Bonnaroo 2013 artists Matrimony began their life as the husband and wife duo of Ashlee Hardee Brown and Jimmy Brown. They released their debut EP “The Storm and the Eye” in 2010 before Ashlee’s brothers Jordan and CJ joined the band as well. Now Matrimony is getting ready to release their full length debut album “Montibello Drive” as well as perform two sets at Bonnaroo 2013.
We caught up with Matrimony by phone, speaking with vocalist Jimmy Brown about their upcoming performance with occasional interjections by the other band members.
We’re talking with you today because you’re getting ready to join us here in Tennessee next month to play Bonnaroo. Can you tell us a little about that?
Yeah, we’re real excited. It’s the first time we’ve gotten to play Bonnaroo. The lineup is just incredible, so many bands we’re excited to see. We can’t wait to play. We’ve got a new release coming out and we can’t wait to get out there and let people hear our new stuff.
When’s your new album coming out?
So we’ll have fresh material barely a week old at Bonnaroo.
Yeah. Other than a cd release show in Charlotte where we’re from, it’ll be the first time to perform our new stuff. It’s pretty cool.
You guys will be earning your paychecks at Bonnaroo too, as I’ve noticed you have two sets.
Yeah, we’re playing one show in the On Tap Stage stage and then the Sonic Stage, Friday and Saturday.
When you do two sets like that, do you vary it up for people who come to both or how do you handle that?
Usually, we just kind of feel it. We feel the crowd out, eyeball it before we go on and just go with whatever feels right at the moment.
Do you change up what songs you play at a festival where people may not know you as opposed to a club where people typically know your music?
We always just try to play to the crowd whether we’re at a festival or a club or anywhere. You’re always playing the songs that you feel are going to interest people. The festival is a smaller set so we’re not going to play 10 acoustic songs, we try to keep it upbeat.
For those who aren’t familiar with you, how would you describe the music of Matrimony?
Well, it’s kind of folk rock. I don’t know. We have acoustic bluegrassy instruments but we don’t really play them like that. Like our banjo player plays more like an electric guitar than a banjo and I have a mandolin but I don’t really play like a typical bluegrass player. It’s definitely got a folksy feel to it, but there’s enough rock to keep it interesting for us. Somewhere in the middle of all that.
What were bands that influenced you guys?
Oh, wow. We listen to a lot of Fleetwood Mac. U2, Tom Petty. Bruce Springsteen definitely. Our new bass player likes some heavy metal so he sneaks some of that into the bass notes. This is our first release as a full band, the releases before were just me and Ashlee, but now we’ve got the whole band behind us on the record.
For those who don’t know, Matrimony is a family affair. Jimmy and Ashlee are married and then Jordan and CJ are Ashlee’s brothers. It seems like it could be a good side/bad side thing.
Jimmy: I’ll let Jordan take that one.
Jordan: It’s hard. It definitely has its challenges, but we’re a pretty tight knit group. It’s usually not a big deal. We all give each other space and work through problems pretty quickly as they come along.
You mentioned you just finished recording your new album and I read that you had a little bit of an incident during your recording in Nashville.
Yeah, we were recording in Nashville and about the second day in it started raining and storming. We were all recording and everyone’s headphones popped. We figured the house got hit by lightning or something but we just kept recording. Then we went outside a little later and the whole side of the house was on fire! We tried to put it out but the fire brigade had to come. We spent about a month in Nashville chilling while we waited for the studio to get repaired.
With you guys being from North Carolina, what made you decide to come to Nashville to record?
Jay Joyce produced us and his studio is in Nashville so it worked out. Also, I’m from Belfast Northern Ireland and Nashville is kind of a sister city to Belfast, so I kind of liked that. We’ve played a lot of shows in Nashville and made some friends there.
Jimmy, you mentioned you were from Ireland and of course the rest of the band is from North Carolina. How do those different sounds blend in your music?
Well, I’m from Protestant Northern Ireland so I didn’t really learn a lot of traditional Irish songs because those songs are typically considered Catholic, which could cause some problems. I’m not prejudiced against Catholics, but that’s just how it is. I never really played Irish music until I came to America and I figured out that, being from Ireland, people would hire me to play Irish music so it was a way to make an extra hundred bucks a couple of times a year in the beginning. Back home I couldn’t get away with that!
You guys have toured with some pretty high profile bands like Gaslight Anthem and Passion Pit. As a band just getting your start, what do you take away from observing and touring with those more established acts.
I love seeing bands who are really good at what they do, so we have a lot of respect for bands that have done a ton of shows and put out a lot of albums and managed to stay together. It’s great to see the professionalism. It’s awesome to be able to watch them and hear their stories. Musically speaking, I don’t think any of us have ever toured with a band and thought “we should do music like that.” We just do what we do. Mostly it’s just hanging out and making friends with people in the business.
It seems like the folksy and Americana music has really taken off lately. Even at Bonnaroo, two of the top acts playing are Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers. Why do you think that style of music has resonated with audiences in recent years?
It’s hard to say. I think there’s a certain authenticity to bands like that where it’s not overproduced. I saw Mumford & Sons play just before they blew up, before their album came out and it really touched me. They just seemed very earnest and very honest. I’ve never seen the Lumineers play, but I get the same impression from what I’ve heard. It’s really authentic music. They don’t have to play makeup or use a lot of tricks. They’re just guys with acoustic guitars and lyrics and they just sing their songs. It’s just got an honesty to it. I’m not an expert, but I think that’s what some people are drawn to. Things come and go. In the ’90s there was a certain style of music and then in the ’00s there was another style and now acoustic instruments are big.
Is there anybody you are really looking forward to seeing at Bonnaroo?
So many bands I’d love to see there. I really want to see The National. I’d be interested to catch The Lumineers set. The Wu-Tang Clan would be great. Of course, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney. Kendrick Lamar. The lineup’s awesome. There’s just so many bands I want to see.
If you want to catch Matrimony at Bonnaroo 2013, you’ll have 2 opportunities. Their first set will be on Friday night, June 14 from 10:40-11:30 in the New Music On Tap Lounge. Their second set will be Saturday evening, June 15 from 6:15-6:45.
Matrimony’s new album “Montibello Drive” will come out June 11.