Matt Latterell releases Life on Land at the Cedar tomorrow
To ask Matt Latterell himself, you wouldn't expect there to be anything too remarkable about his new album, Life on Land. But then it isn't exactly in Latterell's character to go around singing his own praises.
"I didn't plan to do this," he says of the record, giving a shrug. He leans his arms on the table of a booth at the 331 Club, a green Twins cap on his head and a red hoodie zipped most of the way up. As he wryly explains it, these songs started off as a series of singles before eventually morphing into a full-fledged LP. "It was just whatever felt like the lowest hanging fruit I could write and release each month, I would put it out."
In truth, Latterell is a rare kind of storyteller. He has an acerbic and even caustic wit, and he's not afraid to turn it on social problems or divisive political issues. At a time where any obvious emotions or opinions seem to be carefully hidden away by most musicians, it's refreshing to hear someone willing to speak his mind and express his disappointment so openly.
"It felt really un-cool for me to do that for a long time," Latterell admits. Yet taking on a topical approach seems almost inescapable for him. "It's a natural impulse for me; I get frustrated and upset about things and it comes through in the songs. It seems like life is really political, especially since the last election. Like every moment of the day is very political and everyone you talk to is very politicized about every issue."
While Latterell hasn't gotten a lot of attention around town, that could change with Life on Land. He's spent the past few years playing regularly at this very bar, where he befriended Zoo Animal leader Holly Newsom. She was the impetus for Latterell's decision to start playing with a band last fall, thanks to her offer to play drums for him. Newsom's also releasing the album through her new record label, Suntanman, a connection that should no doubt help get his name out there.
The inspiration for the initial singles project came from the singer's disappointment that his previous record, Charades, took him about two-and-a-half years to finish. The goal this time around was to release a new single every month, which Latterell did for a few months until he lost his job last March. "You would think you had all this time and the output would increase, but it didn't. Having all that time became a total show stopper for me." Those singles now form the first half of Life on Land, and they show some of the focus which helped bear them, for the newer songs, while more personal, have a tendency to meander. But the highlights are certainly promising, such as with the elegiac venting of "The Kids Are All Adults" or the casual paranoid-schizophrenia-meets-information-overload of the title track (which was actually the last song recorded).
The convergence of Latterell's more critical eye and his sensitivity for his subjects is most apparent on "Wash Your Hands," the best song on the album. Inspired by the lurid scandal that outed Ted Haggard, "Hands" is told from the former evangelist's perspective, deftly capturing a man admitting his own hypocrisy while attempting to reconcile it with his carefully built--and now shattere--image. "I built myself a home and now it's gone," the narrator says remorsefully. "I built these creaking gallows I'm standing on / And I have deceived you all."
Of course, songs like "Hostage" will likely be the most attention-grabbing, filled as they are with sensationalistic images of "fetuses and blood" and references to grandmothers watching Fox News. "There's a different kind of fear that effect each generation. I think Fox News embodies that for a [particular] generation," he suggests. Having people latch onto such references is a predictable pitfall of Latterell's writing style, but he's comfortable with that, too. "I guess my sense of humor and personality, generally, is to present something humorously that I find ludicrous." He smiles and gives another shrug. "And bad."
MATT LATTERELL plays a CD-release show with Zoo Animal and Villa on THURSDAY, OCTOBER 13, at the CEDAR CULTURAL CENTER; 612.338.2674
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