Men in Black 

Matte Black and his band enjoy a bad trip.

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Matthew Litton, a.k.a. Matte Black, graphic designer, Desert Storm veteran and lead singer of the popular Johnny Cash tribute band, Black Cash, thought he was done playing in bands five years ago.

"I was burnt out on it," he says of his former metal band, Atomizer. "It seemed like too much of a struggle." But just two and a half years later, Black found himself in a country cover band. "In Richmond, if you're a musician, you find yourself in a band," he says with a laugh.

Black Cash and the Bad Trips began as a hobby and a mellow change of pace. "I'm making music, not stress," says Black. "I mean, I work to make it sound good, but it's not hard. A lot of bands get to a certain point, and then it gets to be a pain after a while. This band hasn't done that."

Black and his five band members all carry the Black moniker. There's Matte on vocals, Jimbo, Jeramiah and Damienne Black on guitar, Redd Black on bass and Jebadiah Black on drums and percussion.

Aside from Johnny Cash songs, the band still plays a few old country tunes by artists like Hank Williams and Merle Haggard, and they're expanding their sets to include more of them now. And shows can get rowdy, from a death-lounge rendition of "Ring of Fire" to Mattes' tabletop dancing, Black Cash offers a unique experience. Style talked with lead singer Black before the band's big New Year's Eve show on the street outside the New York Deli in Carytown.

Style: Why do you think the band has taken off?

Black: Our first two shows had wall-to-wall people. We were really surprised. Black Cash very quickly turned into its own idiom. I think because we're doing something unique. Even though we're playing old songs, we give them our own feel.

Why Johnny Cash?

I'm not obsessed, but I grew up listening to him. I always wanted to do an old-school country cover band and it just made sense; sort of a conglomerate, Gothic country thing. There is a darkness to human experience that his music really captures well. You could argue that he was the master of it. He managed to write songs that make you happy, but they're about murder or love gone bad. Not many people can do that. Hank Sr. did that, but a lot of his songs are really sad. Cash was fun, no matter what he sang.

What is it that you like about classic country music?

I've always been fascinated with old country. It has a dark side to it a lot of people really don't understand. New country doesn't, and a lot of people think that's what country music is.

What would you like to happen with your music a few years down the road?

I'd like to still be playing with Black Cash and the Bad Trips. I'd like to travel more. Last year we had some shows in Colorado, and we're going back there now. We have a booking agent now, so we may just keep going west from there till we get to Vegas.

I'd like to expand the sets more. We're learning more Hank Sr., more Waylon [Jennings]. My music has always been dark and moody, original songs included. I have an affinity for picking really strange stuff. This conglomerate Gothic country thing fits me I think. S

Black Cash will headline Carytown's New Year's Eve celebration at 11 p.m. on Dec. 31. The re-creation of Times Square, complete with ball drop, will run 7 p.m.-1 a.m. and benefit the Byrd Theatre Foundation. DJ Jack McHale of WRIR 97.3's New Music Machine opens the show with performances by The OK Bird and Duchess of York. Open to all ages and admission is free. Call 349-5890 with questions.

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