Alright, we’re dating both ourselves and our guest here, but we’ve been fans of Matt Pond for a long time; since at least 2002 or so. These pages have pretty accurately reflected that, with an interview from way back in 2010 and various other related posts throughout his prolific and ever-evolving career. Late last fall, Matt Pond PA (his band name/stage name) released Winter Lives, what, by my count, is the band/Matt’s 11th studio full-length (not counting a tall stack of EPs + singles).
With Pond + co. currently winding down their west coast tour—with a living room show in Burbank tonight, a show at the Arts District’s Resident Friday, and closing things out with a sold-out show in San Diego—we thought we’d again catch up with Matt (above, left) to talk over what’s changed both on a personal level and a larger industry level in the past few years, what went into the new record, and, for good measure, whiskey. Give the album a listen below and read on.
raven + crow: Okay, I want this to mainly be about the excellent new record, but I have to start with this—What happened over the past year or so? We saw you earlier in 2015 at the Troubadour when you were touring for the 10 year anniversary of Several Arrows Later, then again at the Echo, and on that latter one you seemed really…down; talking about maybe never touring again, quitting music and opening a whiskey distillery…we were kind of worried about you, man. Was that all label/industry stuff? What was going on?
Matt Pond: Thanks for the kind words about the new album. I’m proud of that little, humble beast.
Doubts. I think there are always doubts. I think I’ve always thought it a little ridiculous, driving around the country, singing and scratching away at the guitar.
Still, I love it more than anything. And the doubt forces me to work more, to be self-critical in a way that helps me get closer to some kind of truth. (Right?)
As far as the music industry, it can no longer hurt me because I’m almost completely independent.
Yeah, we were honestly happy to hear that that’s what came at the end of everything, the independence. It suits you and the music. So were the anniversary tours something you all wanted to do or were those pushed on you by the label?
Those were my idea. Many people know us through singular albums. Since we have scores of albums, I wanted to give those people what they wanted, and Emblems and Several Arrows Later seemed to resonate with a lot of them. It was thrill to see that happening in real time.
They were a lot of fun. You also put out one record a few years back under your own name, no PA; what brought that on?
I’d moved to Florida with a broken leg. I thought I needed to present myself in a decidedly different way. Because now I was (am) partially made of titanium. That, and our label encouraged it. (Honestly, I didn’t think anyone would notice. Almost like a new set of trousers. Who cares what I’m wearing when I’m alone in the dark corner of a gritty bar?)
I mean, I pride myself on noticing such things as snappy new trousers, but I get the point. Do you think labels are being pushed themselves to have to essentially be super-shitty to their artists, just with the financial end of things being so much tighter and more difficult to traverse for all involved? Do you think that translates to so much more grabbing for the little money that is left on the table?
I think the problem with the industry is that everyone is out for themselves. From the artists, to the labels, to the management and beyond. There’s a P&L attached to all time, money, and effort. “Labor of Love” is an antiquated term for sentimentalists. In some ways, you have to be out for yourself. You have to be cutthroat in terms of planning, foresight. That doesn’t mean that there’s no room for empathy or understanding. (Still, never sign anything without a lawyer’s undivided attention. That is a massive mistake I’ll never make again.)
The thing about music is that nothing is going to happen unless the musician makes it happen. To contradict my previous point about cutthroatedness, if musicians were to take some kind of initiative, things might change. That would require Radiohead, Wilco, etc., to take some kind of egalitarian, focused stance.
I used to be much more competitive about the whole thing. But now I don’t care. I want people to succeed. Because the more people there are succeeding, the better it is for everyone. It’s hard to convince people that shared interests and goals makes sense. Maybe someday. Hopefully.
Yeah, I feel like with most any profession these days, globalization and the single-market effect wrought by the internet mean that most all of us have to chose to either be poor but in control or (if you can swing it) rich but gigantic and, yeah, totally cutthroat. So how, as an independent artist, do you make ends meet? …I’m looking for advice/inspiration here as much as anything else….
I’ve found ways. We used to get a lot of syncs, we stream albums and get the lion’s share (kitten’s share) of royalties. Being independent allows me to make all the money that’s there to be made. I’ve accepted having less in a more-is-everything society.
It’s kind of refreshing. I love what I do. I’m not killing time to make it til the next hilltop. I’m there. (With ripped jeans and failing engine. But it still feels good.)
Well, the jeans are still in, but sorry to hear about the engine. I know a guy, if you want.
We’re both roughly the same age, so we remember how the music scene used to be pre-internet/pre-now. And it’s hard not to think back to the 90s and be nostalgic for those times; easier maybe to just throw up your hands and say everything sucks now. But do you think the current landscape might make it easier too to get your music out there? I know it’s a lot of work, but it does seem like it’s easier to be totally independent but still have an audience, even thought that audience also has a lot more choice in what they consume.
People definitely don’t purchase music the way they used to. They don’t listen the way they used to. In a lot of ways, the internet gives us access to things we always needed a record label for—manufacturing, distribution, connection to our audience. But the channels are flooded right now. So all I can do is try my hardest and hope for the best.
I’ve never wanted to change or adjust for the sake of commercial viability. I want to do this and feel like I’ve made something that matters, that means something. Even if that means having a little less. (I would like some new trousers. I hope that doesn’t sound greedy.)
We’ll totally bring some to the show.
So with the new album, you put that out totally on your own—131, that’s you right?
Yes. The label is me. With a ton of help from some great friends. In this department, I am one lucky dude.
Sidenote: Where was the photo taken for the 131 site? You seem to be trapped in some beautiful pit.
That photo was from a cave in Iceland. It was nothing less than epic. The explosive visions from that country are endless. I can’t wait to go back.
Goddammit. I feel like every single person I know other than myself has gone to Iceland at this point. I need to get on that.
Are ya’ll putting out anyone else’s music or is it mostly just for MPPA?
As far as production? Chris (above, right) and I recorded a local gentleman named JK Vanderbilt. And our friend Caroline. Chris also mixed an album for gentleman named Mark Poro. We would definitely do more if there were more offers. We don’t have amazing gear or a great space. But we make what we have work. (That is the title of my memoir.)
I would release an album of something I love by someone else. It’s just a lot of work and I would want to put everything I have into it. Meaning, heart attack.
But We Make What We Have Work, The Matt Pond Story; I like it.
So, like I’d mentioned off-line, we really love the new album. It’s (aptly) very wintery, which we dig given our new Southern California locale and resulting nostalgia for snow. Was that sound intentional or did the Winter Lives theme just seem to tie up well thematically the kind of songs you were writing leading up to the record? …I feel like that was an unnecessarily complicated question, but I’m going to stick with it.
This is all intentional. Even some of the mistakes.
The point is to talk myself—and anyone who wishes to listen—through the winter. These times are tough on the mind. Especially “these times.” So in some ways, it makes more sense than ever. At least to me. (I think I matched your complication and raised you.)
Fold. Did you feel a need to re-present the band, post-label-strife though? I really liked The State of Gold, but this sounds like a little bit of a return to a sound that suits you well; like a musical coming home, almost.
I don’t think I would give any credit to any evil forces. I enjoy making a thread of albums. Tying everything together, but always adjusting the sound. That could be the mistake of my lifetime. Everyone seems to want rigid consistency. And I am not rigidly consistent. I’m more of a loose cannon? Or a curve ball? Or a bat out of hell? Regrettably, I gravitate toward unpredictability.
I mean, it’s not like you’re suddenly putting out house music or anything, but, again, point taken.
We always have to ask about album art—who did that for you?
Jenna Casey did the album art. She’s an incredibly talented person. Another member of the team who gives everything and is not a millionaire. I have ideas. Then she takes those ideas and makes them great. Although Winter Lives was 100% Jenna.
The next album cover is a photograph shot by an amazing old friend. I’m thrilled beyond belief.
Well, we like it. Can you talk about the tour?
We’re splitting living room shows with bigger venue shows. I’m trying to see if there’s a way of making this work on multiple levels, even simultaneously.
For me — I don’t want to fall into a comfort zone. I like every night to be a challenge. (In a good way. I don’t want the challenge to be some kind of cage match with a knife-wielding throng of haters. That never turns out well.)
I’m guessing that’s a reference to the aforementioned broken leg, but I’m going to let sleeping dogs lie.
I know you’d said a year or so back that you were interested in being on the road less and investing more in your relationships in the community; are you able to do that more these days?
I admire the the idea of community. In action, it doesn’t always seem possible. There’s a lot of fracturing and fraying these days. Socially, politically. I think staying vibrant through music and through other musicians is the best way for me to survive.
I’m also incredibly keen on quiet.
You’re in (or near) Saugerties, right? How is it there?
I’m near Saugerties. When spring finally comes, it will be perfect. Right now, the cold has worn out its welcome. When that blue hue of Catskills comes back into view, I’ll forget all about the merciless winter.
And does the new album mean that’s a hard pass on the whiskey distillery or can we still hope for Matt Pond PA whiskey some day?
The point of the whiskey was really just to make something with a group of motivated, talented people. To split profits and invigorate the community. Whiskey seemed like the perfect tonic. But other things would work—beer, brandy.
In my mind and in my life, collaboration has always yielded the best results. Unfortunately, trying to do everything at once seems nearly impossible.
Maybe in the next life.
We’ll take the music in the meantime; thank you for it and the time.