Ever wondered what it would sound like if Keith Richards had given songwriting advice to the Eurythmics? No worries if you haven’t – Matt Webb has already grappled with that question. And what we have here, in the shape of his debut solo EP, is the answer. Kind of.
“I know it’s super random,” the Marianas Trench guitarist explains, about a song called “Cinnamon”, “but I read his autobiography, and I was, like, ‘What would Keith Richards do here?’ Cause he was talking about simple, simple songs with nothing to them. And then it just came out.”
“Cinnamon” is part minimalist funk, part Corey Hart, all hook, and possibly the last thing anybody would have expected from Webb on his first working holiday away from Marianas Trench. He even says so. “You know, I was a little surprised by it too,” he admits, laughing, “but I’m a big ‘80s sucker. I’ve seen Def Leppard live five times. The ‘80s just sort of rubbed off.”
Webb adds that his teenage musical diet also included the Matthew Good Band, blink-182, and Foo Fighters. But it’s the sophisticated pop lover who emerges on his upcoming EP. Or “Justin Timberlake if he played guitar,” as one friend put it, about an EP that also offers chest-bursting electro-ballads (“Goodbye Addict”), squelchy, neon, dancefloor-burners (Take You Higher”), and aerobic synth-funk (“Bad Girl”),
“I’ve been writing a long time,” Webb shrugs, “and I wanted to try something a little different. There are some extremely straight-ahead pop songs on there. But they were really fun to do.”
Of course they were! When Marianas Trench wrapped up its Masterpiece Theatre tour at the end of 2010, and Webb saw the opportunity to do his own thing, he promptly surrounded himself with friends. And not just ordinary friends – brilliant friends like Dave Ogilvie, who produced “Cinnamon” and mixed a substantial chunk of the finished record. “A consummate pro,” says Webb. “Who wouldn't want to work with the guy that produces Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson?”
He also roped in Fake Shark! Real Zombie! frontman and “dream producer” Kevvy Maher, who scores co-writing (along with Carly Rae Jepsen) and knob-twiddling credits on “Take You Higher”, along with production credits on “Goodbye Addict”. “I'll be working with Kevvy until I die, guaranteed,” states Webb. “We're also starting a side, side project called USB Mustache. Stay tuned for very mediocre quality Burt Reynolds inspired ‘70s songs with a hint of 2011 technological prowess.”
In Webb’s well-calibrated estimation, Ryan Stewart – who co-wrote and produced “Bad Girl” and “Runaway” - is a man who “lives and breathes super-hits.” Plus, he works out of his home. “Which is cool,” notes Webb, “because I can hit the studio in a leopard snuggie and no one objects.”
Finally, we have Webb’s MT bandmate Josh Ramsay, who produced “Stage I Remember” and co-wrote and produced “Landslide”. “I've learned so much about music from him over the years,” says Webb, “it seems totally natural that he would be involved. He's been helping me write and record songs since I was 15 years old.” It’s been a fruitful relationship. If Marianas Trench saw the duo’s punk roots evolve into majestic, baroque pop, this EP proves that they can also do sleek.
Webb’s debut is going to delight the faithful, surprise many others, and probably saddle the young guitarist with an unmanageably successful side-project. Which would be fine with Webb, since touring is his “favourite, favourite” thing to do. But if it should cause a little anxiety among the Trenchers, don’t let it. Assures Webb, “Marianas Trench is my number one priority and my family, so I’ll make sure this doesn’t interfere with it.”
“But,” he adds, “I’ll sneak it in whenever I can.”