Through headphones, the Suitcase Junket sounds like a full folk-rock-blues band. But onstage, you’ll see he’s just one man, rocking the hell out of his handmade, found-object instruments.
With his spidery legs, shoes patched up like a quilt, and wiry mustache twisted out like an old-time circus ringleader’s, the Suitcase Junket — a.k.a. Matt Lorenz — is maestro of his junkyard orchestra: a guitar he rescued from a dumpster, a drum he fashioned from his own baby shoe and a gas can, a salvaged toy keyboard, a suitcase bass drum, a box of bones and silverware.
He might hum into his guitar hollow for a buzzy, chamber effect. He’ll yodel. He’ll throat-sing. His whistle sounds electronic, almost computer-generated.
The overall sound lands somewhere between the Avett Brothers and early, dirty Black Keys. There’s a Tom Waits-vibe in the fuzzy-megaphone reverb mic, and something ancient, near tribal, in his whistles and moans.
Visually, his look is part vaudeville, part ye olde traveling sideshow. “When a show’s happening, it looks like I’m sitting on a pile of trash,” says Lorenz, 36, who performs Wednesday at the Museum of Fine Arts.
In a sense, he is.
He rescued the guitar, for example, from a dumpster at his alma mater, Hampshire College in Amherst. “It was this old, crappy, plywood, mail-order guitar that was filled with mold, but I started pulling all these songs out,” he says.
The idea for the baby shoe/gas can drum was born out of a recording session at Signature Sounds in Pomfret, Conn.
“We were trying to get that thwack sound out of the gas can, and the engineer said, ‘What about a baby shoe?’ And I said, ‘Oh, man, that’s creepy. I’m into it.’ I went home and asked my mom if we had any baby shoes, and she grabbed an old pair out of the attic,” he says.
While his left toe operates that contraption, his left heel plays a cook pot and circular saw. His right heel, meanwhile, plays the suitcase bass drum. His right toe plays a hi-hat and box of bones.
He’s built other drums from kettles and old chair parts, stringed instruments from cans and broom handles, various wind instruments from bamboo, copper piping, garden hose, funnels, and cans. “I like working with my hands,” says Lorenz, who lives in Leverett. “I like taking the idea of any instrument ever and broadening the concept of what I can make it.”
He acknowledges that both “the one-man band thing and the building-stuff-out-of-trash thing can be seen as gimmicky, and I try to avoid that. I try to be careful. It’s a tightrope.”
He walks the line, it seems. With more than 1 million streams on Spotify, a spot on Spotify’s Best of 2016 Folk & Americana and Blues & Roots Rock playlists, and eight EPs and LPs, the Suitcase Junket has built a cult following. He recently gained wider exposure thanks to elder statesman of folk Chris Smither.
After musician/producer David “Goody” Goodrich brought Rusty Belle, Lorenz’s touring trio, to Smither’s album “Link of Chain,” Smither tapped Lorenz as a studio musician for his recent solo album, “Call Me Lucky.”
Lorenz toured with Smither for that album, and will accompany Smither on his upcoming European tour.
“The Suitcase Junket brings it all to the stage and to the recording studio. Matt Lorenz packs in so much musically, is a wonderful singer, a superb whistler, and a fine, fine individual,” says Smither by e-mail. “[H]e’ll take you for a ride that you’ve never been on before. He’s the real deal.”
Lorenz is a musician by trade, tinkerer by nature.
As a little kid, he’d take apart electronics around the house, “not to fix them, just to see what was inside. One time when I was 5, I took apart the home telephone. I assured the baby sitter it was fine,” he says with a laugh. “Construction started with deconstruction.”
Born in 1982 to school teachers, Lorenz grew up in Cavendish, Vt. The family got a piano when he was 6, and once his older sister, Kate, started playing, “I was a moth to flame,” he says. “We’d fight over the piano.”
He also learned violin, saxophone, guitar, flute, and accordion.
“I was always a dabbler. Eventually in college I realized I wasn’t someone who was going to become the best at any one instrument. I didn’t have that kind of brain,” he says.
His brain, evidently, is the kind that sees instruments everywhere. He started building them in college. When he graduated in 2004, he and another musician, Tito Ramsey, set out to busk around Europe. “We got one-way tickets to London and traveled Western Europe playing music in the street for a year, being bums. Then we ran out of money in Barcelona,” he says.
He returned stateside and moved in with his sister in Amherst. The siblings then became two-thirds of the trio Rusty Belle, with Zak Trojano. The Suitcase Junket grew out of Rusty Belle as a side project.
Music aside, Lorenz has an appealing stage presence — all jokes and charm. Playing live is “an exchange of energy. It’s alchemy,” he says. “I love [to] tell stories and jokes and connect in a different way. But on the other side of that, they don’t want to hear you say too much — they want to move with you.”
THE SUITCASE JUNKET
At the Museum of Fine Arts, Norma Jean Calderwood Courtyard, July 25 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $24-$34, www.mfa.org/programs/music/the-suitcase-junket
Lauren Daley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.