It’s a lesson every great musician learns eventually. Less is more; simplicity is everything; groove conquers all. If Matt Webb’s debut as a solo artist with 2011’s Coda and Jacket presented seven different sides of the Vancouver-based musician, from the hook drenched ‘80s guitar pop of “Cinnamon” to the aerobic synth-funk of “Bad Girl”, this year’s model is decidedly more direct in its approach.
“It’s a classic situation with people and their first records,” says Webb, on the eve of releasing his new, four-song EP, Right Direction. “You just have a shit mix of songs. It’s pop stuff; it’s rock stuff; and you haven’t really found your stride yet. With this record, I had a really clear idea of how I wanted it to sound. I just used one or two guitars on the whole thing; the same drum set up; the same guitar set up; and a really organic feel to it.”
After wrapping up his touring schedule with main act, Marianas Trench, the always restless musician decamped to Armoury Studios with producer and co-writer Kevin “Kevvy Mental” Maher, drummer Al Glassford, bassist Peter Davyduck, pianist Andrew Belson, plus four crystalline new songs that take a distinct turn from the quantum level of precision, planning, and craft that the Trench typically brings to its elaborate pop constructions.
“I wanted to hear more mistakes, I wanted it to be raw,” he explains. “It’s a different genre.” His intent is made abundantly clear in the title track. “Right Direction” a soulful, mid-tempo groover that’s charmingly free of any fuss. “That track in particular,” he says, “we went for a kind of Tom Petty feel to it, and I told Al, ‘No cymbals allowed in this song!’ It’s sort of an atypical approach but it helps to build some suspense. If you listen to Tom Petty’s ‘You Don’t Know How it Feels’, say, it’s a really simple drum groove that never changes.”
Webb adds that the Kevvy coined “Matt Webb rule of simplicity” became a running joke in the studio. Nobody was allowed to get too flashy, except when it counted. Glassford’s jazz-inflected drum fills in the bridge of “Heartbreakers” are all the more explosive as a result. Webb’s fleet-fingered acoustic picking on “123” is like a leap into the fourth dimension after the placid spaces the band establishes on “Don’t Turn Your Back on Me” and “Heartbreakers” – an Andy McKee influenced track on which Webb and Maher tag-team lead vocals.
Significantly enough, Webb and Maher eventually built an ad hoc studio in his parent’s house to complete work on the EP. Webb nailed the guitar parts and laid down his vocals in the bedroom he inhabited as a teenager. It opens the door to a nice dollop of symbolism if you imagine Webb, now one of the most successful and accomplished guitar players in the country, returning to the room where his dreams were hatched in the first place, riffing on the kind of grown-up rock that inspired him at the time. The result is the most mature music of Webb’s career. Sometimes, it seems, the right direction is back.