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From Utah, With Love: Matt Lewis freestyle raps, loves alt-country and Alaska 

Vandals shirt meets acoustic guitar. That's a good way to describe Matt Lewis.Matt Lewis and his band live in Utah and they don't have a

Vandals shirt meets acoustic guitar. That's a good way to describe Matt Lewis.Matt Lewis and his band live in Utah and they don't have a problem with that. Some musicians might think of Provo, Utah as about the last place they'd want to call home base. Hell, some folks, buying perhaps a bit too deeply into Utah's ultra-conservative reputation, might not even be aware that rock music is even allowed within the state - forever banned in some sort of sweeping Footlooseian state mandate.

That's not the case, because if it were, the Matt Lewis Band wouldn't have cultivated the funky rock vibrations that have earned them the ability to tour nationally, along the way selling a few thousand records without any record label support.

"It's been really difficult at times and it's also been really easy," the 30-year-old Lewis says of playing music in Utah.

"I hated growing up here as a kid because I thought the place was just so conservative. As I've grown up I've really, really started to love it here," he continues. He goes on to discuss his youth listening to punk bands like Rancid, NOFX and Social Distortion
We're talking over the phone as Lewis is at his job in Provo (the home of his alma mater, Brigham Young University) where he teaches music to what he describes as a "residential treatment center for troubled youth."

"Honestly, I don't think they're really troubled," Lewis says in the first of what will be a string of unflinchingly positive remarks during our half-hour conversation. This is because Lewis is a positive guy, and a heavy slice of his band's music is equally upbeat. On the band's self-titled release, Lewis unleashed rapid-fire vocals over reggae and acoustic funk numbers that sometimes reach a ferocity that emanates Lewis' punk upbringing. But for the most part, that 2004 record (of which they've sold 5,000-plus copies all on their own) is reminiscent of a cross of early O.A.R. (when they were still an acoustic roots rock band) but with G. Love at the helm. The G. Love comparison turns out to be apt when Lewis says that he's freestyle rapped on stage with G. Love and Special Sauce on two occasions. That's right, Lewis also freestyles and he's pretty damn good at it.

"I'm not a huge hip-hop guy, but I do love the improvisation," he says.

While the uber-upbeat vibes are what might bring a good deal of fans into a Matt Lewis show, the band's soon-to-be-released record Vague Concern reflects the Texas alt-country kick that Lewis has been on over the past few years. MLB will surely move a dance floor, but as of late Lewis says he doesn't mind bringing it down from time to time - diversifying the band's live show attack. It's remarkable that a guy who can freestyle at roughly 1,000 words per minute (that's a rough unscientific, shot-from-the-hip estimate) can switch gears to Neil Young strum-and-hum coolness, but Lewis and company do just that.

"As a band we've always just played what we feel like playing and promised ourselves that we wouldn't narrow ourselves to one style. We do a lot of freestyle stuff and it's fun to play a slow song and just be mellow sometimes," Lewis says.

Lewis is just a few days removed from a two-week tour of Alaska with his band that saw them play 14 shows in 13 days and he's admittedly tired. Let's add this up: the band is based in Utah and likes to spend time touring in places like Alaska. Are these guys trying to make things hard for themselves? Do they tour on horseback just for the added challenge? Do they fashion their own instruments from fallen trees?

Obviously, Lewis isn't intentionally making his career difficult, even if he does willfully live in Utah.

Matt Lewis Band
2:30pm Sunday, August 10. Les Schwab Amphitheater, 344 Shevlin Hixon Dr. Free.

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