Thanks to McMenamin’s for continuing to support a true artist residency program at Al’s Den and Ringler’s Annex! Every week, Portland residents can sit shoulder to shoulder with visitors to our city and enjoy a personal musical experience with outstanding artists. This program allows a resident to create and host a week of events with special musical guests who fit a theme or an idea that is echoed throughout the week. This current week was hosted by resident Matthew Zeltzer and The American West. In this thought-provoking interview, he speaks to the purpose behind his music, some events and stories that have influenced him, and shares his perspective on the state of the world today.
I think what I love about most singer-songwriters is the way they put their experiences into a form that is accessible for all. Songs touch us with melodies, tone, lyrics, dynamics – but what really does it for me is an honest story that I can relate to. It’s hard sometimes for an artist to share experiences or observations that are painful or perhaps difficult for a listener to process. However, it seems to be that the musicians who are willing to take risks by revealing the core of their passion communicate most deeply with their audiences. Music that goes in one ear and out the other without affecting the artist or the audience seems empty somehow. Zeltzer is all about laying it on the line and telling the truth. He realizes that his songs are a way to share what really matters, and not to just gloss over the pain and obstacles that exist in the world today. In an effort to give back to the community, The American West is working with Portland’s Outside In, an organization that works to assist homeless youth and other marginalized people in moving towards health and self-sufficiency.
The American West actually gets slightly political – in that the band takes responsibility for their world footprint. Having spent time both on farms in the United States and in Europe, with a vast amount of travel experience, Zeltzer is familiar with national and world challenges. He wants to use his musician’s voice to call attention to things we can affect for the better. The songs are artful, not preachy – and some are completely metaphorical. I loved the story he told in song about the girl who could bring dead animals back to life. She was afraid to share her ability until she met a boy who could communicate with his dead relatives. Where that story goes in my mind creates a whole series of questions about power and responsibility – but during those few moments, I just enjoyed Zeltzer’s voice and guitar.
Finding a woman who might have restarted his own heart, Zeltzer formed The American West with Maria Maita-Keppeler and is back in his hometown of Portland creating an album, hopefully and to be released this year. With help from fans and a Kickstarter campaign, they are off to a good start. You can catch The American West now through Saturday 5/21/16 at Al’s Den. Joining them throughout the rest of the residency week are Austin Quattlebaum from Crow and the Canyon, Lewi Longmire and an American Forrest, Moody Little Sister, Young Elk, Mike Coykendall, and Dead Men Talking. As the week progresses, videographer Nate Garcia is posting nightly videos on the band’s Facebook page. Next week, the band plays with The Sam Chase and the Untraditional, MAITA, and Brad Parsons at Alberta Street Pub. For now, please enjoy the audio interview and the official “Heart of Stone” video.