Everyone has a COVID story, and Matt Walker is no exception. With an enforced break from his heavy musical demands and amidst personal upheaval, Matt found himself drawn in a different direction. One that was freeing rather than restrictive. He allowed himself to get lost in music, leaving words behind, immersed in instrumentation and all its liberating possibilities. The end result is his new instrumental album ‘United States of Alpho’ released June 6 on Stovepipe Records (Matt’s own label).
That journey led him meandering through musical influences to his own discoveries:
“…I drew on diverse influences ranging from Albert Ayler to Bill Evans. From Haitian-American guitarist and composer Frantz Casseus to Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, the piano player from Ethiopia. Her stuff blew my mind … anyway I unearthed a new sound and intent in my own guitar playing…”
Each of Matt’s deliberate choices around the album adds a layer to the finished product. Featuring only the Kay guitar and bass immediately simplifies and enriches the sound. Stripping out compositions to pure melody, merely hinting at chords adds to the resulting magic. Likewise recording it live at the shared house he lives in, with the album title clearly taking its inspiration from “Alpho” as the house is named, not to mention its’ influence in his personal growth. Matt explains:
“I always imagined the recording location for the album to be Alpho because it is there that I found part of myself.”
It might also be a play on that other USA acronym…which unlike Alpho is currently anything BUT united. Mostly though, Matt says…he just likes the word ‘Alpho’.(1)
Minimalism is not a dirty word…
The decision to make the Kay guitar the hero of his album is similarly, a conscious choice, Matt explains how he found his 1960 guitar in Rome, trials with getting the sound right after having to remove the neck for its journey to Australia, and exploring the tone and fuzzy edges he could coax out of it, as well as everything in between. The ‘most craptastic guitar I’ve ever owned’ he says, borrowing from Lost Ragas, bandmate Shane Reilly’s extensive list of original adjectives (1).
So armed with a clear idea of what he wanted to achieve, Matt recruited Ben Franz (2), who he had recently worked with. Ben duly turned up at Alpho, bass in hand, as did Phil Gionfriddo, bringing his mobile recording unit. Matt and Ben started playing and Phil hit record. There’s a lot to be said for capturing the raw performance of a song with such simplicity. Inevitably it has an essence that can otherwise be watered down with repeated takes or mastering the life out of it.
No such watering down for United States of Alpho which, I am still discovering, is fresh at each listening, revealing many hidden layers.
There are seven tracks on the album, each eliciting distinctive sounds from the Kay guitar, perfectly balanced with Ben’s double bass. Occasionally (in the spirit of recording live) the odd background conversation wafts in behind the music. While seven mightn’t seem a lot, particularly for a CD these days, it’s a perfect number for vinyl. And they are seven songs with a LOT of music contained within. And yes, I’m putting my plug for vinyl in early. I can’t imagine the listening of this would be anything but enhanced by vinyl. The important thing is however you choose to… LISTEN and lose yourself in some truly good stuff.
I’m still absorbing the varying nuances of this album, the differing tones and melodies of songs, but my current favourites are…
Key of Kay opens the album with a soft and slow intro which builds with a hint of latin influence, or is it Hawaiian?…depends on when I’m listening, but either way it allows the Kay to shine.
Invisible Chicken is a very short (at just 1:49) break between the first and second halves of the album. It captures the fuzziness of which the Kay is capable, and to me, lends itself to being expanded and played around with in a live set. Hmmm, we’ll see…
Afternoon Rooms is as Matt put it, ‘a homage to the beauty of an afternoon room’(1). It is exceptionally lovely listening. I find my appreciation of it grows, enjoying how vastly different it can sound depending on my own mood. That’s the beauty of an instrumental piece…it can fluctuate for the listener without the weight of words restricting its breadth.
I say ‘current favourites’ because they change regularly and the remaining songs Casa, Lucerne Legend, History of History and the closer Life in Reverse are equally rich. Lucerne Legend I’m presently imagining as an. unlikely western, a tragic love story, with a beautiful beginning culminating in a saloon bar gunfight – I don’t know why – that’s where the music took me, ok? (I can’t wait till Matt reads this and then explains to me how far off the mark I am!)
What about Matt?
If you haven’t heard of Matt Walker before this…you need to remedy that immediately! For now though, here’s the reader’s digest version…
Matt is one of the most respected musicians on the Australian scene. His work as a songwriter, guitarist, producer and composer is credited on many albums, films and documentary scores. Among his peers he enjoys the status of a true cult legend.
He has toured with people such as Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Dirty Three, Nick Cave, Tony Joe White, Cat Power, The Black Keys and Joe Cocker. Matt has also written, recorded and performed with an eclectic bunch of outstanding artists including Mick Harvey, Archie Roach, Tex Perkins, Black Cab, Kim Salmon, Vika & Linda, Broderick Smith, Henry Wagons and … the list goes on.
Add to this a couple of ARIA nominations and an award to his name, courtesy of two of his albums with frequent collaborator Ash Davies. You get the picture.
Matt fronts Lost Ragas, who have received critical acclaim for their three albums, and my favourite Australian band, bar none. Do take time to listen to their work if you haven’t already. Tex Perkins is another frequent collaborator, in his many guises, including a little swampy blues duo he and Matt have going, The Man in Black shows, and the Fat Rubber Band, who incidentally have a new(ish) self titled debut album well worth checking out.
Oh, and in his spare time…for the last several years he’s run his own recording studio and record label, producing albums for some of Australia’s rarest treasures and up and coming artists.
A final fun fact about Matt I was unaware of until now…he’s left handed. How could I not know this you ask? Well simply because, he plays guitar right handed, joining that rarified group of musicians like Hendrix and McCartney who play opposite to their natural hand . Being a fellow leftie, he only grows in my estimation with this knowledge, because of course…bloody creative geniuses we are!
The final word
Matt is holding the official album launch for ‘United States of Alpho’ at George Lane, St Kilda on 30 July along with a select run of shows (see below). Get along if you can to listen to some great sounds, and support one of Australia’s finest. If you’re somewhere else in the world…you can listen to the album (3) and find out more about Matt via the various links below. A final word…yes you guessed, it…SUPPORT the artist, BUY the music. Enjoy folks!
Where you can find Matt Walker:
BandCamp (United States of Alpho exclusive)
Spotify (selected works)
(1) courtesy of Tripe R ‘Off The Record’ – Matt Walker interview 2/7/22
(2) Ben Franz, among other credits is part of The Waifs touring and recording band
Photos by Peter Lamont