Right before I began working at Gateway City Arts, I saw a show poster with the name "Matt Byrde" on it, as part of a concert with Kid Biff. I was about to take on marketing here, and I was getting into the habit of getting to know the bands that passed through here so I knew what to expect when promoting. As I looked into Matt Byrde, what I had expected to be a solo performer turned out to be a four-piece band. It is apparent when talking to Austin Hatch, the writer behind Matt Byrde's music, that he is extremely thoughtful- but also down to earth, something that shows in his writing. I like to think that The Valley is a sea of creativity- a lot of my favorite bands live within miles of me. Matt Byrde is a group relatively new to me- and one that I am thrilled to be a new fan of. I expect that we all will be hearing more and more about them as they release their new album, The Long Dark, next month. They will be at GCA on May 25th to celebrate the release. Austin recently took some time to chat with me about the band, their music, and this next phase of Matt Byrde.
Hi there Austin thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us! We are looking forward to your release of 'The Long Dark' here at GCA on May 25th.
Where does the name Matt Byrde come from?
There’s a story here, though I confess that at this point the story sounds dumber every time I tell it, but here goes: Maybe 7 or 8 years ago, I was playing in a band that played shoegazey indie rock, and we were at this divey bar we often played. The show volumes were always way, way louder than necessary for reasons I’ll never quite understand. The shows were also almost exclusively attended by pretty archetypal, white band dudes.
At one show, a variety of other sorts of people arrived, and someone shouted to me over the din: “Dude, mad birds here.” He was really a profound speaker for our generation, clearly. He meant that there were women at the show. I didn’t hear him over the ambient hum in the room, and thought he told me “Matt Byrde is here.” I’d never heard of Matt Byrde and was sort of fascinated, and once the misunderstanding was ironed out, I picked it up as a weird joke. We’d thank Matt Byrde for coming to our shows, then other bands started picking up on it and doing the same, and before we knew it, Matt Byrde was not an unknown name among the bands we played with and his name was floated in divey bars around the Valley for a couple years.
When I left that band and started writing new material that wasn’t like what I was doing before, I figured it was a good time to unearth the name. It separates the songs from me a bit, and it also gives me something to hide behind, which helps, because I’ve never really wanted to be a frontman in a band.
'The Long Dark' is your sophomore release, how is this work different from your previous release?
There are some big differences between the two. The first being that I wrote the first album without a band, arranged the songs, and then moved into the recording by gathering friends along the way to jump in and record the parts so it didn’t sound so much like one guy recording himself over and over. The new record is way more of a group effort, and the band encouraged me to explore parts of my songwriting I didn’t on the first record. It also benefits from tracking the core of the band - drums, bass, rhythm guitar, and some lead guitar - live. TL;DR - The new one has a lot more band input and there are more and bigger hooks and more uptempo songs.
Can you tell us a bit about the team who worked with you on this album?
Totally. Outside the band members, Andrew Oedel at Ghost Hit ran the sessions, produced, mixed, etc. Greg Hall came in for vocals on a song and boosted morale for us one day as well, and lent me his amazing vintage Martin for a bunch of tunes. Katy Beyer of the band Shadowcat (and also the amazing woman I’m married to), jumped in and did a bunch of vocals on it, ranging from leads on the song “Waiting” to harmonies across the record.
What are some themes you explore in 'The Long Dark'? Do you all write together?
This record dives into a few things. Loss - both due to someone’s passing or to the changing of a relationship over time - is likely the single largest theme. Isolation - real or imagined and thus experienced - is another. I had intended to write a jollier record than the first, (cue laughter from bandmates here) but it didn’t shake out.
I write the core of the songs - basic chord changes and lyrics - but the band takes everything from there, from structure to tempo, to vibe and arrangement and atmosphere. I consider that writing together, because the songs would be so different without their input. The closer on the record, for example, wouldn’t be the same song without them. I may have written the verses and choruses, but everything they brought has so much more to do with the final version of that song than what I did.
I know that one of your founding members, Steve Jonker, recently moved out of state and left the band. Can you tell us about what this means for the band?
It’s tough. Steve was absolutely integral to getting the band started - as he graciously offered to record and engineer the first record, then to play bass on it, and then to help me find a drummer (thanks, Bill!), a lead guitar player, and someone to mix it. He kept the band on the rails for a long time, too, as I was going
through some dark stuff and he knew I needed support. Steve’s really what guided us to making a second record and is probably the only reason it got made. He’s tenacious and he gets things done. He has a great, creative spirit, too, which helped shape a lot of the songs.
The band took some time to figure out what to do when he told us he was moving. We decided it wouldn’t be right to vaporize when Steve left after all the work he, and all of us, did over the last four or five years. A good friend, Jarad Weeks of Dicey Riley, agreed to jump in on bass and we intend to continue on for eternity into the vast, fuzzy unknown of being in a band as aging indie rockers.
Joining you on May 25th are Greg Hall and Fighting Giants. Can you tell us a bit about these projects and why you are looking forward to sharing the bill with them?
Greg Hall is bar none my favorite local musician. I can’t get enough of his songs, his live shows, everything. I love his work, and when he agreed to do a vocal on the album, harmonizing with me on the song “Anthony,” it was a dream come true. Matt Byrde has some alt-country in its blood, and I wanted to bridge that to the indie rock component of the band’s DNA at the show, so it seemed like a great reason to get Greg on the bill.
Fighting Giants is just like...the coolest band. Their sound is amazing and expansive, their songs are beautiful, and I’ve known the folks in that band for a long time. John Murphy and I go back about twenty five thousand years, and while we aren’t in a band together at the moment, I couldn’t put this record out without him being on the bill with us.
Do any of you have any funny tour or show stories you don't mind sharing with us?
We’re a bunch of posers and don’t tour, but funny show stories, yea! My favorite story about this band goes back to our first year gigging. Our former keyboard player, Dan, showed up at a show at the One Bar decked out in a Dr. Horrible costume. It wasn’t even close to Halloween. He has this incredible sense of humor and just showed up looking like a mad scientist, crushed the whole show as if nothing was out of the ordinary, and went home at the end of the night in a lab coat. It was totally bizarre, and I think very in the spirit of our band. We try not to take ourselves too seriously - even with half our songs being about death or the infinite vacuum of eternity or whatever - and moments like that help me remember we’re doing this for fun.
How did you find your way to each other to form this band?
This is where it gets touching. I’d met Steve, or former bassist, while playing in that old band I mentioned before. He and Evan, our guitarist, and Taylor, our drummer, were all in a band together that I really liked. We got booked on a show together, and me and Steve just sort of hit it off as friends. Weirdly, Taylor had briefly played in my older, weirder band from a past life. He’d left because our music was completely inaccessible and because I was miserably single minded about the artistic direction of that group. When Steve offered to record the first album for me, then play on it, and then find members to fill out the lineup for the recording and our eventual release show for that album, it sort of all clicked in a weirdly cosmic way and we’ve been together since.
As far as venues go, is there a reason you felt GCA might be right for this release?
It’s just the best venue in the Valley. We might not tour, but we’ve played a lot of places in the Valley, and we haven’t found a venue with a better vibe, a kinder staff, or better sound. It’s got a good location, too, for getting friends to show up from out of state since it’s so close to 91, and it’s pretty central for people who are local. Mostly, GCA has a reputation for being a place that books really good bands, and getting to play the show there feels pretty cool.
Are there any other local bands in the area that you have been really digging lately?
Does Jeffrey Foucault count anymore? I know he’s famous (and that he’d cringe to hear me say so, if I had to guess), but he’s an absolute treasure to have as a local artist. Rob Maher is a total powerhouse, as well, and I love everything he writes. Amber Belle is definitely a heavy hitter, her stuff just keeps getting better and better and her new sound since finding bandmates is really awesome. We played a show with Snowhaus a while back and that’s another band that just rips.
We’re working on new material, though trying not to move too fast. We were thinking about recording an EP in the fall of some new songs that are sounding sick. Other than that, we just want to get out and play behind this new record!
Thank you so much! We are really looking forward to your album release on May 25th!
Join us on May 25, 2019 at 8PM for Matt Byrde's Album Release at Gateway City Arts!
Learn more about Matt Byrde visit their bandcamp or Facebook.
Purchase tickets to their concert at Gateway City Arts here.