Interview: The Suitcase Junket

Photo: Andrew Rinkhy

As a youngster growing up in rural Vermont, Matt Lorenz liked taking things apart—not fixing them, rather dissecting and inspecting the inner workings of useful household items. His exasperated, yet patient parents decided to let their son bring home something from the dump whenever it was time to take a load of trash. ”I took mostly electronic things,” recalls Lorenz. “I thought those little capacitors looked like candy. I don’t think I ate too many of them, but who’s to say?” he laughs. “I guess that’s where my trash obsession started. I went to a pretty weird, no grades, design-your-own-major type of college, and I got into building instruments out of trash; there were dumpsters galore, and I was like a kid in a candy shop!” he exclaims. “I had friends who were dumpster diving at grocery stores, but you couldn’t get me to go into those dumpsters. I have my standards when it comes to dumpsters, you know.”

Lorenz was raised in a musical household on a steady diet of British invasion-style bands like the Rolling Stones who took their cues from old school blues. “I followed their inspirations back to Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters. The sounds I was attracted to had grit to them,” he says. “I got lucky when I found my guitar in a dumpster, and it made those sounds. It was filled with mold, but who puts a guitar in the dumpster? It’s sacrilege! I fixed it up and it had an interesting, buzzy, twangy sound. It only sounds good in open C tuning, so I leave it there,” he says with a laugh. “There’s something about the limitation there and what you end up writing with those kinds of limitations can be pretty interesting.” Lorenz performs as a one-man operation under the moniker The Suitcase Junket; the music he creates is fuzzed-out swamptastic bluesicana, a mind-blowing display of which is housed on his forthcoming album, Pile Driver, set for release on April 21st via Signature Sounds.

Witnessing Lorenz perform is a sight to behold, like a musical MacGyver with super-human coordination situated onstage behind a circle of trashy treasures. “Basically, I’m sitting on a suitcase and hitting it with my right heel, my right toe is playing a high hat, the lone holdout of traditional drumming in the group,” he explains of his intricately creative configuration.  “My right toe also plays another instrument that acts like a high hat—an old wooden cheese box on a stand, which acts as the bottom cymbal, and the top cymbal is an old 8mm film reel, with chicken bones and silverware hanging off of it. When you push the pedal down, all of those things sort of drop into the box and make this real nice crunching sound. I joke that it’s the source of all my power,” he says of his Voodoo-esque creation. “In the early days when I’d go busk in New Orleans for a week or so in the winter, people would cruise by and see the box of bones and think twice about walking by without giving any money. My left toe is hitting a drum pedal with an old baby shoe attached to the end of it which hits a gas can that’s mounted on some old chair parts.” Lorenz also uses a cook pot, a circular saw blade that makes a boxing bell sound, and a toy keyboard from the 80s that can only emit two notes at a time.

“It was entirely for economic reasons at the beginning,” Lorenz reveals of his penchant for creating instruments from found objects.  “I was in a lot of debt when I left college, and my priority was making and recording music. For example, I wanted but couldn’t afford a cello, so I started to make these can fiddles—you take a broomstick and jam a can on the end of it, use window hardware for the bridge, put one string on there, and bow it,” he explains. “That lead to an army of garden hose trumpet/trombone-type instruments for a while, and eventually, I grew to prefer those sounds over the sound of the real instruments.”

To fully appreciate the massive creativity and remarkable musicianship of The Suitcase Junket, you have to see the self-described “Swamp Yankee” in action. Take a gander at this video of Lorenz performing a song from his previous release:

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