THE SUITCASE JUNKET USES FOUND OBJECTS AS INSTRUMENTS
MUSICIAN ALSO A BOOTLEGGER & VISUAL ARTIST
When you put on ‘Pile Driver’ (April 21 / Signature Sounds), the new record by The Suitcase Junket, you would think that the band has four members, and yet there’s only one and few overdubs were made. Yes, the Suitcase Junket is a one-man band and a damn good one, with catchy melodies, imagistic lyrics that stick in your consciousness, and enough energy to impress the festival crowds for whom he’s played at Mountain Jam, Joshua Tree, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and Green River. He calls his sound and ingenuity required to construct it “Swamp Yankee.” However, ‘Pile Driver’s’ constant is the Suitcase Junket’s remarkable songwriting, with rousing choruses underpinned with gritty, distorted guitar and imagistic, evocative verses.
It all started with a guitar in a dumpster. “Every spring when the students graduate, a lot of them get rid of stuff. They call it hippie Christmas. I’ve fixed up a dozen bikes and then sold them.” He spied a vintage, Japanese made, acoustic guitar but it was filled with mold. So naturally, Lorenz grabbed it and bought some white vinegar. It resonated best in an open C tuning and he found that his songwriting voice was more focused with the limitations that the guitar provided. It’s also more versatile than he expected, with open chords with a powerful bottom end or slide sounds or he can capo it high on the neck for fingerpicking. Since then, he’s added a chunk of washboard and a pickup to it. The songs that came out of writing on that guitar had a grit and honesty and heart to them and Lorenz began to realize that this was a new project, separate from his former band Rusty Belle. “I’m attracted to music as another aspect of life, not as a fine art, something that you do to survive because you have to.”
Though the instruments have developed and several have broke, it began to solidify when he found a double-wide suitcase at a tag sale which is now both the bass drum and throne. “How much noise can I make as 1 person without looping?” Both out of financial necessity and out of aesthetic choice, he began to assemble other found items for percussion. “I’d much rather find a thing that’s more or less itself and beat the hell out of it. Plus, it forces you to be on the edge of your skills. I would add a new thing and then learn a new skill and, in the process, make some interesting mistakes.”
He explains the rest of the kit, “My right toe plays high hat. It’s the most nuanced thing about the drum set. On the right toe, is a box filled with silverware, a bottom cymbal which is an old wooden cheese box, and a top cymbal which an eight millimeter film reel. If I stomp the pedal, I get a dark, crunchy sound. My left foot plays a baby shoe [his own] hitting a gas can. I’ve got some galvanized heating duct material that I hammered flat. This one might be the end of the baby shoe. On my left heel is a stainless steel cook pot. I built that on tour down in WV and it’s got a nice pop to it. I built it onto old chair parts. Just a pot. The last thing on my left heel is a circular saw blade, which I use like a crash.”
Add to that his technique of Indian-inspired throat singing, which allows him to “solo” by singing two tones at once, and a keyboard that he plays while playing his guitar. Four amplifiers fill out the sound. He has two vocal mics, one a Shure bullet-style mic going into a Vox amp. Two mid-50s Gibson amps, a GA-20 and a Skylark, for both a clean and distorted sound at the same time plus occasional tremolo. He doesn’t use effects pedals, though. He found a two-octave Yamaha keyboard and ran a quarter inch jack off the speaker as there’s no output. It goes into a small, radio solid state amp.
For the Suitcase Junket, aka Matt Lorenz, building and fixing and making stuff is just part of life. “I was making my own freaking alcohol. Part of it was this ideal of using what you find. We throw away too much in this society. Why consume more when we already have more than enough?” He pauses and grins, saying,“Aside from all of the sonic ideals and idealistic thoughts, it was fun. I like making shit.”