From The Horse's Mouth: Matthew O'Neill on Campfire Cook

Matthew O'Neill

Matthew O’Neill

A profound dynamic connection to the natural world is a hallmark of Matthew O’Neill‘s music. At its core it involves bridging wilderness experience with contemporary human spheres via innate sensitivities. This had led him to many interesting places and spaces.
Implicit in the music is a felt responsibility to reinvigorate the world of man via wild sources. In so doing, he offers up fresh options and feelings that are vivid, wise, sexual, humorous, and celebratory. The characters in his songs seem to reside equally in the present, past, and future. Matthew has always identified strongly with Native American ways and cosmology. Learning to embrace the inherent contradictions of those ways and contemporary life has been a defining aspect of his songwriting process. O’Neill has always lived with one foot in the world of man and one foot in the wilderness, “crafting songs unique to his own vision.”
In 2013, Matthew began working with Lone Pine Records, based out of Wrightwood, CA. The new album, Campfire Cook, is the result. Done in O’Neill’s own old school way, Campfire Cook, was recorded live inside a cabin in the mountains two hours east of the Pacific Coast. Bill Fiorella, founder of Lone Pine, arranged a simpatico situation. Daniel Lanois’ hand-me-down analog equipment, tape, and a self regulating source of electricity were the technology employed to capture the proceedings. The album was recorded by Tyrone Merrimer at his mountain cabin studio over the course of three days of live sonic conjuring.
The record finds O’Neill backed up by a talented band whose members have played with the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Graham Nash, Steve Gadd, and The Magical Orchestra of Truth.
Ghettoblaster caught up with O’Neill to discuss the record, which hit shelves in late February. This is what he said about it.
When did you begin writing the material for Campfire Cook?  
Fall of 2012, “Mastodon” came from an epic (really long) song I wrote in Echo Park previously, I took a section and grew it out into what you hear on the record.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing?  Why was it so troublesome? 
“Santa Cruz.” It wasn’t difficult necessarily, but I wrote a bunch of verses and choruses and distilled everything down to what is there now. I like that process. There was a lot of work put into mixing the song, getting it to sound right. We put some additional vocals and keys etc onto the live take. In the end Tyrone even went so far as to speed up the tape slightly to get the tempo situated where we liked it.
Which of the songs on the LP is most different from your original concept for the song?
“Trapped.” We did a zen one take version of that song. In my mind I had heard arrangements and layering going on, spanish guitar, strings, bass harmony… But it sounded perfect to me the way we cut it live so we left it alone.
What was it like working with Daniel Lanois’ old studio equipment? Are you a big fan of his?
It was great. All that old gear has got a vibe to it. Plus living where it does only adds to that. Lanois has done a lot of great work. He produced Teatro for Willie Nelson, which is a badass record. I’m a big Emmylou Harris fan, and I love the work he’s done with her. I’ve been playing with Daryl Johnson, who played bass with her for years and was in Lanois’ Black Dub. An interesting coincidence with Daniel Lanois is that he is from the same place in Canada that I was born. We both started out playing and recording in our mom’s basements as kids.
Do you have new music in the works?
I do. I have some songs ready that I finished at Atlantic Sound last year. I also have a batch of new songs that I’m psyched to be recording soon. Together they’ll likely be the next record.
(Visit O’Neill here: