Almost a year ago, I spent a good chunk of a day with Greenpoint musician Matthew Meyer. For a variety of reasons, it unfortunately kept slipping by me when it came to transcribing it and sharing. With profuse apologies to Matthew, it is finally here. Please check out this great, insightful conversation with an incredibly talented and creative individual who is active in the neighborhood I call home.
When I first discovered the music of Matthew Meyer, it was at his personal tumblr page called Synesthete Music (linked via his name above). Synesthesia is a condition where one sense triggers one or more other senses in various ways. For Matthew, he gets visual shapes and colors with sound, whether that be hearing a person’s name or listening to music. I find this very fascinating and in our interactions, I would often ask him what “color” certain things were. Even if it was coming from a place of genuine interest, it was probably a little annoying, but he would humor me and I think in the context of songwriting, it ended up being very interesting, as you can read below.
Besides being a musician, Matthew has been a graphic designer and practiced law. Since our interview took place so long ago, I asked him for an update. He’s now a consultant for the law firm he’d been at full-time, and his other projects include developing a new music video concert series – The Brooklyn HeadSets – to be shot off his deck in Greenpoint with its great view of the Manhattan skyline. In his words, “Each set will be two to three songs shot on video and recorded with direct audio lines for the music. The catch is that it all has to be either direct lines for electric instruments or quiet acoustic through mics – so only electric drums, loops or prerecorded drums. Hence the name, The ‘HeadSets’ – everyone will have to be wearing them to hear themselves play (play on set and headset, yada yada) The videos will be hosted on the website which I’m building right now. If anyone is interested they can contact me.” I can’t wait to see that, it sounds awesome.
Matthew also likes to develop and construct things, whether that be a cool deck set or even more ambitiously, gloves that can operate an iPhone (or any smart phone) touchscreen. I have seen them in action, and let me tell you, they work. His own line seems to have been held up in development, but he has decided to review other gloves at this website.
I find Matthew’s personality mixture of analytical and creative, as well as his general enthusiasm for numerous topics to be very inspiring. You can find his music compiled on soundcloud here. Before the interview begins, I want to highlight his newest release, “Beautiful Soul.” The theme is very much like one of my favorite books Cloud Atlas (still haven’t seen the movie…). As described by its writer, “The song is about two souls who meet every life. It’s written from the perspective of one of them telling the other that even though it may come into each new life feeling alone and scared, they always end up finding each other in the end, so not to worry.” Check it out, it’s really good.
And now, the interview, or more accurately, conversation. Hope you enjoy it. Be sure to visit Matthew’s tumblr and soundcloud and keep an eye out for The Brooklyn HeadSets.
The discussion begins with a little tour of Matthew’s home studio.
TWD: How many guitars do you have, almost 10?
Matthew: Yep. I don’t even use this one anymore [indicates] this is my first guitar I ever got. You can see it gets so dry that it started to split. Now this is more ornamental than anything else. [New] This is a guitar that actually used to be big and red and kind of goofy, sort of looked like a Fender. I cut off the sides and made it into a tear drop. It also wasn’t a very good guitar but it looks cool. My first real guitar was this Gretsch, [indicates] which I love. I got this in Hawaii when I was living there. It was my main guitar for most of the time I was there.
But the guitars I use most now are over here, another Gretsch and this Fender, which I absolutely adore. And a Hagstrom, ever heard of that? I’m a huge fan of really super thin necks and Hagstrom is one of the few that I’ve found that’s the size that I want. Feel that? Gretsch is pretty good. This one’s pretty thin too, almost more of a child’s guitar, but I just love it, it’s a beautiful thing. This is my first “I actually am allowed to buy a nice guitar” guitar.
TWD: That’s got to be a good feeling.
M: I’m not a good musician, I’m not technically particularly good. I think I can write decent songs, but I always felt like I don’t deserve a really, really nice guitar. I got a little bit better, enough that I felt like I could get something like this, which isn’t terribly expensive.
TWD: That’s cool. It’s nice to expand.
M: Yeah, absolutely. They all have very different personalities. Any given day, if I pick one up versus another one, I think something completely different will come out. Then I have my crappy little keyboard.
TWD: You do live instruments for everything except drums?
M: Except drums, yeah.
TWD: Do you program the drums or you have a drummer? Or both?
M: I use a lot of loops which I’ve gotten from a variety of places. I also use Abbey Road. You can program the drums and it’s a very good sound, but I haven’t done it too much because it takes so much processor and my computer is on the older side now and it doesn’t like it. The ones that I think end up sounding the best are the ones that are programmed specifically to the song. I worked with a guy named Aaron Albano who recorded “Haunt Me” and a song called “The Test Results” and he did a really good job on programming the drums.
TWD: Ok. So sometimes you have the song and then you put the drums in. And then sometimes you just have a loop that you’re working with.
M: Yeah, and ideally I would always do it that way, but it costs too much to do that on a month to month basis.
TWD: This is a pretty good set up. Do you have any issues with sound?
M: What’s really good about this space is that I’ve managed to deaden it enough that it’s not too reflective. There’s no one above us, there’s no one to our right, or back, or front. There may be potentially somebody over that side but there will be a hallway separating it, so I don’t actually hear, except for the elevator occasionally, that much noise, which is, for New York, wonderful. Especially when you’re not in a basement. I think we’d be hard-pressed to find, at least for me, a better sort of space to be in.
TWD: Yeah, it seems pretty ideal. And it’s not a bad apartment either (laughs).
M: No (laughs).
TWD: It’s not like “Oh I’ve got the recording studio but I’m living in squalor” You have a pretty good balance.
In 2008, Matthew was heavily involved in the Obama campaign. He has some memorabilia, which he showed me while we looked at his instruments.
M: I’ve got my Obama stuff here. I worked on the campaign for a year. Everywhere I was, I picked up different posters from the area. I was in New York, then Texas, then North Carolina, and then I was in Florida for the general.
TWD: That’s cool. I was in North Carolina at UNC Chapel Hill for grad school then, it was pretty exciting.
M: I was in Fayetteville and that area, where the base is. What was cool was that afterwards we got invited to the Inauguration and went to this cool staff ball.
TWD: That’s really cool.
M: It was really cool.
TWD: I read that interview you did for We Love Your Songs. Did you end up winning that contest?
M: I came in second. By two votes. The band that won, there were two categories, there’s the most loved artist and the most loved song. Most loved song, I was down by two or three votes. Most loved band, it would have taken a couple, probably three or four more people to vote in every single one actually to have beaten them. But what happened was, because they ended up winning both categories and there were two of the same prize, one for each, they gave me one and they gave them the other. So it was cool.
TWD: That’s cool. What was the prize?
M: It was twelve hundred dollars towards your own iPhone app.
TWD: Wow, so that’s interesting. Would they pay a developer?
M: No, it’s this thing called Go Moby, or Go Mobile, something like that. It’s an interesting idea actually. You know how they have website templates? You pay for the template and enter your content into it? It’s sort of along those lines. It would be the music in the app, and then, I think they give you X thousand downloads for free and then they start charging you.
TWD: That’s interesting. I never heard of that website or anything, but that’s not a small prize.
M: No, it’s really cool. I think it’s clever in the sense that it’s not a small prize, but for We Love Your Songs, it costs them nothing, and for the Go Mobile people, it’s not like they’re giving a physical thing, right? It’s just access to something they were already selling. So it’s win-win for everybody.
TWD: It’s good exposure, too.
M: (laughs) I got way more exposure there than I got in anything else I’ve done. It was completely worth doing and Bec actually was the one that pushed me to do it. I was like “Ehhh” [laughs] And then I started to go up in the rankings and then I was like “This is actually kind of fun.”
TWD: Yeah, well that’s kind of the dynamic right? You like to just create and work, not worry about the marketing of it.
M: It’s just not my thing. With friends and family, I feel weird pushing this stuff on them. I love it when people listen to it but I feel weird being like “Listen to this and tell me what you think.” Cause what are they going to say? They’re in an awkward position.
TWD: Yeah, you almost feel like you can’t ask your friends to be honest. Either, if they really like it, you’re going to think “They’re just saying they really like it.” or if they don’t like it, then it’s like, “Awk-ward!” “Oh…you don’t like what I just poured my heart into? Thanks. I thought we were better friends than that.”
M: Yeah. Ultimately, though, I need to get better about doing that stuff. I’m terrible about it.
TWD: Are you pretty content with how music is in your life, or if you ever got to a point where you didn’t have to do anything else and could just do music, would that be something you would want?
M: Yeah. I mean, in an absolutely ideal world, sure. That would be wonderful. I think that would be an incredibly hard thing at this point in my life to do because I’m not 22. It’s something I do on a regular basis and something that I absolutely love and this may sound like a weak answer, but I’ve always been a little hesitant to really, really try and push it. I’ve seen friends do that and end up hating music.
TWD: You said you are a lawyer, so it’s got to be a very different process, result, and interactive element. Maybe there are people that are listening to your music and really struck by it or touched by it but you may never even know. Whereas if you’re helping someone directly, it’s probably a completely different feeling.
M: One of the things that I have always found difficult is that there’s a part of me that absolutely loves the music and art side of my brain, loves that process, and loves that activity. There’s the other part of me that is analytical, logical. That’s a very important part of who I am as well, and I’ve always found it very difficult when I’m doing one or the other to have a balance.
For example, after university I was a graphic designer at Sony for a couple years. When I was doing that, although incredibly enjoyable in many ways, I missed the thought and discipline required for really analytical thought. Not to say that design doesn’t require that, but it was just different. So when I ultimately chose to go to law school, I thought I could combine my interests in doing good in the world and something that’s socially responsible, with the analytical side, but also because it’s a large element of writing, I thought that would be enough to sort of satisfy my cravings. Although increasingly I’m doing a lot more writing in the job, the balance isn’t quite there yet.
TWD: I can relate to that. I’ve constantly wrestled with that, especially when you mentioned social responsibility. It’s a tough thing because music or any creative pursuit has that potential but it’s so much more nebulous and it has to involve an element of selfishness to do it and isolation. It’s sometimes like “Can I really say this is what I want to do all the time?”
M: Yeah. Also my thing with the design was that, although obviously there are incredibly powerful images that designers have done for social causes, it’s not as easy to be socially active as a designer. I sort of saw my trajectory was becoming a project manager and getting further and further away from the actual design, which was the part that I liked so much. It just didn’t seem to make sense to keep on doing that.
TWD: Yeah, I can see that. So for the most part, day job as a lawyer and making music in the mornings, the evenings, whenever, that’s fairly satisfying right now?
M: Yeah it is, but I think it still could shift and change. My ideal situation is still that balance. You know, I have an awesome place I live, my relationship with Bec is great. It would never be all I do, nor would law all be ever I do, nor would anything ever be all I ever do, because I need a balance between two things. Were I doing music full-time, I would still need to be taking out pro bono projects or something. I don’t think I’d ever be that sort of singly focused.
TWD: Has being a lawyer influenced your songwriting in any way?
M: Sure, in a couple of ways. One, in the sense of discipline, I got a lot better at really sitting down and doing things. In terms of subject matter, it certainly enters into certain songs. I worked for a court for a couple of years and one of the cases that I worked on was a child protective custody case. Obviously I didn’t put details in the song, but there’s a song called “In Re Doe.” When they have child protective cases, they’ll entitle them typically “In Re Doe” or “In Re Jane” to make the name of the child anonymous because it’s a minor. It was such a horrible, horrible case I ended up writing that song.
TWD: Wow. I read that as like “do re mi.”
M: Oh, that’s interesting, I hadn’t even thought of that.
TWD: “In” isn’t actually one of those, but that was what I saw for some reason.
M: No, that totally makes sense, that hadn’t even occurred to me. That’s really interesting. But in terms of informing any of the actual songs, I can’t have too specific material. Some of the stuff is socially very relevant, so I think it could be really interesting.
When I was working for the court, it was one of the most interesting jobs I ever had. It was an appellate court so it had already gone through trial. You’re working on stuff that is effectively “the questions” of law. Basically what I did was I read stories. That’s what cases are really. There’s a plot. You learn about what somebody or some entity has done. Helping to write the opinions for the court was awesome because it was like writing short stories. That would be the creative part of it, and you’re also having all this legal analysis. That was actually probably the best balance I’ve had.
TWD: One thing I interested to ask you about, since the project is, I mean it’s your name, but it’s also “Synesthete,” I was curious to get a sense of what some of these songs look like?
M: “In Re Doe” is black and blue.
TWD: Ok. That one to me, more than most, felt very visual. When I listen to music, words don’t register right away as words, more as just another texture. I think that song, since it’s almost two minutes before you start singing, I started getting pictures. There’s a heavy mood to it, with the tone and the pacing before it kind of builds up, so I was like “I wonder what that one looks like?”
M: It’s hard to accurately describe how any of these really look. I can definitely give you, with every song, a color scheme. That’s definitely a black and a blue song. When I think about what it looks like, one of things I really like is how it looks when the piano is doing this sort of repetitive of “bom-bom-bom” sound and then when the strings come in, they fit incredibly well together. It’s sort of long lines in amongst this sort of plodding thing, and they’re all sort of the same color and then you’ve got that [hums part of the song] which has a little red on it and that’s a recurring theme throughout the whole song.
What I think is really interesting is you can play four chords that go well with that and it completely changes that line, every single chord. Even you’re playing the exact same thing over and over again, the way it relates to the different chords, I think it’s so interesting. This is like basic music 101, but I love it. With the synesthesia, I think a lot about the way that’s going to look, when it’s with those other things. So the line gets played in different parts of the song in different ways. It has a very different feeling each time it comes through. I love that. I also like, towards the end of the song, there’s a line that normally I think it would be a four chord line but I changed it to three. Each time it plays through, it has a very different feeling to it. [We listen] Normally, this would be the fourth chord, but instead, it goes back and it gives it a very different ending, a very different feel. That was the ending, it’s very stark.
TWD: So, it does influence some of your choices when writing?
M: Absolutely, but it’s also just how music works, too.
TWD: And you don’t know any other of doing it.
M: Right. I don’t know if would key into something else, but it’s something I definitely do think about. I’ll have a pretty good idea of certain parts the way I want them, and it will be very, very frustrating if I’m not able to get those things to look right. Like the bass line in “Haunt Me,” I went back and forth with Aaron about this, the guy that was recording it. I really don’t like the way dead bass strings look when they’re played. It drives me bananas. We used this crappy bass that he had.
TWD: What do you mean by dead bass strings exactly?
M: Oh, like really old and flat sounding.
TWD: Old strings themselves.
M: When they don’t have that ring to it. That’s fine in certain circumstances, but this song, it shouldn’t have been there. And every time I hear it, it’s there and I see it and I’m like “UHHH!”
TWD: That’s fascinating. Do you think you would be able to hear that difference otherwise?
M: Oh yeah. I don’t know if it’s the tension or if it’s the grime on the strings that doesn’t allow it to ring as much, maybe sort of similar to like how you can’t see through a dirty window as well.
TWD: That’s true, that’s interesting.
M: So this recorded version drives me fucking bananas every time I hear it and I told him about it and he’s like “Oh, you’re just being a fucking musician” (laughs). He did such a good job in mixing it, I was so happy with the result, but that part is just so disappointing.
TWD: So you might want to re-record it someday?
M: I would just re-record the bass because the rest of the tune sounds great to me.
TWD: So this is Aaron Albano you mentioned earlier? Who’s the other person you work with?
M: Drew English. He’s the one that does the day-to-day stuff. Aaron has an actual studio-studio in Manhattan. He’s increasingly working on DJ stuff so the music that I was doing was a little bit outside of what he normally does.
TWD: Which songs were recorded in that studio?
M: In that studio, it was “Haunt Me” and “Test Results.” “Heaven” was done at Drew’s studio in his home and then everything else was recorded here but mixed and mastered at Drew’s.
TWD: But it was always the same process or making them here first on your own?
M: Yeah, except for little bits, little changes sometimes, and I might write a line when I’m there or something.
TWD: Does recording equipment and that kind of thing affect how a song looks?
M: Yeah, for sure. A poorly recorded song is going to be a little more muddled, I mean literally muddled. One thing I find really interesting is the difference when I send something to Drew and the instruments themselves are visually very distinct from each other. He’s done it a couple of times where, after working it, everything just locks in like perfectly and it’s more of this massive sound.
TWD: And obviously he doesn’t have any sense of that. “The Test Results” as a song, that’s one of those songs where the words were jumping out pretty quickly, I got locked into that story and it’s powerful. I find it interesting because you know, everyone on paper knows that life is precious, limited, finite. But often times we unfortunately don’t realize it until it’s a situation like the song. You don’t know exactly what it is going here, but you know some bad news was given to this person that’s going to change their view on life. Do you think it’s possible for people to internalize that without some sort of jarring incident?
M: Yes, I think that in varying degrees, people can experience it. I think as you get older you start to appreciate things more. Part of being in your twenties is being reckless. I did shit that was just so dumb. I didn’t think too hard about my own mortality, really. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to lose. Certainly I didn’t have a death wish, but for instance when I was in college I would fairly regularly climb the spans of the Brooklyn Bridge with a friend of mine. I mean this is pre- 9/11 because you’d probably be shot by a sniper now, but that was so dumb (laughs).
The song is certainly about appreciating life, or appreciating whatever it is you should appreciate. I think it’s also really interesting you don’t know what the results are. And really the results – whatever it is that is going to happen – has already happened. The actual event that those results are reflecting has occurred. But the moment that it’s describing is the moment when the person doesn’t know yet what those things are. And so, what I think is so interesting about that is that you’ve already changed or the situation has already changed, you’re just not aware of it yet.
TWD: That’s true.
M: I’ve always described it as if you lies about something and it’s a really bad lie. The person you should have the truth to, that person doesn’t like you. They just don’t know it yet. But in the greater scheme of the universe, you’re not liked by that person. They just haven’t gotten those results yet. You’re just withholding them from them. I think it’s sort of that potential energy, where things are becoming even though they already are, I think is such an interesting liminal space.
That’s a lot of what that song is about. This is somewhat trivial, but it’s like when I got the results back from the bar exam. It already had been decided. I had either passed or I had failed before I had that email. Everything’s decided, but before I opened it, there’s still potential in my head, right? All the possibilities are still there, which is so interesting because they’re not, in reality!
TWD: Or say the test results have to do with a disease, like you said it doesn’t matter, not in a sense so much of it is or it isn’t, but the fact is you’ve considered it now and you hadn’t before.
TWD: If it was cancer, even if you get the test results and you don’t have it, you had to experience a situation where the possibility itself is…
M: Enough to potentially change you. Yeah, that’s exactly the point of the song.
TWD: I think that one is pretty powerful and I would say that one was probably one of the most striking lyrically for me right away. Another one that kind of snuck up on me, because I didn’t really realize what you were saying at first, it’s kind of disguised, was the “Radiation Song.” I do like it when there’s something dark couched in upbeat music. I was listening and then all of a sudden it’s “Wait a minute! ‘He sweetly held her down completely in the seaweed’? Oh my!”
M: It’s about killing an optimist and how fucking irritating they can be.
TWD: He couldn’t stand her radiation, like, literally to radiate, to be full of light.
M: Yeah I had a lot of fun writing that song.
TWD: You seem like a generally optimistic person.
M: Yeah, I think I am, but there’s a false optimism that some people have where they’re irritatingly fucking cheerful. There’s nothing wrong with being a happy, positive person but there is something inherently wrong I think with being a sycophant and always chipper when things are actually not that good in certain situations. It’s like, “Don’t fucking smile at me right now [laughs] this is not okay.”
TWD: How does the musical tone play into that? What made you think it should be more upbeat?
M: That started with the song title. I’ll just email myself with ideas and sort of keep it in a list. When I’m not finding something to write about, I’ll go to the list and I’ll pick something. What I thought was interesting about that one was that radiation has all sorts of different meanings. And I had recently had an experience with somebody I found very irritatingly optimistic. I liked the musical part of it versus the lyrics having that contrast, exactly what you described. I really like that it is this upbeat, sort of poppy, track that could just easily have been about something a little more trivial. But it has the grit to it, lyrically.
TWD: It fits the message in a way. “Ok, fine, you want happy all the time, I’m going to happily kill you,” I guess (laughs). It’s a neat way to do it and radiation is a good word because it has both positive and negative connotations, so I thought that one was interesting.
M: Completely negative and completely positive, yeah. I liked writing that quite a bit.
TWD: How long does it take you, roughly, to write any given song?
M: Could be a day, could be a couple of hours, could be 8 months. It’s completely different each time really. I think the stuff that I write and it just comes out tends to be the best. I wrote “Test Results” in a sitting. I then tinkered with it for about two years in terms of the orchestration of it, but the song itself was there. Usually if I don’t get most of the working parts out, to add a section a later is generally not a good idea. It generally doesn’t work and the song’s sort of dead. I have a lot of stuff where I think it’s really nice but it’s not a song.
TWD: I see. I guess sometimes you just have to accept that it’s not working and leave it there?
TWD: I think that seems to be the case for a lot of stuff, like when something comes from a pure place, it sort of all comes together. Maybe there are some tweaks, but the substance of it is…
M: Right, all there. That’s the best. I love that. It’s such a good feeling. I’m sure anyone who does any sort of artistic thing experiences this at some point, how you just don’t know where it’s coming from. I don’t know why I write, or where the song or any particular thing is coming from. A lot of people have obviously described this, but at the end of finishing something, I get very sad. Although I love listening to it, I don’t know how I’m going to possibly do the next thing I’m going to do. It’s just like “Oh, how’s that going to work?” But you know, the next day you wake up and you’re all amped up and it starts again.
TWD: Yeah, that’s interesting. So it’s kind of more about the creation than like the playback?
M: Absolutely. 100 percent. Yeah. This isn’t to sound arrogant, but I really enjoy listening to the stuff I write, because I’m writing what I’m actually feeling and thinking. So I do derive an enormous amount of pleasure from the playback, but the most pleasure I get is from the actual creation of it. It’s great.
TWD: Yeah, that’s a great rush I’d imagine. I noticed online you put a genre or style for each song and they are fairly diverse. It seems like that might be kind of functional, like as a writing exercise, “I want to try something a little more dance-y, or a little more electronic.” Does an idea for that ever dictate the song?
M: No, I typically don’t sit down with anything in mind in terms of the style that I’m going to write. I’ll just start playing and whatever comes out, comes out. With this song blog, what has been great about that is I haven’t felt like “Ok, this is not the Matthew Meyer sound,” or “This isn’t fitting into x, y, genre that I’ve arbitrarily picked for myself.” So it’s been really nice like that I can sit down and I may write a country song or I may write an electro song. Quite frankly, who I am is all of those. I don’t listen to one type of music and I don’t want to play one type of music. I really like diversity.
TWD: Is there a style that you may have thought of but you haven’t actually tried yet?
M: I would love to write a really good punk song, but my voice doesn’t work for that and not playing with live drums affects that. Something with punk or where it’s that live, raw sound, I think it’s harder to do with this space. When I was growing up, I used to be huge into punk bands that were in my area and I loved going to the shows. There’s something just amazing about a good punk song. It’s just like “Fuck yeah!”
TWD: How loud do you get up here?
M: I do almost everything through headphones so, almost no sound.
TWD: Oh, so you’re never on an amp with the electric guitars?
M: No. Never. I run everything through something called Guitar Amp. Have you seen this? Oh, this is fucking awesome. It’s an amplifier emulator and it’s astonishingly good. I’ve been really, really impressed with it. You can pick the different cabinets, you can pick the different effects, you can pick everything. I could run it through these amps, but I tend to do it, which is not great for my ears, through the headphones because I live in an apartment building and I don’t want to piss my neighbors off. They have a bunch of pre-sets. I’m sure this is for legal reasons that they describe it instead of saying exactly. So “Black Angus” I’m sure has something to do with AC/DC. “Billy Dual” is probably Smashing Pumpkins. There are more than I can actually ever use. It has changed my recording process dramatically because when I was growing up, it was like you had a guitar and you had the pedals that you could afford, which was not many (Laughs). This is like every amp and every pedal I’ve ever fucking wanted.
TWD: Isn’t that kind of a funny concept, when you’re in high school and you get one guitar after saving some money, it takes years, maybe getting a distortion pedal, maybe getting an amp. And now you have the means and the technology, which didn’t exist. Like, “Oh, if only this was around then.”
M: Well, it’s interesting. I’ve talked about that with people and I think that something that’s made me a better songwriter and musician. Certainly in terms of recording, learning how to do stuff on my 4 track helped a lot. This is sort of a generalization but everyone who goes into law wants to be arguing in front of the Supreme Court. You can’t, until you’ve gone to law school. And you can’t until you’ve learned certain basic things. The way it was gave a much more hands-on, physical organic experience.
As we discuss the technology he uses and go over this computer set-up, Matthew starts playing some music he made when he was younger.
M: This is my high school band. I was playing bass at this point; I was very into Primus at the time. I’m not singing here, I’m doing background vocals. This is on a four track. It’s like a very awkward time signature. Like 4/4, 5/4 alternating, and then the guitarist is playing 4/4 on the whole thing. We were 16 (laughs).
TWD: How does it feel to hear that?
M: I love listening back to it. They’re rough recordings and they’re very self-indulgent in that “Look how many notes I can play” or “Look how well I can do slap bass” way, but it’s cool because we very much had our own sound. They would be kind of long songs that had all these very different parts. It’s a little hard to listen to (laughs) but it’s interesting.
TWD: You still feel connected to the Matthew that played those songs?
M: Oh yeah, for sure, and I think increasingly so. It went away, the sort of pure pleasure of playing went away and I did start to think more about like “If someone hears this, what will they think?” But I think moved back to where I was mentality-wise now. Doing a song blog and just doing it because I really like it. I think ultimately I end up making better music because of it.
I played in band called Ham Buck Star and the Fuckaneers which was like a lo-fi ironic country band. We recorded this at our friend’s studio and this is the first post-high school experience I had, where again it was just for the pleasure of playing. We had such a good time writing the music. We’d get forties and just record or write songs in my apartment on Bleecker Street. It’s exactly how I think music should be. It felt so innocent and good. Then recording it, we were in this really interesting studio. You go into a barn and it was enclosed within the barn. A friend of mine made it in Batavia, New York. It was perfect for this music, and it just felt like sort of my ideal of what music should be about. Not the songs themselves, but the approach.
TWD: How do you think music may have shaped your identity?
M: It completely shaped my identity in terms of this is what I do for pleasure, and I’d say it’s probably my biggest passion. It’s one of the first things I ask somebody, “What kind of music do you like?” What I think is funny about that is my taste in music, although it’s diverse, I don’t really listen to that much music because I have such limited time. I really want to be making the music, that’s where I want to put my energy. But then every time somebody introduces me to a new band or a good band that I like, I’m like “oh fuck,” I really need to be like sitting down spending a half hour a day or something just listening to music cause there’s so much good shit out there. I listen to something and I’m like, “Oh I should write a song that’s sort of like that because that’s great stuff!” So I typically don’t sit down and have like a pre-decided genre in mind, but the moments that I do is a situation where I just heard something on the radio and I’m like “I can do that, that’s awesome, I love that stuff.” You know?
TWD: That’s cool. It seems like you never really lost your sense of excitement and joy and fun.
M: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s come back uh a lot. It’s not that I lost it, as much as I just wasn’t as in tune with it. Law school took a lot and I really needed to focus on that. Once I had gotten out of that mentality, it took awhile to get back into it. And I think I was too concerned with like making something that I thought would be what I should be making.
TWD: What changed that for you?
M: I’m not sure, actually. Maybe remembering that I loved it so much. Also, after I finished the Obama campaign, I wasn’t employed for awhile. I had this chunk of time where I was like “I’m going to write some music”
We talk awhile too about some of Matthew’s other projects including building furniture and creating some Smartphone-friendly gloves.
M: I’m the happiest doing something like this, where there is a very analytical side: you have to come up with things that are functioning; you have to think about why they function. It’s industrial design. I loved making those, they’re not great, but I really enjoy making furniture. It was enormously satisfying at the end to have to done it, and to have thought about how I wanted to do it and then just done it.
It sort of runs parallel to why I like music, this idea that you’re taking nothing and you’re making something. With a physical product, people are like “This is fucking awesome. This is something that I can use. This is something that solves a problem” With the music, it’s like, “That’s something I felt,” or, “This explains why,” or it doesn’t explain, and “It expresses something that I felt before in an interesting way.” I love that process.
It’s interesting. I often wonder where I would be now if I hadn’t gone the other route. When I was looking into grad schools, it was either law school or industrial design and I ended up going to law school.
TWD: Yeah. I guess that’s what life is though, right? Yeah, you’re constantly getting closer to what you think you want to do with it. And the music’s going pretty well it seems.
M: Yeah, I love it. I just need to get back into the habit of trying to post more of it more often.
TWD: It’s hard to keep everything going, right? Give everything the attention you feel it needs. It’s like an impossible pursuit.
M: Yeah and especially because I would love to do more with product stuff. That was really interesting. I really like writing. I’d like to do other types of writing. Yet I only have a limited amount of time in the morning and the evenings to pursue those things. But better than being bored (laughs).
TWD: That’s true. And having goals is good. Have you ever heard of that rule? It’s like someone’s law, it goes something like “time expands or contracts to fill how much you have to do.” [Parkinson’s Law]
M: No, but that’s completely true, I know exactly how that is. When you have less time you fill it more. Yeah, completely. That’s absolutely true.