Christian Matthew: Finger Lakes Punk Rock Kid

When I was up in the Finger Lakes a couple of weeks back, I stopped in at Rooster Fish Brewing in Watkins Glen; they make a great Session IPA and I wanted to see if it was in cans or bottles. Sadly, not, but it was a Sunday afternoon and they had a musician playing; and something about this guy caught my ear. So I ordered a glass of the Session IPA – which they obviously did have on tap – and settled in with Noel to listen.

The sound was atrocious for one man and his guitar, but deliberately so, forcing me to listen in. And as I did, I could hear a song that referenced Hüsker Dü and Minor Threat; another that cited Marlon Brando, and at least one more that included a lot of swearing. The guy in question was young-ish, drinking what my son thought was a pint of wine (I assured him that beer comes in dark colors as well as amber), and playing largely for himself and his one friend, so it seemed; there was a certain “this is what I do, take it or leave it” aspect about him that made me all the more supportive of Rooster Fish for bucking the usual brewpub trend of easy-going acoustic cover band. Still, he wasn’t quite so arrogant as not to have a few CD-burns sitting up at the bar and for a couple of bucks in his guitar case, I got to take one with me.

His name is Christian Matthew, he has a bunch of music over at Band Camp, he is the real deal and I suggest you visit and check him out for yourself. If you head for a track like “This is Tom” (a “work-in-progress”) or “Short Ballad for a Stray Dog” (which he calls a “self-portrait”) you’ll find out quick enough what I mean by lo-fi: neither is longer than a minute and a half, neither sounds like it was much tainted by ProTools. Both have something about them, in the carefully simple lead overdubs, and the crafted self-detrimental lyrics, and the way he delivers them, snarling without being vicious about it

Venture further on his BandCamp page and you’ll find yourself awash in half-formed and sometimes fully baked ideas. “Hudson Street (demo),” the song with all the swearing, is about “a good night gone bad” and despite setting my young son such a bad example, I played it three times in a row in the car to be sure I understood the story; you’ll want to do the same thing.

Just about everything Christian has put out there has merit. “Infamous” was “originally going to be a story about Joe Strummer,” and “The Kid” actually does cite the former Clash man; it’s the one that caught my ear with its references to American punk rock icons too and it’s a serious poem. As for “Dennis, let’s not go to class today,” Well, I didn’t attend college, but after listening to this song, I can understand why so many drop out. And anyone who can rhyme “Percocet” with “not sober yet” should probably add “poet” to the next couplet.

I had a brief Facebook exchange with Christian: to my observation that you don’t get to be that lo-fi by accident, he wrote, “I’ve spent a lot of time on finding a sound that suits me and keeps things honest, so it’s always meaningful when someone tells me they appreciate what I am doing.”

Don’t worry that this is someone banging their head against the Finger Lakes in futility: Christian has a properly produced band EP to his name (you can purchase “Cigs” on BandCamp for the price of a single smoke, and it will be less damaging to your health), and by the looks of his Facebook page, a new duo called This Machine Makes Noise. But there may be only so much a punk rock kid can achieve in an area best known for its Rieslings. Then again, by my last count, there are now 22 breweries in the area and rising: enough for any self-respecting musician to get themselves a full calendar of Sunday afternoon swearalongs. For those of you unlikely to be stopping by one of them any time soon, buy Christian Matthew a beer via social media. He’s 4 Real.

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September 2020