In celebration of the start of this week’s music portion of South By Southwest, we’re taking a deeper look at some of our favorite artists. Below, you can check out a preview for Richmond, Va.’s Matthew E. White.
For Fans of: Cat Stevens, Damien Jurado, Sufjan Stevens
“Well, I’m glad it worked,” Matthew E. White laughs. He’s talking, of course, about introducing himself; his record label, Spacebomb Records, and his massive (sometimes up to 30-piece) band into the music community. White hit our radar earlier this year with his richly arranged Big Inner, a play off the word “beginner.” “The record is really large, but it’s also personal, and I just like wordplay like that,” White explains. But if his work with Fight the Big Bull or his horn arrangements for The Mountain Goats’ Transcendental Youth prior to the album are any indication, that title proves White is both a rare talent and modest.
At first listen, White’s whole package can be a lot to take in at once. The album is massive in both arrangement and sound, stirring up elements of jazz, gospel, R & B, rock and Motown, sometimes within a single track. You hear them in the bouncy, laid back “Steady Pace” or the triumphant, complicated look at spirituality in “Brazos”—and they’re all lead forward by White’s low-register, calming croon.
But in every Big Inner LP he’s released White clearly lays out his mission in a hand-signed letter, complete with his own seal stamped into the top. The signature, the seal, the hand-numbered albums, they’re all little packaging details that, like layered horns and soaring choirs, make the album an above-and-beyond introduction into what White and Spacebomb are all about. This personal letter talks the two-week recording session behind the album and Spacebomb Records, a nearly year-old label whose recording studio features a Stax-like house band. “I wanted something where I could wear a lot of hats. I could play guitar, I could write songs, I could produce a record. I can do that under one umbrella.”
But most importantly, he’s explaining the process as a collective experience, one that would have been impossible without his Spacebomb “village.” It includes drummer Pinson Chanselle, bassist Cameron Ralston, and arrangers Trey Pollard and Phil Cook. With most of these musicians hailing from Richmond, Va., White calls Big Inner “regional music.” And with White’s stellar live show taking this regional approach all around the country, there’s no better time to dig into his debut.—Tyler Kane