Mustachioed Multi-Instrumentalist Music Man
By A.J. Wachtel
Defining The Suitcase Junket (Matt Lorenz) into just one genre of music can’t be done. Naming his many stylistic influences is much easier. Categorizing the music this unique one man band produces is much more difficult than just accepting his enchanting and enthralling sound. This gripping artist really showcases the depth and diversity of the New England music scene and deserves your support and attention. Listen to what this clever conceptualizer has to say.
Noise: Your music has been described as “oddball low-fi.” Is this an accurate characterization?
Matt Lorenz: Well, I wouldn’t say that “oddball low-fi” is an inaccurate couple of words to throw on the pile. Qualifying music into a blurb can be a tricky wick to light; hard to be wrong, hard to be right. These days I call it “swamp-yankee root-music,” which isn’t the clearest of labels, but works for my ears. Whatever it’s called, I’m basically drinking from the deep well of American folk music.
Noise: You play up to four instruments with your feet at the same time. Care to explain?
Matt: This can be a bit tricky to explain without visuals, but here’s the basic layout: I sit on a big suitcase and use a drum pedal to play it with my right heel which gives me a bass drum type thump. My right toe is playing the hi-hat and sometimes a box of bones and silverware that operates like a hi-hat. (The top “cymbal” being an 8mm film reel with the aforementioned doodads dangling off of it and the bottom “cymbal” being a small wooden box. (It’s got a great crunch of a sound.) My left foot is covering three drum pedals that hit objects mounted on old chair parts: toe controls a baby shoe hitting a gas can and the heel hits a cook pot and occasionally a circular saw blade. So in any given song my feet are covering around 4-6 pedals.
Noise: Your throat singing is very different and interesting. You use harmonic overtones of the sound waves produced by your vocal chords allowing you to sing two notes at once; a drone and a series of high-pitched tones and whistles. How did you discover you had the ability to vocalize like this?
Matt: The full story is that I took a south Indian cooking class some 10 or so years ago and learned a couple words that had retro-flexed R’s in them. This is basically when you say the letter R with the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Having learned a new mouth-shape, I was naturally experimenting with it while driving around in my car and noticed these overtones occurring. They were quiet and didn’t sound all that good, but I kept practicing over the next five years or so and eventually honed them to the point that I had enough control to start working them into some songs. It felt like I had joined some ancient human club because I imagine that people have been doing this type of singing as long as there have been fires to sit around. (Which is quite a while.)
Noise: Your style of singing is found in a number of folk traditions in Tuva and Mongolia and allows you to fill the space where another instrument would take a solo. How do you make this work in your performance?
Matt: Yeah, at some point I’d like to cross paths with the Tuvans and see what I can learn from them. I basically use it in place of a harmonica during the show as a solo instrument or textural device.
Noise: It’s said that Tom Waits and Bob Dylan are big influences in terms of vocal styling and social consciousness in your compositions and live act. How so and what do you take from each of these icons and make your own?
Matt: The biggest thing I learned from Tom Waits was about tone. As artists we are recyclers and thieves. We’re digging holes in the yard, looking for the bones, dusting off artifacts and pounding them into our own molds. You can hear the old form within the new one, but if you do it well it comes across as nostalgia or something distantly familiar. Tone is another layer of style to help define your aesthetic and disguise your theft. As for Dylan, we’re talking about lyrical intention, flow, and depth. Say it strong, make sure it rings, cut deep. Even if there is no overt social message in the piece, we are not living in a vacuum, we are absorbing the world around us and filtering it back out on our own channels.
Noise: Your last album Make Time was recorded with the help of engineer Justin Pizzoferrato who has also worked the studio boards for Dinosaur Jr., The Pixies and Thurston Moore. What do you have in common with these acts and what does Justin bring to the table with your recorded sound?
Matt: I’m not exactly sure what I have in common with those particular legends, but I guess I’d say, in that order, that I like heavy sounds, I like good melodies and I like to experiment. Justin is a pro with great ears and a fantastic vibe. He knows what he likes, but doesn’t get in the way of the sound that’s being created and seems to base his judgement on the foundation you bring in to the studio. Over the years we’ve found a really good working rhythm and have a blast making stuff.
Noise: What’s the difference between your studio stuff and your energetic and passionate live shows?
Matt: I try to bring the same energy to the studio that I have live, but it can be challenging to capture that vibe. I basically mic up the whole rig and record everything live then tinker with it in the mixing process, trimming it up some, adding extra vocals here and there. The thing that I have to remind myself every time I go into the studio is that a recording will never feel like a live show. Even if it’s a live show being recorded, you still end up with a recording which lacks that magical alchemy of a roomful of people experiencing and feeling something that will only happen once. The music, the show, they’re a catalyst for this bigger feeling. The people in the room are responsible for the other half of it. I’m asking with every song I play “Are we going to go there? Yeah? We’re all in? Alright! Let’s do it!”
Noise: The folk rock trio Rusty Belle is another group you work with. What’s the difference between them and The Suitcase Junket?
Matt: Rusty Belle is a trio with my sister Kate Lorenz and Zak Trojano. That project focuses on three part harmony and spins a little closer to a country blues sound. Kate’s got a killer voice and Zak is an extremely tasteful player and writer. They both have solo projects going right now as well. As for the difference between, I’d say Rusty Belle may have a more refined and mature sound compared to the flailing wildness of the Suitcase Junket.
Noise: What’s are your future plans with both bands?
Matt: Rusty Belle has taken a foot off the gas for now and we are currently writing towards the next album while pursuing our solo projects. The Suitcase Junket has a new album coming out this spring and will be hitting the festival circuit and touring quite a bit this coming year.
This February I’ll be doing a rare residency every Wednesday at Atwoods Tavern in Cambridge, MA. It’s going to be a fun one. I’ll be having guests up to join me on stage for parts of my set and a different opening act each time. It’s a great cozy pub feel and I’m really looking forward to it.