Matt Arthur has spent most of his life living just outside Hope, in rural Southern Minnesota. He learned to sing by listening to gospel records from Tennessee Ernie Ford and Johnny Cash, and decided that’s what he wanted to do when he grew up. He gave it a good shot in the 1990s, when his first band (Prest Asbestus) played everywhere in the Twin Cities, sharing stages with such local luminaries as Babes in Toyland, Run Westy Run, and Soul Asylum—as well as national acts that included Vic Chesnutt, Tad, and the Afghan Whigs. When the band ultimately fizzled, however, Matt headed back south and settled in tiny Ellendale (pop. 691).

But settling wasn’t really Matt’s style. So, after shaking things up a bit as a member of the local town council, he wrote and recorded a solo album of folk-gospel songs. While the recording proved to be not-churchy-enough for the religiously inclined, and utterly bewildering to the indie rock crowd, it unleashed a taste for songwriting that has produced over 50 original tunes to date.

The Bratlanders came into being when siblings Don, Doug, and Beverly Bratland were enlisted as Matt’s backing band at a 2003 Johnny Cash tribute show. The group continued for several years as a country-rock cover band and as accompanists for Matt’s songs, but they didn’t consider themselves much more than a novelty act. That started to shift in 2010, when personnel changes and a year-long standing gig at a Northfield pub pushed them to hone their craft and find their own sound during biweekly three- and four-hour sets.

By early 2012, Matt Arthur & The Bratlanders began to take their live show beyond Southern Minnesota. Buoyed by a warm Twin Cities reception and a solid lineup—the Bratland brothers on guitar & bass, Joel Beithon on drums, and Pete Christensen on keyboards—Matt and the band decided it was time to enter the recording studio.

The group’s first full-length, full-band recording, Heavy On My Mind, was released on the Rice County Records label in March 2013 and reissued on vinyl in January 2015. Produced by Michael Morris (Dewi Sant), the album’s ten songs range from rambling alt-country ballads to an a cappella gospel stomp to a fiery protest anthem, and they feature guest appearances by Randy Broughten (Gear Daddies, Trailer Trash, Cactus Blossoms), Dave Mehling (The Fontanelles), Jonathan Rundman (Kaivama), Angie Talle (House of Mercy Band), Hilary James (We Are The Willows), and more. Matt Arthur & The Bratlanders are currently on a mission to spread their music as far and wide as they can.