When I Was A Writer is the full-length debut from former Trip Shakespeare leader Matt Wilson’s latest project “Matt Wilson & his Orchestra.” The album was recorded at Wilson’s home studio, produced by him and mixed by John Fields (Soul Asylum, Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, Switchfoot, Rooney, etc.) at Creation Audio.  

Raised in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, Matt became a fan of rockers like Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen and Devo. He and his high school friends formed a group called The Panic, and spent much of their youth as under-aged performers in Minneapolis nightclubs, warming up for future luminaries such as Husker Du and The Replacements. In the early ’80’s, Matt followed his brother Dan to college in Boston where they formed a number of bands, including The Love Monsters, marking Matt’s first turn as a lead singer. Upon returning to Minneapolis, the brothers joined forces with bass player John Munson to form Trip Shakespeare, writing, recording and touring together for a decade. John and Matt still perform together in The Twilight Hours.

Wilson explains the genesis of the new album: “I wrote the song “I Can’t Return” in the Summer of 2015, and that was my return to songwriting after a few years away. After that, there was just an outpouring of music and words that lasted for about three years. During that time, I was definitely excited to feel this inspiration, but I also felt desperate. In a way, the whole record is a reaction to death. I had this strong sense that I was running out of time. I was sincerely worried that I might lose my mind before I was able to show the world the way I wanted my music to sound.”   

The harp mastery of inventive collaborator Phala Tracey is a key element of the ensemble’s overall sound. Phala and Matt’s playing is underpinned by the sparkling banjo groove of Quillan Roe, who is best known for his work with The Roe Family Singers, winners of a prestigious McKnight Fellowship. The sunshine tones of harp and banjo are rolled out on a wide road of Jacques Wait’s electric bass and Wilson’s own acoustic guitar and piano playing.   The arrangements on When I Was A Writer were built upon the orchestra’s organic, but percussive, instrumentation. Acoustic guitar, piano, harp, banjo and electric bass guitar produce a feather bed of circular rhythms, cascading arpeggios and reverberating sonic swells. 

The title track, which opens the album, has hints of folk music, but has a natural pop sensibility with a danceable rhythm and frosted by a background of near-angelic vocals. “Come To Nothing” is a much more introspective type of track; quieter, delicate and reserved – which makes it powerful and “Petty Thief” has a lighter-hearted touch but is also subdued, which is a nice bookend to “Come To Nothing”. To try and dissect each track of this album would do it a disservice; it needs to be taken as a complete work.

In the unusual time we’re now mired in, this album is quite a fine elixir for the musical soul – and it’s comforting to find a work that allows you to think while listening.

When I Was A Writer is available now


By Rob Ross

Rob Ross has been involved in the music industry for over 30 years - as guitarist/singer/songwriter with The Punch Line, freelance journalist, producer, manager and working for independent and major record labels. He resides in Staten Island, New York with his wife and cats; he works out a lot, reads voraciously, loves Big Star, traveling down South and his orange Gretsch. He's pretty groovy!