William Matheny

William Matheny

The best storytellers often aren’t the ones who have had the wildest experiences; they’re the ones who have experienced things we all have, and can articulate them in a way we haven’t yet figured out ourselves. They give us a new vocabulary for talking about ourselves and our world. That’s the gift William Matheny presents to us.

Matheny, a West Virginia native and longtime keys player for Athens, Ohio, indie heroes Southeast Engine, has broken out on his own with Strange Constellations, his debut 11-song solo collection out February 24, 2017, which might more than anything provoke the question: Why not sooner?

William Matheny would best be classed as a songwriter’s songwriter--the kind of composer who gets the melody just right every time, and the kind of lyricist whose turns of phrase bring an involuntary grin. Once you’ve heard his deft songcraft, you might feel cheated that he withheld it so long.

Strange Constellations came about while Matheny was still plying the trade of a touring musician, supplying piano and organ for someone else’s grand musical plan. “While I found the job creatively fulfilling and I wholeheartedly believed in the creative vision of the band, at some undefined point, I began to feel as if I had something else to say,” he explains.

So he began to sneak off when he had time, often while bandmates slept during the final year of Southeast Engine’s touring life. It was a challenging enterprise, moving back into writing after years in a primarily supporting role. But songs began to coalesce: songs about touring life, about family history, about coincidence and circumstance.

If you weren’t listening to the lyrics of Matheny’s songs, they’d be plenty appealing already: Jackson Browne pop hooks alternate with alt-country tunes that might call to mind Drive-By Truckers. At times, his delivery recalls a twangy Craig Finn. But then, if you weren’t listening to the lyrics, you’d be doing it wrong.

Take, for example, “God’s Left Hand,” the album’s second track. An upbeat country-rocker, it presents a series of vignettes that in a way illustrate the maxim about life happening while you’re busy making other plans. But instead of missing the minutiae while thinking ahead to the next big thing, Matheny’s character is taking in the little challenges of life while waiting on that lucky break--and thinking about what that lucky break may mean in the larger picture.

It’s in the details where Matheny will make true believers. His songs are full of moments that match smart observation with wordplay that’s impressive mostly in its effortlessness. “There’s some laughing Katherine / down at the end of the bar / with some funny Daniel / down at the end of her arm,” he sings in “Blood Moon Singer.” It’s a scene that could take place anywhere, and does, which is Matheny’s point, as he illustrates the blur of touring life. But no one put it quite that way until William Matheny came along.

Storyteller, songwriter--William Matheny is the kind of artist who garners instant respect from other artists, even as he makes songs so effortlessly catchy. We could resent that he didn’t arrive with this collection sooner, but let’s instead celebrate that he’s here with it now.

Razorhouse

Mark Panick isn’t a man of narrow vision. Witness Razorhouse’s single and accompanying video, “Neu Sensation,” a carnal, conceptual combo dropped at the end of 2014. The single will appear on the second Razorhouse EP, Codex Du, slated for release on April 7, 2015.

Panick has fronted the reformed outfit of veteran musicians since 2011. He writes with his industrial rock roots planted firmly, but don’t be fooled: he may be a composer entranced by the darkness of the human condition, but he isn’t one to be pigeonholed. He’s a lover of campy art flicks as much as he is the visceral source of your next trip. His recordings are rife with unabashed sexuality, gutter-punk abandon and tasty grooves. Every Panick song is a standalone odyssey—proof that he isn’t defined by structure but by the inner workings of his madcap mind. He marches to the beat of his own drum, wails on it with a sledgehammer and isn’t afraid to bring you along into the swirling chaos.

He takes inspiration from a diverse spectrum of musical forbearers--the Ink Spots, Tom Waits, Merle Haggard, the Kinks, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Alex Harvey to name just a few. He also taps other mediums in search of “tools for thinking,” including the works of filmmaker Alejandro Jordorowsky, painter Mark Ryden and philosopher Daniel C. Dennett.

Panick is best known for his work in the short-lived, seminal post-punk outfit Bonemen of Barumba, which released a handful of recordings in the early 1980s. His next project, Chac Mool, was spawned from a fruitful writing session with house music wunderkind Dean Anderson. It included members of other Chicago music mainstays such as Revolting Cocks, KMFDM and Sister Machine Gun, all of which would become fodder for the earliest incarnations of Razorhouse.

Codex Du follows 2013’s Codex Jun and marks the era of a musically mature Panick, who describes the current formula as “38% less chaos and 17% less drama.” The EP features contributions by musicians David Suycott (Robert Pollard, Stabbing Westward) Jim Demonte (Insiders),Danny Shaffer (Shiny,Michael Mc Dermott) Tommi Zender and many more, while the production team of Howie Beno (Ministry, Black Asteroid) and Danny McGuinness (Ex Senators, Coven of Thieves) ropes in the feral tendencies of Panick’s madcap mind and myriad influences.

The musical horizon is wide open for Panick after Codex Du, and he’s not one for routine. Everything else is equally wide open, as he promises: “new music, new film and video projects; a gallery show or two and lots of exploration. I’m just doing what I’ve always done, building forts and looking for others who wanna play.”

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