We’ve been fans of Matt Pond since our friend and PA-native, Jon Roth, pulled up in his car blasting Pond’s late nineties debut, Deer Apartments. Now, with a brand new backing band, seven full-lengths and about as many EPs under his belt, and 2010’s SXSW festival clearly in the rear view mirror, Pond and Co. are preparing to release an eighth album of new material and tour extensively. We recently e-sat-down with Matt to talk about the new music, the new band, comic books, and getting way deep.
Kindness of Ravens: Alright, sir. First off, thanks very much for talking with us. We know you’re out and about starting to play a lot of shows right now, so we appreciate your time.
So, you’ve got a new full-length coming out April 13, The Dark Leaves, and, if the word on the street can still be trusted, you’ve got an all new band backing you up. Does your new live band play a lot on it or is it mostly you?
Matt Pond: The album was performed as a band and then stripped of everything but it’s core. Chris (Hansen—guitar, keys) and I slowly rebuilt the songs over the last few years in a shadowy cabin outside Bearsville, NY.
KoR: Sounds spooky. So, how does The Dark Leaves compare to your other work?
MP: The Dark Leaves is the older brother of Emblems. They hang out in the back of my mind, punching each other in the arm.
KoR: Is there any beat boxing?
MP: Not quite beat boxing. But there is snapping, clapping, oohing and aahing. That should count for something.
KoR: Indeed it does. We hear ooh aahs are the new beat boxing. Actually, we noticed, with heavy hearts, the absence of the cello on you most recent album, Last Light. Will it be making a return on the new album or in your shows?
MP: There were cellos on Last Light. They just didn’t poke out the way they have in the past. I never intended for the cello to be a gimmick. It was supposed to be a voice — just like any other voice. After Jim and Eve left (cellists on previous albums), there wasn’t anyone that could pull off parts the way they did.
Eve Miller, Christian Frederickson, and Caleigh Drane all lent their strings to The Dark Leaves. We went a little lusher than usual, a little more in the direction of Ennio Morricone… just the direction. I would never assume to be near that ring of heaven.
KoR: Oh, I haven’t heard of him. We’ll have to check him out. We heard something about a series of vinyl 7”s/EPs that would be coming out leading up to the album release. We’re assuming the Starting release is the first of those, so do you have two more coming up soon?
MP: There are two more. Hopefully hitting soon. They clip together into a box with wholesome peepholes. They’re designed by Julie Ruiz—a truly beautiful woman in all respects.
We looked Julie up after being so impressed with the design of Last Light. She really does create some beautiful work. Looking back at your past work, many of your songs and even entire albums seem to be pull imagery from the seasons. We’re thinking of the fall themes of The Nature of Maps and Emblems and the undeniable winteriness of the Winter Songs EP. Now you’ve got The Dark Leaves. Are these themes intentional or planned or has the seasonal/natural world just always inspired your writing, or given you strong parallels to emotions and relationships and the like?
MP: I’m not exactly sure what kind of person I am. It’s not like a battery I can pull out and check for corrosion. I’m closer to a solenoid anyway.
I spent most of my younger years alone in the woods. No matter where I am now, I can’t shake that feeling.
KoR: “Alone in the woods” seems like a good description of the feeling we get from much of your music.
Going back a bit—well, a lot—your superb song, “New Hampshire”, was featured pretty prominently in an old-school episode of The OC, back in its heyday when Seth was fighting the good fight to make comic-loving indie nerds cool, jokes about Friendster were still relevant, and Sandy’s eyebrows were bushy and full of vigor. We recently talked to a friend of ours who saw you just before that show aired—at Iota in DC with a crowd of 20- to 30-somethings—and then shortly after the show aired he saw you while being bounced around a crowd of teens and pre-teens. Was that a bizarre experience for you, especially so early on, before every other indie singer/songwriter could be heard in the background of Grey’s Anatomy?
MP: I could see some shifting. But then again, I’m not too concerned with age or pants or hair when I’m playing a show. If people like our band and they’re not evil, then I could probably care less about demographics.
A side-note: The new trend in individuality is served as a bored same-ness. Disaffection is the new affectation. So that if you want to fit in — you must merely act a little surprised, and then subtly stoked. You can practice these always-suitable lines with a friend — “Wha…? Oh yeah, I’m so into whatever that is.”
KoR: We practice that with our cat. He wears a beret and acts SO in the know. Now, as most people might already know, your original band formed in Philly, back in, what, ’98?
MP: Something like that. I prefer to keep my personal history open-ended. No dates to make things dated.
KoR: Fair enough. So, that explains the ‘PA’ in the band name. And then you moved up here to Brooklyn and I think may have then moved over to ye ol’ Manhattan after that (we’re remembering a Prospect Park show you played where you announced to Brooklyn that you were leaving it forever). Now, we realize you must have gotten this question before, but has it become somewhat annoying to have PA right there in your name? Or maybe it helps you remember your roots, keep it real, as they say. Do you get a lot of, ‘Hey, it’s Matt Pond NY’ jokes?
MP: I’m paying homage to the state where I began. Philadelphia is a damn fine city with some damn fine people. It was a relationship that had to end. But it doesn’t mean I ever fell out of love.
KoR: Like with me and vegan chili cheese fry subs. We had heard a rumor of a semi-secret New York show that seemed to get canceled due to 100 blizzards in the city this winter. Any plans to hit us up post-SXSW?
MP: Secret shows aren’t my thing. They provoke an air of exclusivity — and I am on a warpath to bring down exclusivity. At least in my own circle. If we were going to do something spontaneous, I’d prefer someone’s living room… and I’d probably prefer not to play. Maybe a little High-Life, maybe some Daft Punk. All I’m really looking for is a little hot night-life.
KoR: In that case, I sincerely offer up our living room. Speaking of SXSW, we also heard you and Chris did the music for a film that’s premiered down there, Lebanon, PA. Can you talk about that a little?
MP: Scoring kicks ass. If you’ll pardon my post-hippie-ism, it allows me and Chris to write freely. We accent and underline, we don’t poke and jab.
…I don’t understand what I just wrote. For me, all music is scoring. With my own songs, it’s just thicker and consumes in both good and bad manners. It’s a matter of learning to enjoy my personal poisons.
KoR: Mmmm, personal poisons. So, being in the design/branding field, we’re always keen on over-examining people’s logos or names or general look. We’re fans of the logotype for The Dark Leaves and the new site. It seems like, on the site, at least, the album name is featured a lot more prominently than the band name at times. It’s all like, THE DARK LEAVES by matt pond pa. Is that a conscious effort to rebrand the music or its presentation?
MP: The Dark Leaves is a circular story. A few times over the years, I’ve considered dropping my name in favor of a better, ‘less me’ moniker… I want people to understand—though I write the songs, every incarnation has been a band. Our previous band conglomeration had the feeling of band-li-ness that I wanted to honor with it’s own title: The Dark Leaves.
Unfortunately—or fortunately—everything comes to an end. More truths: People aren’t always who they pretend to be. And I’m not always the best judge of character. When I realized that our band had died, it all fed into the songs and the idea of the album.
Life is a series of deaths and re-births. Every hit and blow (and internet condemnation), only makes the heart work harder. At least that’s how I see the world—survival is mostly mental.
Stay mental, pony boy.
KoR: Damn. Deepness bomb, dropped. So, shifting to the totally superficial—you’re obviously a young, handsome, talented man, but, let’s be honest, you have been doing this for a while. Do you ever get totally sick of it and want to sell the amp and start, I don’t know, a diner in rural PA? Or a go over to day trading or something?
MP: Too kind, but I’ll take it. Absolutely. I’m cynically tinged and tend to get swallowed by the darkness around me. Buildings make me claustrophobic, subways seasick, crowds are my cancer. I would kill for a farm and some goats. A couple snowmobiles, an obsolete oversized satellite dish.
KoR: Seriously though, have you ever been on any other sort of ‘career path’ or was it a straight middle school glee club to high school marching band to Philly-based indie band tract?
MP: It’s often been mentioned that I have the worst ‘voice’ in our family, so I never imagined I’d be doing this.
My life is a steady line of constant mistakes. Most of these mistakes have led me to here. Playing shows and putting out albums could not have been further from my mind when I used to worry about what I was going to do with my life. And now it’s everything. I’m typing in bed, still in Austin, seriously pleased that our SXSW situation wasn’t a nightmare.
KoR: I hear it was good stuff, actually. Wish we could have been there. Now, feel free not to answer this, but we’ve noticed you fall back on what seems to be the verbal tic of announcing ‘Hold please,’ to audiences when you have to tune or there’s a more significant pause between songs live. Is that a reference to anything or just something that developed? Or maybe we’re making it up…
MP: I’ve have heard myself saying such a phrase. It grew from the constant tuning breaks of our earlier years— two cellos, a violin, and an acoustic guitar can have some serious intonation friction in a rock and roll setting.
Now it’s stuck in my vernacular—with the ‘please’ and the ‘thank you’.
KoR: Thinking back over the years, what comes to mind, if anything, as the most entertaining, fun, or crazy-story-inducing show you’ve ever played?
MP: There are people with penchants for disrobing after killer shows, there are broken back-seat dance parties, there are close shaves with esteemed members of many metropolitan police forces, even an illicit liaison or two. Yet the specific craziness that comes to mind must be kept secret.
We become family on these tours. Closer than close. So that the flaws and the cracks become exaggerated and obvious. Everyone’s guilty of something that they wouldn’t do in more civilized situations.
I believe in loyalty above telling a good story. Therefore, the answer is going to have to stay stuck in my mind.
KoR: Ah, if only our friends had such admirably tight lips in similar situations. Okay then sir, we’re about to enter our lightning round. Favorite venue to play in the city?
MP: The Bowery’s always been a sweet place for us. Both crew and venue.
KoR: Favorite New York band that isn’t you right now?
MP: Sharon Van Etten isn’t a band. But she’s the best thing to come out the NYC for some time.
KoR: Marvel or DC?
KoR: Well-answered. Best band with whom to tour (grammar, recognize)?
MP: The Clientele. Best music, best people. Ever and period.
KoR: Just heard them on WNYC (you can listen to the taping here). Nice. Most likely Dungeons and Dragons race/class combo?
MP: My friends would never let me join their role-playing games. I prefer my own fantasies.
KoR: It’s never too late, my friend. Best show heckle?
MP: How about worst? “E.A.G.L.E.S.” Spelled and shouted at a show in Philly. I have no idea what it means. But you have to respect a neanderthal’s effort to communicate.
KoR: At least he spelled it correctly. Best recent movie?
KoR: Best chord?
MP: I don’t know what chords I’m playing—I make most of them up with…my own over-wrought tunings and clumsy clawings. So let’s pretend I’ve chosen the best and most thoughtful answer.
KoR: E minor it is. Favorite childhood cartoon?
MP: Daredevil. Even the Affleck-wreck can’t shake my faith in Matt Murdock.
KoR: Nice. I loved the Born Again graphic novel. Fender or Gibson?
MP: Fender amps and Gibson guitars… and some Fender guitars. And a Kalamazoo or two.
KoR: And, most importantly, in closing, can we request some beat boxing for your next New York show?
MP: I’m going to say maybe. Because anything can happen. I’m shocked and awed every time I get on stage and there’s people there to see us. Therefore, beat-boxing? It couldn’t be any more unexpected than the rest of this life.
Matt Pond is playing shows with his new band all across the country in the next few months and is releasing, The Dark Leaves, his eighth full-length, April 13th. In the meantime, you can order the first of the three 7”, Starting, here and listen to the single as this week’s Song of the Week (look over there, up and right).
Matt Pond photo by Cynthia Dobe.