Matthew Sonntag’s new album is a coming-of-age story about owls, snakes, ice and the feeling of leaving home when an adventure begins.
It’s a fitting metaphor for the local singer-songwriter’s personal journey, as Sonntag is stepping into the next level of adulthood with a number of stars aligning on this summer solstice.
This week, Sonntag is closing on the purchase of his first home. Today is his 26th birthday. And tonight he self-releases his new full-length solo album, “Learning Blocks and a Bottle of Gin.”
“This CD is about being from Spokane, compared to my first CD that I did with Will Zorbist and Jimmy Warren. We were just coming out of being teenagers so we were angsty and aching and longing for adulthood, and it reflects that. And when you get to adulthood … it’s like I wish I was still sucking my thumb, eating Popsicles and sitting in the sandbox,” Sonntag said. “The songs are about being in your 20s and turning that corner into the real world and having to make those difficult decisions.”
With song titles such as “Birthday Boy Blues,” “Poor Kid Song,” and “Oh Son It’s Okay to Play Outlaw as Long as It’s Just Pretend,” the 12-song album takes several retreats to simpler times. The songs rely mostly on a sparse foundation of Sonntag’s voice, guitar and harmonica melodies coalescing on slightly dark ridges that overlook a menagerie of melancholy stories of boys becoming men.
The album’s title, Sonntag said, popped into his head while he was buzzed one night.
“I graduated college a couple of years ago and I was partying a lot,” he said. “Growing up and being on my own, those were the real learning blocks. You could remix it and call it ‘Learning Gin in a Bottle of Blocks.’ You have these goals and qualities you are striving for in life in one room and right next door you’re screwing up all the time and making mistakes.”
Musically, “Learning Blocks” was enhanced by producer and multi-instrumentalist Jae Ham, of Noisefrog Studios, who played a number of instruments on the record, including live drums and lead guitar, to add ethereal textures and full-band intensity to Sonntag’s otherwise minimalist soundscape.
In terms of the larger narrative that laces the album, Sonntag paints a picture of haves and have-nots and the fine line between the two.
“There are songs that allude to the Garland streets and poor kids games, or PKGs. We have our starving artists. Obviously Spokane is not Austin, Texas, where people are building a community around music. I used to hate that as a teenager,” Sonntag said. “I think it’s important to build the history from Spokane, and I don’t see any room for sleeping under bridges. I’ve got an education. All of the hoops a new certified teacher has to jump though, those are the learning blocks and I’ve represented what I learned in college, and I didn’t have to write a 10-page paper.”