Bright star

William Matheny spins alt-country stories at Blind Bob’s

By Justin Kreitzer

Photo: William Matheny steps into the spotlight Saturday, April 15 at Blind Bob’s; photo: Josh Saul

West Virginia singer-songwriter William Matheny—formerly a multi-instrumentalist in the now defunct Ohio-based folk-rock band, Southeast Engine—is ready for his time in the spotlight. A storyteller in the vein of The Hold Steady’s boozy poet, Craig Finn, Matheny weaves folksy narratives of everyday life into his brand of Americana, blending Jackson Browne-like ’70s folk-pop with rollicking alt-country. His long-awaited debut album, Strange Constellations, is out now on Misra records.

After numerous performances with Southeast Engine, William Matheny will return to Dayton as a solo act for the first time, playing Blind Bob’s Saturday, April 15, with Neo-American Pioneers and Misra Records label-mates Motel Beds.

In anticipation, the Dayton City Paper spoke with William Matheny about going solo, Strange Constellations, and finding inspiration through his grandfather’s music.

 

You have been compared to some great musicians, such as Elvis Costello, Warren Zevon, and Craig Finn. Who are some of your less obvious influences, and how have they affected your music?

William Matheny: I’m certainly guilty as charged with Zevon and Costello. The Craig Finn comparison has cropped up a lot since the album release. Certainly no offense intended to the very talented Mr. Finn, but I haven’t actually spent much time with his music. That said, I’ve seen The Hold Steady a couple of times and really dug it. As far as less obvious influences go, Richard & Linda Thompson, Jason Molina, and Cass McCombs immediately come to mind. Beyond the music itself (which I love dearly), I’m very inspired by their careers and by their presentation of the art itself. They all require the listener to meet them halfway, and while that might make it difficult initially, I think it’s more rewarding than something more immediate. With all three of those, there’s an unwavering commitment to their own vision that results in a large body of work that stands on its own. It probably sounds high-flown of me since we’re talking about my debut album right now, but that’s really my end game, a proper body of work.

 

After years of so-called ‘sideman’ duty, what has it been like to be in the spotlight, creating and performing your own music?

WM: It’s been a lot of fun. It’s a bit different, because it isn’t always the same skill set, but in a lot of ways it’s similar. I’ve had the privilege of playing for a bunch of incredible songwriters over the years, and I’ve learned a great deal from them in the process. I try very hard not to differentiate between the two roles and just give as much of myself as I can to either situation.

 

Your debut album, Strange Constellations, is highlighted by your impressive lyrical gifts. Can you reveal how much of the album’s lyrics are biographical and how much are just plain storytelling?

WM: Thanks for saying the lyrics are impressive! A few of the songs like “Out For Revenge” or “Funny Papers” were written with pop standards or Hank Williams in mind. It’s the kind of songwriting where you try not to leave any fingerprints on the glass. I really dig that kind of thing. The rest are pretty autobiographical. I’m not usually beholden to the idea that things have to be completely autobiographical—after all, Johnny Cash never shot a man in Reno, but I think it’s important to reveal something of yourself with each song, even if you aren’t constantly laying it all out there.

 

Specifically, what inspired the writing of ‘My Grandfather Knew Stoney Cooper’?  

WM: That’s one that’s entirely true. I was less than a year old when my grandfather died, but I’ve always felt this deep connection, probably because he was a musician. When he came home from World War II, he played in some bands that traveled regionally and even had the chance to record a 78-rpm record. A lot of people don’t remember or know Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper these days, which is a shame, but they were from Randolph County, West Virginia, originally and they performed around West Virginia for years before they finally made the big move to Nashville, got signed to a label, and joined the Grand Ole Opry. They were friends of my grandfather, and they played shows together both before and after Stoney and Wilma Lee got famous. I suppose it’s mostly about circumstance, how people’s lives remain interconnected, and how life is, unfortunately, sometimes very unfair.

 

One of the album’s standout tracks—the propulsive punk-inspired ‘29 Candles’—sounds like it’s a blast to play live!  What is your favorite song to play live and why?

WM: “Twenty-nine Candles” is a fun one! If I have to pick favorites, I’d say some of our newest songs like “Grand Old Feeling” and “Moon Over Kenova”, but honestly, I have such a great time playing with the guys in the band that it’s hard to choose a favorite. Sorry, I realize that’s a cop-out.

 

What can be expected from a William Matheny show? 

WM: This is a fairly big umbrella to get under, and we always make sure to put the song first, but overall it’s a rock and roll show. So, you know, a little song, a little dance, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry. We won’t be pushy about crowd participation. There’ll probably be some guitar solos and then we’ll urge you to be careful going home. I’m really looking forward to coming back to Dayton. I always enjoyed being there with Southeast Engine and I hope y’all like what I’m up to these days.

 

William Matheny plays Saturday, April 15 at Blind Bob’s, 430 E. Fifth St. in the Oregon District. Motel Beds and Neo-American Pioneers are also on the bill. Show starts at 9 p.m. For more information, please visit WilliamMatheny.com or BlindBobs.com.

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Justin Kreitzer
Reach DCP freelance writer Justin Kreitzer at JustinKreitzer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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