Interview with White Boy and the Average Rat Band

Those who have heard about the band will know that "White Boy and the Average White Band" is the best-kept secret of the American Rock 'n Roll underground....

Interviewed by Chris Martin

The name is not only intriguing but many will be left bewildered. Those who have heard about the band will know that “White Boy and the Average White Band” is the best-kept secret of the American Rock ‘n Roll underground. We were fortunate enough to speak with Mike Matney to discuss everything from the band’s beginnings to what is next.

MGM: Enough about the history of the band; I’m sure you are tired of going over that in every interview. So, let us start with how the reissue project came about. People had been seeking the album and information about this band for years so why did it take so long for this to finally happen?

Mike Matney: That’s a long story. 38 years. Number one would be because of the limited release. (250 copies) Number two would be because of our rural location in Southwest, VA. Normally a band will build their following locally but in our case, there were really no venues in our area for the kind of music we were making. Third, I hate to say it but probably the bootlegs. They had good distribution and suddenly people other than collectors could get their hands on it and not have to pay a fortune. Last I think the internet helped i.e. ‘Metal Archives’ that’s where Heaven And Hell found me.

MGM: You had a band together playing under the name Matney and for a short while under White Boy and the Average Rat Band. Meanwhile, at the same time, the album was becoming highly collectable and the band was building a sort of cult following. Were you aware of this going on?

Mike Matney: Actually, through the eighties and nineties I played for several bands including a brief stint with David Allan Coe. I went back to school in the nineties and got my degree in Recording Industry Management. I even interned in the A&R dept. of Asylum Records for a year. It was during this time John Allison a local record collector and friend of mine informed me about the album. He showed me a list from other collectors all over the world where their album was selling for $125 a copy. I couldn’t believe it. 

MGM: Now, as recent as last year one of the original pressings sold for $800.00; sure would be nice to have some copies. Before the reissue project came about had you planned to re-visit White Boy and the Average Rat Band or just continue as Matney?

Mike Matney: Well we were starting to get some recognition under the name Matney. So that’s really hard to answer. Not sure what might have happened but obviously things are going the direction they should be going now.

MGM: After the reissued album was released the band immediately set out on a small tour cleverly called ‘Back in the Rat Race’ that hit some famous clubs one both coasts. How was that tour and were the audiences receptive to the band?

Mike Matney: Great fun! We never got to tour or travel as a band before. I myself haven’t played out on the road a lot. Because of the re-issue and the great PR we got to play some of the most famous rock and roll dive bars in the United States. We had good turnouts everywhere we played. What would get me the most is at almost every show there were fans who would say they drove a long way or they couldn’t believe it when they have seen we were out playing. It’s very humbling when you are in some far off place and someone comes up to you and pulls out one of your albums, ask you to sign it and starts telling you their story behind it. Learning about how well the name was known in the Boston area was pretty trippy. We were invited up there to perform on Ken McIntyre (aka Sleazegrinder) public access show Heavy Leather. Turns Out he had been a big fan for years but as with everyone he was not aware that we were active or ever knew anything about us beyond the album. While we were up there we picked up another gig where people were showing up that had been familiar with the band for years. Even a local skateboard company was using White Boy songs in their demo video releases. Stuff like this just continued to pop-up. It is like having something going on around you and about you but having no idea it is happening.

MGM: There is a bit of buzz going around about you guys mainly in punk rock and metal circles. It seems it has risen some from the deep rock underground catacombs. What would you attribute this to?

Mike Matney:  ‘From the deep rock underground catacombs’, nice. Well, I have to give John Allison as well as many other hardcore Metal Collectors a lot of credit. Mostly I guess are the fans. There are some people that are really kinda fanatical about that album. (hey I just realized where that word comes from) Recently I was told that Mike Varney ordered one of the CD re-issues and well that just seems pretty cool to think that the guy who basically discovered Yngwie Malmsteen likes my album.

MGM: As Matney, the band played the southern rock circuit and now as White Boy and the Average Rat Band you are playing for punks and metal fans. Why do you think your songs have such a mass appeal?

Mike Matney: I tend to have more of the old school writing style. I call it the Nashville style of writing. I believe in telling a story, giving advice, a good rhyme scheme and a good catchy, and this is important, ‘pentatonic’ riff. That’s the best bluesy rocking stuff.

MGM: It appears that you have had several different people in your line-ups going back to the 1980s. Now The Average Rat Band is a three-piece. Can you tell me a bit about Darryl and Jerry? And how is playing as a power trio different from playing as a four piece for you?

M. Matney:  Darrell A.k.A. ‘Rambo’ is my bass player. I’ve known Rambo for years. I always enjoyed watching him perform in his band No Klu. He’s solid. I tell him to play really basic, really driving. Jerry Hogston (Hog) plays the drums. He’s been with me for years. He’s actually on two tracks on the original album, ‘Sector 387’ and ‘Maybe I’m A Fool. I tell Rambo and Hog just to keep it basic for me, that in turn gives me more freedom and a bigger canvas to paint on so to speak. As for playing as a three-piece oppose to a four piece; well certainly there are differences and pros and cons to each way, right now a three-piece seems to be working just fine.

MGM: People had wanted to know for years if there was any other material by the band and five bonus tracks showed up on the CD version of the reissue. Rumour has it that there is even more material from way back that has never been released. Is this true and well we ever get to hear this material?

Mike Matney: There is more material. Mostly from the late 80’s and early nineties. I’m negotiating with the record company now about the new album and how to present the material. The problem lies in the fact I’m kind of a loner in the studio and like to do everything myself. I like getting it out of my head and on tape as close as what I’m hearing. I programmed the drums for some of the new tunes and the record company hates that so we’re working on a compromise.

MGM: It is very difficult to pinpoint the band’s sound. When one describes White Boy and the Average Rat Band many things come to mind. Yet nothing can totally sum it up. The music is so familiar yet quite unique. It sounds like… but not really. Is this the goal when you write a song? When you wrote and recorded the first album what were you going for?

Mike Matney:  Honestly I’m a product of my environment. Growing up in the seventies with all that great music going in I’m sure it all had a huge influence on what came out. I’m pretty eclectic in my taste so while I may be shooting for one thing when creating a song often times it will come out a little different. 

MGM: What does Michael Matney listen to and what influences him?

Mike Matney:  I’m not a huge consumer of media anymore. There’s good stuff out there. I’ve always been a fan of great guitar players and three-piece power trios. Fill in the blank, there’s just so many of them. Billy Gibbons, Frank Marino, Pat Travers and Robin Trower are a few of my favourites. 

MGM: The band recently played the annual Legions of Metal Festival in Chicago. How was that experience? 

Mike Matney: Legions Of Metal was great fun! First time I’ve ever played/been to Chicago. Reggies is an awesome venue. We knew we were ‘stand out’ from the other bands there but everyone was so kind and we had a great crowd so. Thanks so much to Bob Byrne and Shane Merrill for having us and putting on a great festival!!

MGM: The debut came out thirty-eight years ago. So, is there a new album in the works and if so when might we see a release?

Mike Matney:  Yes!! New album on the way. Gonna be in the studio in September. Thinking maybe 6 new songs recorded with the guys now and maybe 7 or 8 I’ve worked on over the last 20 yrs. It’s really gonna be different and unique there are a few surprises in store. I’m excited about it. Hopefully, you guys will have me back and we can talk about it after the release. 

MGM: Thanks for rapping with me Mike. Do you have any last words for the readers out there?

Mike Matney: And thank you. I am thankful and humbled by all the fans out there; thank you all for you support. Please continue to follow us on Facebook and watch for new material and tour dates coming soon.

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Photo Credit: Ange Cobham / Cobspix Photography

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