Press

Best Bar Band: Matt Arthur & The Bratlanders

By Rich Larson, Southern Minnesota SCENE
October 18, 2013

bestMatt Arthur & the Bratlanders are a powerful group. Like, Bob Gibson vs. Babe Ruth power. Like a 1971 Chevelle vs. a 1969 Charger. Like Superman vs. the Incredible Hulk. Matt Arthur has a voice and presence onstage that completely belies his physical appearance. His encyclopedic knowledge of American folk music and his unique strumming technique fuel a voice that can hit you with g-force affect. His ability to captivate an audience is as complete as it is effortless. Anyone who has attended one of their shows and has witnessed the power and glory of Arthur singing the old time gospel stomp Woke Up This Morning knows how strong this man is.

While Arthur would be worth the price of admission alone, the guys standing behind him are a force in their own right. The great bearded Bratland brothers, Don on guitar, his brother Doug on bass, along with Pete Christianson on keyboards and Joel Beithon on drums combine to create an earthquake equal to Arthur’s thunder. This is indeed the best bar band in Southern Minnesota. You can tell from the way the floor shakes.


Matt Arthur & The Bratlanders + Rice County Records = Heavy On My Mind

By Amy Smith, Northfield ArtsTown
September 6, 2013

I had a chance to hook up for a cool beverage at The Tavern to chat Doug Bratland, the bass player with Matt Arthur & The Bratlanders, about the band’s collaborative experience with Rice County Records in the making of their recent album, “Heavy On My Mind”.

AMY SMITH: So I was checking out your Facebook page during your recent tour, and I was thinking “How awesome is that?!” When you released “Heavy On My Mind” did you know that doing a tour was in the works?

BratlandersDOUG BRATLAND: Ahh…that’s a good question. Yes and no. I kinda feel like I need to back up to the whole recording project, which means I should tell the story leading up to it….

It’s a long story, but I’ll try to cut to the chase a bit. We sort of started playing as a band about ten years ago. We got together in the Fall of 2003 to do a Johnny Cash tribute show at the Contented Cow, just a couple months after Johnny died. That first show was Matt Arthur on vocals and acoustic guitar, me on the bass, my brother Don on electric guitar, and our sister Bev on drums. And it was pretty awesome. It was so much fun we decided to keep playing together to see what might come of it.

So…fast-forward about 8 or 9 years later: we’re still at it. We’ve just finished a year-long standing gig, playing every other week at the Cow. We’d done a few Twin Cities shows, and we were starting to sound pretty darn good. We’d done a couple recording projects over the years, but they were all kinda half-assed. We succeeded in documenting some of our songs, but the recordings were nothing that we were really proud of.

But we’d got ourselves to the point where recording an album was really the next step for us. Bev had moved to England, so we’d talked our friend Joel Beithon into being our drummer. And we lucked into finding Pete Christensen to play keyboards—something we’d been looking for for years! So we’d settled on a great lineup, we were writing new songs, we were getting great responses when we played out, and we were ready to put a little more effort into the band.

Heavy On My MindAMY: When it comes to putting together an album and recording, how important is the place you record it? Is having the right producer as important as having the right songs and musicians?

DOUG: In the past we’d always done things cheap and fast. We’ve come out of every recording process with a sound that’s basically exactly what we put into it, and nothing more. So what we decided this time around was, “Well, we’ve been playing together for years. We don’t really know if our songs are any good, or if our friends are just being nice to us when they say we don’t suck. We need someone with a different perspective than us.” We wanted to make a REAL album…something that we would actually want to listen to. We wanted to do this like if this were 1979 and you were going into a recording studio, how would you do it? Well…you’d need a producer.

AMY: Off of that, finding that right person in your musical genre, in this community…is it hard to find somebody who has that domain knowledge? I know you worked with Michael Morris….

DOUG: We absolutely lucked out on working with Michael Morris. I was at the Tavern Lounge one night, and I ran into Michael and struck up a conversation. He’d been to some of our shows at the Cow, and he seemed to like what we did, so he was somebody I would just chat with. So that night at the Tavern I said, “We really want to record an album. We’re thinking about going over to Cannon Falls and working with somebody over there. Don’t really know much about this guy, do you?”  And he said, flat-out: “I can record you.”

That wasn’t really the response I was expecting, but I was intrigued. So I said, “Well, here’s what we’re looking for…someone to come in and say ‘have you ever thought about doing this, or rearranging this?’” We basically wanted someone to tell us what to do. And Michael was all over that. I didn’t know much about him when we had that conversation, and I didn’t quite know if he was going to be the right fit, but I got a really good vibe from him.

AMY: So how did you vet him? Does it become a leap of faith, or are there ways you test one another out?

Michael MorrisDOUG: We just had some conversations, the whole band and Michael. We aired our thoughts on what we wanted to do and listened to what he wanted to do. From the initial conversation he had a real vision for what we were doing. The way he talked about our music was the way we felt about our music…but didn’t really know how to put into words. He had a bigger context in which to place our songs. And it made us really excited to work with him.

We knew he was also running an indie record label (Plastic Horse Records). He said: “Well… your music isn’t really the type of music I’m putting on my label, but I’ve been thinking of starting another label that’s more rootsy Americana music. I would release this record if you guys wanted to do that.” So then it became a really different thing. Instead of going into some studio with a producer you’ve got to pay a bunch of money to, and then he says, “OK, here’s your recording…good luck with that.” The fact that Michael knew about releasing things, distribution, and more pieces of the puzzle…that was something we just jumped at.

AMY: I remember the first time I sat down and listened to the whole album in one sitting, and it had this really warm, mature, full sound. But what was the sound like during recording? Did you take a listen to it right away? When did you do a gut check saying, “This is awesome!”?

studioDOUG: The room that we were in really had a lot to do with the sound. It’s this old space with wooden floors, brick walls, high wooden ceilings…kind of like an attic of a space. Michael calls it The Barn. And it’s all analog. There is no equipment that is newer than, I think, 1977.  He uses real Hammond organs, old pump organs, vintage amps, tape machines. Our band has sort of an old pre-digital sound, so having that kind of gear really helped capture the way we hear our music in our hearts.

Michael also brought in some amazing extra musicians—pedal steel, pump organ, piano, cello, violin, harmony vocals—to fill out the sound. That was another whole new concept for us,  and it added all this incredible depth to the recording.

And finally  there was the mixing process. Michael, and Tyler Cook, the recording engineer on the album, spent a marathon weekend working on mixing the album. Now we weren’t there to witness it, but Michael described the process as basically another performance, where they are controlling all the faders and saying, “OK…NOW, here’s the point where we want everything to drop out.” Hearing the first mixes, with the string arrangements and all the dynamics, is when we realized that we were involved in something really amazing. There’s just this huge emotional jolt when you hear some of these things. I just gotta say I’m still kind of blown away by the album. I listen to it a lot, and I get goose bumps every time.

RCR showcaseAMY: So bringing things up to date…you’re playing a “Rice County Records Showcase” during the Defeat of Jesse James Days. Tell me about that.

DOUG: We’ve played every DJJD weekend since 2005, so I guess this is our 9th annual appearance during the festival! We’re super excited to be playing with our label mates this time around. Rice County Records is all about great regional Americana music, so the show opens with Little Omar, a great local banjo player who joined us on our tour. Then there’s Wesley Church & The Fabulous Vanguards, playing original country rock. We’re third on the bill, and the night closes out with the Rice County Roosters, which is a flat-out-fabulous country cover band. It’s going to be the best night of music Northfield has seen in a long time. Or at least OUR idea of the best night of music, anyway!

AMY: So what’s next after this…?

DOUG: We’ve got a really busy fall lined up with a bunch of shows in Northfield and Minneapolis, and we’re hoping to get going on our next recording soon. The tour has got us really energized and thinking differently about what we’re doing, and we’re looking forward to playing more out-of-town shows. We’re really excited about where we’re at and where we’re heading!


Clips from the Road

Minor mentions in the Montana press, August 2013

livingston

Livingston, Montana

missoula

Missoula, Montana


Hoping to make the big time with ‘Heavy on My Mind’

By Alan Van Ormer, Blooming Prairie Times
April 21, 2013

A local band is hoping to make it to the big times with the release of a new album, “Heavy on My Mind.”

bptimesThe 10 songs by Matt Arthur and the Bratlanders are a bit of rootsy, down-to-earth music.

“The album talks about everyday life in various ways,” says the band’s lead singer, Matt Arthur, who also plays guitar. He has also been blind from birth, but that has not stopped him from doing what he loves—writing music.

Arthur calls himself a very independent, stubborn blind man.

“I have no idea (if I do some things different),” he explains. “I have never had it any other way.”

Arthur explains music is what keeps him going. “I don’t know what else I would do. That is sort of what keeps me living – playing music,” he states. “There is nothing like playing music. It gets in your blood. I’m going to do it regardless of if you want me to or not.”

Doug Bratland, the bass guitarist, has known Arthur for more than 20 years. “It was really interesting getting to know him back then,” he explains. “I am so used to him now. It is an interesting experience to have a blind band leader. You look to the singer to give the cues. We don’t really get that with Matt. We have to do a little more of that work ourselves.”

Arthur doesn’t have a paper trail when he writes lyrics. It’s all done in his head, with a tape recorder or on a computer. “You might be walking down the road and something comes to you. You had better do something with it or it will be gone.”

Arthur, 48, graduated from Owatonna High School, in 1983. He took some courses in college, but it didn’t pan out. He moved to Minneapolis and started playing in a rock and roll band in 1987 until 1995. The band put out a 7-inch record. He moved to Ellendale in 1996. Sometime after that he started writing gospel songs. Then in 2003, he, Doug and Don Bratland started Matt Arthur and the Bratlanders. The band played at some shows, but never really took their music seriously.

That was until drummer Joel Beithon came on board. “We thought maybe it was time to take this band more serious,” Arthur says.

The band currently consists of Arthur on vocals and guitar, Don Bratland, electric guitar, harmonica and backing vocals, Doug Bratland, bass guitar and backing vocals, Beithon on drums and Pete Christensen on keyboards.

The band turned to Rice County Records in Northfield and finished “Heavy on My Mind.” The album was released on March 23. Copies can be ordered at ricecountyrecords.bandcamp.com.

Bratland says the band has done some low budget recordings in the past. “This time we really wanted to take it seriously and really treat it as a big deal,” he explains. “We felt we were making some really good music. We just wanted to do it right.”

Working with a producer was quite a process, he adds. “We wanted somebody outside of us to listen with a critical ear and do what is best for the music.”

The producer brought in extra people to record the album, including a pedal steel player, string players, back-up singers, piano players and others to achieve a vision for the music.

“It was something that was surprising to us,” Bratland explains. “It was interesting to have somebody else involved in the creation of it in addition to the band.”

Eight of the 10 songs are original pieces by the band. One cover song, entitled, “I See a Darkness,” has been played by Will Oldham and Johnny Cash. The other cover song was a spiritual, stomp and holler piece.

The other eight songs were written by Arthur.

Bratland says that most of the songs come from the heart and come from a very heartfelt and passionate man. “He likes to speak his mind,” Bratland explains. “He spends a lot of time thinking about things. It helps him process things to put them into songs.”

For example, “A Little Ray of Hope,” was a song that he started writing in the Black Hills. He was in a conversation with a girl named Hope, talking about some problems he was having. “She said people are so busy, they can’t think beyond themselves,” Arthur remembers. “In this crazy world, it is so easy to think only of ourselves. Hope is one of those girls you can (talk to) on your worst day of your life and the whole thing comes crumbling down, and everything is fine again.”

The major challenge for the band is getting off the ground and selling the album the best they can.   “It is sort of a new chapter in the band,” Arthur says.

The band hopes to do more than just around the area. Arthur, himself, says he is ready to hit the road. “Our goal is to see how far we can make it go,” Arthur explains. “Hopefully, we can do another record. I have a lot of ideas. Wherever they go, I don’t know.”

Arthur admits he never has thought about what the music would say to people or if it would even help people. “I’m not sure how to feel about that because in some ways maybe some of our songs have a message, and in some ways a lot of the songs is good entertainment. We just want to bring pleasure to people’s lives.”


Listen to This New Record!

George Zuccolotto, Broke Folk Records
March 26, 2013

Broke Folk recordsHey, ya’ll should put down your Justin Timberlake album for a bit and listen to this new Matt Arthur & the Bratlanders record. For those of you who care and are still reading, this album was recorded here in Northfield on tape in an all analog recording studio by artists who actually care about their work and how it should sound.

I was fortunate enough to be there for some of the mixing and have heard it in its entirety several times. This is one of the best sounding albums I’ve heard in a while. I’m usually not into the whole Americana kind of music, but wow this record is really something. Any music fan will find something to love. And if you can, you should try to get yourself a physical copy (which are available at The Chapel, and at any upcoming Bratlanders concert) because music just isn’t the same coming from a laptop/iPod.

My personal favorite tracks are “I See a Darkness” and “Put Down Your Rifles” but in actuality all the tracks are fantastic. This is definitely a record you shouldn’t overlook.


Positively Division Street

Rich Larson, The Entertainment Guide
February, 2013

For a while now, I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that 2013 is Going to be a big year for music in Northfield. In the next few months, we’re going to have new releases by Alison Rae, the Counterfactuals, Furia, and Wesley Church and the Fabulous Vanguards. You can debate all you want whether or not Northfield is nurturing a music “scene,” but there is no doubt that this town is producing some outstanding music.

The first of these new releases  is Heavy 0n My Mind, from Matt Arthur & The Bratlanders, and it’s a remarkable, yet surprising, document. Anyone who has seen their live  show knows that the best single word to describe them is “mighty.” Matt Arthur, though blind and diminutive, is a giant on stage. His earnest passion for music comes at you like a tsunami. It picks you up, knocks you back, and puts you wherever it sees fit. The only way to accompany that is with still more power, which comes from drummer Joel Beithon, bassist Doug Bratland and guitarist Don Bratland. This is a roots-based rock band built on Midwestern sensibilities that have been filtered through Johnny Cash’s guitar and Neil Young’s amplifier turned all the way up.

At least that’s what they used to be.

Heavy On My Mind opens with Old Friend. Beithon offers a shuffle drum beat, guest Randy Broughten plays a wonderfully meandering steel guitar line, and Matt Arthur gives us a spoken word delivery, sentimentally reflecting on the passing of time and the departure of a trusted companion. There isn’t a hint of distortion or feedback, even when Don finally jumps in with a sweet, concise little solo to end the song. For those of us who are used to measuring this band in decibels, it’s a stunning display of subtlety.

“We’re not the band that played for a year-and-a-half at the Contented Cow anymore,” Doug tells me. Adds Don, “We are happy [with the record], but there are a lot of thing here that are considerably different from our preconceived notions.”

So, where did this kinder-gentler version of Matt & The Brats come from?

The first answer might be the newest member of the band, keyboardist Pete Christensen. The presence of his Hammond organ settles the music down, and allows the other players to relax. “We’ve known for a while that we wanted keys — especially that organ sound — in the music,” says Don, “so that we all didn’t feel like we had to be makina noise all the time. Especially Matt. He doesn’t feel like he has to play every note. The organ fills in the gaps. It’s the glue that holds everything together.”

But Christensen brings more than just a relaxed feel to the music. “Pete’s been great. He’s such an interesting character,” says Doug.

“He brings a different  mind set than the rest of us. Especially me and Doug,” says Don.

“He’s really laid back,” says Doug. “Otherworldy laid back. He’s been some really good energy in the band. He’s just so mellow about it all.”

Don chimes in, “When you mix my intensity with Matt, it pushes things too far to one side. Joel’s a pretty laid back guy, so Pete really brings the balance that’s needed.”

Another element that adds to this new sense of nuance is Michael Morris, who produced the album, and Tyler Cook, who engineered the recording process. After looking around for a while, the band finally decided to record in Morris’ studio, The Barn. The equipment there is all vintage, analog gear. Because it has a limited recording capacity, and because it doesn’t have the ability to go back and fix mistakes the way digital recording equipment does, it forced the band to really think about what they wanted to play, and how they wanted to play it.

“Our North Star on this was just talking to the band,” says Morris. “We’d ask them what their vision of a song was in their collective head. That can be a really fuzzy thing in general, but it’s something you just have to decipher. And sometimes they would tell me a song should sound a certain way, but when they played it, it didn’t sound like that. So, we had to figure out what would sound that way. It was a process.”

“That was another magical part of the experience,” says Doug. “Michael just knew what these songs needed. Every decision these guys made was the right one.”

“Not that we didn’t question those decisions along the way,” adds Don. “But in the end, we trusted them. Like I said, this record didn’t end up being what we set out to record.”

This is not to say that the entire album is a quiet, subdued string of songs. The emotional centerpiece is, ironically enough, the only non-original song. Will Oldham’s I See A Darkness has long been a staple in the band’s set. But with the added elements of Christensen’s Hammond, and the haunting back-up vocals provided by Angie Talle, the band has created a go-to mission statement. You want to know who this band is, and what they’re all about? Go listen to that song.

Or, there’s the joyful protest romp of Put Down Your Rifles. And then there’s the old spiritual Woke Up This Morning. Arthur delivers this with the utter conviction and total exaltation of a man who knows how and why he’s going to see a better place one day. Through the spare production, you can see him standing on stage at on old tent revival. This is powerfully delivered music, but with a depth that is totally unexpected from this band.

Whether or not this was the album they had originally envisioned, there is no question that the band is quite proud of it. And right­fully so. It shows a band that is coming of age, and moving into its prime. If this is an example of what’s to come out of Northfield this year, 2013 could be even bigger than I’d imagined.

Heavy On My Mind by Matt Arthur and the Bratlanders will be released in February on Rice County Records. It can be pre-ordered at ricecountyrecords.bandcamp.com.