SZLACHETKA (Sla-HET-Ka) is the band name and the real last name of Matthew Szlachetka. I remember when I first met him at the Basement East a few years ago and was having a hard time getting the correct pronunciation of his name, he was kind in taking the time to say it again and again until I got it right! He remarked something like, “if people are going to take the time to figure out how to pronounce it, the music better be good”, and I’m happy to report, it is! He’s released several singles leading up to the full album release of Young Heart, Old Soul. I caught up with Matthew about what this album means to him, guitar tone, and what he’s looking forward to in 2021.
AnaLee: The album, Young Heart, Old Soul, is finished and even pressed and ready to go on vinyl! It looks and sounds great. You gathered quite a crew to put this one together. Recorded at Blackbird Studios and Thunderwood Sound in Nashville, the record was produced by Scott Underwood who also plays drums and percussion on the record. Tim Jones of Whiskey Wolves of the West and songwriter Mando Saenz are credited with vocals and also co-writes, plus the beautiful voice of Sarah Aili, your fiancée and a solo artist I have featured on the Local Brew Hour. You’ve also got trumpet, pedal and lap steel and some great keyboard sounds from Jimmy Wallace. Fill us in on the rest of the musicians and the process that contributed to this recording.
SZLACHETKA: It was a truly incredible 12 days between both studios. We did all the basic tracking at Blackbird Studio A in July of 2019. It felt like the best kind of musical clubhouse and I never wanted it to end! I was so fortunate to work with everyone on this record between my co-writers, producer, engineer and other musicians who graced the album. Aside from the musicians and co-writers you mentioned, Christian Wood played bass, Craig Ferguson played Pedal Steel and Lap Steel, Julio Diaz (from The Mavericks) on Trumpet and Brandon James and Jamie Kent on BGV’s. Some of my other co-writers on the album were, Paul Stephens, John Stanislawski, Brandon James, Jeff Silbar, Katie Cole, Ray Horton and Mark McGuinn. The album was engineered and mixed by Yihan Wei, mastered by Alex McCollough and mastered for vinyl by Jeff Powell. This album has been the most important and meaningful album of my career so far and I owe a lot of it to the people who I was able to work with on this recording project.
AnaLee: I think you’ve released about half of the album so far, most of those tracks have been featured on the Local Brew Hour. I wanted to focus on the final track on side two, “Old Soul”, one of the songs you wrote with Mando Saenz. It’s also sort of the title track, with the lyric “young heart, old soul” coming up in the chorus. I was going to ask you about where the song came from, but you’ve given us a video about it so I included that below along with the official video for the song. I also included the video for “Cutting The Firelines”, the other song you wrote with Mando Saenz. I love your guitar sounds in general, and especially the tone you’re getting on this one, can you tell us about the song?
SZLACHETKA: Thank you so much, that means a lot. Yeah, I’m definitely a stickler for guitar tones and the “right parts” for songs. I cut my lead vocal and main guitar part live at Blackbird. It was one of those songs where I felt I needed to perform the guitar part and vocal together in order to capture the emotion behind the lyrics. My buddy Ford Thurston let me borrow his Grestch Country Gentleman for the album and this was the guitar I used on the song. The Grestch sound definitely made its presence on this album and it served as some much needed glue for a lot of the songs, particularly this one. We tried a few other guitars before we started tracking that song, and once we threw the Grestch in the mix, we all immediately knew that it was the tone that the song needed. For the solo I used a Trussart Baritone guitar that was at the studio and I had 3 different delay pedals running through a Way Huge Red Llama Overdrive Pedal (FULLY CRANKED!!!) to create a soaring, explosive tone for the solo. I used a brownface Fender Princeton and brownface Fender Vibrolux and I danced between them to create the feedback. Scott and I wanted to capture a baron sonic landscape on this song that was reminiscent of the Dead Man soundtrack by Neil Young. “Cutting The Firelines” was actually most difficult song to mix on the album because (aside from “Old Soul”), it was the sparsest song in terms of tracks. The bass frequencies were really important and hard to mix because if dialed in slightly too much, they would completely take over the song. Mixing the harmonies was also tricky because we wanted the high octave in the verse to sound “ghost-like” and play tricks on the listener to figure out of there was another voice there or not. This helped create a larger impact when the chorus hit and the regular harmony kicks in.
AnaLee: You included the lyrics on the inside sleeve of the vinyl, something I really miss about digital releases and a lot of CDs don’t include lyrics either. I know you can Google most lyrics, but there’s something about listening and having the album to look at and read about at the same time. It’s how I grew up listening to music and although I stream like crazy, I still really enjoy playing vinyl records and just listening to the radio… call me old school! Tell us about what it means to you as an artist to be able to make the full package.
SZLACHETKA: It’s everything to me. This is the first album that I’ve been able to press on vinyl and is another reason why this has been the most meaningful so far for me. I grew up on vinyl as well and loved completely diving into albums between the artwork, the songs, the production, the liner notes, the lyrics. I was even obsessed with how an album felt and smelled as well. If an album had a certain scratch, crackly or pop, those songs and moments are what would also stick with me growing up! It’s a love and obsession that I still have and can’t imagine my life without records. I’m also a big “deep cut” guy and really always paid attention to the sequence of an album. Those songs are the real “meat and potatoes” of an album. I love how they take me on a sonic journey start to finish.
AnaLee: So many artists I’ve talked to this year have come up with some pretty creative ways to continue releasing music and doing other things to be able to keep paying the rent. Tell us about your guitar lessons and your vinyl collecting and selling business.
SZLACHETKA: Well, I used to teach guitar lessons way more frequently before touring started to take up all of my time and income. It’s been fun to dive back in and reconnect with some older students from the Los Angeles area along with other new students from other parts of the country. It’s definitely weird doing the “virtual” thing, but I feel really fortunate to still be connected even if it’s not ideal. I’ve been having a lot of fun teaching again. My vinyl collection has also exploded even more this year! Hahahahah. I’ve been a serious collector for about 10 years now. Over the past 2 years I started dabbling with buying and selling some records that I would find while on tour. I’ve been able to build a really nice regular client list this way and have been able to make a lot of new friends this way. Once COVID hit I was able to devote more time to the vinyl hunt between my personal collection and my “for sale inventory.” Right now, I’ve got 1000+ records that I’m selling in all genres. It’s another huge passion of mine. I’m as happy playing, writing and recording music as I am about buying vinyl for myself, or helping to curate someone else’s collection. At the end of the day, I’m still just a massive music geek!
AnaLee: I know you had planned on releasing the album this year, but 2020 turned out to be… challenging, to say the least! I understand fans can buy advance copies of the vinyl via your email list. Let us know how to do that and if you have a release date yet for 2021, or if you’re going to wait to be able to tour around the release.
SZLACHETKA: Right now, I’m still planning on releasing the rest of the album as a collection of singles every month and a half. I’m going to start releasing the next batch of 6 singles in Feb 2021. That will pretty much carry me through most of 2021. Once the final single is released, the album will be officially released. I’m hoping to be able to work with a publicist close to that time frame, but as I’ve learned from this year, I can’t make any predictions. I really hope that I can go back to work and tour next year to promote the album, but if I can’t I’ll keep playing the regular Facebook Live shows every Sunday. I really can’t wait to play with a band again! It’s been killing me!
SZLACHETKA – “Old Soul”
SZLACHETKA – “Old Soul – Story Behind The Song”
SZLACHETKA – “Cutting The Fire Lines”