Life is weird. On a Thursday afternoon, bored at work, I decided to look through the local paper and happened upon an article announcing an upcoming show in town from artist William Matheny and band Strange Constellations. Intrigued, I decided to check out the band’s debut album Strange Constellations released last year and discovered to my surprise it was, well, awesome.
48 hours later, I was meeting with William Matheny at a local brewery and burger joint in Huntington, WV for an interview.
Strange Constellations is a country rock record with a styling reminiscent of Steve Earle flavored with the brightness of an earlier Wilco album.
William Matheny shines on this debut through his highly relatable songwriting and his authentic Appalachian-twanged vocals. A West Virginia native like myself, the man can deliver a true country vocal, folks.
Highlights on Misra Records’ Strange Constellations include: “God’s Left Hand,” “My Grandfather Knew Stoney Cooper,” “Funny Papers” and my personal favorite “Living Half to Death.”
Upon agreeing to meet at The Peddler for the interview and afternoon drinks, the interview quickly melded into solid conversation hitting a myriad of topics. We chatted about paranormal experiences (after I mentioned my tape recorder was really an EVP recorder), how there were once luxury vehicles in the 70’s with turntables inside and how stellar that must have been, Bob Pollard’s annual Christmas party shenanigans, why all prog rockers went pop in the 80’s, and ended with the negative effects of social media. Aside from those topics, the main interview is below.
After William ordered a Moscow Mule and I a Hopslam Double IPA, the interview progressed as follows:
H.L: Tell me a little about your music history previous to the release of Strange Constellations…
W.M: I released a solo EP about a decade ago. Southeast Engine from Athens, OH was the first band I began to tour pretty heavily in and got on a label, but I was not a songwriter. I really got the itch to begin to write my own stuff within the last year or so which are in the Strange Constellations record.
H.L: Any plans on releasing a new record?
W.M: Well we are actually releasing an EP this April called Moon Over Kenova. We are also releasing a second pressing of Strange Constellations in February that includes an advanced digital download. We will also be doing another full length LP probably releasing later this year.
H.L: What do you do outside of making music?
W.M: I have a day job as a shipping clerk. But we have been on tour all this past year, played about 150 shows, so most of the time I’m either out on the road or writing.
H.L: What is your favorite venue you have played live?
W.M: Being on Mountain Stage was a lot of fun especially if you’re from West Virginia, that is a special thing to get to do. But I really like Schubas in Chicago.
H.L: What musician, dead or alive, would you most want to collaborate with?
W.M: Alive – Alice Gerrard. Dead – Richard Manuel.
H.L: Music genre most in need of a revival?
W.M: I would have to go with 80’s paisley underground, late 70’s yacht rock – specifically Al Stewart, or the band Goose Creek Symphony.
H.L: Outside of music, name another favorite art form of yours?
W.M: Pretty big fan of literature. In some ways I think it is the closest art form to music and songwriting. The title of the record actually comes from Melville’s Moby Dick. The character Ishmael says he has been sleeping under strange constellations. What he means there is he is in the Southern hemisphere, which I take to be a metaphor for not really knowing what is guiding you.
H.L: If you could only have 5 albums in your possession for the rest of your life, which 5 would you choose?
W.M: 1. Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard – Hazel and Alice. 2. Beatles – Revolver. 3. Bruce Springsteen’s The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle. 4. Big Star- Radio City. 5. Television – Marquee Moon.
H.L: Favorite decade of music releases?
H.L: What are your favorite songs you have written?
W.M: Stuff I’ve written for the new record actually. I wrote material for previous bands in the styles fit for them but really had no emotional attachment to. “Grand Old Feeling” is probably my favorite and is going to be on our new record.
H.L: Who would you say is the greatest singer songwriter of all time?
W.M: Bob Dylan. However my favorite is probably Lou Reed. I think he understood the human condition more than anyone. Lou Reed and John Prine in particular capture the full range of joy and sorrow along with being alive that is not always apparent to listeners. Lou Reed got real with people, basically.
Funny tale about Dylan though, at a second hand store my friend owned years ago that sold vintage clothing and things… Bob Dylan walks in, noticed the chattering teeth on the counter, maybe 10-12 of them, got them all started at once, stood there, chuckled and walked out. What is great about this is if anyone else did that, who would care? Because it was Bob Dylan though I am telling someone about it 15 years later while drinking a Moscow Mule.
Few bands going right now have a sound quite like William Matheny and Strange Constellations. Listen to their stuff and go see them live if you have the opportunity, you won’t be disappointed.
Feature Image Photo Cred: Josh Saul