Recently I had the opportunity of interviewing Matt Pond of the indie rock band, Matt Pond PA. To this day I still remember hearing the band for the first time. I had been an intern in college at a record label, and someone had left the company and left behind all of their cds. As an intern perk we got to sort through them and take what we wanted. I had come across this random mix cd that had a few Matt Pond PA songs on it. I was interested to hear the band, because it was a name I have come across in a few magazines. Upon my first listen of ‘Lookout (Closest)’ I was immediatly hooked.
To this day Matt Pond PA remains to be one of my favorite bands. In my honest opinion, every note, every melody, every lyric is completely flawless. I want to hang their records on my wall as a beautiful piece of art.
Matt Pond, who is extremely kind, was able to answer a few questions for me which I was so ecstatic about. If you have yet to pick up a Matt Pond PA album, you should purchase one immediately. You are missing so much. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I do.
What part of PA did you used to live in?
I lived in Philly. In a commercial loft space in Chinatown. A bookstore on the first floor, gambling and prostitution on the second and third floors. And then me on the fourth.
When you moved to New York, how come the ‘PA’ did not change? Does it represent more than just where the band originated?
The PA is where I learned to let it all out. Where I started stringing notes to other notes. I must honor Pennsylvania and the state it afforded my mind.
I still hold onto the mountains, Plymouth Dusters and extension cords from New Hampshire, the pockets of fog of New Brunswick, the manual lawnmowers of upstate New York and discarded chewing gum from the NYC.
How has the way you approach songwriting changed over the years?
I don’t know if I’ve truly changed…The mechanics have definitely changed.
I’ve always relied on tuning variations. If I were to be a pony with a trick, that would be it.
Sometimes I can hear entire songs in the made up chords. Sometimes even the words. Like some kind of un-gluing of anxiety.
Fossils may make fuel. (who says there is nothing in what’s beyond…we all might be burning bright as gasoline stars in a few quick decades). But me — I personally run on anxiety. Which is why I should be given my own personal island or forest to tend and protect: I’m not exactly right for this place.
…As a starter, I used to video tape my fingers playing pieces of songs I wrote. I’d listen to the pieces and erase and erase until I found the pieces I could fully trust. Panning for crusts of bread.
Now. Now I use Logic. I write down my tunings and have it all proper and clean…
I miss the clunkiness of the past. Massive gears to accomplish very little. They made me feel important. I even wore a badge.
What was the first instrument(s) that you learned to play? Did you take music lessons?
I learned to partially play the piano. I took lessons. And that’s what turned me away from music for so long. Having my hands grabbed and forced into the correct chord formations. I didn’t like that. Nope.
Who are your influences?
I think my influences are hunched over people shuffling through quick crowds. Maybe they need help with their groceries… They are the sentences I’m too far away to hear. They are the cashiers who look like they’ve got so much more in them than ‘have a nice day’. Or maybe they have nothing to say. That’s fine too. (music’s greatest gift may be the spaces in between. the sweet quiet)
In your opinion, is a song better if it is based from a personal experience or is about an event that actually happened?
Every song has had to happen in some way or another. I can’t judge their lineage.
Mine are both at once. Spinning around and around. Songs make me dizzy no matter where they come from.
To me, personally, your lyrics can be read as poetry. There is something very beautiful about the way your words fit together. In college I actually used the lyrics to ‘New Hampshire’ in a poetry class project of mine. Do you intentionally make your lyrics sound like poetry? Are you inspired by any poets in terms of writing and form?
That’s very kind of you. The skin on face area has changed color and I feel warmer than before.
I could say I’m inspired by poets. A total sucker for Anne Sexton and John Ashberry. Although I sometimes speak meekly incendiary declarations about how poetry is lazy prose. (not true, not true)
I’ve been criticized for colloquialisms, for ‘lay’ versus ‘lie’, for harping on about the grass and the trees and the leaves. My mind connects to parts of life — right or wrong — and doesn’t let go.
Which could be in contrast to the way I see the world going. It’s becoming critically questionable to maintain one’s sense of self. Individuality does not seem to be ‘the thing’ these days. Even among the open-minded.. And THAT is terrifying to me.
There has been some revolving members in the band. What is the cause of that?
Music making isn’t a stable environment for the supporting life. Yes it makes people feel alive. It also makes people feel desperate.
Your best friends will give up their lives in your defense. And then take your favorite pen and stab you in back.
This is why I want my forest or island. Anyone else can live there as long as they don’t believe in a hierarchy to humanity. Simple.
KC is mentioned in a few of your songs, as well in your latest record ‘Last Light’. Who is KC?
KC is my friend from Jackson, MI. She’s cut from the same thread as Eudora Welty and Sam Cooke. She’s an incredible person who can make anything, even birds. She wrote the liner notes to Last Light. Probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read…Her daughter’s name is Lily. She stirred a couple songs too.
She and her friends down there put on art shows/rock shows completely independently. Definitely worth checking out. 121millsapsave.com
How does the songwriting process for Matt Pond PA come about? Do you bring in a song already finished to the band? Or is there a lot of band collaboration and ideas floating around when you get into the studio?
I’ve mostly brought finished songs to the band. With Chris Hansen there’s more collaboration.
He kicks some serious ass.
I can ask Chris questions and he answers with analysis and intuition. Crazy.
(I had this idea of starting a band within the band, but it didn’t take. A utopia where everyone worked equally. Where everyone gave and received equally. Agendas,disagreements were to be held up to vote. A musical dreamworld….And that’s how it stayed. In dreams. Nobody else really ended up contributing. Just seemed like they were waiting for me to finish my damn hymns…I’m not bitter. Because I tried. And within that trying, I wrote a bunch of songs I believe in)
(And yet. Chris has come up with some recent instrumentals that blow my mind. Yes)
Where do you prefer to record your albums? I’ve seen several pictures of the band recording in more wooden looking, suburban, ‘peaceful’ areas that seem outside of the city. Is there any place you enjoy recording more than others?
There is no doubt that I’m more at peace when I’m outside the city.
Then again, recording with Rob Schnapf out in LA ruled in it’s own right. Hyperbole free, I’d say he’s about as cool as it gets in the entire recording world.
What is your favorite song to perform live and why?
Stars. Because I almost dance. Or even dance. Depends on the way the wind blows.
I heard you are recording a new record. How is it coming along so far? Are we in for any unexpected surprises or changes?
We’re doing a free miniature album for Thanksgiving (I think). Because despite all my cantankerousness, I love people and I love food. And I love eating food with people… a soundtrack to all that could be a decent affair.
Surprises. I don’t know. I don’t know what surprises people. I just write songs. I rarely stuff them with firecrackers.
The full-length is still a wrestling match. There’s really enough for 3 or 4 albums. But I’m not good at counting. I skip most numbers to get to eight. I love the number 8.
Are you ever nervous about going into the studio to record a new record?
Seeing that I’m always recording, I don’t think I think about it anymore.
I will yell at myself when recording. I’ll get frustrated and call myself a bastard…Maybe even this afternoon.
Will there be a tour to follow?
I think tours will always follow. Until I can’t stomach it any longer.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts about being on tour?
My least favorite goes back to the last question and my stomach. The least favorite part is the absence of consistently great food. The inability to cook my own meals for months on end stresses me out of my head.
My favorite parts (the reason I’ll never stop) are living in the moment and being able to connect with people.
Sometimes we’re gravely misinterpreted. And that’s too bad. But we won’t stop trying. No way.
What is your favorite city to play a show in?
I don’t like hierarchies. I don’t think any city is better than another. It is truly the people and the energy that makes the shows go.
Still. I do love New York. Perhaps because I spend the most time here.
How have you changed on a personal level since the release of your first record, ‘Deer Apartments’?
Yes. Oh yes.
I understand what I want to do now…Whether I can achieve that or not, that is the question.
I would loved to have had a talk with my prior self. Though I’d never want to go back and live any of it. I like my memories where they are.
If you weren’t in Matt Pond PA, what would you be doing for a living?
History professor. Smoking a pipe. Grading papers. Many leather-bound books lining my shelves.
What album changed your life? What album made you decide to get into music?
Double Nickels on the Dime changed my life. It feels free.
I think Harvest made me commit. If I could feel what it was like to make that album, I’d surely float away forever.
What song do you wish you had written and why?
Most songs by Neil Young. Birds. Definitely Birds.
What do you love the most about music?
When it’s right, you forget everything else in the world.
At the wheel, heading straight for a ditch and singing the wrong words to Wave of Mutilation.
What board game can you kick anyone’s ass at?
I can walk on my hands. I can catch things in my mouth. Those are the only two things I’ll ever brag about.
Matt Pond PA has just recorded a song for ‘Guilt By Association: Volume 2’ which is available now on iTunes and will be on CD February 7th. The band has recorded a cover version of My Chemical Romance’s ‘I’m Not Okay,’ which you can listen to here
Check out Matt Pond PA on Myspace