Hanging around the green room below the Beachland Ballroom, Matt Hectorne seems at his most content talking church music and his Mississippi upbringings when the conversation comes to a halt and a smile breaks behind a grizzly beard. “‘I’ll Fly Away,’” he points upstairs in approval to the Womack Family Band’s psychedelic rendition of the spiritual standard taking place on stage that’s echoing through the floor. In 20 minutes he’ll take the stage himself for the last time with Humble Home. In five months he’ll move to Nashville.
For a boy who grew up in a small suburb of Memphis immersed in a church of country and gospel vintage lore, a Southern homecoming marks the past year as a return to the roots. With a contributing cast of musicians he released two EPs, The Family Tree and Your Light My Dark, a collection of songs that were no doubt inspired by the way he paints his Episcopalian youth: Sunday bands with Elvis slick backs and sideburns, pedal steel and banjo players, running, screaming, dancing, and speaking in tongues.
“As soon as I started writing songs that style came naturally; the imagery, the Christian allegory,” Hectorne says of his early years. “I started delving into outlaw country like Merle Haggard, Guy Clarke, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn. When I play now, it’s nothing I ever really think about any more. That’s just what comes out.”
The result was February’s Family Tree EP, written and recorded over an inspired two week span. Its spontaneous live recording added an immediacy to Hectorne’s antiqued Americana, a human quality that parallels the songs’ themes of questioning and denouncing faith that ends with a stand-out bonus track of a sparse, arresting cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Downbound Train”.
“What I love about classic albums, when bands like the Byrds or the Animals would record live back in the day, is they just took everything off the floor, did a take and said that felt good, let’s just keep that,” he explains on producing the EP. “It’s not so much that every song should be pristine; I think the idea of recording isn’t so much getting it perfect as getting it right for that moment. It should be a portrait of the time you were in.”
Hectorne spent the next months penning Your Light My Dark, an EP that expanded into moments of shimmering pop and choral sing-alongs. With the hushed harmonies of Nina DeRubertis becoming fully realized on the chanting hymnal “(Will There Be a Time When I Will Not Be) Lost Without You” and the release of the stark black-and-white video for “Coming Around”, Your Light My Dark is a project steeped in minimalism, an unembellished effort that finds beauty in subtlety.
“I never set out to make the simplest video or the simplest sounding recording. To me it’s just being honest and almost a necessity. I’m not necessarily a prolific musician; I learned my instrument to write songs and it’s all I know,” says Hectorne. “But when you strip songs down, the only thing that stands up or holds anything together is the lyrics. You have no room for any other pretense. You have the song or you have nothing. “
In late June, Hectorne will move to Nashville with a two week tour planned for this year and demos in the works that he hopes to turn into a full-length album to be released by early 2014. “I love the hospitality of the South,” he says about the move. “I love the dynamic and that’s where I want to be. I just feel like it’s the right time and I feel very good about it.”