Sooner or later, it’s what you create that speaks to others about you. What you once were thinking, what you were feeling, and the work that that you believe behind for others to explore, and hopefully enjoy.
When Matt Brown passed away in the spring of 2012, he left behind a lot of people that loved him. A wife, two daughters, and numerous friends and fans. Matt had been the go-to drummer for many musicians in the Triangle area of North Carolina for some time. Some bands, he played with occasionally. Others, he played with for years, and had long friendships with those bandmates. Foremost on that latter list was the Venables, who Brown had collaborated with for 15 years. At the core of the Venables was Brown, and singer, guitarist and songwriter Phil Venable.
"In some ways, Matt was my muse”, says Venable today. "He was the guy I wrote for, to some extent. I had total trust that no matter how much of a dog the song was, Matt would listen to it and give me honest feedback. All the songs I wrote between 1997 and 2011 were written with Matt in mind."
After the Venables released their debut album in 2005, Should Woulda Coulda, various distractions kept the Venables from releasing another album for some time. By the summer of 2010, with the Venables touring with the legendary Grant Hart, of Husker Du fame, the Venables put together various songs in progress at the time, and released it as Grab Bag.
"As the title suggests, Grab Bag was just a collection of songs I had hanging around,” says Venable. "It was really the beginning of the best era of The Venables, for me. The band brain trust had expanded to include Mike Nicholson, who was kind of our consigliere. He is a ferocious advocate for bands and musicians he likes. We had tracked Grab Bag as a bit of a stop gap before Finish Line. We had no real expectations of the record, but we made sure to finish it prior to going on the road with Grant Hart, so there was something new out there for folks to hear.”
After the band finished touring with Hart, the Venables returned to the studio with renewed energy, and a new batch of songs. "My songwriting had definitely grown between Grab Bag and Finish Line”, adds Venable. "I hate to use the word sophisticated, by my writing craft had gotten better and I was more interesting in the musical composition of the song than I had before. While the songs themselves may not be dissimilar from earlier work, I believe Finish Line is more expansive and articulate."
The recording for Finish Line began in the fall of 2011 at Vista Point Studios, in Pittsboro, NC. "We tracked Matt and I together live in the room because I prefer to get a band feel for the basic tracks”, says Venable. "The only songs that weren’t were Drugs, and Down The Hallway, which was my acoustic and a click track so we could Matt could experiment with some percussion ideas. After that, we added everything else as we felt the song demanded."
Along with the band’s noisy guitar hooks, and ragged pop-rock energy, a more reflective lyrical focus also emerged. "Lyrically speaking, I’m not entirely certain that there’s an overarching theme”, says Venable. "If there is, I would suggest that it’s about individual evolution and how at some point, in everyone’s life, a person has to make choices that they deem best for themselves rather than what is best for others. Although, those choices do not come without consequence."
“I'm So Sick” (I’m Happy Again) kicks off the album, with guitars and choruses buzzing in equal measure. From there, the album stays in high gear for songs like “I Was Ashamed” and “Now You Know How It Feels". “Drugs”, "Stuck Here In Your World" and "Down The Hallway" also to add a touch of hazy country, like a slow comedown of life’s highs and lows, The album closes with “Summer’s End”, and “Bomb”, two of the best songs that the Venables ever committed to tape.
After Brown’s sudden passing in 2012, Phil Venable and Mike Nicholson were left with a lot of questions, and the recordings that would become Finish Line. It would take them until 2015 to be ready to release the album. From start to finish, Finish Line is more than the best record in the catalog of the Venables. It is a tribute to Matt Brown, and the songs that Venable created with him.
“It’s difficult to talk about Matt even now,” adds Venable. I guess I would say he was a fantastic drummer, but I think he was a better friend, father and husband. The Venables wouldn’t have been a band without Matt. He was a keen arranger of the songs as well as recognizing the potential in my songs. None of the songs would have sounded as good as they do without him.”
Sooner or later, it’s what you create that speaks to others. Finish Line is the work of a group of friends playing together in a room, and a sound that is finally ready to be heard.
Long live the Venables.
Phil Venable, vocals, guitars
Matt Brown- drums
Mike Nicholson – keyboards, bass guitars, engineering and production
Sonar Strange – background vocals
Nathan Golub – Pedal Steel