At first, it might seem a bit surprising to hear that Charleston's Matadero are just now getting around to releasing their first EP. Hell, even frontwoman Lindsay Holler thinks it took too much time. "It's long overdue," she says. "We've been together for five years, which is an eternity in the band kingdom. Everybody's pretty busy, though. We all have other things that we're doing. So it makes scheduling a little tricky."
"Busy" is an understatement. The band, Holler, bassist George Baerreis, keyboardist Sam Sfirri, and drummer Ron Wiltrout are among the most active musicians on the local scene. Holler has been serving as both performer and co-organizer of the popular "Women &..." concert series at the Charleston Music Hall, Baerreis and Wiltrout have appeared on various stages and sessions, including Conor Donohue's most recent album, Cayenne, and Sfirri has spent the last two years going to school in Canada.
"We don't play as much as we'd like to," Holler says. "We tried a couple of people out while Sam was gone to keep things going, but he brings something so unique to what we do that it never worked out. So we would just play when he was home. And then when he finished school and moved back last year, that's when we really decided to make it happen."
The self-titled EP they created at the Jam Room in Columbia is a fierce cauldron of pulsing rhythms, swirling, old-school keyboards, and Holler's haunted, jagged-edge wail, which hits like a perfect storm of Siouxsie Sioux and PJ Harvey. Their music is a feverish, pitch-dark maelstrom that's heavy on Baerreis' massive low-end growl and Sfirri's dirge-tastic keyboards.
"I don't feel like you miss a guitar, even though it does have such a prevalent place in rock music," Holler says. "But George's bass sound is so enormous, it really does take up a lot of space. The top priority for all of us is to find our place in the song. And it's really beautiful, the complementary aspect of the bass and the keys in the arrangements. Sam is very generous with space, and thoughtful and tasteful about what he plays. It can be a struggle when we're writing something new to figure out how we can make it ours, but the more we play together, the more we know what our sound is."
It's a sound that, despite the layers of keyboards and bass, works best when the band records live, which is what they were able to do at the Jam Room. "I couldn't imagine recording a Matadero album track by track," she says. "That would be tough. But the studio's got a good vibe. It's quirky and there's a lot of space, and the gear is great there. They were easy to work with, but they paid attention. If there were things they felt we needed to change, they weren't shy about saying it, which was great. I want someone to listen and give me some checks and balances."
The songs allow Holler to work through a range of highs and lows on the EP, to the extent that she often seems like a tortured torch singer purging her emotions into the microphone. "My background is actually in jazz," she says. "That's what I went to college for. But there came a point where I wanted to write songs and I didn't feel like I had the vocabulary in jazz to write a song, so my style evolved — but vocally, that's still my home base. There's still that kind of foundation that bleeds over."