Shoot out the lights, and stone the roses—there’s some strong autobiography going on between the lines of The Matinée’s debut full-length album, We Swore We’d See the Sunrise. Taking its title from a line in “L’Absinthe”— the true story of a night of madness and delirium experienced while on tour in Quebec told between bouts of sparkling down-country guitar work from Matt Rose—what we hear is a band whose five members have known each other since high school, throwing everything they have into a record they’re treating like a milestone.
And the work was hard. Emboldened by their third place win in the 2011 Peak Performance Project and the subsequent record deal that followed, The Matinée ducked in and out of different studios, experimented, and generally strove—because they could— to be as great as possible for the year or so they spent working on this much-anticipated release.
It all started to gel with Steve Berlin. With REM and The Tragically Hip in his past, it was no surprise when the veteran producer turned out to be a strikingly good fit for the band. His native feel for Americana with a nice fat backbeat—supplied in spades by bassist Mike Young— is right there in the southern rock redux of “Sweetwater” and “Let Her Go”, which recall countless roots-rockers from Ryan Adams to The Sadies.
But Berlin and band were both eager to colour outside the lines. The starlit “December Slumber” is like a widescreen sonic painting with pedal steel guitar, while “The Road” is a stadium built anthem that plows the middle ground between rural festivals and the urban hipster ground-zero of your choice. With a live show generally known to be an uproar of stomping, clapping, and blazing chops, The Matinée are in the rare position of being welcome at both.
Meanwhile, “Long Way Home” throws different time signatures into its chunky country-rock frame, “Who Stoned The Roses” allows guitarist/back up vocalist Geoff Petrie to highlight the bands attention to harmony, and throughout the album Pete Lemon takes the listener into the outer reaches.
If the seven Berlin-produced tracks find The Matinée exploring the studio and finding new depth, the two they drummed up in lightning sessions with Hot Hot Heat’s Steve Bays have an almost leavening effect. In particular, “This Town” is an impossibly bright slab of baroque pop with a middle section that could have been smuggled in from Abbey Road. And “Young & Lazy”, as the band well knows—it’s the first single—is an instant classic; three-and-a-half minutes of Tom Petty-esque radio rock in the classic mold, given a light and summery touch by the band and fashioned to stick to the roof of your brain after one listen.
The song’s lyrics are a warm tribute to idle youth, and the bond that has carried The Matinée all the way through to this, the key moment in their career. According to vocalist/lyricist Matt Layzell, We Swore We’d See the Sunrise is their “coming out”; after years of roadwork and growth, playing everywhere from prisons to air force bases and every watering hole in between, it’s a record that simultaneously matches their explosive live show while advancing their craft by orders of magnitude.
“At the end of the day we just want a career,” Layzell states. “We hope this is setting us up for the next 20 years.” Clearly still not exhausted by the sheer amount of work that went into We Swore We’d See the Sunrise, guitarist Matt Rose is determined to follow through. “We’ve passed the point of Young and Lazy,” he says, “we're a little older, wiser, and working our asses off.”