who could do it all authentically.”
It begs the question as to whether there are themes that tie the songs together. “I think each record has somewhat of a theme but I don’t always create that before going in. I can look back at them and see that though,” Gow replies, before explaining some of the common ideas behind the songs on Break Rattle And Roll. “On this one there are a couple of competing themes. There’s a night-time vibe and the idea of someone having journeyed. I wanted to write from the perspective of somebody who has come some way and gone through some stuff. That’s hard to do when you’re 21 but after a few albums, band members and relationships, you’ve been through things and you can start to understand it all. It’s that idea of self-determination and making it through.”
An early influence on Gow’s songwriting was the music of Grant Lee Buffalo and a bold punt at scoring a support slot a few years ago at the Melbourne Festival paid dividends and blossomed into a friendship that resulted in Gow accompanying Grant-Lee Phillips on his Australia tour earlier this year. “I got that first gig because I saw he was coming here and rang up and told them they had to put me on the bill – and it worked!” he laughs. “We chatted and I think the respect grew after he saw us play and liked our set. We kept in touch and when he came back out here it was like we were friends. I’d learnt to play all his old songs when I was younger so it was cool to sit down and play some songs together. I could tell he enjoyed it and he dug the energy playing together because he usually plays solo these days,” says Gow.
“On my first record I wanted to put across that alternative country is great and cool and if you don’t like it you can go fuck yourself because this is what we’re doing and we don’t care if you think it is weird to play country music,” remembers Gow. After initially trying to carve out a niche in mainstream music and then with the Tamworth scene, Gow is now more content to forge his own path and follow his muse. As a result he believes his new music is “all the better for the diverse sound and quality songs.”