Mat D and the Profane Saints had many sleepless nights spent recording songs and perfecting every little detail for the band’s latest album, “The Mercy Road.” The CD -- which is scheduled to be released Aug. 23 -- has a noticeably different sound when compared to other records by the Siouxland band made up of Mathew deRiso, Kurt Mullins and Jeff Deignan.
Lead vocalist and songwriter deRiso spoke with the Weekender about “The Mercy Road” as well as Mat D and the Profane Saints' new sound and stepping out of its comfort zone.
You took a different approach with “The Mercy Road.” What did you envision for this album?
I wanted to do a decidedly rock record. I think the Americana roots stuff has kind of been overdone the past few years and it’s kind of moved into a more popular medium. The songs that I was writing were angrier and heavier and grittier. Half of it was a step away from the alt-country stuff. And the other half was just the themes and feel of the whole record.
Yet it still sounds like the same Mat D and the Profane Saints. Why take this different rock direction? Why veer off from that Americana sound?
(Laughs) It seems like everybody is starting to do it. There seems to be a bandwagon that everyone’s getting on right now. You can’t keep putting out the same records. I think there are some bands that do a real good job of putting out very similar records and they kind of maintain an audience and keep an audience happy. I think some of that is still on this record. You listen to “Dirt Track Diva” and it’s still very much a rockabilly track. There’s still a healthy influence of Americana and roots in the sound, but we had never really done a full rock album.
And I really wanted to make sure this wasn’t a country record. I wanted to make sure that it could be classified as a rock 'n' roll album or as a hard rock album. Going to the studio when we first started recording it, it had more of the Americana and roots feel but as we kept going it was like, “Let’s just make this heavy. Let’s make this loud. Let’s give it all we got.” And I think this is what we kind of ended up with.
There are a hundred bands out there that are trying to go the Americana route because it’s become so popular. And I really don’t want to be just another one of them that just gets nailed to a wall. You know what I mean? I would like to step out of my comfort zone. And that’s what I’ve tried to do in this record.
Stepping out of that comfort zone, what sort of things did you have to do differently this time around? Or did you have to do anything differently?
We recorded the same way. We really took our time with it. There were a few songs that didn’t make the cut. Originally, there were supposed to be more than nine songs on it. We stuck with what we felt fit. I think there’s a lot more guitar work on this record than there has been in the past.
We really tried to fill up the sound to make it sound big and to make it sound well-produced; whereas “Holyoke” was kind of a mid-tempo, slower record. I think this one’s a big departure from that. I think if you got to do a rock album, you gotta do it big. Kurt [Mullins] put a lot of extra guitar work in and we put a lot of extra work into the drums to make 'em sound big.
It was an album that took a long time. Like we’ve done before, we usually record a whole album and then we listen to it and say, “OK we can’t do this or this.” We didn’t start from scratch but we definitely kept developing the songs in the studio until we were happy with it. The drums and the guitar really got a large focus on this album versus a theme like we’ve done before.
Mat D and the Profane Saints is about to reach its 10-year anniversary, correct?
Our 10-year anniversary is going to be around November. I kinda got some ideas of what we can do around that time. We’re going to release this record without doing shows immediately. It releases Aug. 23. We’re not going to do a CD release show or anything right now. We’re trying to get gigs right now. We haven’t played together since February 2015 as far as shows. We’ve really been concentrating on getting this record done.
Was producing this album any more difficult than others?
No. A lot of the songs have been around for a while. We just hadn’t developed them. I don’t think it was difficult to produce this one. I think the difficulty came only in the fact that we really wanted to give our best performance. We are very neurotic when we produce. We don’t like going into a studio for a weekend and just fleshing it out and saying, “Hey, good enough.”
We want to make a really good record. There are moments on “Holyoke” that I thought were really good, but for the most part I was really disappointed in it. And I didn’t want to put out another release that I was disappointed in. We wanted to be happy with it. The production part of it was fun. I really enjoyed singing on this one. I really enjoyed playing on it and hearing what Jeff [Deignan] and Kurt did with their parts.
So you don’t harbor the same emotions you had on “Holyoke” for “The Mercy Road”?
No, I think “The Mercy Road” is a much better album. “Holyoke” was a very transitional album. There was a lot of turmoil in the band. I had personal turmoil at the time that it was released. We kind of moved past that. I think that “The Mercy Road” is going to set the pace for stuff that comes after. I haven’t written in a long time because I’ve been so focused on this record. I think once it’s been released, it will open a door for more songs and more song writing.
What stories did you want to tell in “The Mercy Road”? What themes did you want to explore?
I think this is a redemption album. I think that’s a big theme. It’s a dark album. There’s probably more of a silver lining on this record than there has been on past ones. Obviously, some of the songs are really aggressive. There’s a lot of heartache there, too.
I like guys like Cormac McCarthy. I took a lot of inspiration from his writings. When he writes a book like “The Road” -- a really gritty book -- you stay gritty, you stay real. But at the end, there’s this honest, dark feeling deep down that everything is going to be OK at the end of the road. That’s the theme that I had, especially with the title track “The Mercy Road.” It’s about examining the wreckage in life and looking around and realizing that you have to keep on pushing down the road. You gotta keep on driving and moving forward.
Since this is a redemption album, is it hard to get across your emotions in song? Is it difficult to put yourself out there?
Well, the most personal record I ever wrote was “Plank Road Drag.” So if people want to hear really personal songs, that would be as personal as I’ve gotten. Sometimes you just need to be the storyteller. Yeah, there’s real heartache and real sadness and real difficulties that I’ve gone through that are present in the lyrics of this album, but for the most part they’re stories and collections of emotions. All I’m looking for is connecting with the listener. If the listener says, “Gosh, this reaches out to me,” then I’ve done my job.
I don’t think that every songwriter has to get on his knees and do a confessional to everybody. That kind of comes across to me as whiny and “oh, poor me.” I don’t think I’m “oh, poor me” on this record. If anything, there’s anger, there’s heartache and I think there’s some good moments, upbeat moments.
Judging from your previous albums, it seems like you have a fascination with roads or highways?
Hmm. I think I’m going to set a goal for myself on the next record to not ever use the word “road,” to not ever use the word “highway,” to not use the word “wheel” and maybe try to cut the religious references in half. So that might make songwriting a little hard for me.
(Laughs) Yeah, I’m a highway guy. If there’s any pigeonhole that I haven’t been able to crawl out of, it’s that. Yeah, absolutely.
So what are you most proud of about “The Mercy Road”?
I’m most proud of the work Jeff and Kurt put into it. There were a lot of sleepless nights. There were a lot of late evenings. There were a lot of high emotions. (Laughs) And there were a lot of frustrations in making sure everything was just right. I think the hard work of Kurt and Jeff is the reason the album turned out so well. I feel like I played a very minimal role. I brought the songs in. I wrote the lyrics. But it was those two that really brought 'em to life.