White Boy and The Average Rat Band
Interview with Mike Matney (Guitar, Vocals) By The Grim Lord
A true to form blast from the past, this US-based act are known for having one of the most bootlegged albums in the scene, with rarities selling for several hundreds of dollars online. They couldn’t be pigeon-holed into one genre, which is a reason why I feel the act have been sought after for so many years. The Grim Tower is absolutely honored to have these legends present in the dungeon today, as they discuss their origins, the original recording sessions, the bootleg, the remaster and the prospect of new material. Their first in nearly forty years.
First and foremost, where in the heck have you guys been? When I first found out about your debut album, I realized that it was released during heavy metal’s golden age, back in the eighties. After that, I realized that there hadn’t been any activity in the project for nearly forty years! Also, where did you come up with the name “White Boy and The Average Rat Band?” Sounds like a blues group.
Mike Matney: Well that is a story I suppose. I got the name White Boy when I was in Nashville playing in this band called Tabu. It was an odd band to say the least, I was only there for a short time. But while I was there, I was given the name White Boy by Tabu’s main-man Kriss Famous. Usually, nicknames are just given, and they end up sticking I suppose. Later I just figured I would call the band The Average Rat Band.
First, you have to understand that with the Rat Band, it all began as somewhat of a solo project of mine when I returned home from Nashville around 1979. I took a job working for a local record store; the owner happened to also own a recording studio and offered me recording time as payment for working at the record store. It seemed like a good deal to me.
I would end up writing and recording everything on the album in exception to the drums. So I had to bring in a drummer and then continued to put together a band for the album cover and live shows. It was always intended to be a band, it just worked out the way it did. Back then musicians were very difficult to find, certainly in a small town such as where I was from.
The album had its original release in the early eighties. There was only a limited amount of copies released and it afforded few opportunities at the time. However, over the years it has developed a cult following of loyal fans, that is totally mind-blowing to me.
The original line-up of the band was short-lived; between location, timing, and sadly tragedy, it seemed it was just not in the cards for us at the time. After that, the band just came to an end. Through the rest of the eighties, I went on to other projects and eventually back to school in the nineties. I then would have a band playing out called the Matney Project that did a lot of the southern rock circuit. We played several festivals with bands like Black Oak Arkansas and Blackfoot. This went on for some time then I tried to resurrect the White Boy and the Average Rat Band again in 2011. It was doing pretty good but still not the right time, more of a warm up to what is going on now.
The recent signing with Heaven and Hell Records and the subsequent first official reissue of the album has generated a fair amount of press and increased interest in the band allowing us to tour nationwide and play some iconic clubs.
It was not lost on me the reputation the album and name had gained over the years. But, ever since the re-issue and all this has started a new… well, it is extremely humbling to say the least. I continue to be surprised when finding out place the album has reached or hearing from people who know the name.
So who came to you with the decision to remaster and reissue this classic album? Had this been something that you’d always wanted to do, but never got the chance before?
M. Matney: It’s something I always hoped would happen. Since its release in the early eighties, it’s been bootlegged. I made a half-hearted attempt once to stop the bootlegger. I contacted an attorney in Los Angeles who advised me to ‘stop the money’. So we went straight to the distributor. Within a day I got an anonymous email saying that they were the one bootlegging my album. They went on to say they only had 400 copies made up and had 40 left they’d send me. So I had to decide should I stop this guy or not? I mean, at this point I was being contacted by fans of the album from all over. So when I was contacted by Heaven and Hell Records years later, last summer to be exact; and offered a chance to have the album re-mastered and distributed ‘officially’. Needless to say I jumped at the chance. I still had the master tapes of the album, which Jeremy tells me is extremely rare to find in similar cases. We sent them down to Jamie King in North Carolina, and he did what he does.
The sound is great; the volume is up, it is fuller, it meets industry standards, and it is not that straight from a vinyl lift that the bootleg is.
I’ve noticed that a lot of previously rare classics are being reissued in both digital and physical forms; mostly what I think is due to the online market. Do you see that being the case with this recording? Apparently, people on sites like eBay have been selling the original pressing for a fortune due to its obscurity.
M. Matney: If you’re asking whether or not I think that the internet is responsible for the underground cult popularity of White Boy and the Average Rat Band, then I would say to a degree. I was first contacted by collector John Allison in the early nineties and John showed me collectors list from all over including Germany, England and Japan where the album was already selling for $125 a copy. All of these lists were paper booklets. Magazines of sorts mailed between collectors. The first big mention/review the album got was in ‘The Acid Archives’ book. This was of course before the internet, or at least the internet as we know it today.
Jeremy was telling me a few weeks ago about a collector he had met recently who apparently was instrumental in helping the album become what it has become over the years. Seems this guy was one of the key players in helping the album circulate years ago. As Jeremy was investigating more about the record and the guy, he was told by a third party source that the dude was not just a casual collector and that he was one of the world’s major players.
Seriously, this record collecting thing is like some Indiana Jones stuff. Those guys are serious and it goes deep too. The way I understand is that there are people with a lot of records, and then there are those real major players who spend lots on a record.
It’s true these days that it seems to have a pretty large online presence. I’ve seen it on hundreds of online sites, blogs, reviews, etc. It’s like the masses now have access to what only a few had before. I myself didn’t have a copy of the album and who can afford $500 or $600 for an original?
A few months ago, not long after the re-issued vinyl dropped, an original was sold for a little over $800.00 I’m told… That is crazy!
Looking back at this performance, how do you feel about it today? Are there some things that you would have changed during the writing/recording process?
M. Matney: Knowing what I know now, obviously I wouldn’t change a thing. Now if you had asked me at the time I would have changed a lot. Everyone that knows me knows that I’m bad to second guess myself and artistically I’m my own biggest fan and worst critic. I’ve constantly struggled with what to leave in and what to throw out.
Sometimes we (as in people) create something and have no idea what it will actually become. Apparently, that album captured something special. I don’t understand and I don’t want to spend my time trying to understand. I’m just grateful and humbled.
I hear that you’re working on new material right now, which would make this forthcoming effort the first thing that anyone has ever heard from the band in forty years. How’s that coming along? Do you play to perform a few shows for it?
M. Matney: There are five never before released songs on the CD version of the re-issue. These were tracks that had been in the can for many years, they were originally recorded back in the early eighties.
The label wanted extra material and well there were these tracks. At first, I wasn’t even aware what was on the tapes, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover these tracks.
Now there is still a lot more material from way back, it is just a matter of sorting through it all. That tends to be more difficult than most people might imagine.
I went back to school in the nineties and got a degree in Recording Industry Management from MTSU. I wrote a lot while I was in school and after moving back home to Virginia I built my own studio back on the farm and continued to record. I’ve made a couple of CD-Rs of demos and scratch material using drum machines but until last summer, but never really had the opportunity to have my music in a professional studio.
Last summer the guys and I went down and recorded at Jay’s Place on music row. Hopefully, some of that material will make it on to the release later this year. There’s talk that the label head Jeremy Golden will be producing it. He’s mentioned taking us to a studio in North Carolina he likes and bringing in a few big names. Should be a lot of fun!
Instead of the geek culture question that we always ask, I’m a bit more curious as to why the album didn’t seem to hit its mark during the golden age of the genre. What did you think was the issue (or issues) that prevented the band from becoming a major commercial success? There was a little something for everyone here, from doom to traditional/power metal to synth rock, thrash, punk and then some. You just don’t find this sort of variation in records anymore.
M. Matney: This is probably easy to explain.
Jeremy often describes the band and the album as a “square-peg, saying that it oddly fits in everywhere, but doesn’t fit in anywhere. I suppose that is the perfect description. He often comments to me about how very few bands and these are his words, “can walk in so many different worlds like metal, punk rock, southern rock”.
On the fridge rock n’ roll fans dig this stuff. We played it on southern rock circuits and people dug it. This recent tour had us in punk rock dives all over the country, metalheads are digging us and we are gearing up to play the Legions of Metal Festival in Chicago. It seems the appeal of the band spans far and who am I to question that? Why would I question that?
However, I think the same blessing that allows the band to have appeal to some many different subgenres is also the curse that may always hold the band back from being able to achieve a greater mass appeal. There is an irony in there that is kind of tragically sad. Then again it is somewhat bittersweet I suppose; I just create music I hear and feel and I have always done it this way. I have never set out with one sound in m9ind, it just comes out has it does. This is why the debut is what it is.
But to try to get back to your question; not only was the album to different in one regard, it wasn’t consistent enough I guess? Hell, I don’t know.
What was certain were the circumstances that would hinder it from reaching a larger audience. Bear in mind that there was no internet, people tend to forget how difficult things were back then or they just can’t imagine because they weren’t even alive at the time. The album was a DIY effort in every way and only 300 were pressed, which 50 were lost right off, so only 250 records got out. So really it is amazing that anyone heard this, certainly folks around the world.
Thanks for answering my questions and I’m definitely curious as to what you have in store for the next one! Even if it has been a rather long time coming.
M. Matney: Hey man thanks for giving us this opportunity! Thanks for the interview! Sorry it took so long to get this interview happening, we have been on the road since November and that has been a little time consuming. We are just now getting some downtime.
We hope everybody will check us out on Facebook and watch out for more live dates throughout 2018 as well as a new album. But for now the next thing is Legions of Metal Festival in Chicago on May 19th, hope to see everyone there.
Purchase HERE (Bandcamp)