Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An Interview w/ Andy Matchett

Today's interview is with Andy Matchett. He has played in a lot of bands, including my own, and is now focusing more intently on his solo effort. His music in this solo effort is far different from that which he created as The Monorail, but is no less endearing in any way; he's just. . . grown up. I'd drop a bunch of pompous adjectives to make it sound like I was capturing in words the effect his music has upon listening, but I think that's stupid. Mostly.

What do you do creatively?

I write songs and sing them in front of people, preferably with a backing band. I usually play guitar or some kind of piano or keyboard, but I’ve been obsessing about the drums for a few years now, so we’ll see where that leads… I like to paint & draw and I like to build things. A couple years ago I started doing these large scale, elaborate doodles with sharpie marker on plywood. A few friends had them tattooed and I’m really proud of that. Right now I’m working on a series of handmade guitar straps & equipment cases for low-budget artists who don’t want to drop wads of cash on that kind of gear.

You definitely have a broad range of interests. You mention that you are focusing on being a solo artist, musically. In the past you have done the Monorail and People Chasing People. In what ways do you consider what you are doing now different? Will you carry on any of the Monorail songs as Andy Matchett, Andy Matchett and the Monorail? Or do you intend to leave that part of your musical history behind?

I've been writing songs for almost 15 years now and 9 of them have been with The Monorail in mind. The idea of that band will never completely die for me. We started The Monorail before being dancy & poppy was an acceptable thing in indie rock and we took a lot of heat from the hipster crowd for that, but by 2004 every band on the radio had a disco beat and it just got irritating. I felt a little slighted by the whole thing, to be honest, so I started to gravitate to things that were less gimmick-related and more about longevity and true expression. You think about The Beatles, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Springsteen, Beck - people who weren’t necessarily associated with a fashion movement (or able to transcend one, anyway) - they've got dance songs, introspective songs, protest songs, everything. There aren’t any rules with those guys. I'd rather be completely unknown in that kind of position than locked into fleeting success with something stylized & fashionable. This album I'm working on now will probably just be a solo record without the connotation that comes with a band name. I'm pulling songs of mine from the last 10 years without any concern for what's happening right now in music. I want to focus on songwriting instead of some sort of disposable genre gimmick.... That’s not to say I wouldn’t drop a super catchy ELO party album out of the sky in few years, call it The Monorail & make everybody realize I'm a huge weirdo like they do when Neil Young comes out with Vocoder records about electric cars & space.

So does that mean you won't be writing about electric cars & space?

How about a three disc song cycle on the plight of soybean farmers instead?

How did People Chasing People come out of The Monorail?

People Chasing People needed a guitarist and The Monorail needed a band. It was a best-friendship formed in mutual admiration of each other’s music. For all intents & purposes, we were the same band, we just couldn’t decide on which of us would sing or what name we would drop.

When did you decide, "I'm not content just playing guitar. I want to sing,

It was always about doing both. I think I decided that before I even had a guitar. I wanted to write songs, sing them and have a great band playing along. It took a lot of time to figure out the rest.

At that point, was singing something you were good at, or did you have to work at it? Is there anything in particular you learned about singing in a band that you think people should know if they wanted to do it, too?

It was a struggle for me to get comfortable listening to my own voice. I never felt weird while I was singing, but listening to it afterwards was the worst. The first time someone isolated my vocals in a recording session I almost abandoned the whole project entirely. I couldn’t imagine anyone else wanting to hear that. You get over that stuff pretty quick, though. To me, if you want to sing you should just start singing, regardless of how you think people will feel about it. If you’re comfortable in the moment, the rest will work itself out at some point.

The lyrics in your newer songs often paint some pretty vivid scenes, and recount stories that have happened. From a writing standpoint, you do a great job of showing people your story, rather than simply telling it to them. Where did you learn this? It doesn't seem like something you could accomplish on accident.

Well, I’ve got about 3 years of an English degree from a fairly reputable Florida university - that probably did the trick. (laughter followed by a heavy sigh) (editor’s note: I dunno, all it got me was this lousy blog.)
When I was doing The Monorail it was always more important that the music be intense and emotional and fun. Words tended to be an afterthought. We’d play new songs live without even finishing the words, so I’d just make things up. When I started singing on my own and realized people could actually hear what I was saying, I decided to get my act together. I still think a powerful melody or a striking chord change can be the focal point of a great song, but the older I get, the more I seek out music for its lyrical content.

You've been doing this for 15 years now. If you were going to sit down with someone who is say, 15 years old, and they said, "teach me how to write songs," what's the most important lesson that you have learned in this time that you would want them to learn?

I would tell them to pick their 5 favorite songs and learn them inside and out. Then I would tell them to pick 5 songs they hated and do the same. Then I would tell them to go somewhere dark and eat a sandwich. I’m just kidding. You can’t teach people to write songs. They either figure it out for themselves or they don’t. Like capitalism!

With this much time under your belt playing in bands, mediating personalities, playing shows and touring, do you have any advice for someone who is just starting to do these things?

Yes – talk to as many people as you can and BE NICE. You’ll either succeed or you won’t, so there’s no need to be a total shit along the way.

What is something you learned about touring in a band that you wish you had known before you first tried it?

There is nothing that anyone can say to you that will prepare you for that first month on the road. The most important thing is to be sensitive to the people you are sharing the experience with. You should be up front about the things that bother you and respect the things that bother everyone else. Conflicts should be dealt with openly and quickly so everyone can move on without lingering tension. Everything else is a glorious exercise in self-realization that can only be fully understood in hindsight.

What song-writers do you find particularly inspiring? Do you have a song that you could point to and say, "I was totally imitating that guy when I wrote that song” ?

I love anyone with a good work ethic who invests a lot of themselves in their songs & albums, but never forgets about the audience. I believe in writing songs for yourself, but recording them for other people. I’m a big fan of Dave Grohl, early Weezer, REM, Blur, Dave Bazan, Ben Folds and the holy quartet of Supers – ‘Grass, ‘Drag, ‘Chunk and ‘Furry Animals. I have a lot of respect for people like Eddie Vedder & Neil Young who have made a career out of doing things their own way. I don’t really feel a compulsion to imitate any particular sound or style of music, though. There is a sweet spot right in the middle of all the rock music we’ve come to know as a society and I just want to explore the hell out of that spot. I want to build a little house there and raise a family.

You're currently putting together a full band to perform your newer material. You're recording it, too. What will you call the band?

The live band is called Andy Matchett & The Minks, but I think this album coming out is an Andy Matchett album. We’ll see. We all still have a ways to go yet.

You said that you also enjoy painting. Does your inspiration to paint come from a different place than music, or is it all as simple as being a creative release for you?

I usually only paint as a vehicle to visually express the ideas I’m presenting in the music - like when I need an album cover or something. I’ve only done a few pieces just for the sake of painting. I find it a little easier to express things directly from my subconscious with visual art, but the results haven’t been nearly as satisfying to me as a finished song is. Songs can be relevant to your life over & over in hundreds of different ways. Paintings are done and they either look good or they don’t. People either like them or they don’t, but that’s the end of it for you as the artist. I’m never as proud of my paintings as I am of my songs.

Do you see painting as being something you will pursue more as time goes on? Is there anything painting wise that you would like to achieve that you have not yet?

I see myself being more into creating actual things as I get older. Since I was a kid, I’ve been completely immersed in the world of sounds, words & ideas. Really, anything intangible that can be associated with emotion. The older I get, though, the more I realize those things are temporary in their importance. There is a fleeting passion to music that you strive, sometimes successfully, to capture. It’s addictive and potentially destructive work that is never finished. Building things, painting, sewing, fixing – there’s a satisfaction to seeing these things done and sitting in front of you. It’s easy to move on. Songs stay with you, churning around in your life, demanding attention and taking new shape. I love songs in the way I love complicated women – you can never rest or know what to expect from them. Thinking of myself as a humble ‘maker of things’ is a romantic vision of myself growing older, but at this point in my life anyway, its still all about the struggle to document things in musical form that are extremely difficult to express.

Are there any new bands that you have discovered in the last year that you
are particularly fond of? Why?

Oh, wow, so many. The Thermals – its been longer than a year, but I’m still in love with this band. Hutch has the most amazing lyrical voice. Funny, smart and urgent. His wife/girlfriend Kathy plays bass live, but on the records she drums like a freaking wolfman. I haven’t seen them on stage yet, but I can’t wait. The National is another favorite. I’m a few years behind on these guys, but I feel like I got into them just in time. They’re playing the perfect soundtrack for the great American hangover we’re all in the middle of. I think Boxer is a masterpiece. The Whigs came out with a decent one last year that I just stumbled upon and ended up liking a lot. There are 3 or 4 songs that really kill it. I think Rob Schnapf could record two goats playing checkers and it would still be an indie-rock classic. I like this new Grizzly Bear album, too – weird but familiar somehow. It’s got a quiet, sweaty, summer night kind of vibe. I love the new Mumpsy stuff, too – no surprise there - and the Surfer Blood record I got slipped an advanced copy of is just great. There’s so much good stuff out there right now.

What about in high school and middle school. What music molded you back

Every type of classic or alternative rock imaginable. I would stay up to watch 120 Minutes on Sunday nights, write down everything I liked and go buy it later in the week. I had my folks’ vinyl collection from the 60s & 70s, too, and that stuff really had an impact on me. There wasn’t any particular record or band that pops out, I just loved all of it and wanted to be involved.

Thanks a lot Andy. Last question:

Who would win in a fight between Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney?

Jesus, like a fist fight? Wow. I think Brian Wilson would probably just psych himself out and kick his own ass. Paul wouldn’t have to do anything at all but stand there and smile. And then Mick Jagger would swoop in out of nowhere, kick BOTH of their fussy asses, do a little rooster strut and take off.

*Thanks SO MUCH*
No, no. Thank YOU Kyle!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

XOXO C'est La Vie EP Reviewed

By Dryvetimeonlyne.com:
"This album finds a band reaching for the stars with wide eyes and big smiles, but with its collective feet planted firmly on the ground. The big indie-pop textures at play here manage to sound fresh, hip, and relevant without coming across with any flavor-of-the-month aftertaste – XOXO is not taking its cues from Portland or Brooklyn. Kind of like a musical Goldilocks, C’est La Vie has the right amount of ambition, style, and swagger the sort that should carry this band further on and higher up in the musical landscape."

Read here.

Download their EP here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hearts of Palm News

Hey guys. . . a couple little updates on Hearts of Palm. Wanted to let you know that Andy Matchett is going to soon be joining me on here, doing some CD reviews and some things. Still going to be mostly focused on promoting and discussing with our friends, but we will also probably branch out a bit, and talk to people who are involved in other aspects of art and music than just making it. Should be pretty fun.