Sometimes playing in a band is like a love affair, and for Matthew Szlachetka, the magic was gone. After nearly seven years fronting the Northstar Session, the Los Angeles singer and songwriter is stepping out with his solo debut, Waits for a Storm to Find.
It’s a collection of 12 deeply felt songs, full of soulful melodies and rootsy arrangements that evoke the folk, blues and rock ’n’ roll influences that inspired Szlachetka, while pushing past them to establish a sound all his own.
“I put out four albums and an EP with my previous band, and I think there are parts of those albums that were me. But in general, it wasn’t a full representation of what I was about musically,” Szlachetka says.
Waits for a Storm to Find changes that. Comprising songs written over the past several years, the album is Szlachetka’s most personal statement, with lyrical vignettes drawn from relationships, tough decisions and learning, sometimes the hard way, when to move on. He muses about unfilled potential on the title track, which frames Szlachetka’s tousled voice with simple piano and elegant horns. Elsewhere, he mourns falling out of touch with an old friend on the understated folk-pop tune “Come Home for December,” sings like he’s trying to convince himself over raucous guitar and a sturdy rhythm on “I Keep Telling Myself It’s Fine” and dials in a wistful tone on the soaring “Wasting Time.”
“There’s definitely a lot more autobiographical stuff on this album than I’ve written in the past,” he says. “I think it’s my most honest work to date. These songs are coming from a darker place in my life that I wasn’t necessarily as comfortable talking about or letting people in on.”
You can hear it in the dusty, world-weary tone and steel guitar accents of “And I See You Now,” in the way Szlachetka balances aching reminiscences with telling details — the sun on her hair, the smell of jasmine — on “Back Into Your Heart” and the defiant guitar-soaked kiss-off “Threw You Away in Los Angeles.”
A New England native, Szlachetka grew up immersed in his parents’ record collection. He first picked up a guitar in middle school, inspired by electric players including Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Mark Knopfler and Ry Cooder, and the acoustic work of early Bob Dylan and Mississippi John Hurt. After graduating from Bates College with a degree in music composition, Szlachetka moved to California to pursue a career as a songwriter and performer, drawing on the influence of veteran rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Neil Young and Elton John, and younger heavyweights such as Ryan Adams. Szlachetka lived for a few years in San Diego before relocating to L.A. and forming the Northstar Session with musicians including drummer Kane McGee, who still backs Szlachetka on tour.
The band played more than 150 shows a year between 2009-13, performed live on the NBC dramedy Parenthood (where Szlachetka had some lines of dialogue) and shared stages with acts as varied as Chris Isaak, Brandi Carlile, John Waite, Chris Hillman, Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven, Matthew Sweet, David Ryan Harris, Greg Laswell, Johnette Napolitano, Hanson, Fishbone and the English Beat. Eventually, though, it started to seem more like work than fun for Szlachetka, who wrote the band’s songs, booked its tours and handled PR and other duties.
“I wasn’t feeling the creative side of it anymore. It wasn’t the direction I wanted to be going in, or knew I should be going in,” Szlachetka says.
Feeling burned out from touring during a break from the road one winter a few years ago, he wrote a batch of songs that formed the basis of what would become Waits for a Storm to Find. As Szlachetka increasingly became convinced that a solo project was the right direction for him, he wrote more, on his own and with friends, until he had enough to begin recording in June 2013 at Kingsize Soundlabs in L.A. The resulting album is an achievement that Szlachetka is understandably proud of.
“This is definitely the first time where I can confidently say, ‘This is my music. This is what I’m about. This is what I do,’” he says.