Matrimony: Best of What's Next

Music Features Matrimony
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Hometown: Charlotte, N.C.
Members: Ashlee Hardee Brown, Jimmy Brown, C J Hardee, Jordan Hardee, Ethan Ricks.
Current Release: Montibello Drive
For Fans of: Shovels and Rope, The Civil Wars, My Morning Jacket

It’s hard to find a band that maintains the level of intimacy that Matrimony does—mostly because it’s a family band in every sense of the word. With Jimmy Brown and wife Ashlee Hardee Brown joined by Ashlee’s brothers, Jordan and CJ, their bonds are tight and their music exudes these connections. The Charlotte, N.C. band displays an intuition between members that other acts could only dream of. Shows have no setlists, songs feel conversational and the writing process is as open as one can imagine.

The first time Jimmy and Ashlee met, they wrote a song together. From the one-time session, it was clear that their connection was immediate. But when Jimmy embarked on an extensive solo tour, the two instantly knew that distance wasn’t going to work. If they wanted to be together then they’d have to join hands and craft their earnest folk tunes together, and Matrimony was born.

“Traveling and playing music together and all that stuff is just like anything—you have to work at it and you get used to it,” Jimmy says. “You come across bumps on the way and you work it out, that’s why we started the band, to be together and work together and not have to spend months away from each other all the time.”

When Matrimony formed in 2009, it was a humble beginning, just Jimmy and Ashlee crafting affectionate folk tunes with the assistance of whoever was available. While the two had come from indie-rock acts, they’d both had folk music ingrained into their fibers. “We always leaned towards folky instruments like banjo, mandolin, acoustic, piano. [Ashlee] started music with her family and her background always had a North Carolina folky vibe. A lot of those instruments were around her house so it wasn’t foreign for her to think the way she thought with Matrimony.”

It also wasn’t foreign to add in brothers CJ and Jordan. The Hardee brothers regularly played in bands around Charlotte, and their work with Jimmy is actually what lead to the band’s founding. “Jordan had come up to Hickory where I was living at the time and we were recording for a few days. After about three days he suggested I should meet his sister,” Brown recalls. All it took was a peek at her Myspace and Jimmy was hooked. After attending a few shows around the state the two immediately began to hit it off, and from there their music blossomed.

“We let the music speak for itself,” Brown says. “We work really hard we meet people on the road and play good shows and meet other bands. That’s the fun of it for us.” And frankly hard work paid off for this tightly knit crew, after releasing highly acclaimed EP, a blog writer passed their music onto her boyfriend—who just so happens to manage Band of Horses—and the band’s video for “Obey Your Guns” made its way into the offices of Columbia Records.

“We had a long talk [with an A&R rep] and he flew out to Charlotte about a week later,” Brown claims. “We had a show in Charlotte that he saw, they invited us to New York to play a show and then a month or two went by where we stayed in contact.” The relationship eventually blossomed into a full record deal and this summer the band released their debut EP on Columbia, Montibello Drive.

Though the deal is still fresh the band has already begun reaping the benefits of major label backing. They played two high-profile sets at this year’s Bonnaroo, as a matter of fact they were the only act playing against Paul McCartney and still found themselves with hundreds of people gathered to hear their music. “Bonnaroo was pretty sweet and really helped us get in front of people that wouldn’t otherwise see us,” Brown says. “It’s something I don’t think we could have gotten if we didn’t have a record label, so I think that the main reason we’re so excited to work with Columbia is the overall picture of the development of a band and making a band grow.”

But Matrimony finds themselves in a unique position. They’re a major label act that can still make grandiose moments feel like intimate occasions. After their Bonnaroo set the band took to the side stage for a quiet acoustic performance in the crowd, something that’s a bit atypical of an act that is drawing as much attention as Matrimony. The band is preparing to embark on their first west coast tour supporting Twin Forks and then they’ll hopefully begin their album cycle.

Although their full-length album has already been completed—“The EP is the first four songs on the full-length, so the full length is like a continuation of the EP that we just broke it up into two parts”—the band is still focused on their slow and steadied approach. Their hard work and dedication is laying the groundwork for great things to come, and as Brown states they’re letting their music “speak for itself.”

“We really enjoy playing together and feel like we have a real connection,” Brown states. “We try to capture those moments in any way we can.” But the draw of Matrimony is the universality of these moments. That’s why the band has been found recently opening for Gaslight Anthem, as the background for Chevy commercials, and playing opposite of Paul Mc-freaking-Cartney. Matrimony captures fleeting emotions that we hide deep down and repurposes them into anthemic folk-rock tracks that dig into the human psyche with a startling sense of ease. Though they began as a bare-boned duo, they’ve evolved into a rich quintet that’s fully tapped into the fine divide between traditional folk foundations and a contemporary basis that results in timeless tunes and undeniable emotionality.