After a four-song EP released amid several years of extensive touring and sonic shifting, Matrimony will finally release a full-length debut, Montibello Memories, on May 6th through Columbia Records. The band, fronted by husband-wife duo Ashlee Hardee Brown and Jimmy Brown while supported by Ashlee’s brothers Jordan and C.J., named the disc after the Hardee family home where the band lived and developed its music. Montibello Memories is a collection of lush, melodic pop and rootsy folk that reflects the shared journey of those several years.
Prepping for the album’s release date and an upcoming national tour, lead singer and songwriter Jimmy Brown spoke with Rolling Stone about life on the road and how Matrimony arrived at their career destination in harmony.
So you live in Charlotte now but originally lived in Ireland. What’s the music scene like there?
Well, the whole deal with Ireland is it’s so small you get to play a couple of shows and then can’t really go back there until you’re [gone] for a few months. So being over in America has been great because it’s just so big you can tour here all the time, which is what I love about it.
Were you in a band?
No, I was just traveling around Ireland playing bar gigs, doing covers, just solo, with a songbook in front of me. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. But I made more money doing that than I ever did doing anything else, which is shocking.
What brought you to North Carolina? The barbecue?
The food is a lot better over here for sure. I came to America with a buddy of mine and this band needed a guitar player and a keys player and vocals so I joined up and did that for two or three years. Then I actually realized I wanted to do something on my own and started playing solo again. That’s when I met Ashlee [Hardee Brown]. She was playing music and I was playing music and we figured there was no sense in doing this separately because we’ll just never see each other. We were talking about getting married at that point so we decided we may as well just start playing music together. It was like, “We just both love each other and we have no idea how it’ll work out,” but it really worked. And here we are now. That was almost five years ago.
Was that when you were at the Montibello house? That’s what the album got its name?
Yeah, [the Hardees] still have that house. We played a lot of music there. Ashlee, C.J. and Jordan grew up there and I lived there for a few years so we all used to jam there. There was always a bunch of instruments, and they had a little music room and it had a basement. Just a really big house and there was always people coming in — 19 different bands crashing there…
Reminds me of house shows in Nashville, and you guys actually recorded Montibello Memories there with Jay Joyce. How was working with him in Music City?
Jay is a dream. Just really easygoing and kept giving us ideas, and he’s really cool to work with. It was pretty effortless. He threw in some stuff that we wouldn’t have thought of and pulled stuff out of us, you know? He does it in a very easy way where you don’t feel pressured or anything.
Those songs sound a lot more layered than Matrimony’s earlier recordings. Would you say that the new technology you were exposed to has affected your artistic process at all?
I would say so, but the whole kind of vibe for that record was definitely trying to capture the essence of the song in a live performance and have everybody playing together at the same time. We love making songs where we’re all playing instead of having to do it on a computer screen later. I think that was what we were after the whole time, so we did track most of it live.
I hear that essence on “Lucky Man” — it has a cool Fleetwood Mac vibe to it. Like a grittier Tango in the Night, with screaming.
I would love to write more songs in that vein. It’s really fun to play live, although I’ve been gravitating more towards a more punk-ier thing. I just kind of really enjoy that attitude.
How has it been touring with your wife and brother-in-laws? It seems like it could be the best of both worlds — touring with your life partner.
Me and Ashlee are a little different ’cause we’re married and we try and spend as much time together and communicate really well. Even just being on the road though, you don’t really get a lot of time together. You’re always in the spotlight and you wanna put on a good show and look good and play good and you don’t really have time to worry about your emotions, you know? You just gotta go and do your job, and it takes us a little time to get off the road and decompress and get back to normal life. But at the same time we’re living the dream, and no matter what you do there’s going to be difficult times and we’re all OK with that. I think we’re going to be making music a long time together and I think we all feel the same way, so I think we’re committed to the big picture.