Halfway through my conversation with Lorrie Matheson, a group of carolers come into the Kensington cafe where we are eating lunch. Their long flannel coats seem incongruous with Calgary's surprisingly balmy late-November weather. Following their brief performance, the former lead singer of noted local bands National Dust and Fire Engine Red looks across the table at me and states: "That's hard to do, to get those harmonies and everything. I hate that song, but that's hard to do."
This is Lorrie Matheson: equal parts admiration and disdain. His new album You Should Know by Now encapsulates that, moving through a labyrinth of influences while exploring all sides of Matheson's temperament.
"This record has more bitterness and sweetness than anything else I've done," he says. "There are more extremes there. But I think that's part of the charm of it."
You Should Know by Now jumps around in terms of mood and style, but not erratically. Elvis Costello, Buffalo Tom and Wilco are all evident influences, as they have been throughout Matheson's career. However, there are new elements at play. "Under a Northern Moon" has a lullaby melody that Matheson himself claims could have come from a Fisher-Price Toy. The title track is musically akin to "That Thing You Do" from the movie of the same name.
Matheson is making no pretenses of continuing the roots-rock legacy of National Dust, and isn't concerned about losing fans in the process of reaching out.
"This one might turn off some people that liked the last album," he admits. "I don't ever try to please anybody with what I'm doing. I just do it."
When National Dust called it quits earlier this year, a lot of local music fans were surprised and disappointed Over the course of two albums, the band had carved out a niche and built itself a reasonable following. However, "creative differences" reared its ugly head.
"We got to the point where there was a lot of tension between the members over the direction where we wanted to go. Everyone had different opinions. There were four different people's takes on how to play music. I thought that for the good of the people involved and their friendships, we should stop before we started hating each other."
The individual friendships survived the band's split. Matheson still plays gigs around town with guitarist Tim Leacock, and former bandmates Ross Watson and Gord Adam will be in Matheson's new backing band, the Yorkton Spokes, at his upcoming CD release party.
For now, Matheson is happy playing solo sets.
"I'm having lots of fun. I've got a huge amount of songs, so I can work with no setlist and go where the wind takes me. I can change the songs up and play them different and sing them different. At the same time, I'm looking forward to playing with a band [at the CD release party]."
Never one to rest, Matheson is already at work on not one, but two upcoming releases: one acoustic and one rock album.
"The plan is within the next 18 months to have two more out," he says. "In case I get hit by a truck, I'll leave lots of CDs behind."
With a storied involvement in the local scene, Matheson's favourite bands run the gamut from punk to funk. Among his current recommended acts are Mico, Reverie Sound Revue, Downway and Flytrap.
"I've got a foot in the folk festival crowd, but I know a lot of guys in the rock scene. I straddle both worlds, which I kind of dig."
As far as Matheson is concerned, all that local music needs is a big injection of fans.
"The biggest problem with the scene is that the audience isn't aware of the talent. You used to go to the Republik and see Wagbeard on a Wednesday in front of 500 people. It's rare that a local band can do that these days. The health of the scene depends on the everyday gig-going public."
Matheson stops to praise his own fans.
"The audience I do have is very loyal which is very cool. If I didn't have people telling me that what I did touched them, it'd be like being out in a field screaming at the sky."
Check out Lorrie Matheson's CD Release Party tonight (December 5) at 9:00 p.m. in the Liberty Lounge at Mount Royal College