Matrimony returns home in wake of major label release and national headlining tour

Most musicians dream of doing an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. But a week before his band’s major-label debut, Matrimony’s Jimmy Brown shares the news with nonchalance.

“I’m so deep in the whole music thing when I got off the phone I thought, I just did an interview with Rolling Stone. That’s something I always wanted to do, but I didn’t think about it,” says Brown, sitting outside Smelly Cat Coffee across from Neighborhood Theatre, where his band’s name graces the marquee advertising Friday’s show.

USA Today, Billboard and Esquire are all covering the release. After eight years playing music in the Carolinas and five as Matrimony, that’s finally Brown’s reality.

“We’re going to get a good shot at it,” he says of the momentum Columbia Records is putting behind “Montibello Memories.”

Not since the Avett Brothers has a local rock band’s major-label release been met with such anticipation. Part of that is that there are fewer bands on major labels – although more Charlotte indie bands are releasing records and touring nationally. But unlike the Avetts, Matrimony hasn’t had years and multiple albums to accumulate a national audience.

“We really are a start-up band in the grand scheme of things,” says Brown, 30, one half of the literal marriage at the center of Matrimony. He and Charlotte native Ashlee Hardee Brown, 23, trade off on vocals while her brothers Jordan Hardee (drums), 25, and CJ Hardee (mandolin, banjo), 21, fill out the group.

Brown – who grew up singing in choir and playing sports in Belfast, Northern Ireland – moved to North Carolina while working in real estate. When the guy he was working with went home, he stayed.

Die-hard Charlotte music fans Don and Laurie Koster began following his music after seeing Brown’s rock band Airspace in 2006.

“We’ve always felt really strongly that Jimmy had a great gift, but meeting another bright songwriter like Ashlee proved to be one of the best things that ever happened to him and her,” says Laurie Koster.

Matrimony generated instant local buzz. The group was drawing hundreds of fans to bigger gigs. They opened for Passion Pit, toured with Gaslight Anthem, and last summer played for a sold-out crowd with Langhorne Slim at The Fillmore to celebrate the release of the “Montibello Drive” EP (originally intended as a companion to the full-length).

Last fall, Charlotte-based producer/engineer Bruce Irvine (Anthony Hamilton) signed on as its new manager, and Matrimony went back into the studio to record new songs like the new live centerpiece “See the Light.”

Of the new tracks, “Lucky Man” and “A Different Kind of Loving” play up what Irvine jokingly calls their hillbilly Fleetwood Mac nature, with Brown’s bombastic delivery channeling Lindsey Buckingham against Hardee Brown’s softer harmonies. It’s refreshing for anyone who’s been longing for Fleetwood Mac-style pop music.

“I heard Stevie Nicks say when she played Charlotte, ‘Whenever you write a song, don’t worry about the arrangement, just go with the feeling.’ I got goosebumps,” Brown says. “Music is just emotions. ... If it just takes you somewhere you didn’t know you were going to go for three minutes or an hour and a half, that’s awesome.”

Brown gets excited talking about the way classic artists with real career longevity work.

“The way they wrote songs and approached the music life, it was real sexy,” he says. “That’s what I like about it. It’s very easy to get sterile. We’ve got a couple songs that are more in that vein. It’s cool just to let it relax and chill and let it be sexy. Like Tom Petty is the sexiest man on Earth, in my opinion.”