As front man of Belle Adair, Matt Green is a modest man making grand music. Reared on the culturally rich banks of Muscle Shoals, Green is the songwriting force behind Belle Adair’s sound: Alabamicana soulful folk pop. Green’s predilection for sundry styles of songwriting is ever present on The Brave and the Blue, and as the band’s first record, it’s a collection of songs Green composed throughout his 20s, casting away trepidation of traveling roads once rocky. How fitting for a band named after a sunken ship in Steinbeck’s Winter of Our Discontent.
Recently returning home from a two-week east coast tour, the band that just might be Alabama’s next big thing will play the Bottletree Café on December 5.
Weld: Since you’ve been on tour with The Brave and the Blue, the documentary Muscle Shoals was released to solid reviews and lots of Alabama and music industry excitement. Has that translated into energy for Belle Adair?
Matt Green: I’ll start off by saying it’s a great piece of filmmaking. I’ve seen it twice, and it was even better the second time. But I’m not sure it’s focused any attention on particular bands in the area as much as it’s brought a more general attention to all of the new music being made here.
I didn’t really expect it to bring attention to our band, though. The film is really the story of one man’s — Rick Hall’s — drive to be successful on his own terms, which meant making hit records in a small town in Alabama. That’s the most inspiring thing about the film and the many older musicians that we’re lucky enough to rub elbows with on occasion: the message that you can be successful making music in Muscle Shoals.
Weld: The lyrics and titles of your songs seem as important as the composition.
MG: I think they’re very important, but I’m a words guy. My barber, Keith, who is an excellent musician in his own right, is a rhythm section kind of guy. We have this discussion pretty much every time I get my haircut — he focuses on the foundation of songs when he listens and doesn’t care much for what the artist is expressing lyrically. He’s interested in melody, too, just not the words. Two different approaches to listening. I hope listeners pay attention to the lyrics but not to the detriment of the music that envelops them.
Weld: Why was important to have the side A/side B split on the record?
MG: Most of my favorite records are not one-dimensional; they’re all over the place. I kept going back to late ’60s/early ’70s records like Notorious Byrd Brothers, where you get these early, very strange electronic experiments from bands (synthesizers are just starting to develop) juxtaposed to these easy-going country rock and pop songs. It’s kind of jarring, but it’s also beautiful in the way that they make it work and fit together. Those guys were fearless in the studio at a time when technology was pushing the recording studio into becoming its own instrument. I ain’t comparing us to The Byrds. That would be foolhardy. But they are one of my favorite bands.
Belle Adair straddles the line between genres, and I wanted to capture that on the record and clearly present those different styles to the listener, while at the same time, making the record flow and fit together. Hopefully, we accomplished that. That’s probably up to the listener to decide.
Weld: How has your friendship with [Alabama Shakes keyboardist] Ben Tanner influenced the record?
MG: Ben’s been one of my best friends since we were kids. We played rec league basketball together. Our dads played golf. Small town shit. We were also brainy kids: math team, book nerds, music nerds. One story he likes to tell about me is when we were at the local mall, and I made him buy Oasis’ What’s the Story, Morning Glory? We were about 13. I think that cemented our friendship. Thanks, Noel and Liam.
As for the record, I couldn’t work with anyone other than Ben. It’s all intuitive with us. I don’t like to be slowed down in the studio, and Ben is always up to task. He’s also up for trying anything, and I trust him unconditionally both in and out of the studio. You can’t say that about many people. He understands what I’m trying to accomplish with Belle Adair and has an ear towards making that happen. Not to mention, he’s an excellent keyboardist and a fancy lad.
Weld: How would you describe the band’s mood or vibe while recording?
MG: Being in a band can be hard. It sounds like a whiny complaint, but I’ve been around it enough to know that personalities don’t always mesh. It takes work to make it all hang together. That being said, the studio sessions were so effortless for us, and everyone stayed very focused and positive throughout.
For me, the studio is a sanctuary. None of the outside world can reach you and distract you from the task. The studio where we recorded (the Nutthouse) is in an old bank building, so it’s built like a fortress. I’m always super wired-in to what we’re doing, completely oblivious to the movements of the outside world. Moving from instrument to instrument, generating ideas. It’s the most comfortable place for me.
Weld: Was important to you for each song to evoke a certain emotion?
MG: With any song you are trying to capture a moment. Each song represents an opportunity to express an emotion and color that emotion with sound. The best songs strike the right balance and produce the appropriate accompaniment for the emotional core of the song. Essentially, it’s playing what the song needs and not what you want to play.
It’s like picking out what to wear for an occasion. If you’re going to your best friend’s wedding, you’re not going to wear your ripped jeans, your prized ’85 Springsteen tour t-shirt and motorcycle boots. You’ll probably put your suit on. Maybe some cuff links if you’re feeling fancy. Maybe a tie. Maybe not. Lyrically, you’ve got the emotional core of the song, and you want to dress it up/arrange it appropriately. Otherwise, it won’t really evoke much of anything other than a wasted opportunity.
Weld: Why music?
MG: I think most people who write songs or make music can’t really help it. There’s a compulsion there. I’ve thought that I convinced myself many times that I’m not going to do this anymore. I’d rather read more and work on poems, or I’d rather go back to school. I’d rather spend more time fishing and walking my dog. I could do a million things, but few are compelling. Most of my free time is spent with music: playing, listening, talking about it.
I’ve always said that I want to make psychedelic music. By that, I don’t mean Jefferson Airplane or something like that. I mean music that creates its own tiny universe and lets you get lost in it/takes you to another plane. Music that transports you and lets you live in it for its duration. I don’t mean this in an escapist sense, but that you can’t help but find yourself in the music’s world. It’s created its own little logic, and you can’t resist it. It’s hard to describe, but many albums do this for me. If anything, I hope our new record welcomes people into it, and lets them get lost for a little while.
Weld: Are you writing new material?
MG: We’ve been working on a few new songs. We’re going to be recording a couple of covers in the next month, shooting for a release early next year, and plan to begin recording our next full-length in February or March.
The Brave and the Blue is available in most local record shops and online. Belle Adair will play Bottletree Café Thursday, December 5 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10. The featured image for this post is a photo by Ashton Lance.