Almost two years after The Accomplices, one of Savannah’s most popular bands, dissolved frontman Matt Eckstine has shifted directions, finding a new home in his solo voice.
Eckstine released two new tracks Thanksgiving week, "This Heaven," a sort of EP/single, and has two release shows on the books. Matt Eckstine & Friends (Electric) will play The Rail Pub on Nov. 30. His friends are some of the best musicians in Savannah, including Velvet Caravan’s Jared Hall and Vuk Pavlovic, as well as bassist Marc Chesanow. On Dec. 1, Eckstine and Accomplices’ drummer Stan Ray will play as Chameleon Brotherhood, a new acoustic project. Both shows are free.
In early 2017, The Accomplices played a farewell show, leaving Eckstine without a band for the first time in several years. Violinist Colleen Heine and bassist Zach Smith, partners in life, moved to Colorado for a new job opportunity a few months before the farewell show. They return to the Lowcountry on occasion. The Accomplices will reunite for a show at Service Brewing on Dec. 29, their first in over a year.
Eckstine immediately started booking solo gigs and playing shows with friends, trying to fill the void left in the wake of losing his full-time band. But, he didn’t want to repeat the work he had done with The Accomplices. He wanted to branch out, and it’s taken almost two years to figure out exactly how to do that. First, he had to figure out a path to making a living as a musician.
“I had to take a real look back and say, OK, the band is gone, I have to book some gigs,” Eckstine said. “I just hammered down super hard, like I did back in the day. I started being like, I did the artist life for seven years. I need to now go back to the thing I was doing before that, which was performing covers and stuff for people at bars and resorts. That took a whole year just to figure that out. I had to take care of the big boy issues. Pay the bills. I did that. Now I can figure out the balance of bringing the creative side back. I wanted to reinvent myself and I didn’t know what that looked like, or sounded like.”
The Accomplices blended folk, bluegrass and Americana for an upbeat take on antique music, following the neo-Americana trend of The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons and The Avett Brothers. Over a short two years, they garnered regional recognition, drawing large crowds and becoming a staple of the Savannah scene. Eckstine helmed the songwriting in The Accomplices, with Ray and Smith lending to the writing as well.
“Right when it ended, I was on a high horse, then I got bummed out and then I was fine,” Eckstine said. “I feel like I am in my stride again. All I’ve done is play since. I’ve tried different things with different folks. I did not want to do the same thing over again. I feel that I’ve been pushing myself to reinvent myself as a musician to a certain degree. That’s hard. It takes time.
“These songs are nothing like an Accomplices song. That to me was important. I didn’t want to repeat myself. I didn’t feel any growth in that. I always wanted to do more of a rocking edge to The Accomplices and it just didn’t work for what we were. The new stuff that I am doing, I feel like I can explore in new directions. I can play electric if I want to.”
Eckstine released an eponymous solo album last year and wanted to release something this year. Instead of the typical LP (usually 10 to 12 songs), or even a standard EP (typically three to four tracks), Eckstine wanted to focus intently in the studio on just two songs, and then release them in a new EP/single format.
“This Heaven” features the title track and “Two Fools.” It was recorded at The Garage with Colin Matlagh (Bear Fight!, The Train Wrecks) on bass, Matt Collett (Bear Fight!) on drums and Hall on keys.
Eckstine’s writing is rooted in the John Prine singer/songwriter universe, with shades of his early '90s rock influence, as well as alt-country and Americana. As he’s always done, the new EP features a mix of vulnerable and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, showcasing his range as a songwriter. The EP was recorded and engineered at The Garage, but Eckstine looked outside for mixing and mastering, tapping Seth Earnest, who recently guested as a musician on Aaron Lee Tasjan’s new album.
For Eckstine, the music industry has changed drastically since he started recording music over a decade ago. As with most musicians and acts these days, Eckstine is simply trying to find a way forward in the new digital world.
“I started putting out music in 2006,” Eckstine said. There wasn’t Facebook and media you feel you’ve got to be getting it out there. Now, the loudness of the technology and the speed, it’s just so fast. All that pressure is different. What you got to do, and what you need to do, is teach yourself to get out of that rat race and not care and all of the sudden the world feels good.
“The whole thing at the end of the day — I should have just said this to begin with — talking about what are you going to do after The Accomplices, whatever the hell I need to to keep playing guitar as a job.”