National Dust welcomes you to utopia

By David Kenney

Fri., Nov. 25, 7:30 p.m.

Lorrie Matheson looks a little tense. Hand clutched on the phone, the curly-haired local musician is talking in a quiet, concerned tone in what sounds like damage-control mode. Hanging up, Matheson rises with a smile.

"Just trying to keep the band together," he says from behind the counter at Hot Wax records. "Another day in the continuing saga."

The saga he’s refering to is the local rock band National Dust. Fresh off a rough Grey Cup gig, National Dust is recovering. Smiling again, Matheson lets it all go.

"It’s all good though."

Sun., Nov. 27, 3 p.m.

Breakfast at The Lido Café is refreshing a groggy Matheson. A two-hour game of floor hockey has the National Dust singer/guitarist/lyricist a little tired but doesn’t detract from his enthusiasm for today’s topic, National Dust’s second album, Welcome to Utopia. Playing their CD release party Sat., Dec. 2 at The Night Gallery, the local act has progressed from the "scrappy rock" of 1998’s Blind Luck Ain’t No Luck at All to a more complete rock/country hybrid sound.

"It was like we made a record [rather] than just hit record," says Matheson over bacon and hash browns. "There’s more colour in the pallettes I guess."

The 13-song album definitely has several different shades. From the coming-of-age rock of "Tragedy Ann," the cynical romp of "(Nothing on my Mind but) Nicotine" to the chain-gang country ballad centerpiece "Before You Wear the Grindstone Down," Welcome to

Utopia is a coat of many colours, and not all of them are pretty.

Recorded over two weeks in July at Calgary’s own Sundae Sound, the new album changes pace from rock to country to what Matheson calls "a free-for-all-mess" in the album-concluding "Water for Wine."

"We have the ability to finesse it but we also have the ability to get crazy," says Matheson. "It’s not like we’re a metal band but we do try to do the most rocking stuff off the top, get the listener’s attention and by the time they’re about to tire out they get to "Grindstone," it’s like a breather, it’s a downer and a breather. The whole record’s a downer basically, but that’s what I’m good at."

Describing Matheson’s work as good is a little humble. Behind his Elvis Costello/Buddy Holly glasses is a no-pretense musician who writes candid, observational songs that capture the drudgery and joy of relationships and paying the

bills. A local scene veteran through his solo performances, National Dust and former band Fire Engine Red, Matheson is considered by some as a local legend–something the laid-back singer shrugs off.

"For the most part I’m still pretty anonymous," Matheson says. "It is by virtue of sticking around long enough [that] people sort-of know who you are. I’m happy just to still do it and people still want to see us play."

Playing The Night Gallery with Tom Phillips and the Men of Constant Sorrow, Matheson says National Dust are happy with Utopia as it has less holes and includes different sounds like pedal steel guitar and a Hammond organ. While happy with the new sound, that doesn’t mean he’s standing still. With a continual jukebox in his mind, he has ideas for songs that use dixieland funeral march sounds and even something Portishead-like.

"I think you sort-of get labelled as this Replacements-esque, drunk, sloppy rock band which you know is what we are and proud of that… but we’re also this other thing," says Matheson. "It’s really hard to make people believe that."