Matt Epp could be counting his blessings, but he would rather take them on the road.
The 30-year-old Winnipeg songwriter will return to Newfoundland this week with a new band and a collection of songs from their debut collaboration, “At Dawn.”
A follow-up to Epp’s 2009 album “Safe or Free” — a response to social materialism with an exploration of the contradictions between safety and freedom — “At Dawn” reflects the progression of the bearded troubadour’s observational and spiritual journey.
He introduces us to “Amoria,” a word derived from the Latin root of “love” and, to Epp, a metaphysical place where humanity’s imperfect nature is acknowledged, hypocrisy is responded to with love instead of cynicism, and which serves as a compassionate world view and form of expression.
Amoria is “educated from observations of the world and the news and (how) people and groups (are) always fighting and protecting violently their own interests,” Epp explains on the phone from Burlington, Ont., where his band’s RV has made a pit stop to stock up on discount Easter chocolate.
“(I’ve) thought about how the Earth is run and how people operate it as the stewards of it and as a global community, and what the reality of that is contrasted with what the reality of Jesus’ teachings are,” he continues.
“It’s a huge contrast, night and day. What would it look like if those things were taken seriously that he had taught about?”
Epp’s songs and music are faith-inspired, but his approach is unorthodox if taken in the context of “large C” Christian music — he’s equally critical of the church’s methodology in its teachings as he is of wider societal values and tendencies.
“New Sunglasses” expresses his optimistic, self-revelatory perspective from within Amoria, and in “Set Sail” he declares: “There’s nothing more revolutionary than love,” calling Amoria “The Empire of Love.”
Other songs, like opening track “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down” and first single “Met Someone,” explore the necessity of truth and honesty in relationships, while “Die For You” references the gospel but unabashedly communicates Epp’s own elucidation and covenant to God.
And, as he has done before with “Come To My House,” Epp reveals both his acknowledgement of humanity’s darker side — our seemingly inherent tendency to violently protect those we love — and with blistering electric guitar parts, his aptitude for bona fide rock ’n’ roll.
What makes Epp’s music appealing (“At Dawn” is no exception) is his brute honesty. He challenges conventional understandings of Christianity, isn’t interested in being categorized or pigeonholed, and accepts that some might be offended by his songs.
“I feel completely free to say what I want to say because I feel solid in my faith and I don’t really need to be accepted otherwise,” he told Winnipeg’s weekly urban journal The Uniter in 2009. “Some people aren’t comfortable with that frank honesty but, really, I think that’s the only thing I can offer.”
Epp feels the same today, he says. He’s wholeheartedly committed to his freedom to interpret and critique, to express honestly, and he’s keenly aware of how easy it would be to misguidedly express ulterior motives.
“(The) first responsibility I feel is to just kind of write the songs that come, whatever they are, and then be true to the visions that feel like I have to,” he explains. “And one of them was figuring out what this idea of Amoria was.”
Amoria must be without borders, he says, because political borders have divided us.
“If (Amorians) had their own country then they’re separating from everyone else and only protecting their own interests, so it can’t be on land. It has to be free of land. And it has to be something that isn’t exclusive so anybody can identify with it, and therefore (Amoria) is a statement of intentions more than an idealistic kind of hippie-land or something that really isn’t realistic.”
The coming together of Epp’s band, the Amorian Assembly, appears as genuine as his approach to music in general.
During a trip to Spain he connected with songwriter Raul Bernal and, through him, met drummer Antonio Lomas. Rounded out by Winnipeg bassist Joel Couture and, for the tour, Matt Mays’ guitarist and ECMA award-winning songwriter Jay Smith, The Amorian Assembly is a collaboration of diverse and experienced musicians.
“I was looking at (them) yesterday,” Epp recalls. “We went for a long walk and I was considering the different circles that they come from and just couldn’t believe that they were all in the same place, and that they were playing with me.”
The cover of “At Dawn” features the artwork of St. John’s artist Reg Cantwell, who, Epp says, has been a supporter of his music for a while now. “I didn’t even know he was a painter,” Epp explains, “but he’s really good.”
As for the new songs, they’re at times heavy, uncomfortable, and thought-provoking for those able to move beyond conventional social, cultural and spiritual critique.
Still, through his performances and interactions with fans, Epp says he strives to “keep it lighthearted and let people make up their own kind of ideas of what (the music) means to them.”
Matt Epp and The Amorian Assembly perform at The Ship Pub in St. John’s on Thursday and Friday and at Whalen’s Gate in Corner Brook on Saturday.