Singer-songwriter Matt Eckstine has taken advantage of this long quarantine to record and release his second solo album. The new record, "Lil’ Blue," is a laid-back and richly arranged collection of old and new songs that are inspired by the Lowcountry, as well as the rolling tides of our coastal waters.
The cover of the album features a photograph of Little Blue, the "celebrity" cabin on Hunting Island in Beaufort County that withstood Hurricane Matthew in 2016 only to be torn down later due to erosion.
"I hold Hunting Island, which is the beach where that cabin is, really dear to my heart," said Eckstine.
"When I read an article in the paper about that cabin making it through the hurricane I just saw a good story there. As a songwriter you’re always looking for a good story that inspires you. The image of that cabin at high tide everyday, it’s between the devil and the deep blue sea."
When going through some of his old recordings, Eckstine stumbled across the beginning of the song "Lil’ Blue" and was inspired to finish it.
"It felt exactly like what this year felt like for me," explained Eckstine. "I felt like everyone was in the same situation as that cabin, in a metaphorical way. When I finished that song, I felt like that needed to be the album cover. The only theme I saw in the songs was that concept that you need to roll with the punches—you can’t fight the tide, you have to just roll with it the best you can."
When Eckstine’s former band, The Accomplices, ended, Eckstine recorded a debut solo album at Elevated Studios. The record was a stripped down acoustic collection of songs he wanted to roll with after his previous band.
Now with a home recording studio and plenty of free time, Eckstine has taken an entirely different approach to his second album. He was, surprisingly, inspired by Billie Eilish and her brother recording their Grammy Award-winning music from home.
"I’m doing it myself now, at least for this one," said Eckstine. "I work so good without pressure...This one is a fresh start, as far as it goes. Sonically, it sounds completely different from anything I’ve done in the past. It’s very guitar driven which I think is cool in this time and age."
"I’ve been recording since high school and I’ve always been on that sonic mission, but this is the first time I went the whole way and went into the end zone with it, and felt confident about it, too," Eckstine added.
The sound of "Lil’ Blue" is influenced by artists like James Taylor, Little Feat, Steve Earle, and John Prine. Although Eckstine plays most of the instruments on the record, he invited several friends to contribute including jazz pianist Eric Jones, John Banks of Sapphire Bullets on slide guitar, Evan Rose of Swamptooth on mandolin, and former Accomplices bandmate, Stan Ray, on drums.
One song, "Honey Dew," even includes saxophone, played by his friend Kye Eaton.
"It ended up becoming a really fun recording session," said Eckstine. "I thought this needs some kind of saxophone and I told him, ‘Let’s go for the end of a Rolling Stones jam song.’ Let’s go for that kind of vibe. It was his first time ever recording…the home recording studio is so wonderful."
The relaxed pace of recording at home works well with the pace of Eckstine’s songwriting—one song on the record took him six years to complete. Borrowing from a Keith Richards quote, Eckstine describes his process as the song writing him rather than him writing the song.
"I’ve tried to write songs," explained Eckstine. "I’ve listened to songwriters talk about their process...and it fascinates me that people clock in everyday and they start writing and they can produce a result that way. That doesn’t work for me at all and I’ve never gotten anything out of that. What I do is, when I feel like playing guitar, sometimes something might come to you and next thing you know three hours go by and I’m still on it. I might come back to it years later because I record all this stuff. It’s stream of consciousness writing in a way. I’ll get down something I know is worth finishing and it could take me minutes or years to finish that idea."
Eckstine spent much of the quarantine live-streaming shows, "Wayne’s World" style, from his shed in a series called, naturally, "The Shed Show." With live gigs slowly returning, Eckstine had put "The Shed Show" on the back burner, but is ready to bring it back.
On Thursday at 8 p.m., Eckstine will perform his new album on "Return of the Shedi," which will stream on Facebook and Instagram.
Eckstine acknowledges that most of his income comes from performing covers and a few originals at bars, restaurants, and hotels around the region in a storyteller/songwriter format. However, recording albums allows him to share his more creative side, as well.
"I have a lot of different hats I wear, but I honestly think I put out these records to let people know that I’m also making art," said Eckstine.
"I don’t mind wearing different hats because I enjoy them all for different reasons. I feel like it’s important to release your own music and push it, even if you’re focused on your local area. That’s why my energy is focused on the Low Country and Coastal Empire, rather than L.A. If they find it and like it, that’s awesome, but my goal is to keep rocking in the free world down here."
"Lil’ Blue" is available on Bandcamp on Friday and streaming platforms on Oct. 9.
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