By Arih Struger-Kalkman
Matt Sajn knocked on my door at five past one. He came in with a smile on his face and a guitar in his hand. No case – capo on the fifth fret – initials carved into the beaten top of his acoustic guitar. It didn’t take long before I was converted to Sajnism – about halfway through his first song, “Oxford Haze”. Having only heard him perform as the lead singer of the Welland rock band, Northern Primitive, this stark and minimal tune caught me by surprise.
“That song was written to keep me from falling asleep at the wheel,” he explained.
Sajn was driving back from a show in Tilsonburg, in Oxford County, with fellow songwriter Drew Thompson (Single Mothers) when he began composing the song, “I got home around 4am and just sat down and plunked out the chords and that was it.”
Drinking coffee in my living room, it was like chatting with an old friend from out of town. Sajn talked about Welland and the music scene that was once so strong there: the Rose City Hardcore.
“When I was in high school, there was a huge scene. My favourite local rock ‘n’ roll band ever, Fuzzbug, came from that (Kelly and Billy, they’re now playing with Pete Tremblay and the Boozy Truth). Fuzzbug was the band that got me into local music — it was incredible — but that all stopped, everyone kind of got old.”
He spoke so fervently about the music that I spent the rest of the night looking up all the people and bands he named. One of the names I already knew, however, was Ben Andress. During the good old days, Ben’s label, Blacktop Records, was headquartered in Welland: “It was a party house, everyone had a lot of fun there — I think at the time, people didn’t appreciate what a purpose it served until it left — shows rarely happen in Welland anymore…”
Sajn’s solo album, From a Bedroom in East Anglia, was released by Blacktop Records in 2013. Moving forward, though, he plans to do things on his own.
“What I’m trying to do is make stuff that can be recorded anywhere… all the songs on my SoundCloud were recorded on my phone. I love the emptiness – it’s very raw, no production at all. If you can get a message across and make people say ‘that’s a really good song’ or ‘that’s a really cool idea’ without putting any production into it, I think there’s something to be said for that.”
As for Northern Primitive, the band is gearing up to record a full length album this spring.
“We’re slowly starting to pull it together, the last thing we really did was in 2011 (we did do a 7” split with Indoor Shoes and the Dirty Nil). It’s going to be fun to hang out with the guys for a week in an environment where we’re comfortable.”
A legendary Canadian songwriter in the making, Sajn’s work is embodied by the second song of his Band on a Couch session, “Northern Idle Waves and Rain”. It’s about the Welland Canal, Sajn’s “favourite thing in the world”. As the fingerpicked intro gives way to Sajn’s crisp and haunting vocal melody, you too will be pulled away with each ebb and every idle wave.
Matt Sajn performs at the Silversmith Brewing Company on Thursday March 24, 7-9pm.