Thursday, May 19, 2011

ARCHIVES 2006: Have Gun, Will Travel's Matt Burke gives first ever interview about his new solo, acoustic project

BRADENTON, 5/10/06--Matt Burke.--Photo by Tiffany Tompkins-Condie.

To celebrate nationally acclaimed,  Americana ensemble Have Gun, Will Travel's fifth anniversary, here's the first interview Matt Burke, best known then as an indie rocker, did about the Bradenton band the Manatee County native started as a solo, acoustic project. After playing me a rough demo of his self-titled debut disc (now out of print) in the parking lot of the Old Main Pub in Bradenton, I immediately told Burke to push forward with the project and have been writing about his band for the Herald — and numerous other publications — ever since. 

The story below ran five years ago, same days as the Have Gun, Will Travel CD release party at old Fogartyville Cafe in downtown Bradenton. Here's my Have Gun, Will Travel story "Bradenton band's 'Blessing' on national Chevy ad," another in-depth, in-person interview I did with Burke for today's Weekend cover. It's to advance the May 21 Party on the Plaza event in downtown Bradenton that Have Gun will be headlining.

May 26, 2006
From heavy metal to Hank Williams
Matt Burke will make his Bradenton debut of his new solo musical endeavor tonight at Fogartyville Cafe and unveil his "Have Gun, Will Travel" CD.

Chase Theory is the best and most respected rock band performing original music in the area. The group's first single "Pharaohs and Kings" found its way onto the hipster favorite "Emo Diaries 3" compilation (Deep Elm). And the trio's latest release, "Scrapbook," is on the national independent label Tribunal Records.

The Bradenton-based band continues to gig regularly and record new material; however, its singer/guitarist and primary songwriter Matt Burke has embarked on a separate alt. country project he calls Have Gun, Will Travel.

Burke will make his Bradenton debut of the new solo musical endeavor tonight at Fogartyville Cafe and unveil the "Have Gun, Will Travel" CD. The seven-song disc is a thoughtful, cliche-free collection of meditations on life featuring Burke's warm vocal delivery and instrumentation that includes supple acoustic guitar strumming augmented by full-moon harmonica and back-porch banjo.
Burke and I met last week at the Tip Top Tavern.

Here are excerpts from a lengthy interview.

How old were you when you started writing songs?

I don't know that you would even call them songs, but the little numbers that we were doing, I was probably 13 or 14. It was always with (my 27-year-old brother and Chase Theory bassist) Danny (Burke) in whatever project I was in.

What kind of student were you at Bayshore High School (where you graduated from in 1993)?

JP (Beaubien) and I were in the same grade and we were pretty much stoners. We would wear our Metallica shirts to school and (stuff) like that for the first couple years. And then the last couple years of high school we got back into punk rock. We definitely weren't the popular kids in school (laugh) that's for sure. We skipped a lot of school --- especially our senior year --- and were already playing music together.

Burke by Tompkins-Condie (2006)
What was the point when you started having success with The Chase Theory?

Well, the first record that we did that made us think we had any chance of getting anywhere was getting a song on that "Emo Diaries" (Deep Elm records) compilation . . . I just sent in a cassette tape that we had done with three songs on it and they liked "Pharaohs and Kings." 

When that came out we kind of, at least locally, everybody was patting us on the back for being the only band from around here who got on a national compilation.

When did you first get exposed to country or Americana music?

It was kind of always in the background. I've always been a Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson fan, stuff like that. Anything on the radio I have always been turned off by --- nothing on any of the country stations interested me . . . I think the one record that really sparked an interest was "Trace" by (alt. country pioneer) Son Volt . . . Just getting into that led me deeper. To Gram Parsons and Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie and all of his stuff. It was kind of a backwards journey I started to take once I slowly got into it.

How did the material for "Have Gun, Will Travel" originate?

At home I had always written stuff on acoustic guitar that never really translated into Chase Theory material. So, I had that whole my side of my writing songs that I never really had any outlet for.
But it was when I got a (multi-track digital) recorder that I really started getting into the instrumentation.  I decided that I was going to do something with it and it wasn't just going to be a hobby --- I really wanted to have a go at it and see what I could do. I knew I wanted to go down the avenue of that country-influenced stuff and I knew that it had a lot to do with the instrumentation.

It's all acoustic guitar based --- that's the foundation --- but the instrumentation on top of it has a lot to do with the vibe of the music. I never played harmonica or banjo or anything like that so I went out and bought a couple harmonicas in different keys and a little beginners harmonica book.

With the banjo, I knew I wanted it on a lot of the songs but I never had played one. I got one and just started messing around with it. I'm not playing it traditionally in the bluegrass style --- I'm picking it with a guitar pick. The songs on the CD are recorded that way. I'm still practicing. I'm still learning. It's an ongoing journey.

Were you apprehensive about putting out personal songs like "Paperback?" Here you are, unadorned by screaming guitars at the forefront for the first time on record.

I wouldn't say apprehensive. I was conscience of that, and that it is a big, big difference. I mean, the biggest difference between the two types of music is the raw, nakedness of your words. You don't have that volume to hide behind. Whatever you say is going to be taken at face value. It's right out there in somebody's face.

How nervous were you about performing solo for the first time as Have Gun, Will Travel?

The first show I did was the In the Raw show (at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg) and I just started pounding drinks as soon as I got to the club (laugh). Ultimately, that's what got me through that first show.

What songs on "Have Gun, Will Travel" mean the most to you?

There's a lot behind all of them. For instance, the song "Freightliner" is about my lifelong love/hate relationship with Bradenton. As a Bradenton native I've always had an off-and-on relationship with the town. So that song means a lot to me. So does "Paperback." It represents a time where there was a lot going on. (My girlfriend) Raina (Breslauer) and I were --- there was a lot of stuff happening in our lives . . . That song is pretty heavy for me.

Burke by Tompkins-Condie (2006)
Speaking of your love/hate relationship with Bradenton, it appears, at least, that you're very proud of the city. The Chase Theory's latest CD "Scrapbook" features photographs on the jacket and sleeve that you took of landmarks such as the the Bradenton water tower. What effect does living here have on your song writing?

There's always this subconscious desire to break out of town. And I feel like I have that going on but then I am very deeply rooted here. All my family lives here and we go back a couple of generations. It's weird. 

It's kind of contradictory in a lot of ways. You want to get out but you're afraid to at the same time --- afraid to leave a place where your roots are so deep.

You've played a couple shows as Have Gun, Will Travel but you're having your CD release party and making your Bradenton debut at Fogartyville Cafe in the heart of your hometown (today). How important is this show to you?

It's very important. I want to present this project as seriously as anything else I have been involved. I don't want it to be pigeonholed as a side-project . . . This show is the most important so far of the Have Gun shows. It's the first time I'm playing in my hometown and I'm introducing the CD to people as a real deal.

I saved the toughest question for last. What kind of feedback are you getting on that new beard?

(Laugh.) Everyone tells me they like it. Everyone except Raina. 

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