The New Amsterdams

The New Amsterdams

BandAlternativeFolk

Biography

The New Amsterdams’ new album, Story Like a Scar, breathes like a breeze across the prairie and shimmers like the sun on the
Kansas River. Not that the band’s lyricist, Matt Pryor, was consciously evoking the Kansas locale he calls home. Still, lines
like, “It echoes in the hills,” “midnight on a dirt road” and “a secret concealed in the wheat fields” conjure an unmistakable
sense of place.
“Where I live is a very big part of who I am,” Pryor concedes. He says “A Small Crusade,” the standout closing track on Story
Like a Scar, is a metaphor for finding his home, in Lawrence, situated on the Kansas River. “I tricked my wife into moving
here,” he deadpans, “and eventually, she found her home here, too.”
Home is more than coordinates on a map, of course, and perhaps the album’s most heartfelt testimony to that truth is the cho-
rus of “Turn Out the Light”: “I’ve been wrong, but it’s alright/ There’ve been long and lonely nights/ I’ve been lost, but I found you/ Turn
out the light/ I’ll stay if you want me to.” The song speaks to the emotional meaning of home. “My job requires me to travel,”
says Pryor, whose been on the road since he was 18. “It’s really hard for me to be gone, but it’s even harder on my wife and
kids. ‘Turn Out the Light’ is an acknowledgment of that.”
Returning to “A Small Crusade,” he reckons: “Sometimes you have to scrap everything to find yourself. That’s what coming
to Lawrence has been for me. The experience of building a family and becoming part of a community has been very cathartic
for me. It’s helped me through some things. I guess it’s no coincidence that ‘A Small Crusade’ is the most spiritual-sounding
thing I’ve ever written.”
Additional insight into this state of mind is afforded by Pryor’s comments about his bandmates – guitarist-singer Dustin
Kinsey, bassist Eric McCann and drummer Bill Belzer. He says of their collaboration, “We’ve all been carrying this around,
but we needed to find each other before we could lay it down.”
They laid Story Like a Scardown in Nashville (in six 14-hour days) with producer Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Freedy
Johnston, Elvis Costello). And though the disc boasts lap steel, banjo, harmonica, stand-up bass and brushed drums, this is
not country music. For lack of a more elegant term, it’s roots rock.
Storyis woven of a live, organic, first-take sound and a recording philosophy that embraced imperfection and the unexpected.
Pryor’s voice might best be described as “low lonesome”; it’s not the hair-raising “high lonesome” tenor of bluegrass icons like
Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley, but it bears a similarly forlorn quality, made accessible to 21st-century ears by Pryor’s lived-in,
everyman performances.
His unpolished singing is part of the neat trick The New Amsterdams have pulled off with Story Like a Scar: The album main-
tains an emotional rawness and affecting sonic raggedness despite its complex texture – note the piano, pump organ, Rhodes,
Wurlitzer and Hammond – and the practiced chops of the musicians who brought it to life.Bill Belzer toured in support of the last New Amsterdams record, 2003’s critically acclaimed Worse for the Wear. “Everything
Bill does is about the music, what’s best for the song,” Pryor says. “He’s always up for learning new things and bringing them
into the process.” Belzer brought McCann into the process as well. “Eric has a jazz background,” Pryor notes. “He plays the
most amazingly beautiful stuff.” Evidence of this can be heard on Story Like a Scarwhere he takes a bow to his stand-up. “Bill
and Eric and I had been doing the power-trio thing,” he continues, “but we really wanted to fill out our sound. Dustin is an
incredibly versatile musician – he can play anything you put in front of him.”
And though Pryor, Belzer and McCann knew Kinsey could complete their sound, none of the four was prepared for the cre-
ative synergy their union would produce. “We started messing around with the songs I’d already written, and they got so
much better, like night and day,” Pryor relates. “Bill and Eric and Dustin came up with so many things I never would have
thought of. We wrote and arranged the rest of the album together.”
Pryor says his work with this band enables him to delegate some of the songcraft responsibilities, explaining: “Eric and
Dustin, who both went to school for music, are really into the recording; they love building the songs. I’ll listen to what
they’ve done and just say, ‘This works, that works, this doesn’t work ... ’ Everything’s open to discussion, but this method
works so well that we’re constantly writing. Story Like a Scar is 10 steps forward from anything I’ve ever done, which has
everything to do with this band. We found our collective voice with this record.”
Pryor is soat home in this new creative home that he’s also been able to find shelter there for some of his experiences with The

Discography

Never You Mind LP
Para Toda Vida LP
Worse for the Wear LP
Story Like a Scar LP
Killed or Cured 2X LP