Mat D. hits us with a heavy-handed southern country rock album that's done with a warm acoustic setting and a personal, soulful style of storytelling with a series of intense and vividly painted with his words.
The Phantom Locomotive album is packed with layers of textures portrayed in guitar tones, swelling emotion and the ability to cause your own memories to pop into your hotel when you least expect it.
One of the most outstanding things about this record is its instrumentation with such a beautifully natural feel. Violins, and acoustic guitars just have this wonderful sound and along with the passionate vocal performances, it all has the ability to take you to other places all together.
Now, having said that, it's important that you know, there's a ton more to this record.
You get rolling southern rockers, electric guitar riddled with attitude and twanging hard, and a ton of attitude.
Some of these songs are a damn good time and others are like digging into the parts of your past you wanted to forget about.
It's all gracefully done and with touches of just the right charm and swagger.
Slide guitars played with heart and vocals that belt out loud and make you want to belt right alongside them.
Yes, there are layers to this album and it's really something to be heard all in one shot straight through.
With the release of such a massive album we had to have a chat with Mat D. to find out how the hell this all came to fruition.
Here's what happened.
Okay so let's start with the Phantom Locomotive album. This record has a great southern rock & Americana feel to it! Where did this album come from?
Thank You! Phantom Locomotive came out of the combination of the end of a band I'd been a part of for thirteen years and a collection of live acoustic demos I'd compiled and released since 2012. After the breakup of the group I took a year to figure out what I wanted to do and went to work on refining the lyrics and final versions of the songs that ended up on the album. I booked some studio time with the idea of making an acoustic album only to find out during my first recording session that the recording studio was closing it's doors for good. The owner was kind enough to send me to producer Mark Dahm. After an email or two and a brief meeting and decided that it would be cool to work together and make some music. Mark really opened the doors to what it became. His ear and connections laid the foundation for the entire album. He asked me "what kind of album do you want?" It quickly transitioned into a full blown, full band album overnight. Strange as it sounds it was supposed to be a very stripped down mostly acoustic collection of songs with a more rockabilly sort of approach. Mark recruited a bunch of players he was familiar with and I reunited with percussionist Jeff Deignan from our previous band. I just sort of happened and became a thing. Before I knew it we had a 14 song album that had taken on a life of it's own. 14 tracks in a little over a year of recording and production. Hot damn.
I'm hearing some great styles on this release. Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
My influences are diverse and range anywhere from classic country, early rock n' roll, gospel, classic punk and old blues. Artists like Hank Williams Sr, Howlin' Wolf, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe mixed up with some Bowie, Tom Petty and ZZ Top. I dig the harder edged roots rock from Texas, Garage Rock and old timey country ballads from the 1940s and 50s. It's a lot of cut and paste. We sort of threw that all together and tried to have it sound as natural as it could. It's a wild mixture of styles but pretty fluid. Crazy fact- I never met guitarist Jason Haven in person until the album was done and we threw a listening party. All that work over the course of a year and the first time we shook hands was when it was all said and done. Crazy.
So how did this all begin for you really? When did you fall in love with making music?
I had played and sang in few garage bands in high school and college but nothing worth getting excited over. I had a little TASCAM cassette four track that I'd write lo-fi songs on for years but nothing ever came of it. Punk, Metal, Alternative. You name it. My big idea moment came in 2001 when I saw Bob Dylan on the Love and Theft tour. I got box seats on a whim and that what the hell- It's Bob Dylan. Why not?
I was blown away. His band featured Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell on guitar. Powerhouse show. The rhythm section was killer. I had never heard anything like this. One moment it was twang, the next minute it was full on rock n roll. That band had me out of my seat the whole night. I'd never heard something so powerful and diverse. So I dug into Dylan and tried to find everything I could about who influenced him from his folk roots up to his transition to rock n roll. I became familiar with his influences- Little Richard and Woody Guthrie. I dug deep into heart and soul of the blues. Artists like Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton and Son House only to find my way back to modern Americana and Folk rock. Those were exciting days. Bluesmen selling their souls to the devil, Reckoning days at the crossroads. So many themes and inspirational moments of song. Lots of reading, lots of laying down on the wood floors and listening to albums over and over all night long. I think Bob Dylan and his band are solely to thank for kicking things off for me and getting me to where I am now.
I started getting serious about acoustic guitar, writing and singing. Taught myself to play and I joined a local group that eventually split up and formed into Mat D and the Profane Saints. We were a DIY rockabilly and roots rock band that self produced released several independent albums over the course of thirteen years together. By 2019 I was solo and wondering if it was time to hang it up. Instead I dug my heels in and started writing new material- Here we are. Phantom Locomotive is the culmination of all that.
What's next for you as a band?
We're working with producer Mark Dahm on a follow up album up to Phantom Locomotive. We've got about ten new songs in the can and we're busy wrapping up the final bass and electric guitar tracks before I tackle the final vocal takes. We're also rehearsing and planning live gigs. Definitely an extension of what you hear on Phantom with more of a rock n' roll edge. The group consists of myelf on Vocals and acoustic guitar, electric guitarist Jason Haven, Mark Dahm on rhythm guitar, drummer Jeff Deignan and bass guitarist Scott Walters. It's essentially the core group that's featured on all over Phantom Locomotive. The new material sounds gritty, stripped down, inspired and rootsy. I'm digging it so far. Hoping to have a single and a new album out by Fall 2022.
What inspires you guys to write a song?
Speaking only for myself I approach each song as a story. I like to pull in religion and myth an mix it up with a healthy dose noir drenched fiction. The poor lost souls down a dark highway make up most of the characters and themes of my songs. The whistle of an old ghost train and the fantasy of forbidden love in an old motel. I've been told my lyrics play out like mini motion pictures or black and white short films from the dark side of the tracks. I call it Hard Luck Americana and Bad Man Ballads. My stuff probably falls into more of B Movie soundtrack or a dark, dusty western. Had a fan tell me I was the "Hemingway of the Highway" I dug that and sort of ran with it.
What are you all doing when you're NOT working on music?
I design custom illuminated and neon signs for a family owned and operated custom sign company. I draw a lot of inspiration from my work life that you can hear in the songs. It's a cool job. I'm a husband and father of four. We live a semi-quiet life in a busy house with a an old dog, a healthy balance of coffee, sarcasm and an occasional whiskey.
Who are you all listening to right now?
Mike Campbell and the Dirty Knobs has my full attention right now. Killer stuff. I don't think guy has ever played a bad note. Been digging into some Iris Dement, John Prine, Joe Ely, Alejandro Escovedo, Old ZZ Top and Jimbo Mathus most days. Some old punk stuff too. Picked up an Iggy and the Stooges reissue on LP and a cool compilation called Gritty 60's Garage and Punk that features 17 songs of unknow lo-fi punk Think heavy B-3 and fuzz guitars galore. Cool shit! I dug out Bowie's Ziggy Stardust the other day. Can you believe that album just turned 50??? Not a bad song on the whole thing! That may be one of the best LPs ever made. Doesn't get any more real than that.
I don't really listen to much modern Americana. Lots of crazy talented folks out there but my heart and ears are a little more rooted in the past. I'll take an old Howlin' Wolf or Replacements album over anything the Alt Country hip set is touting these days.
Are you doing live performances?
I am. I do a bunch of acoustic one night stands solo throughout the Midwest. Mostly Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska. I haven't traveled a bunch in the past few years. I stay pretty close to home. I probably do about a dozen solo performances a year within a few hundred miles of home base. Excited to get the band out there. Solo gigs are cool but it gets old real fast. I much prefer performing with a group- more dynamics. Excited to see what the band can do with more shows in the future.
This album seems like a big undertaking. What kind of advice might you have for other up and coming bands out there?
Take your time. Be patient. Slow down. Everyone is in a hurry to get their stuff out there. Don't be. I've been the guy that had to put out an album or two every year and try to write 20 songs a week. If that's you and it works that's cool- but don't rush it. Work on one. Learn it inside and out and move onto another. Cherish every session and work on every note. Make music for you and do it to the best of your ability. Don't try to write a hit. Write something real. Write and work from your heart. The industry is always changing. Don't afraid to be yourself. Don't be afraid to sound like you. Lyrically? Nothing to writing. Cry it out. Type it, scribble it down. Be aware of the inspiration around you and take notes. Tell the story. Can't find the words? Make some up. You're writing it- make it an extension of your heart and soul. If it rings true to one person you've done your job. That's worth more than any royalty or accolade.
Before we go, what would you like to say to fans of the music?
Man- the fans are the best. I am so grateful for your kind words, support and enthusiasm surrounding Phantom Locomotive and our music. So grateful to know so many of you through the songs and your dedication to what we do. Love seeing you at gigs. Love knowing you're out their spinning our songs. Your support continues to inspire me to move forward and press on. On behalf of myself, Mark, Jeff, Jason and Scott - THANK YOU for listening, for showing up and sticking around. You help this old troubadour's heart and soul more than you will ever know. THANK YOU.