Cowboy Matt Hopewell's
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'Cowboy' Matt Hopewell keeps it odd with 'Welcome to the Future'
Welcome To The Future
Worcester Telegram Thursday October 23, 2014
'Cowboy" Matt Hopewell is - and I don't think this assertion will surprise anyone familiar with his work - a very odd artist. Sometimes, he can be remarkably traditional, digging into a blues-rock guitar groove that seems to flow from some concert somewhere in the late-'60s or early '70s, classic and drenched in beer from some backwater bar.
And then, he begins talking about aliens, and it's clear that he's perhaps coming from somewhere different altogether.
Hopewell, who is performing at 9 p.m. Oct. 24 at Beatnik's, 433 Park Ave., Worcester, weds blues, rock, psychedelia and surrealism into a disorienting cocktail, utterly unpredictable and hopped up on Frank Zappa and an "Ancient Astronauts" marathon. And on his most recent album, "Welcome to the Future" from the locally based LoZ records, Hopewell puts all the complicated and self-contradictory pieces of his artistic perspective together in one place. And it works. The surrealism might make your head hurt at a few points, but it works nonetheless.
And like all the best willfully strange artists, Hopewell wastes no time and shows you right up front that he knows what he's doing. The album opens with the guitar and harmonica instrumental jam "New School Old School," and in a lot of ways, it's the most overtly classic song on the album, showing off his guitar skill in a joyous screech of skidding and sliding notes. This music, unadulterated by language, is joyful and cathartic,the sort of blues-rock riff you'd turn to when you crave that sort of thing. It's a song the most-straight-laced, traditionalist fan of Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughn would enjoy without reservation.
And then the next song is called "The Feeling Like a 21st-Century Schizoid Man Blues," and all bets are off.
"Welcome to the future" sings Hopewell, in a rough, slightly off-kilter voice, "it's a lot like the past."
And right there is the soul of the whole album, but right up front: "Old school" and "new school" are pretty much the same thing, we have no new ideas and no flying cars. And more to the point: Hopewell's persona still doesn't feel comfortable in the world.
"Oh Lord don't it feel," he sings, "like I don't belong in this place/ Would have thought by now I would have been far from here/ would have made it to outer space."
His premise rather neatly established, Hopewell then cuts loose, with songs such as the Jimi-Hendrix-fueled "Shipwreck Blues" and the warbly, Tom Waits-strained "Dive In." The chords say "country," the lyrics say "acid trip," and it's not difficult at all to rectify the two strands.
"There is comfort in tradition," he sings, on "The Choice is Yours," a relatively straightforward blues-rock number, but the comfort doesn't last long as he dives headlong into a song about the mating habits of pandas, "Panda Blues," kicking the absurdity back into high gear.
Things get really out of control with the conspiracy-theory-themed "Must Have Been the Aliens."
This is pretty much the point of the album where you have to decide whether you want to stay with Hopewell for the rest of this ride, or if it's getting too weird. Because it gets weirder.
But first, he pauses for a moment with the country-fried "Sneaking In," where he meditates on good and evil, and wondering if he'll be able to get into Heaven. As the title infers, he's looking for a way to sneak in.
It's a nice, classic song, and in a lot of ways, it's one of the album's best. But it's also the last touchstone before he dives into the monolithic "Phantasmagoria Blues," a Dadaistic odyssey of bizarre imagery and blues guitar that gives everything a hazy, intoxicated feeling. It's the sort of song — well, poem — that will drive you crazy if you try to parse meaning from it. But if you can let the oddness of it all just wash over you, then it can be a fun (if long) ride.
Old school and new school are the same. He starts in the past, and ends somewhere odd and unexpected. Everything is unfamiliar and you feel a bit out of place.
But then, he told you that would happen, didn't he?
Email Victor D. Infante at Victor.Infante@Telegram.com and follow him on Twitter @ocvictor.
Worcester Magazine Thursday 10.16.2014
Riding Back from the Sunset
Written by Jeremy Shulkin 10/16/2014 5:00 am
The lyrics "bible close to my right hand/devil's in my left hand/and I'm trying to decide which kind of man I want to be," kick off "Sneaking In," the last track on "Cowboy" Matt Hopewell's new album, "Welcome to the Future." These lyrics may be his most accessible to date.
Hopewell, a local poet in addition to his singing/songwriting ventures, spent the nearly five years between "Welcome to the Future" and his 2009 release "Viva Psychedelia" embracing his poetic leanings as a songwriter.
"I started seeing [songwriting and poetry writing] as a more fluid thing," Hopewell says. "The inadvertent side effect was growth as a songwriter."
One notable difference between "Viva Psychedelia" and "Welcome to the Future" is Hopewell's embrace of humor and satire, two tones that were previously relegated to just his poems.
"There was a lot more humor in my poetry," Hopewell said. As another contrast, Hopewell said "Viva Psychedelia" was more of a concept album and as a whole much darker than "Welcome to the Future."
The biggest display of the album's humor might be its technically non-sense title: "You can't really be welcomed to the future," Hopewell explained. "I just kind of like the idea of playing with time as language is concerned."
The lighter atmosphere is on display a few times over the album's 50 minutes. Along with "Sneaking In"'s homage to the prevalent themes from golden age Hank Williams III-era country, "Must've Been the Aliens" takes a satirical aim at the conspiracy theorists and the tin foil-capped communities for diminishing the potential for the layperson to find real interest in the stars and extraterrestrial life - topics that have always fascinated Hopewell.
"Now that I've got my aluminum hat on, I can really see what's really going on," he jabs in the song.
Despite the accessibility of some songs, there's still plenty of weird on "Welcome to the Future." "New Old School" is a rollicking freak out, "Phantasmagoria Blues" - which Hopewell unsurprisingly said stemmed from a poem - is a surreal free verse trek through a desert referencing chimeras, synesthesia and a talking carrion fly, and there's plenty of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart influence to go around.
"That's what I like about the album, it has a little bit of everything," Hopewell said, adding voodoo, the Bible, the aforementioned aliens and even the I Ching to the list of the record's many influences.
"Welcome to the Future" is record number 11 for Worcester's Lo-Z Records, run by Torbin Harding.
Despite the trio of Hopewell, Harding and Lo-Z house drummer Daniel Lapensee having worked together on "Viva Psychadelia," Harding said this time he took a much more straightforward approach to recording.
"This album's a lot more scaled back in production," and with Hopewell's baritone out front, "I made a conscious effort to mix this like a Johnny Cash record," Harding offered, though he admits his biggest focus was "just trying to capture [Hopewell's] imagination."
The Cowboy in outer space
Written by Tony Boiardi 02/05/2015 5:01 am
Matt Hopewell, better known as Cowboy, slinks through the deepest annals of Worcester strumming a guitar and humming a tune to anyone willing to listen. A bard of sorts, he blends the deeply philosophical surrealism of his poetry with the hard-driving bluesy rock riffs with a dash of "2001: A Space Odyssey."
In his most recent venture, "Welcome to the Future," produced by Worcester's own Lo-Z Records, Hopewell takes us on a lyrical journey taking jabs at alien conspiracies, voodoo and what he refers to as "The Grand Dumbening" - a coincidental catastrophe where our simplifying technologies and deeper online connections further drive us from intelligence; a world where one can have 10,000 friends online, but never be more alone.
"Why is this the future?" he inquires, "Anything with a 20 in front of it meant the future. Well I'm here now, where the hell is my flyng car? It's an absurd world we live in, a plague of hash tags with smart phones that contain more tools than all the instruments Mr. Spock would carry."
People, Hopewell surmises, "are more connected in a way" because of the plethora of social media outlets designed seemingly for unaccountable arguments and opinions disguised as fact, "yet we are very emotionally disconnected."
Hopewell's musical styles certainly seem out of this world, blending the vocal styles of Frank Zappa, with the lyrical compositions similar to Salvador Dali paintings and 1930s comedy, all while ripping guitar riffs to rival Hendrix and Vaughn. To get an idea of what that sounds like, imagine a stiff-collared government official in 1950 getting abducted by a flying saucer piloted by a clown and Tom Waits.
Beyond Hopewell's music being quite a trip, the creations from his mind transcend music. It invokes a discussion, causing the listener to take a hard look at the way the world works today, with a perspective from the past.
Though his musical progression has evolved into a social commentary of sorts, Hopewell still feels he is simply a comedian.
"There's plenty of people who have better things to say than me," he said. "I'd rather just make people laugh, I'd rather be the clown."
With such tracks as "Panda Blues," "Must Have Been the Aliens" and "The Feeling Like a 21st Century Schizoid Man Blues," Hopewell definitely puts out the image of the musical clown.
He has come a long way since his days as a barista at the Java Hut (formerly located at 1073 Main St.) Yet that's where Hopewell describes his roots. He acted as a collector of oddballs, hosting open mic nights for music and poetry, where he "met a interesting slush pile of rogue poets."
Continuing the journey through the valley of the strange, Hopewell had his share of slam poetry and musical endeavors: Aslan King Experience (also produced by Lo-Z records), Little "a" poetry series and Scat Flatulence & the Plastic Animal Cramps, to name a few.
Hopewell said he has taken a slowed role to hosting shows while he works harder on his own projects. "Viva Psychedelia" was released 2009, and "Welcome to the Future" just last year. There is much more to come unless he finds himself lost in the cosmos.
"I'm pretty easily distracted," Hopewell admitted. "One moment I'm writing a poem, then I find myself strumming a guitar." He tries not to lament his fleeting ideas, supposing some of them were never meant to be.
"But of course," he said, "it could have also been my legacy."
Certainly, a strange, surreal individual, Cowboy Matt Hopewell is definitely worth checking out. He's the new old school, the cowboy in the city, yearning for the future while existing in the past. Everything in the 21st century may not be made of chrome, but until then we can rest easy knowing Cowboy will be there to welcome us to the future.
Cowboy Matt Hopewell's "Welcome to the Future" is available on iTunes, and he usually performs in many Worcester venues. He can also be located on Facebook, Soundcloud and www.lo-zrecords.com.