It’s said that a great band is like a gang or perhaps a family, united by music, sweat, passion, and blood. That is certainly the case with Matrimony, an exhilarating new band whose interpersonal connections run far deeper than your average combo. Fronted by the husband and wife duo of Ashlee Hardee Brown and Jimmy Brown, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based band are accompanied by Hardee Brown’s talented brothers, Jordan and CJ, resulting in an intuitive collaboration that is both immediately affective and utterly their own. “MONTIBELLO DRIVE,” the band’s eagerly anticipated debut album, takes its title from the Hardee family abode, a bucolic homestead where multiple generations of friends and family all sang and played together. Fraught with collaborative chemistry and determined artlessness, songs like “Last Love” and “Obey Your Guns” ring out with Matrimony’s astonishing communal spirit, their tight harmonies and intuitive musical telepathy born of true love and a shared lifetime.
“We have this understanding among each other that we don’t always have to communicate with words,” says Hardee Brown. “And that just naturally comes out when we’re all in the same room, making music together.”
The Northern Irish-born Brown initially made his way to the States via China, accompanying a real estate developer friend on a business trip that wound up in Charlotte. He played guitar in a fellow Belfast ex-pat’s band while simultaneously working on his own songs with a rotating roster of local musicians. One of them, a certain Jordan Hardee, suggested Brown meet his sister Ashlee, herself a gifted singer/songwriter. The two hit it off from the jump, co-writing a song their very first time together, ultimately tying the knot in July 2010 in North Carolina. As they continued to pursue their respective musical careers, both soon realized that there was little point traveling separate roads when they should in fact be sharing the journey.
“It really wasn’t about anything other than us wanting to be together,” Brown says. “We realized that there wasn’t much point in being together if we were both going to do music separately. So we decided to make music together.”
Matrimony began their musical life as a duo, performing in clubs and cafes around Charlotte. Brown veered from electric guitar to acoustic, while Hardee Brown adapted her indie influences to fit a folkier frame. 2010’s “THE STORM & THE EYE” EP was quickly recorded, earning the couple considerable local acclaim for their melding of rock, country, gospel, and the great Irish and American folk traditions. To replicate the EP on stage, Matrimony absorbed other musicians and friends into their live sets, coalescing with the official membership of Ashlee’s brothers CJ (banjo, mandolin) and the aforementioned Jordan on drums.
“Both my brothers put their own spin on it, just with their own talents and musical abilities,” Hardee Brown says. “Once we finally found that mesh, the band took the course we’d always imagined it would.”
Matrimony performed relentlessly, sharing the stage with a diverse range of acts from Langhorn Slim to Passion Pit. They refined their distinctive sound by cutting a series of demos, both at home as well as with producer (and Interpol drummer) Sam Fogarino at his Normal Studio in Athens, Georgia. In July 2012, the band headed for Nashville to finally begin their full-length debut, this time with Jay Joyce (Brandi Carlile, Cage the Elephant, Eric Church) at the helm. The sessions had barely gotten underway when a mighty summer storm hit Music City and almost put the kibosh on the entire project.
“We were in the studio and this huge BANG happened,” Brown says. “Everybody’s ears popped, but we knew it was just lightning so we just kept working.”
When Matrimony and Joyce eventually emerged, they were shocked to discover that the lightning strike had in fact sparked a tiny fire in a bird’s nest on the home studio’s rain gutter. Five smoldering hours later, the eave was well and truly ablaze.
“I jumped up on the roof with a hose and we started trying to put it out,” Brown says. “But the flames would not go down, they were just getting higher, so we jumped off and called the fire brigade. By the time they got there the whole roof was on fire.”
Matrimony returned to Charlotte while the studio was repaired, reconvening in September to resume recording. Fortunately, the sessions went without further natural disaster, with Joyce capturing the band’s on-stage intimacy by recording most of the album live in the studio.
“It was really enjoyable,” Brown says. “It felt like we were recording downstairs at our friend’s house. I think Jay understood where we were coming from. It felt like he was another band member really.”
The songs of “MONTIBELLO DRIVE” reverberate with memory and feeling, embodied in both the band’s layered instrumental interplay as well as the Browns’ individual talents for powerful, evocative lyricism.
“This record kind of sums up where we’ve been,” Hardee Brown says. “We all grew a lot, just living there, so there’s a lot of emotion that runs through the songs.”
Brown points to his beloved’s haunting “Giant” as the album’s defining moment. “There’s just some kind of magic on that one,” he says. “Everything about it, the words are a little dark, it’s got this section in it that’s really vibing and cool, I just love playing that song.”
“I think it’s one of those songs that feels really genuine and really real,” Hardee Brown says. “Just the fact that I was able to write a song that captures who I am as a songwriter and put it on an album like this means a lot to me.”
For her part, Hardee Brown returns the compliment by noting Brown’s buoyant “Southern Skies” as one of her personal favorites. “That song speaks a lot to where we are and how we grew up,” she says. “Plus it’s always fun to play live.”
Having made an album that sings of home, Matrimony are now poised for life on the road. This band of lovers and brothers are keen to bring the sublime songs and extraordinary character of “MONTIBELLO DRIVE” to the stage, where their camaraderie and connection come full to the fore.
“We just want to write great songs and we want to play,” Brown says. “It’s not about anything else. We love traveling together and hanging out, there’s no bigger dream for us than just being able to write great songs and play them as much as possible.”
“Me and my brothers, we always knew we wanted to be in a band together,” says Hardee Brown. “I guess it’s worked out. Everything just fell into place.”