Singer-guitarist Matthew Edwards is loath to label his two-year-old trio the Heavy Halves as “Southern rock”, but the tag certainly makes for an easy fit. From the swampy Skynyrd-by-way-of-C.O.C. riffage to the backwater drawl evident in Edwards’ vocal attack — a besotted twang that wouldn’t be out of place on the mic at a roadside honky tonk — the Halves’ music is very much of a piece with that of nouveau and classic Southern rock outfits alike.
“I’m always hesitant to say we’re Southern rock, because that genre isn’t necessarily looked upon as being very edgy or dangerous,” Edwards says. “At the same time, even though I’m not from the South, I grew up in a rural area, on a farm. Growing up I was surrounded by a lot of classic rock and country music, and I still have some of that mentality. I feel like I always have one foot planted in my upbringing; it’s part of who I am, and it keeps me humble.”
Born and raised in rural Indiana, Edwards migrated to Knoxville around three years ago, looking for a leg up in his musical endeavors, a foothold in a larger market. “It was hard to find opportunities to play in that part of Indiana,” he says. “And I’ve always loved Tennessee, especially East Tennessee. The scenes in Chattanooga and Nashville didn’t appeal to me as much, so I chose Knoxville. And I fell in love with the scene here.”
Upon his relocation, Edwards began haunting local open mic nights, and became a regular presence at singer-songwriter night at Preservation Pub. It was there that he found a kindred spirit in drummer Gurnee Barrett, and the two musicians embarked on a loose collaboration, working out occasionally on some of Edwards’ original tunes.
Before too long, their jam sessions had taken on a more serious cast. The duo brought in bassist Will Harliss, and began playing out under the name Heavy Halves, an oblique reference to a prized pickup truck owned by one of Edwards’ hometown chums.
Edwards is at some pains to describe what he does as the Halves’ principle songwriter; he’s much better with intuition than with explication. When pressed on the matter, he acknowledges he has a penchant for producing earthy, primal rock ‘n’ roll that’s grounded in bedrock blues, and adorned with the aforementioned rural and retro-rock trappings.
“There’s this sound that I have, and I guess you’d say it’s just stripped-down, raw, gritty rock music,” he says. “It’s the kind of music that makes for a good live show.
“I play a lot of blues techniques — I play around with lap steel, slide, even a little banjo and baritone guitar. But I’m not a blues musician, I just like the music to have that kind of edge, a little dark and weird. None of it really happens on purpose; it’s just what I go by.”
Right now, the Edwards and company don’t have much to show for their efforts other than a handful of four-track demos they hand out free at Heavy Halves gigs, and a YouTube channel with a small collection of live songs, mostly from a recent Open Chord performance in West Knoxville.
Edwards says that should change soon. “I feel the need to get into the studio now,” he says. “My hope is to get in the studio early this next year and do something full-length. We’re ready. We have a pretty good list of songs; it’s just a matter of getting down to business.”
The Heavy Halves will play Preservation Pub Wednesday, Nov. 22 at 10 p.m.