Interview ~ Matt Stansberry of Matt Stansberry and The Romance

The sound being created by Matt Stansberry and The Romance is not something that I would necessarily associate with Oklahoma City. It’s more of a sound that traces back to the scene in Memphis and its rich musical history. You should never judge a book by its cover because lead vocalist Matt Stansberry knows how to play that funky music. He may have a hip Buddy Holly look going on, but the sound that he’s helped to create is a fusion of rock, blues, jazz and some funk that would make George Clinton stand up and salute. We dare you to sit still while you listen to it. Go ahead; we dare you!

His band is large in talent and large in size with its nine members which includes the soulful powerhouse Myra Beasley, brother Joe Stansberry (vocals/rhythm guitar), the Romance Rhythm (bass, drums, keys) and the 23rd Street Horns (trumpet, trombone, saxophone). The band is about to release Past Heartache, Present Hope & Future Love. Past Heartache, Present Hope is a solo album from Matt, while Future Love features The Romance. In a day and age where many artists are singles driven, I think it would be safe to say that a two album/CD release is pretty adventuresome. We sat down recently with founder Matt Stansberry who told us about the new release and much more!

That’s a lot of music to release at one time!

Matt Stansberry/Matt Stansberry and The Romance: It’s a little old school, but that’s kind of how we’ve done stuff over the last five years. We’ve done things in a way that we want to do them and hopefully it’s in a way that our fans want it too. This just kind of happened; we didn’t set out to do a double album. It was two different projects going on at once and for a while, we weren’t sure how to put it out there. We just decided to put it out there and see what happens.

So, fans can choose to buy either album?

They can in the digital space, but as far as physical merchandise goes it’s only available together. If someone comes to a show, there’s a double vinyl and a double disc.

Your debut album came out in 2012, but how far before that does this band date back?

That’s when it really launched and I get asked that a lot. There are some really great players in this band and I’m not talking about me. I think I get a little more credit than I should because The Romance started out as a solo album that I was going to do. As we were working on it, I thought it needed more to it. We recorded it knowing that we were going to add stuff to it. We didn’t know exactly what that meant, but we decided to add horns. I also left a lot of space for vocals and stuff, so we started asking around town to find musicians. The two girls who ended up singing on it, Myra and Shonda, they came with glowing reviews. At one point, we had the opportunity to talk with someone who sang with James Brown and I was about to call this lady. I had a guy tell me that he didn’t care if she sang with James Brown, Prince, Michael Jackson or whoever, that these other two girls deserved a shot. They’re world class and they sound amazing together. Instead of having just one girl, I would get two for this part and I was told that I wouldn’t regret it. Based on the respect for the guy who runs this studio in town, I called Myra and Shonda and they agreed to do the sessions. I did the same thing with the horns and the rest is kind of history. In 2012, when I released this project, I thought that we would never even play a live show together. I didn’t know if this band was going to be able to play shows because it was just too big. Against all odds, everyone who had recorded on it told me that if I wanted to do this thing live that they were in. At first, we just played locally for the first two years and we wondered what to do with this thing. We weren’t on the national radar or even the regional radar, much less the out of state radar for the first couple of years. It wasn’t until 2014 and our second release that we started getting out of town and doing stuff.

When you say playing locally, are you referring to Oklahoma City?

Yes, Oklahoma City and at the most we may have played a Tulsa show.  They were few and far between because a ten piece band doesn’t work for everything. We were sort of misunderstood in this market originally; we liked doing private events, but people really didn’t know what to do with us. We were doing all original material, but people wanted to book us for these galas and formal events. We still do those sometimes, but even then we still do mostly original material. Then we went out on the road and we were playing these little dive bars or festivals when we weren’t even understanding what we needed to do with our music. We don’t consider our band a private party band even though we do some corporate things every now and then, we consider ourselves to be music for the people and I don’t think the people at these black tie events are our real audience. A part of them are, but we’re really for all people. When we were able to go out and play shows where people could come check us out without having to pay a crazy amount of money, that’s when we really started to find out audience.

I can understand about most people at those functions not being your target audience. They’re there to eat, drink and have a good time. You’re like a radio playing off in the distance and you don’t have their full attention.

Yeah, you nailed it.

You mentioned playing in dive bars and I can’t even wrap my head around how all of you fit on a stage!

There’s a place in St. Louis and it’s a really cool club. It’s not really a dive bar, but inside the stage is dive bar size. We get on it, cram in and those are some of the most awesome shows. It’s like creating a living room experience in a club. We don’t do a ton of that, but the band loves doing those because you can take that energy so crazy high and intimate. You can take it down to a whisper, so dynamically it’s super fun.

You don’t sound like you would come from Oklahoma City, so I can understand clubs not knowing exactly what to do with you.

Yeah, they were like ‘wow, who are you guys?’ We looked different and we sounded different. We resembled something that might come from Memphis or something, rather than Oklahoma. I think it did hold a few people back, but in those five years there has been more stuff like we do that has emerged on the scene. If anything, I think we did help grow and develop this scene. Back then, there were no original bands that I was aware of that had horns and now I can name several that do. I don’t really want to take credit for that, but I think that we helped to prove that you can do that in your music and that it is an option.

You also had a very impressive Kickstarter campaign for this release. Are you nervous going into those campaigns? You want people to respond to it, but you really don’t know what’s going to happen.

I like doing them, but I have so much anxiety through the process that it’s the longest thirty days ever. So, I don’t love the process in that regard and I will admit that I was a skeptic at first. I didn’t get it at first and I thought it was just bands being needy. Once it clicked that you’re not really standing there with your hand out, then it changed for me. You’re looking for a hand up, not a hand out. That part of it I love and I’ve been able to meet some amazing people through Kickstarter. At the end of the day, I know it’s about the money, but there’s also a big part of it that’s not. People from all over the world have joined up and kept in touch with us, so for me, that social networking part of it has really converted me over to it now.

Something that really resonates throughout both albums is this really cool vibe and feeling that’s so easy to get lost in if you let yourself. Do you fully demo things out before you hit the studio or is there room for improve there? Who knows; maybe it’s both!

It is different for different songs; I can tell you how The Romance works because we do have our own formula for that and it works. With any song, I write a portion of it. It’s usually the song, the lyrics and the pieces, but as far as arrangement that’s usually collaboration. We do make demos because we need to because we write all of the horn arrangements around stuff. We usually have a lot more of a demo process with The Romance so that we can get the horns, then the vocals. We still have some wiggle room there when we hit the studio but by the time we get there we do know where those songs are headed and where they will be. With the solo stuff, some of it is really loose. The last track on the solo one is called “Life in a Bottle” and it’s all this rhythm section. I never showed those guys anything; we showed up at the studio and I told them what I was thinking for the song. We started playing and the music that you hear on there is all live and done in one take. Some of that stuff is like that and if it’s just me doing it by myself, then I have a version in my iPhone or something. So, the less stuff that’s going on usually means that it is less likely that there will be demos of those. The Romance is a big enough group that to be able to get the songs to where we need them to be we really work them and work them. It may take six months to completely flush tem out to where we need them to be.

I should have mentioned about Myra earlier, so please forgive me as I backtrack for a moment. I know you want everyone to grow and flourish and maybe even venture on to be a part of bigger things. I think you need to keep that lady under lock and key because she is beyond amazing. That voice takes me back to some of the greats who moved mountains, along with souls, with their amazing voices.

Oh my word; she is an amazing singer and an even more amazing person and human. She’s very special and we have all realized that; you know when you’re around greatness and she is definitely greatness.

The horn section is another aspect that I love because it’s a bit of a throwback but it doesn’t sound dated at all. I was having flashbacks to Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power as I was listening to the album.

It’s funny because there seems to be this resurgence for this throwback with horns and things, but the horn sections are typically written as if the rhythm section wrote them. They’re real chill and do little hits. There’s a guy in town called Mike Turner who helped with our first two records and he’s a big Tower of Power Earth, Wind & Fire, Chicago fan, so he started writing at that level. On this last record, we have this professor in music who teaches jazz and symphonic band, but he has this huge pallet that he pulls from. The horn section that we have now wrote all of the parts and they all have this crazy, deff background. They don’t just show up and say, ‘lets’ just memorize a few key hits or something.’ They’re pretty intricate so they end up being in more of that lane like these horns that you don’t hear these days and maybe even in the last few decades.

What’s on your radar after the release date on September 8?

We haven’t been opening for bands much; we did get to open for Gary Busey when he was here. We did some Buddy Holley which was fun. We did some stuff for John Stockman from Boyz To Men. We are opening for Lake Street Dive and we’re more in their lane genre wise. We’re really just trying to get out there a little bit more in the festival circuit and opening for some of these bands who have already broken through. We went from local to regional and now we’re breaking into the super-regional kind of thing. We really want to get into that national level, but we’re trying to be patient with it and make the right decisions.

One last thing and I cannot let our talk end without asking you about The Sun Studio Sessions that you recorded. How amazing is that place? That had to be an incredibly special opportunity for you guys.

It was really crazy! Have you heard the story of how we got in there to do that?

No I haven’t, but I am hoping you will share it.

We played a show in Memphis at the end of 2015 and our trombone player John Fletcher wanted to take a quick picture in front of Sun Studio even though we were in a hurry. We go there and the gift shop was open, so we went in. We were getting ready to go and one of the guys asked if we were in a band. We told him and they told us that if we gave them a CD that we could get a free tour that had just started. What’s funny is that we were about to go eat. It was late in the afternoon and we hadn’t even had lunch yet. For whatever reason, it would have been foolish not to do it and everyone was more excited to do it than not do it. We get to the end of the tour and we were in the studio part. They told us that bands still record in there. I didn’t know that people still recorded in there and we all looked at each other and said that we had to record there. At the very end, were about to leave and we didn’t know that they had unpackaged our CD and as playing it in the gift shop. One of the guys ran in and said that they were listening to us and that they wanted us to record there. We were like ‘what? How do we make this happen?’  We ended up doing two nights; we did one night for PBS and one night for ourselves which we released the EP of. It was really funny how they discovered us in there and two of those guys who were at Sun ended up working with us on the Sun record stuff and on the new record. It’s a great story, but to get back to your original question. It gave us goosebumps and it felt like one of those “we’re not worthy” kind of things. It was so cool to be in that room and to make some music in there. You definitely want to have some respect while you’re in there.

Order your copy of Past Heartache, Present Hope & Future Love HERE

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