Let’s rewind a few years. Well, seven to be exact.
To the year 2009, when Matt Joe Gow, the Melbourne-based tunesmith and troubadour (it sounds so much better than singer-songwriter) released `The Messenger’, an album covered in the dust of Americana.
Then fast forward a few years, to 2012, to the album `Cities On the Sea’. Recorded with his band The Dead Leaves (in fact, Matt left his name off the front of that one), it shimmered like rain falling at twilight. Think Manchester, territory of The Smiths; think other guitar-driven pop masters; think shiny, dark, sometimes ethereal jewels.
In retrospect, that album touched on Matt’s roots which, in his young days, tapped into the rich vein of guitar jangle that rang loud and true from his hometown of Dunedin, New Zealand, the student city at the end of the world famous for its slew of alt-pop innovators, including The Clean and The Chills. A place where, in the arm-wrestle of craft versus fad, cool songs beat cool looks every time.
Step forward again, to the here and now, to his new album `Seven Years’ which, as its title hints, took exactly that many years to percolate. Oh, it’s also got his name squarely on the front again, even if he had help from a few friends along the way.
No matter what textures Matt clothes his songs in, it invariably comes back to the melody. And that voice. Rich, resonant. A baritone cloak of many shades and shadows.
For `The Messenger’ Australia record label Liberation paid for the services of influential Australian producer Nash Chambers, whose credits range from Dolly Parton to Jimmy Barnes; in 2012 the label stumped up for another acclaimed guiding hand, Scott Horscroft (Sleepy Jackson, Paul Kelly).
This time around, Matt is going it alone. ‘Seven Years’ is a self-funded effort, a testament to Matt’s confidence in his muse.
“I am still with Mushroom Publishing and Nash Chambers has come onboard as a consultant. It’s great to be back working with him as he is such a figurehead in Australian music, especially Australian country music.
“Back when we released `The Messenger’, the musical landscape in Australia was not as fleshed out in regards to Americana or alt-country and I think things have changed since then,” Matt says.
“ I remember being on stage for the first time in a while at a New Zealand venue last year and seeing people singing along to `Steady Life’ and `Come What May’ and thinking, people still like these songs? People still want to hear these songs? That’s great.
“I realised I had missed that connection and it’s one of the things that inspired me to write more songs.
“Really, the only thing you can do is make the best record you can,” he says.
Matt likes to keep busy. He is also prolific. At various points of his career, he has had dozens of unrecorded songs up his sleeve. He could have released several albums by now, yet prefers to whittle them down until he has arrived at his own perfect playlist.
“I think any true songwriter likes to write songs regardless of whether they will be released or not. I like playing guitar. I like singing. It’s what I do.
“I write a lot. It’s definitely cathartic for me. I have written another album’s worth of material for a follow-up to `Seven Years’. I also have another Dead Leaves album written and recorded.”
This from a songwriter whose swagger has taken him from the dusty influences of Townes Van Zandt, Ryan Adams and others, to the swirling urban chime of electric, ambient pop . . . and back again.
“For `Seven Years’, I knew we had quality songs there, that they had stood the test of time,” Matt reflects.
“I would return to the demos or rough tracks, hoping they’d sound awful so I could leave them behind. However, they were as good as anything I had written.
“There are definitely different emotions and styles being expressed on the album but, overall, it sits in the Americana, alt-country realm and I think it works as a coherent piece of work.”
Indeed. `Seven Years’ is an album redolent with the crackle and cackle of honky tonks, as well as the lonesome echo of a stray dog lost down a well. And for good measure, there’s a howling storm or two. Not quite a crossfire hurricane but, well, you get the idea.
MATT JOE GOW: BACKGROUND
Raised in Dunedin, Matt Joe Gow performed music from an early age. He started playing piano when he was five. He
wrote poetry, too, although it took him until the age of 13 to realise he could combine phrases both musical and lyrical.
“I started to sing and play guitar and drums and other things. That got me into a band when I was 15. We were just a
bunch of kids playing god-awful music. We would hire out a room at a bar and just play there for schoolkids. We packed out the rafters. I thought, `yeah, this is how it is’. But it’s not that easy.”
Matt should know. Having spent time in the United States and Canada as a child (his father held research posts at various universities), he returned to live in Canada. There, he formed a band, Tearlighter, which relocated to England following record label interest.
“Tearlighter had an opportunity to work with a label but we fell apart and on the back of that I started to play solo,” explains Matt, who recorded a solo EP in England in 2007 then promptly left for Melbourne.
It proved to be a good move: 2009 debut album `The Messenger’ was released by Liberation, which operates under the umbrella of Australian music publishing company Mushroom; so, too was 2012 sophomore effort `Cities On the Sea’, which was attributed to The Dead Leaves.