Roman Candle


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Indie pop/rock outfit Roman Candle began playing in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1997, where brothers Skip and Logan Matheny and Skip’s wife Timshel attended the University of North Carolina. Earlier this year, band released its second LP, Oh Tall Tree in the Ear, to much critical acclaim. American Songwriter chatted with vocalist/guitarist Skip about the band’s sound and experiences on the road. Also be sure to check out Roman Candle’s profile on American Songspace.

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You have toured with bands from all across the musical spectrum. Are there any tours that stand out as your favorites?

This last tour we did with The Deep Vibration was a lot of fun. We were both relatively new to a lot of the cities we played, so the turnouts were a mixed bag, which allowed us quite a bit of time to get to know each other. They were an incredible band to watch every night for six straight weeks, which is saying a lot. Also Sam Beam from Iron & Wine is fantastic and one of the nicest people we’ve ever played with. On the opposite end of the touring world, though, we’ve had several great experiences touring with Indigo Girls. Amazing, wonderful people, and their crowd are a bunch of music fans, which is harder to find than you might think, playing massive venues. Not to mention their catered food is out of this world, and way out of our league.

Having played both small clubs and bigger venues, such as House of Blues and, most notably, the Radio City Musical Hall, I can’t help but wonder if the setting alters your shows in any ways?

It does and it doesn’t. Certain things stay the same –the songs, the notes we play, the fact that it’s the same five people doing the same thing they usually do in a rehearsal space. But the size of the room typically affects little details of the show. Having the five of us spread way out across a big stage, or crammed together on a tiny stage, feels different if nothing else. It’s obviously more intimate to be crammed together hearing each other, knowing the crowd can hear you talk between songs. Playing those big rooms takes some getting used to, similar to playing outdoors, because the sound just seems to disperse into this big void of a room. You have to trust that the sound guy (usually someone we’ve never met) is doing his job and that what you perform on a smaller stage is translating on some level. It does get easier after a while.

With all the critical applause you have received as a band, do you ever feel pressure when you are labeled as one of the up-and-coming bands to watch?

Not really, because we’ve been making music for so long and with so many different folks, we’ve kind of learned to trust that what interests us as artists is most likely what will seem interesting to anybody else. We’ve been fortunate in the press, but the thing we’ve taken from that is more of a desire to follow our instincts. I suppose it’s all we can do anyway. Even if it all explodes like a turd in our face.

Who are some of the songwriters you most admire?

Man –short list? Cole Porter, Tom T. Hall, Morrissey, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, John Hartford, Bill Withers, Richards /Jagger, Bacharach/David, John Prine, Bryan Cates.

Mostly anybody who knows how to structure and craft a song and also push or test those structures. The idea of crafting a song at all is getting harder to come by, to my ears anyway. Other big obvious ones are Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young. Don’t trust anybody who says they don’t like at least two of these three as writers. Actually three out of three.

In your bio, you mention how the rural roots of you and your brother and more progressive roots of your wife have come together to inform you as songwriters. This is evidenced in your songs, but in a very natural, seamless way. Is this mixture of the rural and urban a conscious decision at all?

We do tend to take our songs, which can be played on an acoustic guitar, and try and stretch them as much as possible, to see how we can tell the same story but with different lighting. It’s kind of you to say that it sounds seamless, or natural. I would say, though, that it’s because those different music landscapes, rural and urban, or however you want to say it, live pretty naturally in all three of our heads. The music we’re inspired by is what we see as “pop music” on some essential level. For us, that can be Bill Monroe, Diesel Boy, the manic street preachers, Dean Martin, Stevie Wonder, and Townes Van Zandt. Not all in the same room together, so to speak, but all in the same hotel in our brains.

As a band, you are noted for your live shows. How do the live arrangements of your songs differ from the album versions? Do the songs naturally change over time?

They do change naturally over time. But we are always tinkering with our live show in one way or another, so sometimes we deliberately try to monkey with the songs. We started playing live for the most part back in college in 1997, and we spent three years playing live shows while our record was shelved on a major label (Hollywood). So learning to entertain ourselves onstage became part of our ability to survive as a live band. We try to make sure that we are having fun, and if we are, I imagine chances are higher that the audience is having fun.

Is modern radio “A-OK” to you?

Ha. Sure. I guess it is, if you’re looking for something you can ignore for the most part.

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