MUSIC | Matt Stevens, a multi-group multi-instrumentalist

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Some folk are born into families of royalty, some into families loaded with money. Happens all the time. Then, you have, every once in a while, those whose good fortune it is to be born into a family of talent. Thus it is with Twin-Cities-based musical fixture Matt Stevens.

Stevens’ brothers are Nate Stevens (Mad Love, Talkin’ Roots Crew) and Sam Stevens (Delos) with whom he’s played for years in the popular band the Stevens Brothers. For good measure, they all join their dad, Chris Stevens, for the Stevens Family Band and are woodshedding for a CD at St. Paul’s Reggae Ranger Studios that’s expected to be completed any day now. There’s no word yet on a release date, so, in the meanwhile, check the local listings for their live gigs. Most regularly Matt snakes a strong bass Thursdays at Nye’s in Northeast Minneapolis with New Primitives, various venues with Javier Trejo, and Tuesdays at Thai Ginger in St. Paul with Kalaboration.

Stevens doesn’t showboat. He just gets up and throws down with a matter-of-fact air, making fluid, marvelously inventive bass-playing look natural and easy as breathing. For him, it’s reasonable to figure, that’s exactly what it is. The guy’s been playing virtually all his life (was playing the fretless at age 14), studied at his father’s knee and, as a grown-up, has played with a host of successful bands. Just a few them are the Beads, Javier Trejo Trio, and Wookiefoot.

As a student of music his influences have blended into a voodoo stew of styles and flavors, versatile and distinct: you name it—funk, Afro-Beat, rock, bluegrass, reggae, world beat, hip-hop, jazz—he can do it, having studied music theory and jazz Aaranging at the University of Minnesota. Matt Stevens excels as the true musician’s musician, a multi-instrumentalist (in addition to bass, he’s adept at vocals, keys, guitar, mandolin, trumpet, cornet, percussion and drums).

How’s it been playing with your brothers?
Playing as the Stevens Brothers Band is a true gift for me. Working with people that close to you can be a challenge, and creating our own “buzz” around town and establishing our own network were all stepping-stones in our journey. Having all been influenced by our father and each other we’ve developed a unique vocal harmony blend and I’m just generally happy to be with my brothers and share that musical relationship.

And your dad?
I was lucky to have a super solid bass player for a father and he taught me the first blues bass lines and let me run with em’ from there. Some of my first musical memories were watching my pops lead the church band and rock the 1969 Fender P-Bass. Those images and sounds have a lasting impression to this day. Luckily he gave me—or I took it—that bass and it’s on its 40th birthday tour this year. Keep an eye out for it.

How’d you hook up with New Primitives?
First time I saw [band leader] Stanley Kipper was at Powderhorn Park’s annual Mayday Festival. As an impressionable youth I was there tagging along with my brother and our friends from high school to check the drum circle and puppet show. Well what stuck out in a giant circle of djembe and other assorted hand drums? Stanley Kipper with a big ol hat on and cowbells galore, not to mention Chico Perez with his congas. I’m pretty sure I met Stan a couple of times along the way, but really we met after Javier Trejo asked me to sit in for Tommy Peterson whilst he was on honeymoon. Stanley and Chico also filled in some gigs with Javier and I as The Beads. After that fill-in spot, Javier called me again a while later and brought me in under his wing to the New Primitives. Stan would just sing me bass lines in between songs and we’d launch off into voodoo stewed rhythmic insanity!

What’s up with the new album?
As with every other recording experience, the American Nomad album has been a learning one. Different groups have their own pace, style, and vibe that they foster or create in order to attain the end result. Having produced and arranged in the studio before, filling a different role in this process has given me a unique understanding and appreciation for the entirety of this project. I have been happy to record a few of the bass lines on the album and sing and I have faith that Snowman [Brian Powers] and Stan are going to craft a sonically rich piece of work.

I truly fell out, a little while back, when you did “Mary Jane” with New Prims. Is that regular in the repertoire?
Singin’ Rick James’ ode to that sweet lady has been in my personal repertoire for some dozen years or so and I’m glad I was able to work it into the Prims set. We’ve been doing that for a couple of years now.

What else are you up to?
Kalaboration, a live hip-hop, R&B and rock band with some of my good friends and partners is going to be fun. We gonna be playing everything from re-vamped Ghetto Boys beats, to D’Angelo covers to Maggot Brain.

Any solo plans?
My first solo album “Sonicopia” should be out before 2010 hits us and is a musical cornucopia of the various things that move me musically. I play guitar, keys, trumpet, and arrange and produce my own material and the 14 or so songs that will be featured run the gamut from old Funkadelic’ style rock to R&B, jazz, funk, and acoustic. Also I have a set that I do of solo material from looped a capella vocals to just me and an acoustic guitar. Mrsfunk.com should be launching soon and that will have links to all of the various projects that I get to do stuff with.