by Bryce Wergin
With a voice like a whiskey-shooting, chain-smoking Bruce Springsteen and a songwriting style that refuses to stay within just one genre, Matt Cox has been a shining example of Midwestern alt-country-rock-folk-indie-Americana music that somehow fits all and none of these categories. Cox got his start playing solo in Omaha, but within the last few years has been playing bigger sets with The Matt Cox Band. Influences of classic country and rock 'n' roll are evident throughout the band's newest album, Tracks In The Sound, whose sound recalls artists ranging from Townes Van Zandt to Bob Dylan to the Allman Brothers.
Cox originally hails from Iowa, and formerly played drums in the Pheonix band Junk Ditch Road. Since his return to the Midwest, he has enjoyed a growing fanbase in Omaha and has secured a home in the city's music scene. He's played all over the country, including a songwriter's co-op at SXSW two years in a row.
The Matt Cox Band drops their new album Sunday, July 3rd at a release show at The Waiting Room in Omaha, where they will be playing alongside fellow alt-country rockers Filter Kings and Lincoln rockabilly band The Mezcal Brothers. In a phone interview, Cox told Hear Nebraska why recording at Lincoln's Fuse Recording studio was a different experience, why he considers himself a Nebraskan and why July's the time to see his band.
Hear Nebraska: This Sunday at The Waiting Room you’re going to be playing alongside both Filter Kings and The Mezcal Brothers. For readers who haven’t seen or heard any of you guys, what’s the best way to describe what the show will be like?
Matt Cox: Filter Kings have been playing for a long time doing some rockabilly and that kind of stuff, I think they even won an OEA (Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award) a couple years ago … Some pretty country/rock 'n' roll kind of stuff. Pretty upbeat. The Mezcal Brothers, again, very experienced musicians out of Lincoln. Charlie Johnson, the bass player, did our recording for the album. They’re in that same vein of Americana/rockabilly/country stuff. Then there’s our stuff. Everybody’s doing original music. In my opinion, they’re some of the best bands and players in the area of that alt-country genre.
HN: You’re playing with your full band on Sunday. How often do you play with your band as opposed to playing a solo set?
MC: I’d say in the last couple years … probably about 80 percent with the band, maybe a solo gig every now and then. It’s worth noting that the band I’m with now will be heading different directions at the end of the summer. This will probably be the last show in Omaha with our full five-piece band. Our drummer is moving out to Los Angeles and our piano player is moving to New York … What the future holds, it’s kind of up in the air. Lately, though, it’s been full band. The whole month of July is booked with the band, we’re doing Zoo Fest next week. If you want to catch us, July’s gonna be the month to do it.
HN: So does it feel different playing on stage with the band as opposed to playing solo?
MC: I definitely have a lot of fun playing with the group of guys. It definitely takes pressure off when you’re up there with other people. I've been lucky to play with some of the greatest players, in my opinion, on their instruments. My band are really top-notch musicians, very experienced, who work hard at what they do. I’ve been lucky to have people I can really rely on to be there and play their parts seriously without taking the fun out of it. It also allows for more opportunities for bigger shows. It’s definitely easier to grab your audience with a full band when you’ve got drums and everything. You can get their attention and keep it there with you. I’ve had great experiences playing solo, too, though. I’ve had some good audiences when they hang on your every word.
HN: Being from Iowa and having lived in Arizona, what’s made you stick around Omaha?
MC: Well there are some pretty normal things keeping me here, like family. I’m originally from Shenandoa, Iowa. When I graduated in ’99, my parents moved here. I lived in Arizona with my brother after that, then when he got married I moved back to Omaha where my family was at. When I came back to Omaha, I started to focus on writing my own music. I had really good luck with places like Mick’s in Benson and places I could get my foot in the door at open mics or talking people into letting me try my thing and play my original tunes. It’s been really good to me. Omaha is a great place to meet people and there are a lot of great songwriters, too. It’s a great network of people to be friends with. There was a time when I was thinking about moving down to Austin a few years ago, but I just happened to meet the guys from the band and did a couple gigs with them and thought we had something cool going on so that kept me staying here and it’s been good. Omaha’s a great town.
HN: So do you consider yourself a Nebraskan?
MC: As far as considering myself a Nebraskan, that’s a tough question. I would say yes, I’ve been here 10 or 11 years. But will I root for the Hawkeyes over the Huskers? Yes. I hold Iowa very dear, I grew up there for 19 years, but my family is here and I do consider myself a Nebraskan.
HN: Regarding the new album: Tracks In The Sound was recorded at Fuse Recording in Lincoln with producer Charlie Johnson, who is also the bass player of The Mezcal Brothers. Did this recording process differ from what you’ve done in the past?
MC: It was a brand new experience for me — totally different. It’s a brand-new studio, so there aren’t a lot of people who have been there yet or seen it, but it definitely made an impression on me, just first walking in there, how nice it was. I think I had met Charlie once before, but in the weekend we were there we got to know each other pretty well and he was really easy to work with. It was a different situation with the whole band, too. In the past I’ve always been going to a friend’s place over in Iowa, Kirk Webb, who had a good ear and a makeshift studio. So I’d drive out from Omaha over an hour to Griswold, Iowa, whenever I felt like I had some work to do. I would go and record a few hours in the evening or night and then drive home, and it might be the next week I’d go back or it might be six months down the road I’d go back. This time, we knew our parts, the songs were ready, and we had top-notch gear and a great big room to do it in. We pretty much did the whole thing in a matter of two or three days, then another couple days to mix. I was nervous about it being intimidating or it having a negative effect on me, but it really didn’t. It felt great, it was like playing a venue with a great sound system. Definitely a new experience, but a good one.
HN: So what would you say is the biggest difference, musically, between Tracks In The Sound and your past work?
MC: This album has songs that it’s difficult to put your finger on as far as what genre they might fall into. I don’t like to worry about that too much. The biggest difference is the full band being on every track. It’s definitely more of a rock album than anything I’ve done before, and also at the same time more country than anything I’ve done before… Some of my other albums, I’ve been described as a blues guy by some people, I don’t know if it’s the rootsy sound or my vocals, but this record I was definitely writing from more of a country influence.
Bryce Wergin is a summer intern for Hear Nebraska. For some reason all this talk about country music has given him a craving for fajitas. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.