On his latest release, Cold Revival, Matt Turk expertly weaves track after track of acoustic guitar and mandolin into a folk-rock fabric where they can stand on their own or sit comfortably side by side with electric guitars, lap-steel, keys, and vocals. The album’s opener, “Cracked Egg,” is a perfect example of the former.
“On ‘Cracked Egg’ I’m playing mandolin, acoustic guitar, and singing,” says Turk. “Ideally, a mandolin sounds best with an acoustic guitar. Each instrument occupies its own frequency so it’s not competing with any others, and because we’re not doubling—doubling fills up a lot of space—it’s not competing with itself. The amazing thing about acoustic instruments is that when you combine them, they meld together and create sounds that become like their own distinct instrument.”
Unlike many folkies, Turk is at home writing on acoustic or electric, and he appreciates the two for the different vibes that they bring. “A Telecaster through a small amp with reverb, like my Fender Blues Jr., can give a certain tone that can be very supportive to an emotional mood when I’m writing,” he explains. “I like hitting notes on the electric to define melodies. There’s also a power the electric gives while writing because you don’t have to strum. The acoustic guitar has more nuance and subtlety. It’s a warmer experience. There’s a 1950 Gibson J-50 acoustic around the house that I love to write on. That guitar reeks of color, feels so good, and sometimes leads me to where the song needs to go. I usually start without using a pick on both electric and acoustic.”
Even if Turk writes a tune on acoustic, it won’t necessarily stay that way. He or his bandmates will add other instruments to suit the mood or add drama or excitement. “I wrote ‘Say You’ll Live’ on acoustic. My guitar is tuned down a whole-step, so I’m playing Am voicings but we’re in G minor. The lap-steel guitar adds an ominous covering for the busier acoustic by playing whole-notes in the verse. Dan Pinnella’s electric guitar playing is somewhere in between the two: subtle, with its own voicings, in its own octave, and very supportive. The mandolin, especially in the verses, strums along with the acoustic guitar. Because I’m playing both, the feel is pretty tight—like a rhythmic double—but again, the instruments occupy different frequencies.”
In another departure from many acoustic players, Turk favors heavy picks. “If I’m looking for something really strummy I’ll go lighter,” he says. His pursuit of sonic success in the studio, however, extends far beyond his choice of plectrum. “I’ll have several guitars set up and I’ll experiment. It’s not only about tone. The guitar needs to feel good physically and play well. Tone is heavily influenced by miking techniques. [Engineer and producer] Chris ‘Wag’ Wagner and David Dobkin would get sounds in the zone—usually with the mic somewhere between the soundhole and the last high frets—and I could hone the sound by moving a little and angling. Guitars and mandolins have sweet spots and being able to dial those in with miking techniques is really important. I’m always working on that.”