The language of music

Hamline senior Brody Kucera and alumnus Jake Johnson discuss their musical journeys and involvement with the one of a kind band “The Matt Arthur Contraption.”

Eden Fahy, A&E reporter

Beside the Mississippi river in Minneapolis lives the 331 Club. On Monday nights, the 331 Club’s stage houses its resident band, “The Matt Arthur Contraption.” Made up of musicians of all ages, instruments and abilities, The Matt Arthur Contraption does it all. From country, to gospel, to rock and roll, it’s sure to have something for everyone, including two band members who found their musical footing here at Hamline.

Senior Brody Kucera and alumnus Jake Johnson have their fair share of experience in the twin cities and midwest music scene. Having met after being randomly assigned as roommates at Hamline, the two clicked instantly. Since then, they have been playing together whenever they can, coining the name “Woodzen Bros.” But their individual music journeys started long before they had met each other. 

“I’ve been playing drums since I was six years old…I played a lot of marching [band] and wind ensemble stuff in high school, taking lessons and stuff like that. But I didn’t really start playing drum sets until college, [or] until I met Jake,” Kucera said. 

Hamline alumnus Jake Johnson plays violin, fiddle and guitar in the Matt Arthur Contraption. Johnson met Brody Kucera during his first-year at Hamline. (Aidan Stromdahl)

“I started off playing violin when I was really young, and I kinda started learning other instruments,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t necessarily like I would sit down and practice for eight hours, but I would just find myself playing different instruments all day long…I came to college here and did tons of music [at Hamline], and now we’re doing a ton of music now!”

As the duo began to play more and more, they started to be recognized for their talents by many different groups, including The Matt Arthur Contraption. 

Led by Matt Arthur himself on lead guitar and vocals, the band is composed of up to seven people. Kucera is on drums, while Johnson plays violin, fiddle and guitar. The group also includes Hamline alumnus and bass player Bob Delage. The band hosts other Hamline students from time to time as they sub in on saxophone or trumpet. 

“That’s kind of why we call it the contraption,” Kucera said.

Behind their range and talent on instruments is the impressive fact that Arthur and the band’s pianist, Blind Man Mike, are blind. But this doesn’t stop either of them from being incredible musicians.

“Matt Arthur started playing [at the 331 Club] some time in September I believe, and it was just Matt, and then Mike, the blind piano player,” Kucera said. “I’ve known Matt since I was twelve years old…because I’m an amateur radio-operator, so I’ve heard Matt talking on the airwaves…so I’ve just kind of known who he is and he’s known who I am…so finally once I turned 21 he invited me to come play at the bars with him.”

But the wow-factor doesn’t stop there. Kucera says that the band has never had an official practice session.

“We’ve never practiced,” Kucera said. “We’ve only ever performed. We don’t even have a set list. Matt will just start playing something and we’ll just join and play along. The 331 ends up being kinda our rehearsal space a little bit.”

As daunting as it may seem to some, these live performances have been greatly appreciated and gratifying for Johnson and Kucera.

Hamline senior Brody Kucera plays drums in the Matt Arthur Contraption. Kucera and Johnson now make music together as the Woodzen Bros. (Aidan Stromdahl)

“I really appreciate playing with Matt. I’ve always been kind of a play it by ear kind of guy. I was the concertmaster at Hamline while I was [there], for two years, so I am a classical musician as well,” Johnson said. “But playing with Matt is so different, because he doesn’t use any music, and it’s really fun for me because I enjoy playing by ear. So I’ll pick up on what he’s doing, I’ll watch him, I’ll listen to him, and then, you know, we’ll just play.”

“A lot of the music I’ve done in wind ensemble and orchestra is, again, reading sheet music and we practice it for like months, and we have one show,” Kucera said. “Where [The Matt Arthur Contraption] is like, we have a show every Monday, and we don’t even have a set list or practice.”

Kucera and Johnson say that mistakes are an expected, yet welcomed part of the process that has helped each of them become better musicians.

“I’ve gotten so much better, personally, since I started playing with Matt, just as a musician in general. Because every time you get up on stage it’s just like ‘alright, it’s go time!’” Johnson said.

“It’s really nice to be able to just get up there and play something and have people enjoy it,” Kucera said.

Both add that it’s just as rewarding to be able to play with blind musicians like Arthur.

“It’s really something else too to play with blind musicians, because they can’t see…so it’s all by ear. And it almost comes to a point where it feels like we’re just talking to each other, but it’s through our instruments,” Kucera said. “It’s like we’re having a conversation up there…one person will talk for a while with their instrument and have a solo, and then the other person will talk for a while and have a solo, and then they’ll both talk together and imitate each other… it’s a lot of fun.”

As the two play more with the band, and each other, they say some of the best moments come from how much joy they can bring others with their music.

“It’s cool to see people enjoy it,” Johnson said.

Musician Matt Arthur is the leading man of the Matt Arthur Contraption. The group welcomes Hamline students to jam with them. (Aidan Stromdahl)

“Yeah,” Kucera said. “It is really cool to have people really dig what you’re doing.”

Overall, both agree that being able to work with Arthur has been an incredible experience, and they are excited to see what the future has in store.

If you want to hear more from The Matt Arthur Contraption, you can find them at the 331 Club every Monday at 10 p.m., as well as on Instagram and Facebook at @themattarthurcontraption.

As for Kucera and Johnson, their band will be playing at Ginkgo Coffeehouse on April 29. You can also check out their album “High Water” on SoundCloud and soon on Spotify. This new album comes from another band that Kucera and Johnson play in called “Irene’s Entropy” and is sure to be a treat.