Written by Janet Rhoads Sunday, 03 February 2013 22:16
I love touring once you get into the rhythm, because it’s the only way I’ve ever lived where I’m living exactly in the moment.
Matt Pond’s last two LP releases, The Dark Leaves and Emblems, are among my favorite albums of the last decade; in fact, he has never put out anything I didn’t eat up with a spoon. So needless to say, I’m pretty excited for his newest gift to the world, The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hands. The few songs I have heard from it, like all of his past work, showcase that lovely and interesting tenor of his and intelligent songcraft, and are also imbued with a refreshing dose of optimism. Having the chance to talk with him was more than delightful, and felt more like a conversation with a friend than an interview with a stranger. I have a tremendous amount of respect for his work and urge you to give him a listen if you are not already familiar with his music…
So the new album—you’ve said it’s about defiance?
It’s about being defiant of circumstances I was in or circumstances I was under. It’s kind of about being defiant potentially to cynicism, because prior to a couple years ago I was usually more prone to following a negative bent. I mean, I’m still pretty critical of myself and what goes on around me. But, when I broke my leg I was working on songs for this album, it’s almost like I had to fight to be able to do it, which proved that I really wanted to do it. I’m not quite answering your question…
No I get what you’re saying. It’s like, for lack of a better term, “giving the finger” to your own bad attitude.
Sure, yeah! There can be a lot of bad attitudes in music if you have unrealistic expectations. I don’t want to do this because it’s what I do; I wanna do this because I love it. I had to re-realize that, and that I’m lucky, lucky to have found something I love.
In the press release, your label called the album “an upbeat antidote to the pessimistic shift in the collective consciousness.” Do you mean on a bigger scale, a kind of negativity that’s permeating everything in society right now? I can see what you’re saying on a personal level, but do you feel that defiance applies to the world in general?
It depends on how you look at it. That’s probably the biggest problem, as the world is expanding mentally faster, and maturing faster than it knows how to handle its own new knowledge. There’s no rules; there’s no ethics. Personal ethics and the way that people consider themselves and other people are all confused. I mean, you can either look at as it as an opportunity to communicate, and that’s good, or you can look at it as we are more like creating our own 1984.
Shooting ourselves in our own foot almost?
Yeah. Like if I involved myself in the chatter or din of the internet, I think I would lose it. I try to think of it as a tool to communicate and I enjoy it and don’t take it too seriously, but it’s constantly changing faster than anything else.
It can really weigh you down.
It’s crazy. It’s just going to keep doing that. It’s gonna get faster and faster.
I kind of see cynicism or pessimism and optimism as two sides of the same coin, and I think sometimes when people are cynical or pessimistic it’s because they have really big expectations for how life should be.
I wish everyone would see my position so nicely. [Laughs]
That’s why I gravitated toward that sentence in the press kit. Because I think that we need that. We need things that push us away from pessimism and remind us of the things we really want out of life.
Sure. I think I just have to ignore my frustrations, but I like them because my frustrations are what keep me going.
They push you forward, if you let them.
Yeah. That’s the whole thing about breaking a leg or something. People deal with far worse things, more adversity than that, but for me it helped me see everything in a negative/positive light.
I read that you kept touring even with the broken leg because you’d rather do that than sit at home.
I didn’t know what else to do. In a sense, you are investing in a tour when you set it all up, so I would’ve been broke and I would’ve been more broken. But on top of that, how can I not do what I intended to do?
Speaking of touring, the new one starts February 1. Do you get “going off to camp” nerves?
It’s terrifying! We’re like hurdling ourselves, putting ourselves in a little metal box and going off into the Northeast. Every time it’s every imaginable…again, if you let yourself drift into all the possibilities, there are a lot of things that can go wrong. I never thought that breaking a leg would be one of them.
Can I ask how you did break your leg?
I was just wrestling. I can’t wrestle anymore, I guess. I wrestled and our old drummer was clumsy and he just put his knee right through my leg. I mean, people will say, “Make it more exciting. You should tell more exciting stories.” No. I just don’t do that.
So you’re here on the 15th and then in Nashville on the 17th. Will you have a chance to hang out in St. Louis for a bit? Have you ever gotten to go around the city at all?
We did, actually, the last time we were there. We went up into the Arch; we did it with my broken leg and everything. I’d never done it and the weird thing was we did more sightseeing with my broken leg than I had done in a long time because I was so sick of sitting around. So we got to see some of St. Louis.
If you have time this time, I think pretty much every musician coming through has to go to the City Museum, which isn’t too far from Firebird. It’s downtown. It’s kind of like a giant metal playground from the 1970s on acid. It’s like a whole building full of crap to climb on. You don’t have a broken leg so that could be fun.
No, I could do it. That sounds amazing!
Do you know Jukebox the Ghost? Have you met them yet?
I haven’t, but we communicate—you know, the internet again. We’ve kind of been in cursory contact, but I kind of feel like once we get on tour we’ll know everything. I know their music. I don’t know them specifically, but I’m excited. I think it’ll be a lot of fun. It’s gonna be a lot of people on tour in really close quarters. [Laughs]
Do you like that? Do you enjoy being around a bunch of people, or are you the type of person who really needs some solitary time?
I’m both. In the beginning, I couldn’t even talk to other bands; I’m just too shy. I like hanging out with people; getting to know people is great, but I also need to be completely alone and that just doesn’t happen on tour. So there’s a little bit of sanity testing but that’s part of it. At about two or three weeks, that’s when things start to fall apart. You just have to focus on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I mean, I love it once you get into the rhythm, because it’s the only way I’ve ever lived where I’m living exactly in the moment.
I can see that. There’s always that sense when you’re traveling or on a journey of being really present in the moment.
I like finding a way of mentally positioning myself in a car for a long time, just reading or thinking.
What are you reading these days?
I’m reading The Immoralist [by Andre Gide] and it’s not going very well. I’m gonna go back to Walker Percy. He can straighten me out when I’m drifting through books and not really paying attention.
I wanted to ask you about your songwriting process. Are you a music-first or lyrics-first kind of guy? Is it different for every song?
I think it’s different but it almost just kind of comes to me. It’s like a visceral thing. You start playing something and it starts just happening and I’ll just start singing words. It’s not something you wanna do in front of people; it’s like cathartic, and then words start coming, and it’s almost stream of consciousness how you begin what it’s about and how the melody goes. Then you just build that up. It’s a lot of repetition and a lot of bad notes, but once you get there, that’s everything.
Is that your favorite part of all of this, the songwriting? Or is it the performing?
I like them all but they’re all different. When you can’t write a song and you have all this stuff going on in your head and you just really wish you could turn it into something melodic or musical and it just doesn’t come, that’s like the worst. An amazing show is like nothing else and a rough show is hard.
Are you a big poetry reader? Do you like a lot of poetry?
I like poetry. I wish I was better; I almost need a guide. There’s a poet in Chicago named Simone Muench that I love more than anything. I love John Ashbery, Anne Sexton.
Oh, I love Anne Sexton.
I try to read poetry but I sometimes get lost in the words a little bit and struggle for the meaning.
I think a lot of people would say the same thing about poetry. I ask because, to me, many of your songs read like a poem. Kind of following something I read once, that all poetry is just finding the very best words and putting them in their very best order.
The hard part about songs for me—and other people don’t struggle with this—but it’s the sound. Going back to the visceral-ness of it; the sound of the word has to fit in the space where it works. The right word might not be the “right word.” It has to roll out of my mouth and make sense in multiple ways.
Fit the music, fit the moment, fit the meaning?
Yeah, which is limiting. I mean, you’re stuck—you want to say something great and you just can’t say that. You have to work with your entire being.
Not to try to dive in and psychoanalyze you or anything…
That’s all right. [Laughs]
Well, you mention fawns and deer a lot in your songs and albums. What is the connection to that animal?
I grew up in northern New Hampshire and I just ran around in the woods by myself. I think I’ve always had to find a way to occupy my mind. I didn’t have anyone who really showed me anything in terms of a path or pushing me toward anything. I guess you run into forest creatures and you don’t feel all that different from them.
I grew up in rural Missouri, in the woods, and I definitely get that. You find animals in the woods and you feel like you are a part of something.
When you so often don’t, it’s like you cling to those images. Images and ideas are really all you have.
Speaking of images and ideas, I watched the lyric video for “Love to Get Used” and I wondered how involved you are in the creative concept of your videos? [This particular video is a series of old black-and-white photos and vintage postcards which are drawn on and have the lyrics of the song written across them. You can check it out here.]
There’s nothing I don’t have [a hand in]. It’s funny, the guy who did it; we just finished a video…it’s crazy the stuff we did. I felt like I was being tortured. I mean, it almost is literally torture. The first three songs on the album are one video unto themselves.
How were you tortured?
I was held underwater. I was thrown in water. I was in a swamp. I was running in a suit down a dirt road being chased by a car. It was kind of funny; there were a lot of people working on the video and I just kind of felt like I was a prop, and in some ways I sort of was. I came up with the initial idea, and then someone else just went with it beyond anything I could have thought of.
The video I saw for “Love to Get Used” with the photographs and all of that—I really loved it because I have a thing for old photos, and so sometimes when I see them laying around in thrift shops and antique stores, I’ll buy them up to use in art projects because I just feel bad and sad that people’s images are all just lying there in a box.
I can relate to that. I have a hard time going to thrift stores for that reason, because if you think about the stories behind all the things you are running into, it sometimes is just too much to take.
It can be, but I kind of love that. Probably 95% of my house is thrifted. I think objects do hold meaning and stories and I like being surrounded by that. But anyway, I wanted to ask if any of them were actual family photos?
No. My idea was more of a ransom idea originally, but it became much sweeter and I kind of liked that. They were just found pictures by the video guy in New York who did a great job; he just went with it. That’s when this gets exciting. As much as it just says my name, this whole process is a lot of people who will take an idea and just go with it and make beautiful things with you or around you.
I felt like the video went really well with what I think is a duality of meaning in the song. I mean, most people would hear “Love to Get Used” and would think of “used” as in the negative connotation, like being taken advantage. In watching the video, it more hit me that the meaning could be that your love is meant to be used, as in utilized or being something that has purpose. Then there are all of these vintage or used images.
It’s both. Because it’s torture and it’s both all at once, all the time. I don’t know why it has to be that way.
I think that’s everything in life.
KDHX 88.1 presents Jukebox the Ghost, Matt Pond, and TLatW at Firebird on Friday, February 15; doors at 7 p.m.
Email the author or visit her blog.
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