Songwriter Matt Curreri rearranges and rocks out

Matt Curreri & The Exfriends leave the clever pop behind and re-examine things through a smartly crafted rock 'n' roll lens. Photo by Martyn Kyle Matt Curreri & The Exfriends leave the clever pop behind and re-examine things through a smartly crafted rock ‘n’ roll lens. Photo by Martyn Kyle

Every Wednesday night after dinner, Matt Curreri, Jesse Fiske, Gerald Soriano and Brian Wilson gather in a tiny, warmly lit music studio in Fiske’s Belmont backyard.

They unpack their guitars, bass and drums, and set up mics and amps. Fiske’s Single Barrel Studio is a cozy fit for the four-piece, but they tune up. They plug in. They rock out.

For the members of Matt Curreri & The Exfriends, these precious few hours are time for self-expression, an opportunity to translate the pressures of daily life into notes, rhythms and lyrics. It’s a time to decompress—together.

Curreri, the band’s songwriter, has been writing and recording music since he was a teenager; he says it quickly became his favorite thing to do whenever he found a few solitary moments. He’s released albums every few years and played monthly shows for nearly two decades, but says, “It’s never about success. I just love writing songs. There’s always some music kicking around in my head, waiting to come out.”

When Curreri moved to Charlottesville from San Diego about three years ago, he’d just finished putting that music into a poppy horns record, Get Along, with his San Diego Exfriends. He put together a small band—sax, trumpet, Wilson on drums, former Hackensaw Boy Fiske on bass—but says it was quickly “apparent that we should not play that album with horns. We should just be a new band.”

So they ditched the horns and went fully into rock ’n’ roll.

Curreri, Fiske and Wilson played as a three-piece for a bit before Soriano joined after a birthday party conversation with Fiske, when he confessed his aspirations to be a lead guitarist (he’d played bass in a slew of local bands such as Gallatin Canyon, Ragged Mountain String Band and Faster Than Walking). “Can you rip it?” Fiske asked Soriano. “I know just the band.”

With his new Exfriends formed, Curreri, whose previous records consisted of plenty of well-written, clever pop-rock tunes in a storytelling vein (Fiske likens some of the tracks off Exercise Music for the Lonely and Joy of Life to something one might find on a Wes Anderson film soundtrack), found himself drawn more toward straightforward rock ’n’ roll, partly because he and his bandmates played great rock music together, and partly because he doesn’t feel like being clever in a cute, poppy way anymore.

Perhaps it’s because he’s getting older—he’s married, he has a kid. But, more likely, he says it’s because he can come to Single Barrel Studio every Wednesday and play loudly. The band is “very much a rock interpretation of Matt’s not-so-rock-y” songs, says Wilson, who also plays with The Can-Do Attitude. So, for the past year or so, they’ve taken songs from Get Along and rearranged them for a four-piece rock outfit.

Rock or not, all of Curreri’s songs are about life. They examine the ties that bind us, the forces that loosen those ties and the shears that sometimes sever those ties all together. The Get Along songs cover everything from band synergy and breakups (“Get Along”) to brothers going through life together (“At the Seashore”). Curreri sings about a respectable woman who sings at night, knowing that her daytime society friends would be appalled to know what she does when the sun goes down (“Mary’s Nightlife”); he also sings about love (“All the Time”), losing everything (“Almost Perfect”) and about life’s massive losses evening out over time (“The Old Meandering Song”).

“It’s a sincere expression. I’m not trying to copy a style or pretend to be a rock star,” he says. “These are just my songs.”

Curreri mostly writes from his own perspective, but always hopes that his bandmates and listeners can connect to the lyrics and music. There has to be a purpose for making such personal songs, Curreri says, “and that people connect to it allows me to spend the time doing it. It gives me a reason outside of selfish reasons.”

It also gives the music another purpose, though Fiske is quick to note that what happens in that tiny studio every Wednesday night is purpose enough. “We’re a good band,” he says. “We communicate well with each other when we play music; whether that’s perceived as being a good band on the outside isn’t as important as being in this room and feeling like we’re a good band.”

Curreri’s been writing new songs, too, as he locates new corners of life. “Gonna Freak Out” “started as chords that I was playing around my baby and came together as a song one night when everything seemed too difficult,” Curreri says. It’s a song about looking at the big decisions you’ve made for your life—marriage, parenthood—and freaking out about the fact that you’ve made them, even if they’re good decisions that make you happy. It’s a relatable song that parallels another new track, “Gonna Be a King”—we’ve all freaked out one moment only to feel like a king (or queen) the next, and vice versa. The ebb and flow of life.

Both of those tracks are played live and will likely appear on the next Matt Curreri & The Exfriends album, recorded at Single Barrel Studio and on track for release this winter. The album features cameos from some local music mainstays—Paul Curreri (Matt’s brother), Devon Sproule, Sally Rose Monnes and others—emphasizing the band’s deep ties to the local music community, both on stage and in the studio.

“Playing music can be tricky,” emotionally and technically, Curreri says. But playing “for friends, playing with other bands and artists who are your friends…it’s the ideal situation. Those are the best nights of music.”

Contact Erin O’Hare at arts@c-ville.com.