The Suitcase Junket Observes the Present from The Future… or something like that… in “Can’t Look Away”

 “This tune is one of a few that I’ve written which I loosely describe as ‘future-memoirs’,” says multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter Matt Lorenz, a.k.a. The Suitcase Junket, about his new song “Can’t Look Away.” Lifted from his sixth album The End Is New (the title itself a time shift conundrum as well), the single is a sci-fi-esque concept of a future self, looking in at the present. Rather nerdy stuff, but it’s a way for Lorenz to sermonize about the sorry state of the world without being preachy. 

“The narrator is looking back to the present and explaining it with the kind of simple frankness that can only come with having experienced a thing,” he tries to explain. If he recited this in person, he’d need a chalkboard and circles… and perhaps a few arrows. 

It’s no secret that the world is in dire straits… perhaps on the brink of dystopia.  So waxing poetic about it allows a sense of relief that, if he’s speaking about the present from the future, then that means the present isn’t as toxic as it might seem now because he survived it.  Or something like that.

“I like this approach because it allows for a certain tone of weary knowing,” he says, settling back and allowing this philosophical and metaphysical concept to sink in.

Lorenz’s music isn’t quite as complicated.  It’s heady for sure, but his music has an immediacy that transcends circles, arrows and time shifts. Indie Americana with a rootsy blues backbone, “Can’t Look Away” is swampy, stompy, epic and soaring… and practically triumphant but there’s still a feeling of darkness and dread.  “I told Steve [Berlin, producer] I wanted to make a doom-folk record,” he says. “That’s what I started calling my music when people asked. He was game. Neither of us knew quite what that meant at the time, but I think we found out with The End is New. There’s a heavy mix of hope and desperation in the sound and, lyrically, I was trying to be a mirror to society using truth, myth, confessions and stories.”

Essentially a one-man band who plays multiple instruments at once like those minstrels who strapped a bass drum on their back, wore a harmonica around their neck, an accordion under one arm and a banjo under the other, Lorenz recycles found objects and McGyvers them into makeshift instruments, creating a fortress of sound, triggered by feet, fingers and other limbs. A baby shoe becomes a drum pedal… an empty suitcase – a cajon. Perhaps this sense of renewable products and repurposing of objects is a futurist’s survival tactic… a way of recycling the past to create a life in the future. Perhaps our future selves are hippies, trying to nurture the world we destroyed back to health.

“There’s a dose of fatalism as the lyrics touch on our inability or unwillingness to change what needs changing in our world; namely our systematic destruction of the very organism that supports us. (Looking at you, Mother Earth),” he replies, musing on the topic.

The song however isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s more of a cautionary tale, telling his present self to get his shit together. “The pre-chorus, though, is a bit more zen,” he explains, adding a bit of realism to his science fiction. “It still has a cynical edge, but puts things in perspective a bit… ‘It’s just another human disaster on the side of the modern road we’re on’,” he adds, reciting the chorus lyrics of the song.

This feeling of solitary independence – the ‘last man on earth’ trope he seems to live as both a one-man band and a self-reliant loner – sits well with the current pandemic and its social distancing guidelines.  Living in rural Western Massachusetts with chickens and dogs as his dependents, it wasn’t much of a change from his normal day-to-day rituals, except he didn’t have to tour. But this already-distant life made observations of an outsider looking in (albeit without the time shift from his song) an easy perspective to utilize.

“The things I value are under attack,” he muses. “And writing songs and making art are the methods I have for responding. I have tried to use my observations and reflections of the world bent through my fun-house-mirror mind to show what I see; a planet stressed. … We can do better.”

Returning to the theme of futuristic voyeurism of the outside world, he circles back to another theme of “Can’t Look Away”: the performative art of social media. It’s a fitting end to society… the unknowing but purely observational viewpoint of our future selves looking back at our doomed present on digital screens… isolated and socially distant voyeurs, unable and perhaps unwilling to change the course of events. Our only interaction is watching it all unfold while leaving comments and liking a status.

“And finally the chorus of ‘You can’t look away’ references our wildly viral social media culture,” he concludes, fatalistically understanding that our fate is sealed. “We may be knowingly sending ourselves to hell in a handbasket but, man, does it make for good TV.”

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