The Legal Matters brilliantly shine a light during a lingering time of uncertainty.
The mid-Michigan and metro Detroit power pop trio of Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith combines sunny melodies, lush harmonies and spirited instrumentation over a dozen contemplative tracks chronicling the pandemic, politics and personal struggles on Chapter Three.
“Music lovers value music even more now than they did before the pandemic. We hope people enjoy this record, and that it’s another decent thing that’s come out of this crappy time. We want people to put their ears on it and give it a chance, and we think there’s a little bit of something there for everybody,” Reed said.
Now available via Klingensmith’s Futureman Records, Chapter Three serves as The Legal Matters’ third infectious, compelling release since 2014. Each track provides an intimate, thoughtful perspective about moving forward in today’s ambivalent, precarious world.
“This record was mentally one of the most helpful things through all of this because it gave the three of us a chance to work on something that we really enjoy doing. We’re ridiculously pleased with the results,” Reed said.
Turning to Chapter Three
New and returning Legal Matters fans will be ridiculously pleased once they immerse themselves in the power pop confines of Chapter Three. The 40-minute invigorating sonic expedition glides through rich, proggy soundscapes and dreamy, atmospheric textures to reveal a timeless, pop-infused cosmos.
That delightful journey begins with the electrifying opener, “Light Up the Sky,” which blends jubilant, fuzzy guitars, energetic acoustic strums, bouncy drums, delicate bass and whirring synths for a breezy, mid-summer anthem.
Richards sings, “It sure came to be/They’re looking for you/Laughing at me/She wants to light up the sky/With a sound that’s keeping me alive/Must be the Fourth of July/I don’t even know.”
“When we released ‘Light Up the Sky,’ one person said it was a summer romance that went awry. It’s actually about my daughter, but I usually don’t like to say what my songs are about. I love the perspective of words, what they mean and how they apply to you. If you can create an entire story, then I love that,” said Richards, who shares songwriting duties with Reed.
Reed eloquently demonstrates his Legal Matters songwriting prowess on the poignant, heart-wrenching ballad, “Pain,” which weaves somber acoustic strums with pensive violin. The haunting track reminds listeners to slowly expel their deep-seated anger and frustration from life’s troubles in private.
He reflects, “Pain/Running scared from this new world that I know/Pain/Couldn’t prepare for all the time that you stole/Always wearing on me/Always wearing on you/It’s bringing us down/Always try to hide it/But herein lies the truth/I need the pain to know I’m alive.”
“It’s about dealing with chronic pain and the toll it takes on you and the people around you. Those kinds of things are easier for me to say in a song than they are when I sit down with someone. When you’re not experiencing a lot of things, you look inward to see what’s going on in there and sometimes a song will come out,” said Reed, who’s based in Bay City.
Another tender song that emerges is Richards’ vibrant, harmony-filled “Please Make a Sound,” which soars as pounding drums, euphoric synths, steady acoustic strums, shiny electric guitars and calm bass inject long-lost hope and optimism.
Richards sings, “I forgot for a while/A reason to need/A reason to smile/In time we’ll all feel the same/Remember our ways/Remember our names.”
“‘Please Make a Sound’ was the last song I wrote for the record. Once we were three months into the pandemic, I felt that music had turned into one of the more important pillars for my friends and me. Watching all my friends play acoustic songs or seeing bands doing things just for the sake of the pandemic resulted in a pleading for ‘We need sound; we need things to surround us,’” Richards said.
While “Please Make a Sound” serves as a refreshing call for creativity, “The World is Mine” provides a brief, dark glimpse into the divisive nature of our times. Sinister ragtime piano shuffles, propulsive drums, crashing cymbals, fiery electric guitars and eerie bass strongly complement Reed’s intriguing lyrics.
Reed shares, “The world is mine/Go stand in line/While your bleeding heart is beating like a drum/Don’t forget to run/The world is mine/Can’t see you the signs/We’ve taken all you’ve written and undone/Go and grab your gun.”
“Part of music is that little bit of mystery and magic, and you gotta leave that door open for people to interpret it the way they want. That’s how people are drawn to it because it hits them a certain way. It’s fun to leave that in there for everyone to figure it out,” Reed said.
The Legal Matters started figuring out Chapter Three before the pandemic and finalized the project over a series of follow-up sessions at Andy Reed Recording in Bay City. Richards and Klingensmith made day trips to wrap up a few tracks at a time with Reed, who engineered and mixed the album.
“We didn’t have an end date in mind; we just tackled two songs here and two songs there. And had we known there was a pandemic coming, we might have sped up the process. Instead, we were like, ‘It will get done when it gets done.’ When the pandemic hit, it put a wrench in finishing the record, but it was the extra little bit we needed to make more of a relaxed record,” Richards said.
Chapter Three also features collaborations with Donny Brown (drums), Andy Rogers (violin on “Pain”), Loren Kranz (B3 organ on “The Painter”) and Jacob Wisenbach (trumpet on “That’s All” and “The Painter”).
“To stretch that color palette out, we decided to bring in some auxiliary instruments. It also gave us a fresh perspective for the third record, and we’re always looking for that new thing we haven’t done before,” said Reed, who launched his recording studio in 2006.
“This is just all stuff that if I have the time and lighting strikes, then I’ll just record it, and we’ll talk about it. And if everybody’s on board, we’ll keep it, and that’s how we kind of work.”
The Who and The Future
The Legal Matters started working together nine years ago when Chris Richards & The Subtractions recorded their covers EP, That Covers That 2 – Electric Boogaloo. At the time, Reed co-produced the project and provided backing vocals along with Klingensmith.
Klingensmith and Richards later invited Reed to collaborate on an upcoming Phenomenal Cats project, which led to the formation of The Legal Matters. The trio discovered their shared love of The Who and named their band after “A Legal Matter” from The Who’s 1965 album, My Generation.
“I don’t know why we’re drawn to homage. Chris and I were in the previous incarnation of the Phenomenal Cats, which is a Kinks’ song. It’s going to be bands that we love, and Andy suggested The Legal Matters, and it sounded right immediately. It serves as a footnote to someone who might wanna listen that may be of the same mindset as us,” said Klingensmith.
The band released Chapter Three’s striking predecessors, The Legal Matters (2014) and Conrad (2016), and honed their vivid signature harmonies while expanding their dynamic power pop sound. Longtime icons The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young serve as some of their main creative inspirations.
“The harmonies are our calling card, but the three of us together have more of a family band aspect. We’re kind of like brothers because we’re all semi-obsessed with harmony, and our voices all blend together,” Richards said.
The Legal Matters may blend their voices for another album down the road. In the meantime, they will continue to write new material for their various side projects.
“We’re more the every three years cycle at this point. We’ve all got our own things going on, including the label, Andy’s stuff and whatever Chris does, but I think The Legal Matters is probably on hold until the next record. Let’s start that at the end of the year,” Klingensmith said.