Matthew McNeal spent his summers during high school working at a peach orchard a few miles outside of his hometown of Terrell, Texas. Like many kids growing up in rural areas, McNeal got his start playing music with his church band. "I picked up both the guitar and drums when I was twelve, after wearing out all of the cassettes that my mom had on hand," he says.
Other than a couple of local honky-tonks, there weren't a lot of opportunities to get involved with music in Terrell. So it took more than a bit of luck for McNeal to find his way from the orchard to the music industry. "One day, I started talking music with customer who was picking up a bushel of peaches," he says. "It turned out he was picking them up for an Aerosmith show he was working that night. He ended up asking if I’d be interested in working some shows as a runner. A few weeks later, I was working my first gig."
Since then, McNeal has had the chance to work behind the scenes with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to AC/DC to Taylor Swift to Jay Z to George Strait. "Being able to see how some of these artists work and how the biggest shows on earth are put together really opened my eyes to a whole new world of inspiration."
Now based in Fort Worth, McNeal and his drummer Andre Black making a living on the road, touring nationally as a duo and playing between 100-150 shows a year. Their second studio album, Good Luck, was released on February 16, 2018. Recorded with Israel Nash's band at his studio Plum Creek Sound in the Texas hill country, the album was recorded to analog tape by Grammy-winning engineer Ted Young (Kurt Vile, The Gaslight Anthem, Sonic Youth).
McNeal and Black began playing together as teenagers in Terrell. Without a decent venue in town, they got together with a group of friends and created their own space, a venue called The Adelaide. "We did everything ourselves - building the stages, booking and promoting shows, hauling gear, running the sound and lights, working the door and security. Mosh pits would knock holes in the walls and we would band together and fix it all," he says.
The Adelaide soon became a hub for a burgeoning DIY scene, hosting everything from metal shows to hip-hop to punk to folk songwriters. "It became an outlet for people to make friends and express themselves in an area where they’d have nowhere else to fit in," he says. "People were always trying to get it shut down. We’d be up all night having a show at The Adelaide on a Saturday night, and then go play music for the church on Sunday mornings. There was always a struggle to keep the lights on and to keep everyone safe, let alone prove to people in town that it was a positive thing, and not just a bunch of weird kids listening to ‘devil music’. We wanted to create a space for people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds to come together for something good."
That spirit of open-mindedness, genre-bending creativity and DIY enthusiasm comes through in McNeal's sound on Good Luck, which stands out from the crowd in the traditional, often insular Texas music scene. The music could loosely be categorized as Americana, indie or roots rock, but lumping it into any one genre would be selling it short.
"I like the purpose of folk music, the emotion of R&B, the swagger of rock and roll, the honesty of country, the ‘make it happen’ attitude of hip-hop, and the spirit of punk rock," McNeal explains. "I don’t think you have to overtly rap in songs to show influence to hip-hop, I don’t think you have to try and command the stage like a metal band to take notes from that world. I just want to put all the stuff I like together, and hopefully it will resonate with other people. I think if you make sounds that are true to yourself, genre can be tossed to the wind."
The idea behind the album title, Good Luck, is a loose one, he says. "Good or bad can happen at any time. It’s all about how you perceive it and what actions you take because of it," McNeal explains. "There’s so much bad in the world, it can make you feel like the good is fading away. We decided that if we were going to release anything and add to all of the noise out there, we wanted it to be a record that cuts through with some goodness and makes people feel like luck is on their side."