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Published: 2011/04/07
by Brandon Findlay

Raise Your Voice Like Dust In The Wind: An Intro to Thankful Dirt

Photo by Jennifer Coleman/www.digitalsuburbia.net

It was once written that “writers serve as word-born radars, helping connect art’s fleeting flight with the landing of newfound devotion.” And at Jambands.com we are indeed devoted to taking chances and perhaps turning our readers onto new artists that might not be on anyone else’s radar but our own.

And so, from our radar to yours, we offer a husband and wife team from Des Moines, Iowa, that are writing great songs, and winning fans one show at a time- the way that industry pundits and life-long die hards say it should be done. Darren and Molly Matthews share a common bond with thousands of independent artists in this torrid musical climate, yet are standing apart through the unique chemistry of their tunes and performances. They are planning their first major touring runs, and could quite possibly end up in front of you very soon.

There are no guarantees on this road, and maybe Thankful Dirt will never advance past carving their living out of the thriving Midwestern roots scene. But perhaps, should they capture enough ears, and hearts, this could be a stepping stone towards bigger stages. Considering Jambands.com is fortunate enough to have one of the most invested and musical readerships out there, you are truly the judge. Leave a comment and let us know what you think. But for now, we give you Thankful Dirt, in their own words.

Brandon Findlay: “Thankful Dirt” is such an evocative name- where does the name come from, and what symbolism does the name possess for the two of you?

Molly Matthews: Thankful Dirt is the name of a song by a band called Trailer Bride, out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There is a line that says “dust is just thankful dirt”, and that really stuck with me. I like the idea of dust rising as being an act of thankfulness.

BF: The lyrics are more literate and poetic than a fair share of your contemporaries. Author Stephen Crane is mentioned in “He Draws Stars”. Let’s talk about the songwriting process, specifically how you know something is “finished.”

MM: I love words. I grew up in a ‘reading’ household, and Darren did too

Darren Matthews: Much like Molly, growing up with my mom in the teaching biz, and living in Iowa City with the Writers Workshop, [as well as] the folks I’ve worked with before. That shaped the writer that I am now.

MM: As for knowing when something is finished, it’s kind of just a feeling I get. I don’t over-analyze that aspect of it.

DM: First of all, you just write what you can get out at the time, and then you do redrafts. You sit on it for a couple of weeks, you play it a couple of times, you figure out what works with the song. The song tells you what it needs to be. Then you have to reevaluate and make subtle, or sometimes major, changes. Every song is different.

MM: Darren obviously thinks a lot more about this than I do, but in all fairness, he writes all of the music and much of the lyrics, also!

DM: The song is the master.

BF: Several themes run throughout the album as a whole- Okies, bridesmaids, a lot of naturalism- did these themes naturally emerge, or was there some conscious planning put into the feel you wanted to conjure?

MM: The album is really just autobiographical. Sometimes we speak directly in the songs about our lives and events, other time analogies or allusions are used to speak for us. We are sharing our lives in these songs, and really nothing more. I don’t think we tried to create a ‘feel’ for the album, it just happened really on its own.

DM: I’ve always gravitated toward stories where there is no moral, no outcome, no good or evil. Just life. I see portions of my songs as the ‘impossibility of sainthood’, the human condition…

BF: Other than Crane, what other literary influences do you both have? Culturally speaking, what leaves an impression for you to draw on later?

DM: Emerson, Thoreau, William Carlos Williams,... many others. I’ve always gravitated towards the writers who offer more depth. You can read the same book twice, and get different things from it each time. I can derive more from a Lightning Hopkins guitar lick than I can from any book. To me, music is literary.

MM: I have had many influences, too many to really list. I just love reading, and the way a person can fall into a book or a song. Some of my favorite writers were, and are, lyricists.

Darren, your guitar playing is very “orchestral” in that it weaves several parts to build one statement together. What have been your past musical experiences that have led you to this style?

DM: When I first started playing, I was just trying to learn simple chord structures, patterns, stuff that I could remember. I studied the Beatles, the Stones, and the rest. Then my father got me playing jazz guitar. I started studying with Ben Harrison, one of Iowa’s best jazz guitarists. I studied with him for a number of years.

Our lessons consisted of chord voicings, how to approach certain songs and solos, and possibly the best part of my lessons was when Ben put down the guitar and told me stories about playing jazz in small combos down south, and some of the shenanigans that they used to get into [laughs]. Listening to other players is key, and practicing constantly and trying to always do something new.

BF: Who do you listen to and combine into your own style?

DM: I listen to everything! Half of what music is to me as a guitar player is the rhythm, your right hand has to be hip-to-hip with the drummer. The drummer–guitar player connection is the most important to me. So I think that’s why I’m to drawn to drummers as influences as much as guitarists… the backbeat.

Levon Helm is huge influence! I love that guy, along with the rest of the Band. Of course, Keith Richards, Nick Drake, the Faces, Ronnie Wood… all of that guitar stuff, Lighting Hopkins, they are all friends to my ears. I’ve learned a lot from just listening.

BF: Molly, your past was musical as well, was it not?

MM: My father owned a record store from the time I was a baby. I grew up listening to all kinds of music. I was encouraged to express myself, and I spent a lot of my life singing. I was in theater and choir as a kid. As I got older, and more self-conscious, I withdrew from that and kept my singing to myself for about twenty years.

I have always been a big listener. I’ve collected albums all my life. I love music and it has definitely been a central part of who I am. I think music is the thing that keeps me going when things are hard, it inspires me. There is an album for any situation, or a song for every feeling. It just means everything to me. It is like food, I wouldn’t be able to live without it. Now, I am performing and writing my own music, which is both unexpected and amazing!

BF: Wife & Husband teams are a more recognized musical entity than they once were- Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks, Julie & Buddy Miller, etc.- how does your spousal relationship enhance, or perhaps hinder, the musical relationship?

MM: I think it has made our relationship ten times stronger. Performing live as a duo is definitely a situation where you have to trust one another completely for it to really work. Both of us get to relax, and fall into the songs.

It’s great. There are rough days, just like any couple would have. We live and work together, so we spend most of our time together. We have different strengths, which is great. I think we complement one another very well.

DM: It really hasn’t hindered it at all. We have almost eleven years together living life. It’s a blessing! Molly and I actually connect on several levels. It’s a pleasure of mine just to be involved in this process of making, playing, and loving music with her.

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Comments

There are 13 comments associated with this post

john price April 13, 2011, 14:24:50

she’s an uncommon singer, old soul in a young woman. her voice is just plain honest, weary at times , i absolutely love her. darren is as dedicated to music and guitar as anyone i know., and i don’t know anyone with his chops. they have created a beautiful thing with thankful dirt. haunting beautiful songs created out of pain and love. it just doesn’t get any better. great interview by brandon also.

john price April 13, 2011, 14:30:43

she’s an uncommon singer, old soul in a young woman. her voice is just plain honest, weary at times , i absolutely love her. darren is as dedicated to music and guitar as anyone i know., and i don’t know anyone with his chops. they have created a beautiful thing with thankful dirt. haunting beautiful songs created out of pain and love. it just doesn’t get any better.-great artice and interview by brandon findlay

Todd Partridge September 11, 2011, 00:01:33

The first time I heard Thankful Dirt was in a small venue and I was immediately taken in by Molly’s voice and Darren’s guitar playing. It was like finding a rare gem in a drawer full of junky old costume jewelry. The real deal, for sure.

Music Lover April 11, 2011, 09:02:04

Insightful, thoughtful interview from an interesting new indie/folk duo. Thanks for bringing great new music to my attention!

Van DeLisle April 8, 2011, 04:47:05

I was introduced to Thankful Dirt by a facebook friend of mine, Mark Gerking, from Sioux City IA. I trust Mark, so I bought their album and was immediately blown away. And earlier this year I drove out to Iowa City to see them LIVE! Wow! I really LOVE Thankful Dirt. Thanks, Molly and Darren!

psyche April 8, 2011, 10:27:34

congrats, molly & darren! they deserve the recognition for sure!

Roger Feldhans April 8, 2011, 12:22:10

I met Darren and Molly a while back, fell in love with them and their music right from the start. At a show at Byron’s in Pomeroy, Iowa I was able to photograph them and show them how I saw them and their music, it was an incredible nite. I was honored to have my photographs used on their first album. The process was handled on facebook, quite a story, Molly asked, I gave, it is what artists do. Thank you Darren and Molly, Love ya!

John Hiett April 8, 2011, 18:29:32

Thoughtful people, as readers tend to be, and a great live act.

Amuzme April 9, 2011, 00:42:02

There’s plenty to like about these two. That the music is coming and now being appreciated is partial reward for their devotion to being real and sticking it out. The remainder is yet to come…

Luanne Bigbear April 9, 2011, 14:49:43

Thankful Dirt is clearly one of the most alluring bands of today, and Molly and Darren’s songwriting rivals the best of the best. I’m waiting for their west coast tour!

Astrid Moore April 9, 2011, 16:43:58

This interview was so compelling that I went and checked this band out online. I am so impressed by the music they are making. It is breathtakingly beautiful. I will order a cd, and I will also look for them in my part of the country.

CJM April 10, 2011, 01:16:38

Thankful Dirt is my favorite new band. Thanks for this insightful interview! I’m so excited to see them on the 80/35 Festival line-up this year!

Seniom Sed Hed April 11, 2011, 14:17:59

Came over check out what’s goin down in the Jam scene and stumble across locals. Outstanding! Now I am better informed on two kynd heads!!!

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