Matt Stansberry felt a change coming on. It was early 2012, and the Oklahoma City singer-songwriter noticed that his new material was taking on a classic rhythm and blues flavor. Instead of the modern pop-rock instrumentation that had characterized his previous work, he could hear space for backup singers punctuating the songs.
“And then I was starting to get into Raphael Saadiq and other artists who were younger but doing older stuff,” Stansberry said. “And I remember it just happened phase by phase.”
When the backup vocals sounded right, he recruited horn players, brought in Hammond B-3 organs and filled his new songs with the crackle and warmth of classic soul sides. And as these things lined up to create a new phase in Stansberry's career, he suddenly had a revue with 10 people on stage, blowing people away.
Matt Stansberry and the Romance was born.
The resulting seven-song EP, “Let's Brighten It Up,” took Stansberry's already soulful vocal style and put it in a new-old context.
Stansberry and the Romance will be part of the first day of concerts at the Charlie Christian International Music Festival, beginning at 6 p.m. Friday at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. They will play a mixture of “Let's Brighten It Up” tracks and new material Stansberry is working up for his next collection.
Shift is surprise
After several years of writing, recording and performing, Stansberry said the Romance material came as a surprise for many longtime fans and friends.
“I've heard several people say that this is really brave or bold or something,” Stansberry said. “And I'm always like, ‘That didn't at all cross my mind.' That's a cool compliment, but I think it's a little stronger than I deserve.”
That humility in the face of strong praise for “Let's Brighten It Up” is there because the whole project came together organically, Stansberry said, not as part of a master plan.
But it did change the direction of his sound for the foreseeable future and put Stansberry on the radar for neo-soul's burgeoning fan base. Last month, Stansberry and the Romance opened for the buzzy Los Angeles hard-soul band Vintage Trouble in Tulsa, and they have full slate of performances scheduled through the summer.
And while he's sticking with classic soul, Stansberry will be evolving that sound on the next record. “Let's Brighten It Up” featured prominent 1950s R&B textures, but the follow-up will rip a few pages off the calendar.
“This one will be a little more '60s Motown,” he said. “More soulful.”