With an arsenal of elaborate yet quirky acoustic and electronic music, all accented by full production, Matt & Toby are truly one of today’s most unique tastemakers. But just because the Seattle-based band is brand new doesn’t mean members Matt Carter and Toby Morrell aren’t already familiar to fans. In fact, both guys have spent eleven years and continue to be members of the highly influential, nearly gold selling Emery, a heavy rock act at its core, but one with an occasionally softer, more melodic side.
“Matt & Toby just kind of happened,” notices Matt nonchalantly. “The big thing with Emery is it has an image, a sound and its own identity. Even though there’s a softer side at times, if you spend too much time away from the heavier side, it would make Emery seem less reliable. So rather than alienate some fans with a record that wasn’t heavy at all, we wanted to explore the totality of how the softer side would be through Matt & Toby. We wanted to do our own thing that’s not contrary but completely additional to Emery.”
Adds Toby: “Initially we thought we’d write an acoustic Emery record, but there wound up being songs that were more personal for me and Matt, plus there’s just a niche group of Emery fans who like that stuff. I like Weezer, but when I buy a Weezer record, I want to hear Weezer songs. This is our chance to do something totally different- out of respect for Emery fans and not just cause we want to do- because the fans are as much a part of the band as us. We didn’t feel like Emery with this record. We felt like a whole new band.”
Indeed Matt & Toby’s self-titled debut on Tooth & Nail finds the pair clearly making an individual statement, starting with experimental sonic textures that never forsake pop sensibility. Though the duo is truly original in their own right, the ten track collection could be considered an unconventional blend of Ben Folds, David Bazan (Pedro The Lion) and Coconut Records (the latest venture from Phantom Planet’s Jason Schwartzman).
“I’d call it melodic pop, but not in the sense of radio,” observes Toby. “It has kind of an indie rock/pop feel but there’s some rawness to it. I think it’s pop that’s not totally polished- it’s a little raw and more real that what you hear on the radio. There are definitely parts of the album that come out of nowhere, and when you listen to it, there will be several surprises where you wouldn’t think we’d do that.”
Another noticeable difference between Matt & Toby and Emery is the intensely personal nature of the songwriting. Take for instance “What Plays In My Head,” which talks about a friend who lost their husband in a car accident. Aside from offering sympathy for all those involved, the duo wonders what it would be like to lose their spouses, in turn, exposing incredibly vulnerable feelings to the world at large.
Other highlights include “Life Of The Party,” which traces getting older and reflecting on life’s shifting seasons, while “Sunday Morning, February 12th” talks about feeling groggy before an early church service, but nonetheless preparing for a powerful encounter with God. Additional points of spiritual connection include “Prodigal Sons and Daughters” and “Take Me Oh Lord In Thy Hands,” which clearly tie into Matt & Toby’s quest for authenticity as they reach out to an audience from varied walks of life.
“We want this to be a very interactive experience where we want to impact people directly and be impacted by fans directly,” confirms Matt, citing the group’s fall living room tour as the ideal catalyst for connection. “We don’t want to just move people through an autograph line, but really hang out with everybody, at least for a couple of hours, and be real. Being with people is the right thing to do and something we really want to do, but with a higher quality of meeting and interaction.”
To take the conversation even further than a single evening of storytelling and songs, Matt & Toby have set up the brand new blog Un-learning.org. Besides keeping everyone updated on the band’s whereabouts, it also provides first person accounts from the road, and perhaps more importantly, spiritually provocative conversations for fans on all sides of the faith fence.
“We view the blog as an opportunity to reach people who’ve been burnt by Christianity,” explains Toby. “Jesus met people where they were at and He’s an awesome example for us as to how we can relate to others. People need Jesus, but at the same time, we don’t need another person forcing what they think Jesus is down their throat. Redemption, renewal and love come through Him, but we want to relate that in a really real way.”
Though the guys are certainly on the right track towards maximum spiritual and musical impact, there’s still one rumor they’re hoping to put to rest. Even though Matt & Toby is its own full-fledged band, Emery is by no means breaking up with both acts continuing to operate simultaneously.
“It’s been an unbelievable blessing to kind of skip ahead of the line and have people know who we are already even though this band is brand new,” realizes Matt. “But at the same time, if people don’t care about Matt & Toby, then that won’t really matter. Our goal is to be validated as our own band and not just have spillover fans. Beyond that, it’s to impact other people and change the way they think, though often times, I’ve found when I set to change something, it’s me who’s changed the most.”
A lofty goal without a doubt and one that Matt & Toby are certainly poised to conquer, but just how exactly do they hope to maintain the juggling act between both bands? “When we go on tour with Emery, we can be writing the next Matt & Toby record on the bus,” assures Toby. “Obviously it’s more work, but we care about both bands. Now that we have families, we can’t really be on the road as much as we used to, but both bands will continue to tour. And if it ever gets too crazy, Matt & Toby might just open for Emery…”