Matt Epp is an artist you could describe as being very worldly and, while it is indeed something that has greatly impacted his life, the music he makes seems instead to carry the influence of his Winnipeg origins to those far-reaching places.
“There is something in the heart behind what I do that hasn’t and won’t change,” he promises. His musical journey started in Winnipeg and he describes the city as having appeared then to be “this huge hub… It’s isolated, so it just festers: there’s so much great recordings and collaborations… From the punk scene to the French music scene; hip hop is always strong there. There’s a million great folk bands and indie bands and singer-songwriters, girl trio vocal groups.” Prior to that, he had grown up in a small city, called Brandon, just one block away from Marti Sarbit of Imaginary Cities. Eventually they reconnected and she did some backing vocals on his tour and now for this album as well.
He describes Sarbit as possessing a “soulful thing they don’t have in Europe, that she really has,” and it seems a bit unexpected to think that what we perceive as such a small place like Winnipeg could potentially have a prolific impact elsewhere in the world. For about half a year, Epp was living in Andalusia, Spain with his wife, the bassist from his band and his drummer, who originated from there. They toured Spain, France and Germany, and he explains, “There is quite a hunger over there for North American, English-language music… It’s more of a novelty to be from America – as they kind of lump us in there – than it is to be from Europe, as people see the music there as trying to copy North American music.” Later, he adds that it was also easy for him to get around because “those places are very diligent about learning English,” and he also found they “pay more attention to lyrics than North Americans… So, it means a lot to artists like me.”
Having more extensive histories of coping with struggle has developed a stronger appreciation for the cultural importance of the arts. “When I go to places like Germany, they’re very strict thinkers and they take you very seriously… Your lyrics are analyzed and you’re really treated like an artist, rather than a beer salesman,” or any of the various examples of product placement we regularly encounter in music.
Epp has formed the sense that if he has the ability to travel and learn about people and hear their stories, then it is also part of his responsibility to share the insights he draws from them. One of the more unusual ways he put this into action was to reach out to his fans through social media and fundraise to promote and finance a new album. When someone pre-ordered the record, he would make a short video in which he thanked them by name connected with the fan a bit further, posting it all on a YouTube channel called MattEppThanksYou (with many more to work through). Believing that transparency has now become more important, he believes that “people require the artist to be authentic and not this untouchable cool rock star thing that’s obviously just a smoke and mirrors image.”
The new album he’s releasing is titled Never Have I Loved Like This and includes his backing band, the Amorian Assembly. For his current, “Careful Abandon,” tour across Canada, the unobstructed position he seems to have been coming from will continue as he visits to play solo acoustic renditions of songs from his last six albums.
See him up close and personal at the Ironwood on October 25 with Catherine MacLellan.
By Cait Lepla
Photo: Kerr Stevens