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'It's Always Good To Slow Down': Fiddle Player Matt Heckler On Self-Recording His Raw & Dark New Album

Matt Heckler
Matt Heckler

While difficult, the pandemic was an unexpected blessing for North Carolina musician Matt Heckler. With the unexpected time and rest, he was able to record his latest album, Blood, Water, Coal, which debuted at number three on the Bluegrass Billboard chart. But what he plays isn't exactly what you would call bluegrass.

Ask anyone around here if I'm playing Appalachian old style, they'll say no. I have a very weird style.

This is Songwriters & Tour Riders, a music podcast from KOSU and Oklahoma State University and hosted by Matthew Viriyapah.

Listen above to hear Matt Heckler talk about his style of folk music which takes influence from places like Ireland, Appalachia, and Romania, and also slowing down in the last year to self-record his latest album.

On finally slowing down

It's been a blessing actually, as difficult as the times have been... It was like a two and half year period where I didn't stop. Like I would get back to wherever I was living and be there for a week, two weeks before I had to set back out.

I remember the last show we did before it got called for the pandemic. I was sitting there like 'I'm done. I can't do this.' And it was the second date of a month-long tour. So we were two shows in and I was like 'I can't maintain.'

So it's been a blessing. The pandemic hit and I've been doing online lessons, which is great for me. It's always good to slow down and play through things slow.

This is the longest I've lived somewhere in my adult life. I've been in the same house for just over a year now and it's interesting. It's definitely a change of pace.

It doesn't feel like I've taken a break. It just feels like I'm kind of recharging to get back out there.
Matt Heckler

On self-recording the album

I had never recorded myself professionally. Air quotes there.

The pandemic hit and I was like I want to do this album. I want to do it myself. And I want to take my time and work through every single thing exactly how I want it while maintaining the roughness that my music naturally has.

And I did it! It's done now, but the process of getting here...

The bassist that I work with wanted me to try and work with a click track for recording. And I got almost everything done instrument-wise and then listened a lot closer and realized that the click track was bleeding through my headphones and getting picked up by the microphone. So I had to redo it.

And then I spilled a seltzer on my computer and was without my computer for a while. Luckily, I still had all the files. And just stuff like that kept going wrong. And it just took so long.

And by the time I released it— like I still can't really listen to the album. It definitely holds a lot of stressful memories. I'm grateful for it and I'm starting to be able to hear it as music and not a pain in the butt project.

So I definitely needed a year to record it.

I'm going to record my next album starting pretty soon and take my time, but I've learned a lot so I think it will go a little bit smoother.

On finally getting the songs out there

It was all songs I had been playing for a really long time. And I had kind of sat down in front of the microphone and was like 'alright, these songs are finally— they're finally getting down. These are the versions that people are going to hear.'

So the new album I'm going to start recording is all new songs— very similar styles, but I'm kind of excited for that.

I think that was another thing that was tricky about recording Blood, Water, Coal. I played a lot of those songs into the ground already either busking or playing shows... A lot of those tunes weren't as personal feeling as they were some years ago.

I loved doing it. I loved getting them out of there, but I think this new album will be a lot of fun to kind of wrangle new material in while recording.

As soon as you put a song out, it's no longer yours.

Music featured in this episode:

  1. Matt Heckler - Left For Dead
  2. Matt Heckler - Katy Dear
  3. Lost Dog Street Band - Bring Back Someday
  4. Matt Heckler ft. Benjamin Tod - Blue Eyes Dancing (Gems On VHS)
  5. Joe Heaney - The Rocks of Bawn
  6. The Pogues - The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
  7. Matt Heckler - Jackalope Waltz
  8. Matt Heckler - Forgive Me Mother
  9. Bruce Molsky with Julie Fowlis - The Blackest Crow
  10. Skip James - Hard Time Killing Floor Blues
  11. Matt Heckler - Blood, Water, Coal
  12. Profane Sass - Mexican Trains
  13. Matt Heckler - St. Tomas
  14. Matt Heckler - Blue Eyes Dancing (Gems On VHS)
  15. Matt Heckler - Roses and Whiskey
  16. Matt Heckler - Forgive Me Mother
  17. Matt Heckler - My Caroline

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Matthew Viriyapah is KOSU's production assistant and host of the music podcast Songwriters & Tour Riders.
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