Redefining genre

  • Matt Lorenz. Contributed photo/Joanna Chattman

  • Matt Lorenz. Contributed photo/Joanna Chattman—

  • Matt Lorenz. Contributed photo/Joanna Chattman—

  • Matt Lorenz. Contributed photo/Joanna Chattman—

For the Recorder
Published: 11/19/2020 8:36:03 AM
Modified: 11/19/2020 8:35:53 AM

Matt Lorenz, a.k.a. the Suitcase Junket, was in the early stages of work on his new album “The End Is New” when he contacted his producer, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and informed him he wanted to make a doom-folk record. Neither of them had any idea what exactly doom-folk was, but they knew that in the process of making the record they would figure it out.

That album, “The End is New,” will be released tomorrow (Nov. 20) on the new Renew/BMG label.

It’s Lorenz’s sixth album and, as listeners will discover, he’s at the top of his game with this being his strongest collection of songs to date. The eleven tracks here are musically diverse, ranging from swampy blues foot stompers to sludgy indie rock tunes.

The songs are lyrically compelling, albeit darker than his previous work — hence the doom-folk genre. 

“I was feeling doom-y last summer and a lot of the writing on this album — especially the first half of it — is kind of reflective of the world around me in a way that my other stuff hasn’t been,” said Lorenz in a recent phone conversation about the album. “It’s not exactly overtly political, but I talk a lot about the environment and human interaction with the environment. When you are looking at humans on this planet, it’s hard not to feel a sense of imminent doom — even before the pandemic.”

This darker edge to his work is a departure for Lorenz, who resides in Leverett and launched his career as the one- man band, The Suitcase Junket, by playing local venues like Mocha Maya’s in Shelburne Falls and The Rendezvous in Turners Falls.

He now routinely tours throughout the United States and Europe, playing an old guitar he found in a dumpster and other instruments he made from old recycled items like kitchen pots, a gas can and an old suitcase. While most of his earlier works feature songs about love, loss, or everyday observations, this time out he could not avoid writing about his concerns about what is happening in the world around us.

The first single off the album, “And Then There was Fire,” is a haunting song inspired by the Australian forest fires.

Elsewhere, “Can’t Look Away” is an extremely catchy rocker which addresses climate change: “It’s just another human disaster/On the side of the modern road we’re on/And you can’t look away,” Lorenz sings against some sludgy guitar. He has said that the song was written from the perspective of his future self looking at the present, a trippy reference to time travel that’s also reflected in the album’s title.

The rootsy “Black Holes and Overdoses” is about the endless onslaught of news we experience and the numbing quality it has on us. He admits these songs are in the “we are screwing things up” category, but they are never heavy handed or preachy and they are not without hope. He’s described the sound of the album as being a heavy mix of hope and desperation and stressed that despite these being difficult times he remains positive.

While these songs were written before the pandemic, the events of this past year certainly had an impact on the making of “The End is New.”

Not only did the songs take on an extra level of meaning, but the recording process changed drastically. Recording started in February and then they took a brief break with plans to resume in mid-March. Once that time arrived, the region was in the midst of the pandemic and Lorenz ended up working at Sonelab studios in Easthampton with engineer Justin Pizzoferrato and connecting with Berlin, who was on the West Coast, remotely.

“It was crazy,” Lorenz recalled. “Justin and I were in the studio going through a gallon of Purell and trying to maintain this bi-coastal relationship with Steve, communicating via text and phone. But we got it all done by April.”

Berlin, who also produced “Mean Dog, Trampoline,” which The Suitcase Junket released last year, has proven to be the perfect producer for Lorenz. He’s able to lend an accessibility and catchiness while retaining the incredibly unique do-it-yourself qualities of Lorenz’s music.

And on “The End is New,” Berlin steered Lorenz into a bigger and bolder sound augmented by a group of guest musicians who contributed their parts remotely.

“The people we had collaborating with us were consummate professional types and I don’t think working remotely necessarily affected their addition to the music. But we didn’t get to have that hang out vibe with other musicians, so it was less fun for me,” Lorenz said with a laugh.

Among the contributing musicians were his sister, Kate Lorenz, on backing vocals and Berlin himself who played saxophone and keyboards on a couple of tracks. Local musician J. Mascis, of Dinosaur jr., lent some searing guitar on the beautiful ballad of loss “Light a Candle,” providing even more emotional heft to an already sad song.

When Lorenz takes to the road again, he will primarily be playing these songs solo on his hand-made rig and beat-up guitar. Like all musicians, the pandemic has curtailed his normally heavy touring schedule and he had to cancel 170 dates this past year.

A home body at heart who loves living in Leverett, Lorenz said he’s been fine staying put and took solace in the fact that he was home for the birth of his first child a couple months ago.

This is a big release for The Suitcase Junket, as he was recently signed to Renew Records, BMG’s new roots/Americana label. “The End is New” is the label’s third release. Lorenz previously recorded for the local Signature Sounds label.

“I was having no problems at all with Signature Sounds and loved being there, but when this opportunity came and it was a label that was being newly formed, there was that excitement of a new thing happening,” Lorenz said of his decision to sign with Renew/BMG. “It seemed like an opportunity that I should go with.”

Lorenz added that, so far, the experience has been positive. He is currently booking shows for the spring of 2021 and keeping his fingers crossed that they will happen. Until then, he has a recorded a show at the Shea Theater Arts Center that will be virtually streamed on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 9 p.m. He will play “The End is New” in its entirety.

The show will feature cameras up close to give the viewers a unique point of view and almost create the sense of being onstage. Lorenz will also add commentary about the songs.

Tickets are on sale now at boxoffice.mandolin.com/collections/the-suitcase-junket. There is a variety of packages available for purchase, including one option that includes a virtual after party.

“The End Is New” broadens the usual Americana sound, as the new tunes add a dose of indie rock to the genre. There is a heaviness to the music here, in both the music and lyrics, yet the ultimate takeaway is positive with a message that we are going to get through this.

“I’m a hopeful optimistic person by nature and it’s a hard time for us optimists right now,” said Lorenz. “I think we are pretty amazing problem-solving creatures, so I do have hope — and also in terms of the earth, I do think the planet will be fine without us, but I’d like to stick around for awhile.”

“The End is New” is out tomorrow and will be available on all streaming platforms or at thesuitcasejunket.com.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at soundslocal@yahoo.com.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2020 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy