"Some journalists have said to me, 'Where are the jams on this one?'" says Matt Valentine of Gettin' Gone, his new album with partner Erika Elder. "It's a different kind of jammer, but [there are a lot of] tones and ergonomic 'space' telling the story. A rambling mood is usually the kind of flow I seem to explore."
It's hard to deny that last claim: For more than a decade, Valentine and Elder have concocted a loose, sprawling amalgam of folk, country and avant-garde rock. They began their trip in the mid-1990s with the innovative collective Tower Recordings, spawning the free-folk movement later tagged as freak-folk and New Weird America.
"I'll always stand by free-folk—more of a lifestyle choice than anything else," says Valentine. "I wish I started a magazine with that name instead of [his '90s zine] Cock Displacement." Going by MV & EE for the last five years, Valentine and Elder have led the rotating groups Medicine Show, the Bummer Road and, most recently, the Golden Road.
Gettin' Gone, their first album from the latter ensemble, is a ragged, hour-long smattering of 13 tunes. Many are noisier and more aggressive than the gentle folk of last year's Bummer Road album, Green Blues. Valentine says that was a conscious choice. "I wanted to make a louder record, something that captured our more wigged, live freak-outs," he explains. "The songs also have some rawer emotion. I spent a lot of time with Erika feeling out the maze that you go through [in listening to the album], the cycle. The goal was not to have a rock jammer and then slowly go into deep space, or vice versa. We wanted an environment that left you feeling fine, but keeps on rolling."
The switch to The Golden Road on this album was more a matter of philosophy than personnel. Many of the musicians—like J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., Samara Lubelski of Tower Recordings and John Moloney of Sunburned Hand of the Man—were present for Bummer Road, too.
"We're on the road a lot and it seemed with the 'Bummer' vibe, we kept running into general breakdowns, auto and otherwise," recalls Valentine. "The first night of our U.S. tour last year, we played a gig at the Iron Horse [in Northampton, Mass.]. I had been whispering about the 'Golden Road' concept, and John kept saying it with a hint of ecstatic menace."
That night, Thurston Moore—who owns Ecstatic Peace, the label that released Green Blues and Getting' Gone—opened the show and announced that The Golden Road was up next. It stuck for Valentine: "The Golden Road is an image in our shared consciousness. It leads to the promised land, whatever that may be."
Such hippy vibes permeate Gettin' Gone, an album filled with images of laid-back travel and rural bliss. Songs come with names like "Motorin'" and "Country Fried," extolling the virtues of "easy livin'" and "get[tin'] outta town." On closer "Sweet People," Elder sings, "Gonna ride and ramble/ 'til my cherry comes back home/ Gonna drink and gamble/ Be left all alone." Accompanied by Valentine's frayed guitar and the band's stretched-out twang, those sentiments encourage comparisons to the king of this sound, Neil Young.
"There's definitely a 'rusty' influence in my records. That's me, a dude with a 'not straight' voice and penchants for psychedelic rock, noise/space, raw emotion and vintage equipment," says Valentine of Gettin' Gone's Young feel. "That's a part of where I'm coming from and ... I dunno, the songs just came that way. I still have my dad's copy of On the Beach."
Just as Valentine says Young has been a longtime influence, though, he's quick to point out he wasn't the only influence here. "Nothing was specific at all for this record; it was just a fresh batch of melodic material that seemed to suit this lineup really well," he says. "Country roads, simple living, BBQ, Tecate, red wine and McNeill's [a Vermont beer], shit that grows and wheels, rollin'—that's all a big part of this [album], too."
MV & EE with The Golden Road plays Duke Coffeehouse Friday, Oct. 26, with Eberhardt at 9 p.m. Tickets are $7.