Matt Northrup: Truly Post-Rock
By Bryan C. Reed
Matt Northrup does not rock. Sure, he played guitar with indie rockers Mutant League, and he still plays bass in the art-pop outfit Casual Curious, and as a solo performer, he’s toured mostly in bars and rock clubs, and with rock bands.
But the 21-year-old Greensboro guitarist kicked off his sound-sculpting solo setup to escape the rock & roll grind.
“I’d been in a rock band for a while and I was just getting really tired of getting up on stage and rocking out really hard and jumping around for people,” Northrup says. “I wanted to just do something that I was a little more passionate about; it was almost just for myself.”
Inspired by like-minded loopers Daniel Francis Doyle, Dustin Wong and Mark McGuire, Northrup began experimenting with his guitar rig, collecting pedals to expand the sonic capabilities of his instrument. The first year, he says, was spent just gathering tools. “I had a big setup in mind that I really wanted to get, so I probably spent a year just saving up the money to get pedals.”
In December of 2010, Northrup assembled his debut, Word Is Bond, a five-song EP that established Northrup as a player given to playful bursts of rhythm, bright tones and fluid shifts between glassy drone and kinetic melodic runs. His then-roommate, the minimalist composer Andrew Weathers, released Word Is Bond on his Full Spectrum Records label the following March.
The project wasn’t intended for a stage, but it was bound for it. “[Weathers] opened up my mind a little bit about what a performance is,” Northrup says. “I didn’t think I could make a really exciting solo performance, but he really pushed me to focus on the solo project.”
And focus he did. “It’s amazing when you’re fully in control of all the creativity and the production, you are however ambitious you want to be,” he says.
In 2011, Northrup embarked on five tours (by his recollection), and still found time to write his next two records. He self-released Soft Touch, another five-song EP, Jan. 2, 2012. The second record offers a more moody, drone-driven feel. It was less rigidly composed than Northrup’s other work, and he says it shows. “I don’t really jam, you know.”
Lucky Stumbles, Northrup’s first full-length, written immediately after his May 2011 tour, is more deliberate, showing more restraint and confidence. Fittingly, its writing process was more intense, too.
“You just come up against so many walls,” Northrup says. “It’s sort of shitty to be in the practice space by yourself listening to the same loop for three hours. It’s kind of like a puzzle.”
But the attention to detail paid off. Lucky Stumbles, released by Full Spectrum, maintains the playfulness of Word Is Bond, but its playing is more assured. Rhythmic jaunts drift easily into warm beds of sustained chords. At moments, it even rocks.
For a solo experimentalist playing mostly rock clubs, this is an advantage. “No one ever expects me to come out and do this solo guitar thing, especially performing just under my name, they think some singer-songwriter’s going to come out,” he says. The “crushingly loud” performance complements a rock-band bill and offers the audience the same non-rock escape Northrup sought for himself.