On Stage Spotlight: Matt Pond finds a new start with The Natural Lines

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Area music fans may not be familiar with the name of the band that is headlining a show on May 9 at Johnny Brenda’s (1201 North Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, www.johnnybrendas.com) – The Natural Lines.

However, most area music fans know the leader of The Natural Lines very well – Matt Pond.

Matt Pond is a musician from New York who formed his band Matt Pond PA in Philadelphia in 1998. Since then, the band has released 14 well-received albums and several EPs. Pond is now based in Kingston, NY, with his partner and wild dog Willa.

“I grew up in New Hampshire,” said Pond, during a recent phone interview while he was driving up Interstate 87 heading to a gig in Boston.

The Natural Lines is at once clearly Matt Pond’s work, yet a huge leap forward in its measured songcraft, melodic immediacy, collaborative detail and wryly questioning lyrics, the result is a gorgeous album of intimate reflections from a relocated, renamed, revivified talent.

The album was recorded with close collaborators and friends over a period that saw Pond make vital adjustments to his life, its stealth emergence reflects his desire to set a fresh pace for himself and come from somewhere new, somewhere more open.

In 2017, Pond declared his intent to retire the Matt Pond PA name, though it lived on briefly in the reissue of “The State Of Gold” and EPs such as “Free Fall,” a tribute to Philadelphia.

Among a revolving cast of collaborators, one constant presence in his work has been Chris Hansen, who plays guitar, bass, keys, saxophone and vocals on The Natural Lines’ debut. Matt’s partner, Anya Marina, contributes vocals. Other band members are Hilary James (cello/vocals), Kyle Kelly-Yahner (drums), Louie Lino (keys), Sarah Hansen (horns), Sean Hansen (drums/bass), Kat Murphy (vocals) and, also on vocals, MJ Murphy.

“What was the catalyst for this band,” said Pond. “There was a pandemic. We were working on a record and then COVID started to be a real problem.

“With the new songs, I was saying what I wanted to say – no more gauze or veil. I used to lean on poetry. This time, I leaned on reality. COVID went into a deep dive into my head. ‘Stick with the positive’ is my new mantra.

“I sent the record to Simon Raymonde, the owner of Bella Union Records. He thought that it was a different band – that it didn’t sound like Matt Pond PA.”

Bella Union is a British independent record label founded in 1997 by Raymonde and Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins. It is now run solely by Raymonde.

“There were several labels that wanted to sign us,” said Pond. “Then, Bella Union came, and they were run by musicians. Every record label should be run by musicians.

“With The Natural Lines, I wanted to put Matt Pond PA to bed. It’s hard to say my name so much.”

According to Pond, there was another factor – “I quit lying. I checked my harsher tones. I cut my drinking down. I went to therapy and figured out how to stop shouting at cars.”

Pond was searching for peace – inside and outside.

“Whatever I do, I want it to be more inclusive and broader,” said Pond. “I had been falling into my own formula. This time, I just wanted not to rely on the same way of thinking.”

The Natural Lines is definitely different from Matt Pond PA.

“I still feel in a fog from before the big shutdown and now,” said Pond. “Everything has changed so much from when I last toured. I feel like I’m in a new land.

Chris (Hansen) and I have been playing together for a long time. He and I were the center of my band. But right now, he can’t really tour because he has kids.

“There was a mental shift for me with the new band. It’s just a lot easier to not say my name. I want to be in this with other people and not just be the leader.

“Other band members are Hilary James on cello, bass and keyboards, John Courage on guitar, keyboards and bass and Dan Ford on drums. These people in my car now are the bomb. After the tour, we want to make a new record.

“What I love most is writing songs. I love touring too, but there are so many variables. With the new album, it’s the story of going deep inside your head and realizing you need other people.”

The Natural Lines will also be playing on May 13 at Phantom Power (121 West Frederick Street, Millersville, www.phantompower.net).
Video link for The Natural Lines — https://youtu.be/AmwVmatnocU.

The show at Johnny Brenda’s will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $17.

The Quebe Sisters

The Quebe Sisters may be from the Lone Star State but that hasn’t kept them from playing regularly at a variety of area venues in recent years. On May 9, they will add a new venue to their list – City Winery (990 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, www.citywinery.com).

The Quebe Sisters are a fiddle-centric Western swing group from Texas. The band features a trio of sisters — Grace, Sophia and Hulda Quebe.

Making harmonious music is a natural thing for siblings. There usually is a high level of harmony – onstage and offstage (unless you’re talking about The Kinks, Oasis or the Black Crowes).

Formed in 2002, the band performs fiddle music — Western and traditional Texas style — along with Western swing and vintage country.

“Our last album was our self-titled album in 2019,” said Sophia Quebe, during a recent phone interview from her home in Dallas, Texas.

“It was a starting over – a new phase for the band. Then came 2020 and the pandemic.

“The pandemic gave us an appreciation of what we wanted. Before the pandemic, we worried about ticket sales. After the pandemic, we didn’t worry about it.  We just went out and played and enjoyed the audiences.”

They haven’t returned to the recording studio as of right now.

“We haven’t recorded anything new yet,” said Quebe. “We’re working on our vision for the album. We don’t feel quite happy with certain things we’re working on. We’re not ready to put them in stone. We do have songs written. It’s more about how we want to express the material. We’re working on our sense of artistic vision.”

When asked to describe their artistic vision, Quebe offered this explanation.

“It’s hard to describe,” said Quebe. “We’re trying to figure out how to communicate our feelings. The main vision is to find a way to truly express these songs. Each song will be its own feeling.

“It’s about feeling the music. It’s an abstract thing to explain. It’s like getting the right vehicle on the right road. We have a lot of songs that are ready. It’s now about all the puzzle pieces coming together at the right time.”

When the Quebes (rhymes with “maybe”) take the stage, the triple-threat fiddle champions play and sing in multi-part close harmony. The trio’s vocal and instrumental performances are authentic all-Americana.

“My sisters and I started playing music for fun,” said Quebe. “We grew up in Krum, Texas. We never thought we’d play music professionally as fiddlers. We just played little Suzuki violins. It was fun.

“Then, our teacher encouraged us to enter a fiddle contest. We ended up quitting playing violin and stared fiddling. We started taking lessons and our teachers saw the potential. That’s when we started competing in fiddle contests.”

When Hulda, Sophia and Grace were ages 7, 10 and 12 in 1998, they attended their first local fiddle competition in nearby Denton, and decided fiddling was what they wanted to do. The sisters earned solo and group accolades early on — winning state and national championships in their respective age groups in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002.

“Our teachers were Sherry McKenzie and her husband Joey McKenzie, who was a professional fiddler,” said Quebe, the youngest of the three.

“They gave us music to listen to — western, jazz and country. The three of us would sit in the same room and take lessons together. We’d all learn the same kind of material and we kept progressing at the same level. We learned about chords and arranging. Soon, we were playing gigs.

“Since then, we tour all the time. Tours range from a week to a month or more. We’ve been coming to Pennsylvania for a long time. Some of our earliest shows were in Pennsylvania. We love touring. It’s been great to see so much and to meet so many wonderful people along the way.”

Video link for the Quebe Sisters – https://youtu.be/2dQEd4Mg0S4.

The show at City Winery will start at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $20.

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