Mando maestro Matt Flinner returns with a beautiful collection of new tunes.
Matt Flinner was a professional touring musician before he could shave, hitting the road with his banjo before his teens. Not content with just those five strings, he picked up the mandolin along the way, and, in doing so, became a leader in the progressive acoustic movement while creating a reputation for himself as one of the most inventive pickers on the scene.
Flinner, along with bass player Eric Thorin and guitarist Ross Martin, have just released their second album, Winter Harvest, as The Matt Flinner Trio. The three mates returned to a concept they developed prior to their first record, 2009’s Music du Jour, whereby each member of the band was responsible for writing a tune in the van while en route to the night’s show.
Mountains of Music recently caught up with Flinner to chat about the new record and his band’s creative way of road testing tunes.
BRO – How do you develop the idea of writing songs, in the van, on the way to a gig? Who came up with that?
MF – It was my idea, which we started in 2006 on a tour we did. The idea came out of a couple things. One, in all honesty, was a way to make me finish tunes. I need a deadline to finish things. I thought to myself, “What better way than to have a deadline of the show that evening.” In a practical way, it’s a way for me to get things finished. Also, we wanted to see what would happen from one place to another and from one day to another. We wanted to see how that time and place would affect what we were writing and what we were coming up with. It’s a total experiment.
BRO – You ever find yourself putting the finishing touches on a tune in the van right before you were going in to perform?
MF – Yeah! Or backstage, or maybe even on stage, when we work on an arrangement. As we have gone along, though, we have gotten better at rehearsing this stuff. We feel like, now, that we can work on something ten minutes before we go on and it’s going to be okay. But it can be very last minute sometimes.
BRO – Is there a lot of pressure performing that way?
MF – You never know how it is going to turn out. Some tunes end up not being that good, but that’s part of the deal. You put out your best effort. It’s stressful in that you don’t know if you are going to pull it off. Some ideas are better than others, and sometimes you are putting out an idea that you’re not sure about. You’re putting yourself out there in a way that might make you feel more exposed than you would otherwise. But there is also something about that urgency that works well. It works better than expected.
BRO – You could have gone back to the studio and written songs in a more traditional fashion for this record, but you have stuck with this process for the batch of tunes that became Winter Harvest. It must be working for you.
MF – I felt like Music du Jour was a really fresh record. We really came up with something that gets to the heart of what I want to do. Musically and conceptually, to me, it was really fresh and a little different, with the combination of bluegrass, some jazz, and maybe some chamber music, and it didn’t feel contrived and it worked really well. We kept doing it and we improved on what we were doing, so when we went to the studio for Winter Harvest, the heart of these tunes didn’t really change at all from the days we wrote them.
BRO – I just had this near comic – or quite frightening – image of you driving down the road while picking on your mandolin. You don’t do that, do you?
MF – No, but both Eric, our bass player, and I could be guilty of writing on music paper while driving. But I try to only do that when we are out west, and only on long stretches of road with no oncoming traffic.
The Matt Flinner Trio will spend much of March touring around the Northeast before returning to the Mid-Atlanitc area in April. You can catch the band in Maryland and around Central Virginia by mid-month.