A Conversation with Andrew McMahon
Mike Ragogna: So how did you decide everything was going to move from Jack's Mannequin into the wilderness?
Andrew McMahon: There were almost two separate events. As I was finishing the last Jack's Mannequin record it was pretty apparent to me that I had finished that story and was ready for a change and needing something different and also just needing some time off. That was really the impetus to moving in a different direction, but it wasn't really until after taking the better part of a year after finishing up the Jack's Mannequin touring cycle on People And Things that I took some time and started doing some writing on the side for the NBC show Smash. I started going into the studio with a handful of different producers and just doing writing sessions for other artists and for spec stuff and I think that's when I realized, "Okay, I want to make another record," I'm liking this approach of getting in the studio and working with tracks and production and building things in the studio. So I did the EP and right around that time I hired new management and said, "Okay, I feel like I'm strong enough, built back and ready to take another swing." It was right at the beginning of 2013 that I had switched modes and said, "I'm going to make a record, I'm going to put it out, I'm going to do it myself and put it out with an independent." I think it just kind of pooled out from that place where it was like, "We're going to kind of do this like renegades, we're going to find some people who are on board with that cause." I was used to doing things a certain way from having worked with labels for so many years, it was pretty invigorating to say, "What do we have to do? I'll empty the bank account again, I've done it before for records," and just set out to do it. It was awesome. Between all that and the fact that my wife was pregnant through this whole project, there were two very beautiful processes taking place of creating this new world that I would live in both professionally and personally.
MR: And didn't you get married around the time of Everything In Transit?
AM: Yeah, shortly after. That was like my breakup record from my girlfriend at the time who became my wife. There are these patterns.
MR: This wilderness has been good for you. What was your Topanga canyon adventure like and how did it affect your creativity?
AM: It was a couple things. With the later Jack's records I had gotten in the habit of working on the road and writing and doing all of those things at one time. One of the things that I talked to my manager about before we started the process of making this record, and it was something he was really passionate about, he said, "You need to not be doing anything but making the record. We should get you off the road and just focus on writing," the idea being that it would keep me in a flow and keep a thread of consistency through the project. That's something I hadn't done in a long time. I think to put a stopgap between the tour I had been doing and the other projects I was working on and say, "This is a new thing, this is a fresh start," and also knowing that Kelly was pregnant and needless to say there would be a lot of distractions at home, I didn't want to do the thing where I was half at home, half in the studio. I wanted to be able to say, "When I'm home, I'm home," and that's where we do all of the essential work of preparing for the baby to come, but then the idea of Topanga was it's close enough that I can get home quickly but far enough that I won't endeavor into Los Angeles traffic if I don't have to. It is really this remarkable space that has maintained a sense of the wild. It's still this old hippie holdout where you can rent a poorly made shack and haul your stuff in there and live with minimal electricity and water and everything else. For me, it was about meditating on playing piano all day and writing as many bad ideas as I had to to get to the good ones and writing what came out of my head when I was in these streams of consciousness and finding out what were these themes that would build the record. I think that was the main reason I went to spend time in Topanga.
MR: Your new album come off more like a narrative than a bunch of songs. How did the album develop?
AM: There were a handful of tadpoles for the themes of the record. In a weird way one of the largest themes was this abstract thought that my life had come full circle from the last time I did this hard reset, when I did the Jack's Mannequin record. There were so many milestones approaching that were tied to that period of time, I felt like in a bizarre sense I was almost doing a follow up to that record with the new project. It was summer again in California and I was back in Los Angeles and I had cut a lot of these demons of the last ten years away, which I think is a lot of what the reset was about. I had a really tricky recovery from a psychological standpoint with the cancer. That took me a lot of years to unwind. I think part of the reason that I was ready to write this record was I had done a lot of the work to say, "Okay, that's behind me now. Whatever happened in that period of time is over," and you have to move forward. I think I had unburdened myself of a lot of the things that had been holding me back in some ways in those years. I feel like the themes on the record in a sense were about going for broke and trying something even if it might not be the best idea, financially, professionally, whatever. To dispense of a successful brand I had built was a risk and I think that risk is a key to a lot of the record and that sense of going for it.
MR: The concept of "family" and how that's going to have to work with your creative career is visited in "Cecilia And The Satellite," "See Her On The Weekend," and "Maps For The Getaway."
AM: Those are three of the more powerful moments. "See Her On The Weekend" and also "Rainy Girl" were the first two songs that were really born in that canyon. I would do this thing where I would write a bunch of stuff and I would shoot stuff off to my manager, just these little audio demos. Once I got to those two songs, where I really embraced the fact that my whole life was going to change but I would still make this music, this is what I know, this is what I do best and I'm going to do it in a different way now, whatever that is. I think accepting that and seeing that pop up in these songs that were created in that space in Topanga, I said, "I'm ready to come off the hill and accept that," and that was one of the themes. Knowing that I was going to be doing this new thing and accepting it.
MR: And your first song, "Canyon Moon," sets up nice visuals for the album that follows.
AM: Yeah, "Canyon Moon" was this oddball track that I did with a couple of friends. Truthfully, initially, I didn't even get it. We wrote that in like four hours and cut a demo and left and I never really thought anything of it, but then it circled around and the demo had been heard and it was like, "There's something there," so I dug back into it and rewrote a bunch. What I love about that is it's not specifically about me but about this escape from Los Angeles, a disappearing act, which is really what I did after Jack's. I moved out of L.A. and disappeared for a minute. It was super essential. I like that the song is kind of a cliffhanger, you don't know where this person ended up in that sense in that it's also what kicked off the record. For me, it seemed appropriate.
MR: What is the story behind "Black And White Movies"?
AM: I did a lot of this record with an amazing producer and writer named Mike Viola, he was such a perfect collaborator for the record because I was still a little intimidated about getting back into the process. For me, the last two that I had done with Jack's, while I love those records, they were very spiritually exhausting and they weren't necessarily fun records to make. We were doing good work but it was grueling in a way. I let my process really eat me alive on both of those albums. I was also scared to go make a selects record. When I met Mike and we went and did a session in his garage, he's the father of two amazing little girls and they were home a lot of the time, it was just this perfect thing where I would move into his house a day at a time and we would hang out in his garage and listen to music and play music when we felt like it. "Black And White Movies" was really one of the first ones where we locked in a concept. For me it really was the answer to the Jack's Mannequin records. The first Jack's record was all about summer and California and the sense of the band where "Black And White Movies" is after the tourists left and the beach houses get shut down for the fall and what that looks like when you live in a beach house and everything's closing down. I think that was a pivotal moment of the record, to write that bit of California back into what this record would be.
MR: That brings us to your new hit, "Cecilia And The Satellite." It smartly blends a lot--your love for your daughter, your commitment to always being there for her, and the commitments to your career and having to be on the road. "For all the things my hands have held, the best, by far, is you..." So beautiful. You must have known you had a gem when this thing popped out.
AM: We knew quick. It wasn't my idea to write that song, it was James who co-produced the record with Mike and I. It was the first day that we had met, my wife was due kind of any day, and when I talked to him over email I said, "I'm coming up to do this session but there's a good chance I could get called away because you just never know, we're entering into that tight time period where I might have to split quickly." When I showed up he was like, "Let's write about your daughter." I was reluctant, and basically took on the challenge and said, "If we do this, we have to do it in a clever way that's really honest, but isn't really cheesy." I just wanted it to have an edge to it, because I feel like that's a thing that people miss a lot when they write love songs. There's an edge in all of this stuff, it's not all this sunshine shit that everybody's peddling, it's very real, this idea that you have to take care of somebody on this level. That comes with some tricky history in all these things. When we started it, the line, "I locked myself in a hotel room" came up and we had the chords that sounded really great and built into this beautiful thing and I said, "Okay, this is what we do, we're just going to tell a story about a bunch of the crazy things that I've experienced and try to tie them back to this kid." That was the approach, and I think that's why the song has done well, it's a really true story and the point is that she's going to live a story every bit as crazy as the one that I've lived and that if I'm lucky I'll be able to be there to watch it happen and look after her through the high and the low. I think that was how it ended up working. And it was great, we wrote it in one day, but then there were two serious "back to the drawing board" kind of sessions where we tweaked on it hard to get it to fit in a form that you could take and that made sense for the listener.
MR: How has having your daughter changed your life?
AM: In some ways it's really easy to tell how she's changed our lives, but both my wife and I were changing well before she got here. We were ready for a change. I think we were in the process of building a new world and she was just a part of it. I think the biggest change is the amount of focus that it requires, and I think it's also the biggest benefit. You have this human in your life that you love in the craziest way, so that's the biggest benefit, but I think the side effect of this is to have a career where you can actually be successful and to have a family where you can actually be together and spend the time you need to in order to be close, it's a lot of work and it takes a lot of focus. I think that's the thing that I didn't totally anticipate that was this happy accident. Now when I work I work smart and I work hard and I know quickly when I'm in a rabbit hole. I used to favor the rabbit hole sometimes and let myself get in it and now I'm way less inclined to put myself there because I just don't have time for rabbit holes. It makes the work that I do a lot more focused and pure, and I try not to waste time. If I'm in that hole I'm like, "Just get out of it," and that's a huge lesson to learn, creatively, and it took having her, I think, to get there.
MR: By the way, this is the absolutely best song with the name "Cecilia" in it for over four decades.
AM: [laughs] I'll take that! I think Paul Simon did a pretty good job on his as well.
MR: Andrew, your albums, including your Jack's Mannequin catalog, are the journals of your life. And collectively, apparently, they've sold over two million copies. Or at least that's what the press release says.
AM: If that's true I'm shocked, but I'll believe it. It's got to be less than that, but we can look that up somewhere.
MR: Do you feel a separation between the Jack's Mannequin and Wilderness periods or do you think of it as one continuous block of work?
AM: There's a linear thing but there are also very distinct stopgaps for me where my life shifted, my world shifted, my creativity shifted. I think a lot of the reason why I changed my project's heading a couple of times, because those other names stopped meaning the same thing to me. I felt like there needed to be a delineation because I already felt it. Obviously, it's early in this phase of things and I'm super excited about digging into the next round and seeing what it becomes from here, but it's definitely felt on this side.
MR: There's one thing about Jack's that's still going strong, and it's that people can sign up for the bone marrow registry at your shows. Can you go into that?
AM: The Dear Jack Foundation really started right on the heels of my recovery. We've done awesome work at the foundation, a lot of it early on was based on blood cancers and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, we had our hands in a bunch of things that I was really passionate about. As I started coming to, dare I say it was about six years of recovery, I realized that there was a significant gap for adolescents and young adults who were surviving cancer. That really became my focus. As we approached this ten-year remission date, which was this past August, I think we just had a new lease on life at the foundation, like, "You know what? We're having this success here," I hired an amazing executive director who has really helped to transform and galvanize me and our base towards this initiative and I think as a result we'll probably have our best year as a foundation. I was saved by a stem cell transplant that I was lucky enough to have a match with, so the reality is that most people are not quite so lucky. When you need a transplant and you can't get one, that absolutely does not bode well for your health. It's a really simple process and we've been getting people signed up for the bone marrow registry at the shows. In the past two years we've matched almost thirty donors with potential recipients. The data comes in a year at a time but I think we'll start finding out in the next few years that we've been able to save lives with these shows which is a crazy thought, that you can go to a rock concert and end up saving somebody's life.
MR: And you're still healthy, right?
AM: Yeah, I'm ten years in, healthy as you can be and I feel great. I think we're playing these days with more vigor and excitement and a newly impassioned way. I feel strangely at the top of my game right now.
MR: There's a little bit of a fear about the pain level for people who could be potential bone marrow donors. What gets people over that?
AM: It's a much different process now. Bone marrow transplant patients and stem cell transplant patients are sort of becoming an interchangeable concept. You have to dig deeper on the science of that, but my sister was a stem cell donor and she did a handful of Neupogen shots leading up to it and there was certainly some lethargy and things like that but really what it was was an IV in one arm that pulled blood and stem cells out and then sent it back through the other arm. Relatively speaking, there's a little bit of discomfort, but there was no pain involved. If you talk to anybody who has been a part of this process I would be very surprised if you found a single person who said that somehow the minimal amount of discomfort involved affected them. It's not like donating a kidney or something, it's a pretty minimally invasive procedure as long as they're not doing the traditional old school bone marrow route, which it's my understanding is way less typical now, but even in those cases I've never talked to a donor who has said on any level that they regretted it or that the discomfort was remotely a part of the focus for the process. It's just an amazing thing that you share with a person.
MR: And it's so important to get people information like that.
AM: I think it needs to be demystified because I think it's a much less invasive process for most people involved than it probably once was and that people fear.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
AM: Well, I think the best advice is just to do the work and not be afraid of it. A lot of people want things fast and there are instances of people getting things fast, but if I've learned anything, playing the long game and being a perfectionist and caring about the craft and making friends along the way, if you've got to sell tickets for the local club, you have to be willing to do anything and everything for your art. It can be a thankless job if you don't do it for the right reasons. I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking this is a very glamorous thing that we do, but it's not. Like anything, the upper one percent of people who do this for a living, maybe they tap into some glamorous side of it. It is serious hard work, and it's a lot of fun if you love it, but you've got to love it.
MR: What advice would you give yourself when you were first starting out?
AM: I think I should've had a little more fun with it. I was having a good time, but I think there were moments that I missed by getting a little hung up and that didn't play out well with some of my personal relationships that luckily had no major damage done anywhere, but I think there were times with my former band mates where I could've been a little less of a taskmaster and just sat back and said, "This is going to work itself out, don't freak out." I'm prone to the occasional freak out.
MR: Like every creative artist.
AM: Yeah, I suppose so. [laughs]
MR: What happens after you release your best album, which I think this one is? What do you do next?
AM: [laughs] Make the next, best one! I have a lot of fun getting in a room with new collaborators and new producers. I think the one thing I really focused on with this album was I didn't stop the process. I've had a fluid writing regimen when I get home that if I have enough time I go to the studio and work on new material, the idea being that eventually a couple of things would come together. There's always this snowball process, so my hope is that things wind down come January and I'll be back in the studio for a more dedicated period of time working on and hopefully finishing a new record here.
MR: I know everybody always says picking a favorite song is like picking a favorite child, but come on. What's your favorite song on the album?
AM: I hate the child analogy because I think it's way different, but I have a similar answer because they're like journal entries for me. I listened to the record recently and it's not because it's a fan favorite or anything but there's just something about "Driving Through A Dream" for me that I just love. I love the way it sounds and I love the production. It's probably my favorite on the record.
MR: By the way, what's the story behind the song?
AM: It started out as a psychedelic thing, we were floating up these strange lyrics and eventually I brought it back down to Earth. Part of it came from this thing where I was spending some time away from home doing some work and my wife made this comment about how she sleeps better when I'm there and I'm awake and I thought there was something kind of beautiful about that. Usually if I'm awake it means that I'm up worrying about something, so it sort of played into this idea of when you get up in the middle of the night and you have this laundry list of things you're worried about and immediately for me all I want to do is get in the car and just get out of town. Like most of my songs it was this escape thing, like go drive to the desert, try and put it all on the other side of the car door, top down, wind in the hair, just there. That was the visual for me going into that song.
MR: Maybe the partner to that song is "I Heard Your Voice In A Dream."
AM: Oh yeah, that was a fun one! That one came quick. I was basically just reading the script for that scene and trying to find a cool way to do that in what are a severe set of limitations that get imposed when you doing something that's so specifically for a certain project, but I love the way that one turned out.
MR: And so did a lot of other people, since it was nominated for an Emmy.
AM: [laughs] That's what I hear.
MR: Most people want to get nominated for the Grammy, but you went for the Emmy.
AM: I thought it was poetic justice for me. Take a year off, the only thing I basically do is write three songs for a TV show and that's magically the big callout that I got. I actually thought it was totally appropriate in the sense of doing a career for fifteen years and then somehow getting nominated on a TV show.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
BRENT & CO.'S EP EXCLUSIVE
According to Brent Peterson...
"With our latest EP, we set out with the ambition to capture our live sound - proudly developed over hundreds of shows and thousands of miles in a station wagon. That's no easy feat once you remove the audience and surround yourself with microphones. Thankfully, the recording speaks for itself and we dedicate it to our listeners who through their physical presence and random acts of kindness have made the journey possible. Independent music is alive and well today thanks to them!"
A Conversation with Matt Nathanson
Mike Ragogna: Matt, Show Me Your Fangs is such an appropriate title for your new album since it's like saying, "Show me your worst and I'll be there." Considering your relationship with all the characters, loyalty seems to be a major theme for the album.
Matt Nathanson: It's funny that you say that. In all the times that I've talked about this record I've never use the word loyalty, but it's a huge part of who I am, to a fault. I've been loyal to the wrong people, I have loyalty so I overlook big issues. I don't mean that I'm such a selfless human, it works in such a more dynamic way than that. My loyalty has screwed me up more times than not, or wanting loyalty from people that I shouldn't ask loyalty from. It's like a fundamental glitch in the matrix. It was put into me as a kid, this idea of, "You have loyalty no matter what. Loyalty to your family, loyalty to your friends and they have loyalty to you." It's funny, I've never even thought of that word in terms of any of my songs whatsoever, but they're in there, and it's causing a lot of heartache. When you ask of someone something that they can't give, everyone can only give what they can give. I find that asking loyalty of people that you shouldn't ask loyalty of, when if you didn't ask them that but you just wanted to take them at their best, not necessarily what you think their best should be, life would be way easier. Just don't ask of people what they can't give. "Show Me Your Fangs," the song, started out as the perspective of me. I was the person in the song, and then I flipped it. Anyway, I just think that's f**king fascinating that you said that, because loyalty is super important to me. Sometimes proudly and detrimentally so, and sometimes right on, and I'm loyal to the people I love until the end of days.
MR: And it's most obvious in "Shouting." None of those characters are particularly appealing, they're all flawed humans. Who knows if any of them screwed you over but all of them have giant ironies.
MN: That's exactly what it is. Everyone is broken, everybody's f**ked up and I'm saying to all my friends that I still love those people. When I put that song out people were like, "Man, you need some new friends," and it's like, what are you, kidding? This is the way the world works, man. That's everybody I've ever interacted with. To look for perfection in human beings is really the beginning of the end, and that's what I'm learning through these songs. I want the songs to represent more of the nooks and crannies of human beings, and that's the idea of Show Me Your Fangs. Once Come On Get Higher was a success it was a joy to have people on a mass level like me that all of a sudden it became this thing of, "Oh, that's what they want." You begin to present yourself in a very specific way even subconsciously. Since I realized all the records that have shaped my life and the reason music is the most important thing to me is because the records that do it are as honest as they can be. When you listen to Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side" the nooks and crannies are there. When you listen to "One" by U2, the nooks and crannies are there. "Royals" by Lorde is another one; it's incredibly dynamic. I really want very badly for my songs to reflect that kind of spectrum of who I am rather than just a very narrow band.
MR: And to your point earlier, "honesty" often comes up. For instance, "Washington State Fight Song" starts with the F-bomb and it's apparent that was exactly the right word for what you needed to verbalize in that moment.
MN: Yeah, it was funny, I co-wrote that with a friend of mine in Nashville and I brought the title and the first line and when I told him, "I want to write a song called 'Washington State Fight Song,' I've had this idea for a while and I want it to start with this line," he goes, "Oh man, we can't do that." I was like, "Of course we can. That's exactly why we can. I want the song to portray this thing and I want it to start with this line because I feel like that drops you into the actual story and it doesn't sugarcoat it." That's a really neat song. That was one of those ones where I wrote that line and I said, "Whoa, that makes me uncomfortable," and then I circled it and said, "That means that I should keep going."
MR: So the concepts of loyalty and brutal honesty seem most obvious in "Bill Murray." I think he's a great metaphor since what we know about him embodies most of the topics on your album. Plus I can see you actually could be pals with the real Bill Murray, exactly as you portrayed the relationship in the song. Nice, with that track, you get a two-fer.
MN: Yeah, that's great. You're always so fun to talk to. I feel like Bill Murray is the North star--I've never met him, but everything he presents says that he's the kind of guy who only does things he's passionate about, lives an un-self conscious life, he doesn't care what the world thinks of him. He seems to be driven by all the right things, like passion and inspiration and un-self conscious presentation. I thought, of all the people in the world that I would like to spend a hundred days with, like traveling the world, there's not many, but Bill f**king Murray, that guy's got to have so much knowledge and such an understanding of at least himself that I was like, "How incredible would that me?"
MR: There are also very few role models and ultimately, he's a pretty good one for being a decent human.
MN: Yeah! Everybody's so into celebrity, and celebrity to me--I don't want to f**king know The Kardashians. I think Kanye West is one of the geniuses of our time, but I don't want to be friends with Kanye West. I just want his art to rain down on me. Bill Murray seems like the kind of person it would be real fun to have coffee with, sitting with that guy.
MR: Speaking of fun, there's "Gold In The Summertime." Whatcha got for this one?
MN: The kid that used to be the bass player in Cobra Starship came up with the track and I heard it and I was like, "This is unbelievable." I was walking around Brooklyn around the time of the rock 'n' roll hall of fame--every year I go to the rock 'n' roll hall of fame and I go to all the rehearsals and I just kind of nerd out because I'm such a music freak. I was walking the streets of Brooklyn listening to this track I was co-writing with this kid and it was just the most incredible feeling. I am a huge Sly Stone fan, so it was one of those things where I was like, "I've got to get into this." I really changed some things around. It was just banging. I could've listened to that track on repeat forever, and then walking the streets of New York with the sun hitting me and then the lyrics came and the idea of "Gold In The Summertime," New York City--fire hydrants wide open. It was just one of those things that was built into the DNA of the bass sound. Then I was like, "We've got to put killing horns on it, that would be so rad," and we just build this track that just felt like a Sly song, it was great.
MR: It definitely has a sixties/seventies New York City in the summertime vibe.
MN: And it was fun to kind of have a song that was unapologetically positive, which I don't usually have. I usually have a little turn to the dark, I don't usually have just joy on its own because it's hard to describe joy, but I felt like the track did and I had to do justice to that.
MR: And is all wraps up with "Headphones," a track you released earlier on, that's kind of a recap on everything that happened previously on the album.
MN: Yeah, that's cool that you noticed that, too. That's exactly why I put it there. I say this all the time, but I like music more than I like people. Music saves my life every time I go to it. Every time you go to the well of, "I feel sad, I feel broken, I feel joyful, I feel inspired," music to soundtrack your life is such a gift. Everything I do is infused with that. I am grateful for music, I'm grateful that I can hear, I'm grateful that people exist that make it and it infuses itself into every song I ever write, so it's neat that you felt that.
MR: You filmed the music video in Peru in association with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, right?
MN: Right, that was heavy. So we had made music videos in the past where I got to fake make out with a model and roll around in the bed, which is awesome, that's every kid's dream on a certain level, but I was tired of making videos that didn't mean anything. Then we came across videos of the mission that Starkey does. Starkey is this incredible hearing aid company, and the founder spends all this time traveling the world to these different places that can't afford it and he fits people for free hearing aids. So we thought, "Wouldn't it be a great idea if we spent the video budget on that?" We gave all the money to the foundation towards hearing aids and then at the same time we spent money to fly wherever it was and we shot the experience. We did it in Moncayo, Peru, we spent two days straight fitting people for hearing aids. I don't think I really knew the extent of how disconnected you get when you can't hear. It sounds obvious when you say it, but I don't think I understood it until I saw these people sort of light up. I was the person that would turn the volume up and test it, so I was there at the moment that they heard, maybe for the first time in their lives, maybe for the first time in a long time. To watch them connect to their families and be in that close proximity with people re-entering a certain part of their life that they'd been shut off from, it was so f**king huge, it was so heavy, humanity at its finest, it gave me such a love and respect for people. It brought out more in the song "Headphones" than was there to begin with. It was just one of those things. I take for granted that I can hear and then all of a sudden you realize how incredibly fortunate we are.
MR: One last observation is that the album visits a lot of places through its topics. It's mainly about relationships because that's what you like to dig into, but you also use geographical spots to flesh out the ideas in your songs. We talked about "Summertime" and its connection to New York, but you also have "Adrenaline," which is like a warm L.A. night drive. You've got "Bill Murray" where you're all over the place on your travelogue; and you've got Portland in "Washington State Fight Song." Do you think this approach comes from this being a point in your life where you're "visiting" everywhere to open up to things you never have before?
MN: Yeah, again, you're so insightful. It must come down to because I travel so much it infuses itself into the songs subconsciously. There's Portland in the rain, or that "Washington State Fight Song" feels like Raymond Carver short story--all those short stories take place in the Pacific northwest--there's such a tangible pull to places. To go even further into what you said, when I wrote my earlier records I had such a limited scope of how the world worked. The world was either like, "I love you and I need you and you are my everything," or "Why'd you let me go? Don't you see that I want you and I need you and you're everything?" That was how a lot of the older records went and that was a genuine reflection of how I saw the world. Then as I get older and I get more experience--you know how those horses in Central Park have the blinders on them so they can only see in front of them--it's like the blinders start to be removed and I see the full gamut of how human beings around me work and how I work. It doesn't just boil down to, "I love you, love me," it boils down to all the nooks and crannies of the human experience. Music is so important to me I feel like I am in servitude of the arts. If I have the gift of being able to write songs, I have to do it. There's such a lineage of incredible writers that the best I can do is the best I can do. I have to be as honest as I can be in order to show up at the party. I don't deserve to show up at the party if I'm pulling my punches.
MR: So it went from the microcosm to the macrocosm. What does this do to your world view? Does it make you want to contribute and endorse things more?
MN: Oh, yeah. A thousand percent. I think having a kid and therapy sort of pulls your head out of your ass and you realize as humans you have a job. If you are fortunate enough--and I am fortunate enough--to be able to have the bandwidth to take it on, I don't have to have two jobs, I'm not struggling to put a roof over my head, I'm not struggling to get insurance, all of the challenges that make it difficult to do anything but survive, I've been very fortunate to have the resources in my life to not have those challenges. Then my job as that person is how do I stop only thinking of myself at that point. Being fortunate made me also kind of a narcissist, so the idea comes as I get older and start to realize I am incredibly privileged to have the bandwidth to take on more and it would be a disservice to my humanity if I just dealt with only myself and my ego. So yeah, I feel like it's critical that people in my position do more than just promote themselves and live with their heads up their asses. I sort of feel like getting involved on a community level, getting involved on a political level, whatever it is in your own personal way, giving back--I realize that I spent almost all my life thinking that the individual was the most important thing, that I was the center, and what I'm realizing as I get older is that there's nothing better than human beings holding each other up.
MR: Beautiful. Matt, what advice do you have for new artists?
MN: You've just got to be as honest as you can be. That's the only currency that matters. Your own honest, weird parts. We live in such an entertainment-heavy time right now, there's a lot of people wanting to lose themselves in songs, which I'm totally down with, I love losing myself in songs, but it's really important that we find the balance and it's got to come from people being honest. That honesty is where you get the weight, where people find the parts of themselves that they're afraid to mention, parts of themselves that they're afraid to even recognize. If you can be as honest as you can be as an artist you hope that people can connect to that and find in you something that they see in themselves that maybe they haven't been able to articulate. I would say to anybody, the key to it is to be as honest as you can be in your writing. It's hard because you're giving it to people and you can feel them not receive it, you can feel them say, "Ooh, I don't know if I like that." Especially in a time of social media when people can go, "I hate that song 'Washington State Fight Song'" or whatever, you've got to be confident enough to go, "Man, you can hate it all you want, that's great. You don't have to like me, but I have to do me. I have to be me in this world."
MR: Speaking of honesty, you reverse-engineered the idea of taking this album on the road by doing it acoustically.
MN: Yeah, that's been fun. It's been super fun to present these songs in a very naked way. I think the album is really cool and I love the groove, I can't wait to play them with the band, but to me the acoustic arrangement is such a potent way to get the message of the song across that it's a really neat way to introduce the songs to people. It feels like sitting around the campfire and being like, "Oh, I wrote this song." A song like "Giants" on the record, which is one of my favorite songs, being able to provide those lyrics to people makes it really come across. I can tell that the message is getting there when I play it acoustic, and that's huge.
MR: By the way, your anthem "Giants" is probably my favorite song on the album other than "Bill Murray."
MN: That's awesome, those are my two favorites. I feel like saying, "I want to roll around the darkness 'til the darkness goes away, 'til the television finally tells the truth, everybody's scared of things that they don't understand and all the living they don't do," I'm not patting myself on the back, but that lyric for me was like, "Yeah, man, I've wanted to say s**t like this for a long time." How do you do it? You've got to keep moving towards this idea of saying, "Society does stuff that I don't necessarily dig, but we are great. We can do this. We've got this. We're a unit. We can make this happen." I feel like those are important messages now more than ever and it's nice to feel confident enough to state them for me.
MR: You know, we watch political debates with all the see-through pandering, nonsense, and posturing these people do to get a vote. You see the media endorsing aspects of what's being proposed more for entertainment than information value, and that all ties into what's going on in "Giants."
MN: I agree. It's funny, it's never been more transparent to me that politicians are f**king full of s**t, and it's crazy because I fell for it for so long and I don't know why now more than ever it looks like a clown car circus. Everybody's saying everything they can to curry favor. It's such a strange place. Music is in a similar place. You can feel people pulling their punches to get adoration. I feel more manipulated now than I ever have. I can feel the manipulation now as opposed to before when I was manipulated and it was glorious and I didn't care. Now there's a feeling that I don't fall for it anymore. There's got to be a strange transition that happens where you don't fall for it anymore and then you move back to a place of hope. Actual, genuine hope. You know what I mean?
MR: Sure, and you kind of end up an outcast because you're not falling for the pablum. The problem now is it's no longer pablum, it's poison.
MN: Right. We are in a very strange time. I'm reading a book on the sixties moving into the seventies, a book about the music at the time and the politics and it all repeats itself. It evolves, which is fantastic, but it all repeats itself. It's like Greenpeace was started in the sixties because they were doing nuclear tests, and now we have emissions and we're moving closer and closer and then something like the Volkswagen thing happens. We take three steps forward, one and a half steps back, and then we move forward again and then back again. The way this book portrays Nixon winning is because he tied the democrats into black voting rights in the South. He pulled a maneuver. I'm pretty ignorant to it all, but it's clear that there's always going to be the same thing. It's always going to be people that want women's rights and people that don't want women's rights, there's always an undercurrent of racism. Now more than ever the good can come to the surface and scream, whereas before it couldn't. Unfortunately while justice can be heard, injustice is real loud as well. It's a strange time. I'm not discouraged by it, but it's definitely wild to be a part of it.
MR: So what does your political future hold?
MN: Oh my God, nothing! Can you imagine? The best we can do is if we have kids, we've got to raise our kids to f**king have love in their bones, man. That's just what it's about. It's got to happen in the classroom and it's got to happen as parents. We've got to change the world through teaching our kids equality and love and empathy. That's just it, man, that's what we've got, and then they'll teach their kids and the world will move in the right direction.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
THE TINS "SUMMER JAZZ" EXCLUSIVE
According to The Tins' gang...
Hailing from Buffalo, New York, the trio has received praise from Magnet, NME, Paste, and many more. Having navigated the studio across several discs with the likes of Joe Laney (Modest Mouse), their latest EP Love on Strike channels sounds that range from The Kinks to Badfinger, Animal Collective to Peter, Bjorn and John.
THE ELECTRIC SONS' "TELL ME WHAT TO SAY" EXCLUSIVE
According to The Electric Sons' Andrew Miller...
"I think you only really understand the album or EP you're writing after you've finished writing it. Now looking back on everything, I think Golden Age is a break up EP. And it's not like we set out to write a bunch of love songs and break up songs, but that was just what was happening at the time. You've got to write about what's honestly going on in your life. I was coming out of a hugely complicated relationship, the band had been going through a ton of changes and we were just starting to get our feet underneath us and write some really cool music again. 'Tell Me What to Say' is sort of a song born of frustration. There was this girl I had started seeing during the writing and it seemed like it could be a really good thing until we hit this block- everything just stalled. I didn't know what to say to fix it, so I wrote the song as a sort of plea for help. I think it ended up being this really earnest expression of that 'just let me know what I need to do and I'll do it' sort of feeling."
MYSTIC BRAVES' "SPANISH RAIN" EXCLUSIVE
According to Mystic Braves' Tony Malacara...
"A few months back while on tour while driving threw winding roads touring the U.S. Somewhere in Philadelphia we came across a cemetery. I see lots of cemeteries while being on the road. But for some reason this one in particular stood out. It had a 1800s vibe and there weren't many tombstones. As I glanced at it, I noticed a white looking figure. I thought was a Spanish women . Wasn't till later I realized that it could have been a spirit of some kind. It was raining that day and the trees were so green and the wind was strong. I never really said anything or really brought it up to anyone. But I knew instantly I had to write about this moment for personal reasons. Around the same time and still up until this day, I really don't know what I saw. Lack of sleep might have been the case. Who knows. In the song I say garden but what I really mean is cemetery. 'Spanish Rain' is one song I can say I'm truly proud of. So ghost or not, I'm just happy a song came out of the experience."
JACKY WINTER'S "CEMENT TO THE VASE" EXCLUSIVE
According to Jacky Winter...
"An intercontinental booty call, my girl's getting on a plane from LA to Melbourne to be with me. Trying to mend a broken love that can't be repaired no matter how much glue we drown it in. 'The Letter' for 2016."