Matt Zarb grew up in a small town called Penrith just west of Sydney at the base of the Blue Mountains in Australia. From age 5, Matt spent his school years studying classical piano. At 15, he decided he was not going to be the next Mozart and couldn't read a note; so he picked up a guitar. At the age of 18 he had begun his professional career as a musician, playing anything from traditional Australian bush music, to rock, to contemporary pub music. Matt was never able to settle into one style of music. He was influenced by everyone from Chopin to John Denver, from Led Zepplin to Mozart, Simon and Garfunkle to Fleetwood Mac, from Tommy Emmanuel to Sam Bush. After producing 4 CD's with his younger brother Pauly, one of which, Vincent Road, was awarded folk album of the year 2001in the Australian Sunni Music Awards. Matt decided it was time to pursue his own solo career. Matt has developed a style that he can only describe as "Aussie-Bush-Grass", with attitude and the irreverence of a convict. Hence the release of his first solo album Hillbilly Bride. Hillbilly Bride is a unique coming together of Australian roots music, and finesse of Kentucky Bluegrass with the attitude and energy that only Matt can produce.During Matt's stay in the USA Matt and his brother Pauly opened shows for Willie Nelson, Keith Urban, Littlefeat, Delbert McClinton, the Louisville Orchestra, Tommy Emmanuel, Goosecreek Symphony and many more. Matt is a unique singer/songwriter/storyteller/performer, playing acoustic guitar, mandolin, harmonica, his own homemade stompbox(foot drum) and didgeridoo.
This recording was done in four sessions. The majority of the playing was laid down live to four tracks. This is not the usual way to record these days as recording devices, even cheap models, usually offer any amount of tracks for over dubbing. With much thought, planning, a budget of nothing, and good friends, Eddie Mattingly and I decided that we could capture the music in a way that had been left behind with old Beatles recordings. I figured that some of the best music I have heard was done on two and four tracks that were recorded well and mixed carefully. Hillbilly Bride is full of perfect mistakes that make it my favorite recording. There are many reasons I love this recording, but mostly because of the fact that we had never tried anything like this before, and we had such little equipment as far as today's standards go. This experiment had to work!
Armed with a bucket of new songs, Eddie's trusty Roland VS 880 eight track recorder, and some borrowed mikes and cables, we set about trying to get a sound in the house I was living in at the time.
The house had great acoustics in every room due to the wooden floor boards and high ceilings. We had a few problems before we could get started recording though. The first being that I lived on a busy road, so all the windows and doors had to be covered with carpet, beds, and anything we could find to stop traffic noise. I figured all we needed to do was get all the playing hot and clean to tape with as little spill as possible. Another problem we encountered was noisy air conditioners. When it is the middle of summer and you are locked up in a house with no air, and the oven is on so that you can feed the required amount of pizza for four growling lads,(by the way, the pizza bill matched the recording budget) to say the least, things got a little toasty. We had to take breaks when it got too silly and wack the air conditioners back on, and then set about tuning the instruments again to there new temperature. Fun!!
So here we were, four players in four different rooms. I was in the bottom bedroom with my stomp box, guitar plugged directly into the recorder, and my ever faithful bashed up Shure SM 58. The next room housed Paul Priest, one of Kentucky's best stand up bassists. The room next to Paul Priest we had Matt De Spain with his self made dobro, and upstairs we had my brother Pauly on percussion, flute, squeeze box, and harmony vocals.
Eddie pulled up a sound on everything, and then we pressed the red button. We started with Cause I want to. I thought this would be a good place to start because the song is a lot of fun. It was kind of weird cause the vocals and guitar on this track had already been recorded at Eddie's place when my daughter Laura was home on spring break. So we worked backwards, what a great start!!! It worked, and it went down as jingle jangle looney tunes as the song suggests. The big treat being Laura and I got to sing a song together. I remember saying just play whatever comes to your head, so we all did. I played mandolin, stompbox, and harmonica while brother Pauly played percussion. The song was going down clean and hot with no distortion. We did encounter a problem when we miked the bass, but we only discovered that while mixing the CD at Eddie's later.
Pauly Preist's bass sounded fifty foot tall in the room we had him in so we thought that we would match the sound of his playing, and the sound of the room, with the best mic we could find. Eddies famous track proven Nuemann T.L.M 103 is the best vocal and guitar mic I have heard. It has recorded Tommy Emmanuel, Pat Kirtley, and nearly all of the guitarists from the Acoustic Guitar Masters Series. This was the first time the mic had been used for anything as huge as the double bass. This mic is so sensitive you can hear your breath through the hair in your nose from fifty feet through the speakers. We found in the mixing of the CD that we had distortions on some of the bass tracks. We must have gotten the mic too close to the sound hole, and it went down too hot in places. Recording is like an experiment, because you never stop learning. This was such a let down because we lost some fantastic stuff by Paul Priest. What we did save was great, and takes songs such as, Widow Walk, to a place where the big ships leave the harbor. It puts such attitude to Red and Gold, and plays the last long and thoughtful note.
We miked Matt DeSpain's dobro with an Australian "Rode" condenser mic. It was Matt's choice, and it made his dobro sound as good as it did on the timber floored kitchen. Matt and I had played phone tag for a year or so never meeting until a month or so before the recording. We hit it off musically and as mates instantly, and always dig a moment to play. Some of the Aussie crew saw Matt at home in Australia when we played at The Gympie Muster in August last year. Our bluegrass community loved him. I had long wanted to record some music with a dobro player, because I am a huge fan of the instrument. I did not think that I would ever meet a player like Matt in the town I live in. Matt is quickly becoming one of the countries most noted dobro players, and definatly the most noted in Australia now. Anyway, the rest is history. Matt's solo in Miss Butterfly makes the song for me. Thanks Matty.
Brother Pauly was upstairs in the small bedroom. It had a boxy woody sound that suited the percussion, congas, and squeeze box. After producing four CD's with this brother of mine, it was like clockwork to have him in there. I could write pages on the talent of this man, and anyone who has seen him perform with me knows what an incredible musician he is. The "Pied Piper" of Penrith NSW Australia. To have some of Pauly's flute, voice, and spirit on this CD is totally magical. My personal goalkeeper. I love you Pauly.
The house recordings were all laid down in a couple of days. We were left with a few to do which we decided to do at Eddie's studio at his house. We had already recorded Rose Matilda at Eddie's with just Pauly and I and it sounded great, so he and I went ahead and recorded Martha and Where do you go the same way.
Track 9 "Where Do You Go"
Where do you go was an interesting recording, because I was trying to lay down one good live stompbox, guitar, and vocal version. I wanted to do some stuff on my own just to color the CD in different places. When trying for a good take, we thought we got a good one, but when we listened to it we decided that there was one little yucky guitar inflection that needed to come out. The guitar is very up front, and there was little room for error. So while trying to fix it, I laid down two consecutive tracks side by side. So when you listen to the song it's just me in duo with myself, unedited, and panned to the left and right channels. It sounded so crazy we just left it like that. Mistakes can work out good as we all know.
Track 10 "Dr. Dollar"
Dr. Dollar is a live recording at WFPK radio Louisville "Live at Lunch". This is a great radio show for any independent artist, and is really popular in Kentucky. It's also syndicated on the web weekly, and is great exposure. It was great for me and for Pauly alike. There were a few reasons we used this recording. The first being the energy in the performance. Matty DeSpain kicked it off at a blistering pace on his dobro, so Pauly and I had to jump straight on the train. I remember thinking, "Shit this feels good!!! It's Fast!!!" If you listen carefully you will hear me vocally stumble in the first verse, but I quickly catch up. When you listen to Dr Dollar, picture myself kicking the crap out of my stomp box, playing guitar, harmonica, and singing. Picture Pauly hammering his keys like a Muppet, playing left hand bass and right hand piano, and singing at the same time. Then Pauly leapt into my favorite "Muppet Bushgrass" piano solo. That was enough until Matty DeSpain picked his dobro in half. We tried to record the song at the house but the same energy was not there. Live radio will do that! The other reason that we used this recording is that it was so well recorded by the guys at the radio station. They are great engineers with great ears. Thank you WFPK Louisville Scott Mullins and Stacey Owen. The track also offers a different sound to the CD. To complete the CD I added the mandolin, the didgeridoo, and a few other percussion things to the tracks that had been laid down live. The next thing we had to do was mix it all. This was fun because an eight track maximum recording makes you think....How can we make this interesting to listen to?? We worked on the old ideas of moving stuff around from left to right during the songs (but not all songs). We also worked on applying simple reverbs to make things sit forward and backward in the speakers. The CD has dry in your face vocals. Finally after a few goes at it we got a sound that we were happy with. From the first note to the last fader on the mixing board, it was a great project and I am so glad we had a go, and did it the way we did it. Thank you brother Eddie, everyone loves you.
Track 1 "Jack O'Keefe" & Track 2 "Rose Matilda"
My Grandfather Jack passed away last year, but I had been back to see him and sang him Rose Matilda on more than one occasion. The last time I saw him, I was sitting in the old kitchen on Grand Ave Westmead, and had just sang him Rose Matilda twice in a row. He was 92 at the time, and he loved the song. When I had finished singing he said, "I want to sing you a song that I sang to you're Grandmother Rose all her life." Then off he went, "You're as sweet as a red rose in June dear, I love you, adore you I do." So became track one! He never missed a note in his crackly old Aussie voice. I wished I had something to record him with. Then I realized my cousin Matty Farmer had a speaker phone and mini disc, so I rang him at home and he answered the phone, "Thank God! We got a level on Jack, and he stuck his chest out and sang his head off into the phone." Thank you Matty Farmer. I love your work. Thanks Jack (Pop).
Track 14 "Zoe's Lullaby"
The last thing I want to mention in the recording side of things is the mystery track No. 14, Zoe's Lullaby. This was recorded on the Gold Coast in Australia by our mate Mark Watson at Proof Studios. Mark also produced three records for Pauly and I: Brothers in Shorts, Vincent Rd, and the Live CDs. This is my favorite lullaby written by another brother, Johnny Zarb. Johnny wrote this song for his only daughter Zoe. This is a live recording in Australia of Johnny on guitar and vocals, brother Pauly on strings, and myself on slide guitar. We will release the rest of that session, including one of our other brothers Anty, soon.
I hope you enjoyed that read. If you have any questions please mail me, and if you get a hold of one of Hillbilly Bride CD's, I hope you really enjoy it.
Peace and a happy tune,