We’re in the midst of a resurgence of what some call “authentic” country music. Honest, introspective artists like Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, and local boy Cody Jinks are beginning to wedge their way into mainstream C&W’s glut of bro-hicks in jewel-studded jeans who now just basically rap about trucks over hyper-produced backing tracks. While this renaissance is a good thing, it’s one that Fort Worth singer-songwriter Matthew McNeal isn’t interested in aligning himself with.
“I really do like country and Southern rock,” McNeal said over the phone from tour in Philadelphia. “I mean, I’m a Texas guy. But my heart has really always been in other genres.”
With long shaggy hair beneath the brim of a well-worn cowboy hat, McNeal looks every bit the part of an outlaw revivalist. But with Good Luck, the 25-year-old’s forthcoming second album, his boots are carrying him along a musical path different from those trying to resurrect Waylon Jennings. Though pedal steel melodies still bend their way around his songs, to call his music “country” isn’t telling the whole of it.
“We try to bring this youthful indie rock ethos to our music, while still having kind of earthy, ethereal, and almost rootsy psychedelic moments,” he said. “We love all these different things, so we want to incorporate them all.”
From opening track “Rumarosa,” the album blends Americana, indie rock, soul, gospel, and even a tinge of funk. Shirking the brooding cowboy persona, Good Luck is a light and sanguine record, produced by Grammy-winner Ted Young (The Rolling Stones, Kurt Vile) and recorded at Plum Creek Sound in Austin, that reflects McNeal’s infectious enthusiasm and cheerful demeanor.
“We made that record with people we love,” he said. “You can feel that love on it. It’s a family record.”
McNeal grew up in Terrell, a 30-minute shot down I-20 East from Dallas. Though culturally isolated in the rural suburb, he discovered a love for music and began playing guitar at age 12, starting his first bands at 14.
“I didn’t really come from a musical family,” McNeal said. “But I just really took to music. It was just something that resonated with me. I would wear out my mom’s old funk cassettes and my dad’s rock ’n’ roll stuff. I knew pretty early on that was what I wanted to do.”
As a young teen, he was central in putting together a DIY venue called the Adelaide in his hometown, despite being a good five or six years younger than most of the musicians who played there. This same drive pushed him to graduate at the top of his high school class, earning him a full ride to the University of Texas at Arlington, where he finished with a degree in business marketing in 2014. Since then, he’s spent eight months of the year or more on the road. This steady touring experience helped inspire him and give him the confidence to expand beyond the sound that appeared on his more solidly country debut album, 2015’s Compadre.
“Being on the road so much, meeting so many people, seeing all these different independent scenes really encouraged me to try to make the music I felt was inside me that was different,” he said.
Utilizing his degree, he’s developed some shrewd music business acumen while on the road. He recently started his own label, Matte Black Sound Company, to release Good Luck. He purchases all of his merch upfront to be able to hang on to all the profits, and he keeps his touring overhead low by traveling with just his lifelong friend Andre Black, who he described as “the best drummer in the world.” McNeal manages the self-described “power duo” by splitting his guitar signal into three separate amp rigs, each handling different effects and frequency ranges, which makes the two-piece sound like a much fuller band. For bigger shows, such as his upcoming album release at MASS, he’s often joined by brothers Aaron (bass) and Joey McClellan (guitar).
Recently, touring has become a much needed curative experience for McNeal, whose father suddenly and unexpectedly died on the same day McNeal turned 25, just weeks ago.
“The music and art that we make was my father’s pride and joy,” McNeal said. “And a week after he passed, we were supposed to head out on tour for this record. It’s been a bit chaotic, but instead of just canceling and sitting around and just being bummed, we decided to do what we know he would want us to do.
“It’s been a really positive healing process,” he said.
Matthew McNeal’s Album Release Show
7:30pm on Fri, Feb 16, w/Garrett Owen, Abraham Alexander, and Jake Paleschic at Main at South Side, 1002 S Main St, FW. $8. 682-707-7774.