Although he hails from the wilds of Alaska and has a grizzly-felling father (who’s also been known to bowl 280), Matt Sheehy considers his 1999 arrival in Portland to be his true artistic genesis. He entered the 48 contiguous with childhood friend Jarhid Brown and promptly formed the band Gravity & Henry. Their first album, Pisces (2000), garnered high praise from local and national critics, and their follow-up, Sputnik: Travelling Companion (2003), was even more favorably met. Together they created a rich, layered complexity few duos could hope to replicate. As one critic said at the time, “No band with only two members should sound this good.”
Matt and Jarhid traveled the U.S. in support of their sophomore effort, playing scores of shows with the likes of Michael Franti, Pretty Girls Make Graves, and Menomena. They made their way across the country in a novel touring “bus,” which consisted of a small truck hitching the detached bed of a second truck, which would serve as their sleeping quarters under the stars at countless stops along their route.
The band enjoyed great local success until, facing an uncertain future and increased expectations following a contract offer from Seattle’s Eenie Meanie records, Gravity & Henry disbanded. Although the two friends continue to collaborate and remain close, Matt shifted focus to his solo project.
For most of us, 2005 was a difficult year. King George II had re-stolen the throne, Gladiator was named best picture in the land, and the life of the artist looked particularly bleak. Matt’s friends found him in the Northwest Industrial area of Portland living out the delusion that he was to star in the newest Gus Van Sant film. During that time he dropped out of the music scene, avoided shows, looked upon his instruments with mistrust, and even started living with jazz musicians. It seemed he’d been so involved in his music during the previous four years he lost track of other aspects of his life.
In the winter of 2005 Matt moved to a small cabin on the Oregon coast to rediscover what he wanted out of music. Some of his finest compositions were written in solitude there. “Go Missing,” a highlight of new album Tigerphobia, was first recorded in Oceanside with a single microphone and a house full of furniture as percussion. When he left the coast and returned to Portland, he had a head full of new music and a stash of lo-fi seed tracks (demos).
When 2006 arrived, Matt had the opportunity to join Kaki King on her Italian tour, so he left his unfinished demos in the U.S. and decided to hit the road again. They played 12 sold-out shows to consistently rabid fans. As it turned out, Kaki, unbeknownst to her or her manager, had been played extensively on Italian MTV, so when they showed up to play, they arrived as unaware celebrities. Their reception was so overwhelming that Matt returned stateside more excited than ever to complete his album.
He got back to work on the unfinished business of Tigerphobia right away. He learned how to produce his own record through a process of recording, discarding, and recording again. On the album he is joined by Andy Parker on drums, Tom Dietzel on bass, Matt Weiers on piano and a host of Portland’s finest musicians. Brent Knopf of Menomena plays vibes on several tracks, and was active in the album’s production. His re-mix of “Lunatics” will appear on an EP later in 2008.
Matt’s current live show in support of Tigerphobia combines elegant compositions with a host of technological wizardry. He’s joined on stage by French Horn Jen Harrison and phenom Drew Shoals on the drums. Matt builds the foundation of their live pieces by looping and layering guitar lines on top of each other and laying down bass lines with his pedals while the band brings the composition to fruition. The result is a performance that highlights the simple beauty of songs that expand in front of the audience’s eyes.
His music has been influenced by Peter Gabriel, The National, Beck, Horsefeathers, Miles Davis circa In a Silent Way, and Justin Timberlake. Yes, JT.