Matthew and the Atlas Interview
It’s noon on a Friday, and Matthew Hegarty has taken time to do a phone interview with me while on the road to a semi-known music festival in Manchester, TN, at which his folk quintet will be playing a set the following night. Although the gargantuan combine of which has become Bonnaroo is not something new to Hegarty, who lives in the UK where 150,000+ music addicts frolic to Glastonbury each year, he is still excited to experience the event.
“I’m hoping to catch the Black Keys,” he says. “We go on an hour after them, though, so unfortunately we probably won’t make it.”
Hegarty and his band, Matthew and the Atlas, are spending the next 15 days on the road with Mumford and Sons, for whom they open on their US tour. Already six dates into a 14-date tour, as well as two stops at Bonnaroo and Telluride music fests, he says the shows have been going really well.
“About two songs into last night’s show (at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland), it started storming. It was beautiful. Just terrific.”
Though a storm would normally brood bad omens of things to come, it’s actually the perfect analogy for the way in which Hegarty and his band have taken the music scene. A former landscape gardener, Hegarty started writing music a few years ago as a solo act. Catching wind of the Londoner, Communion Records (who spawned Mumford and Sons) called Hegarty in late 2009 and asked him to record an EP, so he brought along some friends to sit in with him. To this day, they’ve never broken up that session.
In only a year and a half and without ever recording a full-length LP, Matthew and the Atlas have already managed to snag a spot as the opener for one of the biggest touring acts today. Though Communion Records had a tie to Mumford, Hegarty claims he did too. At a gig a few years back while he was still a solo artist, he saw the Irish folk act and loved the energy they exuded, so he met them and stayed in touch with Marcus, the frontman. When Hegarty’s new quintet caught wildfire within the English circuit during early 2010, it scored them the opening spot on M&S’s UK tour leg, and continued into the US.
I mentioned to Hegarty the phenomenon that Mumford and Sons has sparked by turning folk music into a Top 40 phenomenon and wanted to know his theory on why this generation seems to be taking to it so easily all of a sudden.
“I think over the past few years, the market has gotten oversaturated with manufactured pop music,” he stated, “and the charts took it over. So when Mumford came along, what they were saying and doing was very genuine, and I think people can adapt to that. I think people understand and can relate to the real emotions and feelings of their songs.”
Hopefully he’s right, because if “Little Lion Man” isn’t just a flash in the pan and folk music does have many more days in the sun, then Matthew and the Atlas are prime to continue pioneering this mass-consumerism of folk music. Hegarty has the meditative rasp of Ray Lamontagne with the lyrical style of Iron and Wine, by whom he is deeply inspired. He has the talent to paint a picture with words through the use of imagery, such as on “I Will Remain”:
“Further from my widowed home take the road that sets it to the sun/ Waiting for my skin and bone to return and see what I’ve become,” he soothingly states, almost as though it’s a prayer.
It indeed remains to be seen what they’ll become, but at the speed they’re moving now, Hegarty and his band don’t look to be slowing down. No storms are in the forecast for these guys; they’re destined for a bright future.
Matthew and the Atlas are Matthew Hegarty (Guitar, Vocal), Lindsay West (Piano, Vocal), Harrison Cargill (Banjo, Guitar), Dave Millar (Accordion) and Tommy Field (Drums). They have two EPs, To The North and Kingdom of Your Own, available in the US, and are currently on tour with Mumford and Sons. They are scheduled to put out their debut album this fall.