It's been happening for a couple of years now: Folk and Americana music making a comeback — or did it ever really leave? Sold-out festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza have put it back into the mainstream, but Matthew Hegarty of Matthew and the Atlas argues that folk never really left the scene.
Metromix chatted with Matthew before he and his band return to the States for a tour with Communion Music, a U.K.-based operation spearheaded by Ben Lovett (Mumford & Sons), Kevin Jones and Ian Grimble. The mission is to provide young London artists an independent outlet to perform, share their music and collaborate with others in an environment free of corporate control.
What do you want people to know about you if they've never heard you before?
We’re just a songwriter’s band, and we want to put on good shows. We just want people to come out to the shows and enjoy the music, and enjoy themselves.
How is your experience with Communion as a musician?
We’ve known Communion for a few years now. I met Ben (Lovett) and Kev (Jones) in 2009 when they were running a club in London. I went up and played a few shows with them and just started getting into it. I think it’s a nice thing to be a part of. The musicians involved are all great and you tend to salute the other artists you’re working with. We played a few shows with Ben Howard and Mumford & Sons...It's all pretty supportive. We used to do quite a few shows with other acts, but we just all go to their shows and they come to ours.
What does (member) Lindsay West bring to the group as the only female?
When I met Lindsay, she was running a folk night with Dave (Millar, accordion). They invited me to play some songs and that night she played some songs as well. It was the first time I’ve heard anyone sing like that. Since my voice is so gruff and deep, and hers is so light...it made sense to me to put our voices together. They fit really well together. But she's great and does a great job being the only female. She puts up with a lot, from the crowds and from us. I do feel bad for her (laughs).
What is it about folk and Americana music that is making a comeback?
I suppose I can only speak for the U.K., but it’s always been there for me, and the shows I go to. It’s always sort of been around. But there are bands that break through and put it into the mainstream, which is good. With music, generally, you have a certain type of music that gets oversaturated and it needs to be taken out sometimes. It’s always there, it’s always just whether it’s in the mainstream or not. It’s really good, we’re really enjoying that’s it’s really popular (because it's what we do).
What are some differences between touring in the U.S. and back home?
It takes a lot longer to get anywhere in the U.S. (laughs). We haven’t done a whole lot of touring in the U.K., just about the same in the U.S. I enjoy both. The U.S. is more exciting for us because we’re not from there, it feels like a bit of an adventure. But it's mostly the same in both places. Here at home, it’s just quicker.
You released your last EP, "Kingdom of Your Own" in November of last year. Anything in the works now?
Yeah, we do. We’ve been pretty much locked away for the last month writing an album. We should be staying out in Texas when we finish the tour and finish record there. It's mostly new material. I like having new stuff all the time and moving forward. (After the release of the last EP) we kind of took time out to tour and try and learn how to tour, and play live and gel as a band.
For the last month or so it’s been to the point where we’ve had a lot of stuff we’re working on. We've got about 12 songs; it’s exciting.
Why do you want to finish recording in Texas?
We were there for South by Southwest [in March] and recorded with Matt Oliver. We really liked the studio and the whole place and we stayed in contact. When we were looking at thinking about where we wanted to go, we wanted to go somewhere different. We wanted to go somewhere not like home. It kind of just felt like the right thing to do. Matt (Oliver) had a great place to record, and he was into us coming back.
How was playing at South by Southwest?
It was good. That was the first we’d been out to the States as a band, it was pretty new. We ended up playing more shows than we do normally. And we had to play a lot more. We tend to rehearse a lot, and aren’t really a jam band so we had to learn to do things on the fly. We got out of our comfort zone a little bit and it really helped us develop in terms of performance, and we enjoyed the atmosphere. It's crazy, but it’s a good crazy.
What are the experiences that influence your songwriting?
I listen to a lot of music, and I read quite a bit and that helps with the process. I used to be a landscape gardener, so just being outside a lot and working in that environment has formed a lot of the lyrics. But I'd say just listening to music, reading, being outside. I don’t think about it in too much an organized way. A melody comes into my head and I have to work it out.
What do you know about the bands you're touring with over here? Have you played with them before?
We did a support tour with Mumford & Sons, then went to New York, Brooklyn and Philadelphia and met Lauren (Shera) and played a few shows which was really good. We’ve never met David Mayfield (of David Mayfield Parade) before. But they're a band from Nashville and do a lot of rambling, jam band stuff.
The tour is gonna be a lot of collaboration and we want to try to make it as fun and different as we can. We want to weave (our acts) into each other so it's not just one act going up and playing their set, and the next act going up and playing. We want to give the audience a different experience, something you won’t see again, and those bands collaborating with each other. It’s good because it can grow into another tour. It gives you another dimension, which is challenging and it’s good for a band to do that. (The other bands) are good at getting up and jamming whereas we tend to over-rehearse. It'll be a good thing for us to let go a little bit and jam.
Matthew and the Atlas is comprised of Matthew Hegarty on lead vocals, guitar (he says he writes songs on the banjo), Harrison Cargill on banjo, Lindsay West on keyboards, Dave Millar on accordian and Tommy Field on drums.