Presented by Natalie's and Zeppelin Productions
Natalie’s Grandview and Zeppelin Productions are pleased to present Wiliam Matheny for a special evening on Charlie’s Stage.
Many artists find inspiration on the road, but few do so with the keen eye and narrative talents of William Matheny. The West Virginia-based singer-songwriter finds inspiration for his brand of Appalachian Americana at truck stops and hotel lobbies, filtering his experiences through a perspective that’s equal parts curious and compassionate. On That Grand, Old Feeling, Matheny shares that perspective across nine new tracks.
That Grand, Old Feeling follows Matheny’s 2017 album Strange Constellations, which drew critical acclaim from outlets like NPR and PopMatters. Matheny wrote and completed That Grand, Old Feeling before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, recording the LP with producer Bud Carroll at Trackside Studio in Point Pleasant, WV. Carroll joins the proceedings on guitar, with Adam L. Meisterhans (guitar), Clint Sutton (drums), Jeremy Batten (piano, organ), John R. Miller (bass, vocals) and J. Tom Hnatow (pedal steel) rounding out the band. All of these fantastic players are fellow West Virginians and Matheny’s longtime friends.
Opener “Late Blooming Forever” is one of Matheny’s longest gestating songs, as he began writing the track, which grapples with moving on from youth and coming into one’s own, when he was 19. A gently driving beat and melodic hook give the song a propulsive feel, mimicking the sense of motion in Matheny’s image-rich lyrics. “I finished it 15 years later, after I’d stayed in some places a little longer than I’d intended to, both physically and emotionally,” he explains. “It’s sort of a hymn to hesitation.”
“Every Way to Lose” is a slick, moody rocker with shades of Drive-By Truckers and Magnolia Electric Co. Matheny wrote the song after a drive from Muscle Shoals to Nashville piqued his interest in Alabama’s Walls of Jericho trailhead, with that image anchoring the opening lyric. The almost fatalistic nature of that song leads fittingly into “Bird of Youth,” which Matheny wrote the night before recording it and whose roots trace back to Matheny’s days playing cover songs with his father at the local Elks Lodge and his time working in his family’s video store. The COVID-19 shutdown, and its subsequent shuttering of the live music industry, also led Matheny to ponder his own role in a profession that, at the time, felt suddenly obsolete, a feeling that creeps into the track’s meditation on the passage of time.
“If I could meet an elevator operator, I feel like I would know what their experience was like, you know,” he says, with a laugh. “They don’t have a gig. I don’t have a gig. In the same way, I wish there were some Vaudeville musicians still around who had to cancel all of their dates for the Spanish flu. Do you think any of them are still alive?”
“Grand Old Feeling” is the LP’s thesis statement of sorts, drawn from Matheny’s efforts to recapture the electric feeling of youthful passion, or “the singing sparrow in the marrow of [his] bones.” “They had written ‘good luck’ in blue party cups in the holes of the chain link fence,” Matheny sings at the track’s open, and with that hopeful image he explores the many thrills and heartaches of life as a touring musician. The song is also a showcase for Matheny’s complicated relationship with his home state, which permeates the rest of the LP.
“I feel like West Virginia is a main character in a lot of this music, too, the way that people talk about certain movies being a love letter to New York or whatever,” he says. “The lyrics about the Go-Mart cassettes, the unhappily married folks at the Elks Lodge or the Bernard Coffindaffer crosses you see all over the Southeast. He was a West Virginia guy and by all accounts a very prickly hang.”
“If You Could Only See Me Now” is Matheny trying his hand at writing a standard, or, as he describes it, writing a song “where you don’t see any fingerprints on the glass.” “Heartless People” inspires a simple but potent response from Matheny, who sums up the track thusly: “Don’t let the bastards get you down. It’s a cold world out there.”
If there’s a centerpiece to That Grand, Old Feeling, it’s “Down at the Hotel Canfield,” a track inspired by the Dubuque, IA, hotel infamous for a 1946 fire that killed dozens. Rebuilt in 2013, the hotel’s surroundings are as eerie as its backstory, as Matheny describes a visit to the town as being “super creepy.” The song itself is its own kind of ghost story, as Matheny admits, “I ain’t what I used to be.” Like “Bird of Youth,” “Hotel Canfield” came to Matheny the night before he and his band went into the studio to begin work on the LP.
“We stayed there after a gig and we had a horrible night’s sleep,” he says. “And we came back a few months later and played at the same club. And we were all really excited to get back there because we were really fascinated with the place. I was talking to the guy at the club and we were like, ‘Man, we had a horrible night’s sleep. What is the deal with that place? It feels really weird. Is it?’ ‘Oh, yeah. One of the worst hotel fires in America happened at that place.’”
Fans of Matheny’s will recognize the song “Christian Name,” a track he released, with the Centro-matic cover “Flashes and Cables” as its b-side, as a single in 2018. For That Grand, Old Feeling, Matheny revisited the track and gave it an updated studio treatment, with its road-weary message fitting well with the rest of the album.
“I wanted to give it more of a proper home on an actual record,” he says. “It’s very much a tour song, the kind of road music you write while you’re out there doing it. We released our first record in 2017 and then hit the road really, really hard on some spectacularly grueling, money-losing, soul-crushing tours. It’s the kind of thing you have to do when you’re getting a new venture off the ground. Most people don’t get a shortcut around that.”
That Grand, Old Feeling closes with “Stranger’s Voice,” a groovy rocker that name-checks Matheny’s like-minded contemporary John R. Miller and, thematically, picks up where “Christian Name” left off. “We were in a really, really hard spot, with barely any money for gasoline and no money for food,” he says. “We were on the ‘vegan chili circuit’ there for a while, playing in a lot of backrooms of backrooms of art galleries, that kind of thing. That one’s another road tune. And it’s mostly about how you can’t really go home again, either.”
While That Grand, Old Feeling is a document of Matheny’s own journey as a seeker, he hopes that the album can inspire anyone else out there searching for meaning in their own lives, whether they’re searching at a truck stop or in an album of old photographs. “I feel like I’ve just been trying to recapture that youthful excitement my entire life, trying to regain that clarity and that feeling of purpose,” he says. “And it comes and goes. I mostly seem to be looking for it at gas stations and rest areas and at gigs. But I think a lot of people are probably looking for it in a lot of places like that, too. Pilgrim to pilgrim, I hope you find it.”
Food & Bar: Our full food and drink menu will be available before and during the show.
Date: Wednesday, March 6
Time: 8:30 pm
Doors Open: 7:30 pm