By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
None of the Matrons can explain the phenomenon, but they all appreciate it. Friction believes that it's a natural byproduct of their songs: "Mark comes in with the words and a riff, usually, and we try to build around that. We try to add to the feeling of the song." Stephens is quick to point out though, that though he writes a big chunk of their songs, Friction writes the ones people love. "Heart Full of Pus" is a Friction-penned crowd pleaser, but when Stephens sings it, you'd think he was born with the words in his heart. His voice and delivery are bitter and plaintive, with none of the andro-fueled angst that has replaced emotion in too many rock songs. He sings with the song, not against it, crafting a mood of loss and regret that is palpable and strangely comforting. Stephens' wife says the Matrons' songs are "universally personal," which is probably a result of Stephens' presence.
The Matrons are often singing about love's nastier side effects, which is a rock & roll staple, but there is something about Stephens' voice that sounds both familiar and new. If you've had enough Stag when they're playing, you'd almost think his voice was coming from that lonely hole inside you where you keep all your exes. It's a nice place to visit sometimes, but you sure don't want to live there.
The subject of exes and currents is the wellspring of enough material for the Highway Matrons that they are in the process of creating a concept album about all the sordid details. Stephens describes it as the "getting over the last girl, living with loneliness, finding a new girl and falling in love, and then the ax falls -- again" cycle. They plan to finish the album before November and get it out early in the new year. "It'll either be on Rooster Lollipop or Capitol Records," Mark says with a laugh. Don't bet on Capitol, because no one at the majors is into rock & roll anymore. Music written with the purpose of expressing universal emotions and shades of feeling doesn't sell. What sells these days are Desmond Child's schlocky nonsensical rhyming exercises, sung by Puff Daddy and Celine Dion. With Fred Durst and Babyface producing. Featuring a remix by the Chemical Brothers with Cher. But if you're looking for rock & roll, keep an eye out for the Matrons. Like the man says, "The Highway Matrons are swell."