The Suitcase Junket and the Exploration of Doomfolk [Feature + Watch & Listen]

While he didn’t exactly coin the phrase, The Suitcase Junket has taken the fascinating, all-encompassing style of doomfolk and brought it to musical light.

For his sixth studio album, The Suitcase Junket – known by his friends and fans as Matt Lorenz – got real about his affinity for visual art, his activism for climate change, and his approach to creating beautiful, meaningful things. A perfect example of all of that and more is The End is New, this new record that is musically sound and socially aware. With a collaboration with J Mascis and a remarkable new music video, this new era of The Suitcase Junket has been kicked into high gear and both fans and music lovers alike are thrilled to be part of the doomfolk ride.

The End is New just dropped and, to me, it seems to be the all-encompassing pinnacle of your career as a musician. It’s dynamic and powerful as much as it is creative and thoughtful. What was the process of getting this album together as compared to your earlier, previous pieces of music?

The process of writing it was pretty similar in terms of how I just generally approach writing. I think I’ve just actually gotten better at it, but certainly having Steve Berlin be part of that process was helpful and basically we’ve done the last two albums together. After the first one we did together, Mean Dog, Trampoline, came out – I guess it was spring of 2019 – I texted him half jokingly and was like, “Hey, the new out album just released. When do we start the next one?” and he texted back, “Tomorrow.” So I started sending songs his way and we sort of worked them out over the summer. I guess in some ways, one of the things that might set this one apart a little bit, is that a lot of the ideas for the songs came while I was on tour. Usually what I do is collect those ideas and then over the winter I get them together and build the songs, so this process was actually a little bit quicker as we were sort of workshopping them all the way through the summer and the fall. Then we got actually into the studio during winter as opposed to my usual kind of hunkering down and really refining the songs then. But also in terms of what I was talking about in past releases, I tended to stay away from… I don’t know any sort of cultural discussions. Part of that was just because I felt it wasn’t that I wasn’t writing songs like that – it was that when I wrote them, I thought they were bad, so I never shared them. I think it’s really hard to say things about the stuff that I care about, whether it be politics or the environment or that sort of thing, in a way where the poetry doesn’t suffer. In some ways that’s sort of the one thing that really feels different about this album, that I was able to kind of get some of these more social ideas into the writing – and they didn’t ruin the songs

For sure. You are very much an advocate for climate change as much as you are a creative. You’ve done a phenomenal job of intertwining the two for both yourself and your fans. Why is bringing awareness and utilizing your musical platform important to you?

Well, I don’t know who said it, probably a lot of people have said it over the years, but there’s that whole idea of the job of the artist being a mirror to society. I think I was thinking about that a fair amount. You know, the other thing about music is that it makes people feel things and it can move them and inspire them, so trying to find that line between some sort of intellectual content and then just a emotional and visceral sort of musical response was a really interesting sort of line to walk. It’s been a sort of crazy four years or so five years for the country and so it felt like I should try to do that. You can’t just bop along continuing to write these sort of songs about love and loss and existential crises, which was kind of my wheelhouse before. Those things are still in there and I think storytelling is still important, but it felt like a very sort of fraught, and it still does, but this time it felt important to try to say something about it.

Of course, I can only imagine, like, as an artist, how hard it might be to even just separate what you think you should be writing about versus what’s going on in the world and you could easily kind of maybe take influence from

Yeah, because we’re all pretty saturated with media and messages and the news and that sort of thing. You don’t want to wear people out by drilling the same stuff at home, so finding a way to talk about it in a way that can still remain a little hopeful or joyful even while still looking at some of these things squarely in the face and pointing at them and saying like, “Look, this should be changed,” is important.

Yeah, you’re very much correct. I think artists are learning how to do that now, but you’re already doing well. Now, you’re just as much of an indie rock artist as you are an authentic folk storyteller and an Americana performer. All of this is evident in some way on this album and in your work. How do you classify your sound, if at all?

This is funny you ask, because partway through the process of getting new songs together, I don’t know where the term came from, it sort of popped into my head. I’m sure someone’s used it before, but I wrote to the producer and I was like, “Hey, Steve, I think we should make a doomfolk record.” He wrote back and was like, “What’s that?” I was like, “I don’t know, but I think we can figure it out.” I think about that a lot, that the classification of music into genres is so tricky, because while it’s helpful for people who want to know what they’re going to hear, it can be so… I don’t know. Diminutive, maybe? At least in a way for the music itself or something. So for a while I was calling the music Swamp Yankee, but I feel like now it’s moved a little bit farther into the doomfolk realm, so I’m always trying to put new words on it if I can.

I love that. I think you’re right. I think it’s definitely the audience and maybe marketing people who are trying to put sound in a box, but I don’t think artists always set out to do that. They’re just wanting to do what they have inside of them. They want to express themselves, so like you said, if that’s what it turns into, that’s what it turns into.

Exactly. As an artist, you don’t ever want to have to qualify it, but also it would be pretty obvious if it’s all coming from somewhere. You have your influences, but even if it is within a genre, you don’t want to put those words on it. Especially when I was first starting off, I was even sort of dense about it, of like, who cares? Well, people care and it matters. It’s not like you’re creating stuff in a void. This is sort of part of the history of music. I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with that sort of idea, because if I was going to put more standard terminology on it, it’s sort of what you were saying. It’s folk rock, it’s roots and blues, it’s Americana, all with some stealing from all over the place. But hopefully what ends up coming out is something that’s distinctively mine. You hope that, as an artist, no matter what genre you’re working in or you end up with, it is going to sound like you.

Absolutely, and I think your songs are some of the most authentic ones I’ve ever heard from an artist. 

Thank you. 

You’re welcome. Similarly, the visual aspect of your music, whether it be artwork or music videos, always have just as strong a meaning as the lyrics and musicality itself. When did you realize the weight of what usually accompanies your music?

That’s a good question. You know, I guess from when I started making records, I was doing it in a band and we were doing everything ourselves. We didn’t really have any label or anything like that. It was in the early 2000s, basically right around the big downturn in the economy. No one was signing acts and we were having to create all of our own art. At that point, it got me excited about this idea of putting a bunch of songs together, listening to them and trying to find what visuals they feel like or that accents the music. I think going along, especially starting The Suitcase Junket, I got more and more into this sort of visual art element of it. It became just as important in some ways, especially when I first started touring it and realizing when I was playing these sort of very low paying gigs, all of the money that I made was selling CDs or t-shirts. In a sort of more cynical business minded sort of way, it was like, “Oh, if you have really beautiful things to look at, people will buy them.”

Your art and items are so obviously yours, as well. I think you can tell when an artist is just having a team of people create something that they think is based on their brand or their new music. I think yours has had such an evolution with your sound and I love that.

Thanks. Yeah, that’s definitely true. You know, it’s something that still really interests me: making visual art and making sure even on the last couple of albums where the covers have become more photographic, is just making sure that we have the right look and so having a say in that is really important.

Your new video for “Light a Candle,” is, for many reasons, I think one of your greatest music videos to date. I was wondering a little bit about how that came about being that it is an interesting time to be an artist and releasing stuff, but I think that this video is something that a lot of us need and will enjoy musically and visually.

Thanks. It took me a long time to figure out what kind of video to make for that song. The other videos that I’d put out were both from this album and pretty high paced, high energy, with a lot of stuff happening both musically and visually. “Light a Candle” is such a heavy tune with so much space in it – it’s sort of one of the more emotional tracks, so I didn’t want to overdo it. I did a few different versions of the video that, upon looking back at them, I was like, “Oh, there’s too much going on here. It’s focusing too much on just that,” and in terms of the symbolism of it, it’s a song about losing someone. Just that the image of a person walking through the woods, like carrying something felt really appropriate in some way. It’s not telling you to think of anything in particular, but if you look into it and sort of analyze it artistically, I think there’s some, some nice analogies to the song in there. I think the symbolism of the sticks being carried is the weight of grief and mourning, something you feel and know is there even when you’re not acknowledging its presence. The fire you can build with that burden is one of memory and hope.

And Then There Was Fire” is the epitome of a single release. I don’t know many artists who release such emotive, relatable, and poignant lead singles for a record, but you did that just that so well because this song is already having a life of its own. What made you choose to have it be a single for this new record?

You know, I have a really hard time when it comes to deciding what songs should be single and this one, honestly, was the team. “Light a Candle” is my favorite song on the album but it doesn’t have that – I don’t know, whatever the single thing is that people look for in the chorus catchiness or whatever. I think I get wrapped up in how it felt to maybe perform a certain song in the studio or to write them or something, so my view on what would make a good single is usually not the best one. When the when the team was like, “I think we should do ‘Light a Candle’or ‘And Then There Was Fire,” I went back and listened to and I was like, “Yeah, you know, that one does really touch on not only what this album covers material wise in terms of talking about the climate, but it also really holds both ends of the spectrum of the vibe of the album,” which is this sort of liturgy, dark, brooding kind of thing. Then the chorus opens up into this more hopeful kind of rock and roll sound. Luckily I have the people I have chirping good thoughts into my ears, because I don’t know if I would’ve picked that one, but I’m glad that it truly resonates, you know?

The End is New is out NOW on all streaming platforms!