Matt Hoffman has always found a way to write from the perspective of the "everyman" in small-town America. On his band Strange Americans' last album, 2017's Borrow You Brother, the Hoffman-penned "Big Black Car" discusses taking satisfaction in simple pleasures and warns listeners not to live outside their means.
Hoffman's solo project, New Mexican, and its latest album, Take It on Our Shoulders, to be released September 29 at the Ubisububi Room at the Thin Man, furthers this discussion of the dichotomy of simple small-town life in the face of big-city luxuries – only this time everyman possess a greater yearning to move past current predicaments and into a more lucrative life. Recorded primarily at Hoffman's home studio and featuring pedal-steel player Jeff Rady, the album combines folk, Americana and indie-rock influences, to form lush arrangements over Springteen-esque stories about coal miners, factory workers and Hoffman himself, all wondering about their station in life and if there is something bigger out there.
We caught up with Hoffman and asked him about the new album.
Westword: This new record seems to come from the perspective of several different characters who have similar backgrounds. Is that accurate? What is the overall theme?
Hoffman: I'm definitely one of those people who's always wondering if our country is doing the best things for itself. Things like progress, wealth and money — what does that really do for us existentially? Most of those themes come out, one way or another, in every song.
It seems these issues are addressed through the eyes of working class, small-town people.
Yeah, the stories take place in places like Coal Country and the wilderness in Michigan. Some of the things I have experience with and some of them I don’t. If I don't, these songs are sort of my effort to understand these subcultures in America. If I don't agree with something politically, like, with coal mining, I want to understand it and think about if I were a coal miner. If I'd been mining my whole life and I had two kids to put through college and now all of a sudden in the last five, ten years of my career, it's going to go away and I could lose my job, where does that leave me?
I think there's a tendency for people who are maybe more educated to not see this perspective and say it’s wrong. I don't think we make much of an effort to understand these problems' roots and how difficult it would be to make changes for some people.
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One of the singles off the record, “Two Hearted,” seems to discuss the struggle of the character reading Hemingway and wanting to pursue writing, but knowing he has to work for a living. Is that accurate?
I mean like, globally, I feel that anytime you interpret a song, then you get it right, if that’s what it meant to you! I do think it’s about being able to be two things at the same time, and if I were to tie that into the larger theme of the album, it's understanding each other. We can all be intolerant of certain things at the same time of being tolerant of others. I can be upset about something but very content with something in the same moment. I could be committing a crime and loving my family at the same time.
The line about the guy reading Hemingway is a little bit of a figurative line, but it's got personal ties for me when I was studying music at Indiana University. I went to college to be a good musician, and it was expensive, and when I came out of it, I was like, "Well, what does being an artist really need?" Hemingway had no formal training; he just lived that artist's life. After school I realized I couldn’t buy that experience and needed to go out and start hitting the pavement.