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Alt-country singer Matt Henry talks Tamworth (Includes interview)

At the end of 2013, talented thirty-something Matt Henry released an outstanding EP entitled Life By Proxy. He spent most of last year touring and promoting it and is now about to embark on another musical adventure at this year’s Tamworth Festival, ahead of a hotly-anticipated debut album that should be out later this year.

Not only will the musician be playing tracks from the EP and from his soon-to-be-released full-length CD during his scheduled appearances, he will also, for the second year running, be organising his own, scaled-down, almost under-the-radar, event aimed at helping Alternative Country acts achieve a greater degree of recognition, his Late Nite Alt showcase, that last year was for one night only.

“I’m releasing an album later this year, and we’re in pre-production on that,” says the amiable troubadour, filling me on his current activities, “and I’m playing a lot of the songs that I’m gonna release on this album out at Tamworth this year. Actually I’ve doing a lot of rehearsing, a lot of press stuff…

“I’ve been getting lots of changes of shirts and pants and stuff ready because it’s about 40 degrees every day out there and you can’t really go from one gig to the other without a full change of wardrobe, so I’m trying to organise my suitcase. There’s plenty to get done before I get out there.”

On what makes Australia’s best-known country music festival – a festival he has played five times before – so special, the resident of Bangalow, New South Wales remarks, “I think the people make it special. They’re a really loyal crowd, the Australian country music crowd. They love their music and they’re passionate about it, so it’s a wonderful atmosphere.

“It’s really supportive… I think the atmosphere’s designed to be supportive of songwriters and of live music. Everyone goes out there with a good frame of mind, so when you start playing you can kind of look into the crowd and see the faces of people who are really happy to be there, and most people are out there for a couple of weeks at a time.”

As mentioned, songs from Matt’s as-yet-untitled new album, which he hopes will see the light of day around September or October, will get an airing at the festival and I quizzed the singer as to how the album will differ, musically-speaking, from the EP.

“The feel of the songs is quite different to the EP… There’s probably a little more of an Americana feeling at the moment and very sort of Old World country. I’d say if anything it’s a little more country sounding than the EP.

“But I’m really excited about the songs. I’ve had some of the songs for a while and I’ve been just dying to record them. I can’t wait to get into the studio and do that and I’m working with Anthony Lycenko again, who was the producer of my EP.”

Returning to the theme of live performance, I wondered which of the five songs on Life By Proxy go down particularly well with audiences, and which does he especially enjoy playing?

“Look, I enjoy playing them all… I think the one that seems to have cut through to people more than the others is ‘Home Every Time I’m Gone’ – that’s the second track on there. That always seems to be a crowd favourite.

“I think in a lot of my songs, there are themes around loneliness and solitude and I think a universal condition – it’s part of being a human being – is wondering if you’re alone or whether you’ve got people around you who love you, so people seem to associate really well with that song.

“And also ‘Living Dangerously,’ which was the first single – that goes over well too. But I am releasing ‘Home Every Time I’m Gone’ as a single in March. We’re shooting a video in February and releasing it in March.”

Matt elaborated further on his Late Nite Alt showcase and revealed how he first came up with the concept: “Well they were born out of a bit of a necessity, really,” he explains, “because there weren’t a lot of alt-country venues and/or gigs at the Tamworth Country Music Festival.

“Although there were many Australian artists who considered themselves, if not alt-country, then they were playing Americana and more folk country, they didn’t really feel as though they were represented in Tamworth at festival time – that it was more the traditional country. So we started this gig last year…

“We just sort of threw it together, but it came off and we got an enormous number of artists wanting to play and a lot of great headline artists. People who were selling their ticketed shows for 50, 60 dollars came and played at our show for free because they wanted to try and build this alt-country thing in Tamworth.

“We had to turn people away in the end because they couldn’t fit into the room, so we’ve got it over three nights this year. We’re really excited about that and I think the line-up’s probably even better than last year…”

And last year Kasey Chambers and Lachlan Bryan turned up?

“That’s right. Basically, the way it works is because everyone’s got ticketed shows, we can’t advertise that they’re coming to play. It’s a bit of an underground feeling. It starts at 10PM, goes to 1AM… Most of the gigs in town are finished by that time and people are looking for a place to have a beer and do something between 10 and when they go home.

“We’re getting some fabulous artists. I mean Lachlan came and played last year. He played I think the night before his ticketed show, and I think it was his album launch show too. We were just over the moon that he came and gave his time for that. Same with Kasey…

“Kasey came as part of a band that included about five or six other people and we had no idea she was coming. We knew that this band had formed with a name that no one knew and they turned up and played and of course the venue filled out almost immediately, so that helped us!

“Because of social media and things like that, it’s so instant now. People are texting their friends and saying, ‘You’d better get up here, Kasey Chambers is playing in this little back bar in Tamworth!’

“We wanted it to have that sort of vibe and it’s hard to replicate that once it’s been done before, but we’re hoping to replicate it again over three nights.”

Life By Proxy is available on iTunes.

Matt Henry will be performing at Tamworth later this month.

For more information, and to check the dates, visit his official website.

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