Have Gun, Will Travel's Matt Burke talks about the band's 10th anniversary, playing full albums and more
In 2006, Matt Burke started writing and recording songs at home as a side project from his indie rock band. He adopted a moniker that suited the music’s rootsy, Americana style: Have Gun, Will Travel.
Ten years later, the Bradenton band has expanded from a solo project to one of Tampa Bay’s most reliably popular bands, releasing five albums and performing to crowds at just about every major festival in town. They’ve toured with and opened for the likes of Leon Russell, Deer Tick and Langhorne Slim, and have seen their songs pop up on national TV in commercials and shows like The Good Wife.
“The shows started getting bigger and people started coming out, and soon it was a full band, as opposed to just me doing a singer-songwriter thing,” Burke said recently. “It was just kind of like: This is what we’re doing now.”
It’s been a busy year for HGWT. Last summer they released Science From an Easy Chair, an ambitious concept album based on the journeys of Antactic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. In November they portrayed the Band in a live recreation of the soundtrack to the 1978 concert documentary The Last Waltz, with various friends popping in to play Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Bob Dylan.
This weekend, the band will celebrate its 10th anniversary by playing two full albums at two separate concerts over two nights. On Friday at New World Brewery, they’ll do 2008’s Casting Shadows Tall as Giants and 2009’s Postcards from the Friendly City with opening acts Mercy McCoy and Max Norton and Friends. On Saturday at Crowbar, it’s 2011’s Mergers & Acquisitions and 2013’s Fiction, Fact or Folktale with Lauris Vidal and RedFeather. Advance tickets are $10 per night via ticketfly.com, or $20, which includes CDs of that night’s albums; $15 and up at the door. Both shows start at 9 p.m. Click here for details.
We caught up with Burke to chat about the band’s 10-year journey.
What were your expectations when you adopted the moniker Have Gun, Will Travel?
It was a side project, initially. Danny (Burke, bass and Matt’s brother), JP (Baubien, drums) and myself were in an indie rock trio called the Chase Theory. We put out a few records on a couple of different indie labels, and did a bunch of touring, and then I started writing and recording on the side. When I finally got some songs recorded and put together a little EP, I felt the need to start playing the songs out. I was leaning further in that direction, which is when I started approaching the other guys and asking them to be a part of it.
This predates the Americana movement that’s swept the world over the last decade, with Mumford and Sons, the Avett Brothers and the Lumineers. Did you see any bump from that?
I would say the broader awareness for American roots music definitely helped point people in our direction. I don’t know that I would put it all on one or two bands breaking out, but definitely over the last five years, there’s been more appreciation for Americana music as its own genre. That’s definitely helped us out.
Science From an Easy Chair felt like a bit of a leap for you guys — still within your wheelhouse, but more ambitious, in a lot of ways. Do you chalk that up to any sort of 10-year itch, or trying to push this genre in a new direction?
I think that’s always a good work ethic to have. It’s like a shark — if you’re not moving forward, you’re going to die. But yeah, it was definitely a conscious departure. It’s our fifth full-length record, and when you get that deep into a career, you don’t want to keep re-treading the same waters. Artistically, you need to be able to stretch out. I paid a little closer attention to some of the other classic rock conceptual albums, stuff like the Who’s Tommy or Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, and I feel like some of that stuff rubbed off a little bit on what we were trying to do. If you’re telling a story, the energy of it has to move around. You need to be able to bring the listener through some different terrain.
Why structure the 10th anniversary celebration in this way, with two nights and four full albums?
We were just coming off of the Last Waltz recreation, and I really enjoy an undertaking like that, where you actually have to dig into it and get your hands dirty and really put in some time. Doing two albums each night, you’re giving a good solid hour-and-a-half performance each night, and it’s a completely different show. We’re not repeating any of the songs either time. You gotta put a little work into it, a little effort and I think people appreciate that.
You just turned 40. Have you thought about the future of the band? Have you thought about how long you want to keep doing this?
We’ve been having some rehearsals, getting ready for the anniversary shows, and we just had a conversation the other night, talking about initial ideas for the next record. So there’s definitely some ideas rolling around. We’ve still got a few things that we’re doing in support of this record. We’ve still got a couple of videos coming out, and we’ll get a little bit of press going for that when it happens. But beyond that, we’re just moving forward.
-- Jay Cridlin