Smile Politely

Matthäus premieres new music, talks trip to Champaign

Plans Friday? Cancel ‘em, because you should be at The Accord.

Matthäus (Muh-tay-us) frontman Ben Montalbano was kind enough to send us a brand new track, “Lower Goshen Park,” which we are premiering here, right at this very moment. To me, I hear notes of Bon Iver, Sigur Ros, Tall Heights, and Patrick Watson. The sound is orchestrated and somber, accessible and captivating. The tonal pallette is unique. Montalbano indicates that any time you may hear guitar, keyboard, horns, drums, and vibes. 

I spoke with Montalbano about the nascent project, his motivations, and what C-U can expect from the Matthäus set on Friday.

SP: Where does the name Matthäus come from?

Ben Montalbano: When I first came up with the project, I wanted something ambiguous. That was, for the most part, kind of open to interpretation. Something that sounded… I don’t know. A little foreign.

SP: How did the band get started?

Montalbano: I was playing in a bluegrass band for a long time, and was definitely enjoying that, but my roots are in contemporary classical music. So I was playing all this bluegrass music, but I had all of these ideas for songs, so I left that group, called up a group of friends, and that was it. We officially started in January of 2016, so it’s still very fresh.

SP: How did you all meet?

Montalbano: We were all friends in different things in school [at U of I]. Kind of all different ages as well. Lars[-Erik Larson], who plays drums, is a few years older than me. We were all in different classes, all hanging out. They were all Jazz majors–myself and Joe [Meland, keyboards] were the weird music composition kids.

SP: For someone who hasn’t heard Matthäus, how would you describe the sound?

Montalbano: We have a really wide range of tastes — Bon Iver and The National, on the one hand, to some really heavy classical music on the other. It’s hard for me to say what it sounds like, because I perceive it different — I hear it differently. But I think that “Upper Midwestern Indie Folk” captures it pretty well. There is definitely some raw emotion in there. I try to employ some out of the box thinking – different sounds, different timbres, different instruments.

SP: I really enjoyed “Lower Goshen Park,” is a record in the works?

Montalbano: We are working on a four-track EP, and possibly a 10” vinyl release. All of the tracking was done at SHIRK Studios, in Chicago. It’s been pretty slow going. One of the advantages and disadvantages of this group is that everyone is super busy. We have different projects and careers.

SP: You play guitar and sing in the band. Do you do most of the writing as well?

Montalbano: I kind of do, but not necessarily by choice. More so by design of the project. So far it is typical that I will write the structure. I actually just came back from a writing session with Joe and our vibes player. That’s pretty unusual because we are all over. Lars, our drummer, lives in Minneapolis, for instance. But we are starting to ramp up. We had our first show in March at Schubas in Chicago. That was great – a lot of people came out. We’ve been doing some small shows in Chicago, and we did a small run up through Wisconsin and Minnesota.

SP: Do you draw your lyrical inspiration from fact or fiction?

Montalbano: I try to be abstract, mainly just because I find that everything that I write from experience, I just want to throw it all away because it sounds cliche. So what I try to do is come up with a draft, where I focus more on the sounds than the actual words. Not to say that there isn’t meaning. There is definitely some real heavy meaning there, but I have tried to blur the literal meaning. From a musical and physiological standpoint, certain vowel sounds sound different in each person’s timbre and range. So if I know that I want a long “E” or “O” vowel sound, that kind of limits down my lyrical choices.

SP: What can people expect from a Matthäus show?

Montalbano: We are still figuring it out! It’s heavily orchestrated, and that’s just because that’s what I really like. I’m definitely an orchestra nerd. I like to quote classical composers in some of the orchestration. We typically have three to four horns, vibes, drums, and guitar.

SP: Concluding thoughts?

Montalbano: We are really looking forward to being back in Champaign. I spent a lot of time in that town — a lot of really good time, and I have some really great, formative memories there.


Matthäus is playing at The Accord this Friday, September 2nd, with Marrow, The Phantom Broadcast, and Maddy Marsan. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $7 at the door. 

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