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Matt Pond: "I'm Not the Easiest Person to Get Along With"

Matt Pond
Matt Pond
Courtesy of Matt Pond PA

In 2004, singer-songwriter Matt Pond quietly released his critically acclaimed fifth album Emblems with his band, Matt Pond PA. Documenting the artist's stressful relocation to Brooklyn from Philadelphia, the album delved into the creative highs and lonely lows of a new city. It showcased a musician at an artistic peak as Pond recruited musicians who brought forth a diverse sound brimming with the kind of orchestral instrumentation that fills up a room with happiness and dread.

Ten years later, the band is revisiting the album that put them on the indie rock map. Their set at the Crescent Ballroom on May 25 will feature the 12 tracks of "Emblems" from start to finish. When speaking with Pond, he seems uncomfortable talking about the past despite being on a tour that celebrates it. His humility and blunt honesty shone through when he talked to Up on the Sun about how the Internet has changed the way he collaborates with his band, distributes his music, and thinks about the future.

Up On The Sun: Do you consider the band to be a collective of musicians?

Matt Pond: The fact is, we're a modular collective, I guess. Not everyone's schedule is open all the time to do this. Practice is the answer. Practice is everything.

So when you're creating an album, do you find someone to help with what the album is needing or is it just who is available?

It's both the same thing. It's who's available, who's excited, and who I get along with. I'm not the easiest person to get along with so they should be. When you do this stuff, I have no delusions of grandeur, but it's everything I believe in. Whether it's an album, a tour, or anything, you want people around you who believe in what you're doing. It helps that the audience believes in what we're doing. There's no one true way we have ever done anything.

There's no formula either. There's so many different ways you can do things now. Computers are great for that. They're little boxes that let us record music. You know The Postal Service? When they started it was novel to record from two separate places. Now it's the name of the game. There's a lot more freedom of time and space. We're not stuck anywhere. We can do anything.

How have things changed since "Emblems" came out? You just kind of explained it.

There wasn't much Internet stuff. It wasn't incorporated into the whole act of recording and promotion. It's kind of crazy how the music world has changed since then, every part of it. I mean, people don't buy albums. They download them. That's just the way it is. Now they buy more vinyl. At first I was resistant. I think a lot of people were. It was this invisible thing. Now it's everything.

You released Skeletons and Friends for free on the Internet with the option to donate, much like Radiohead did years ago. Are people receptive to this new method of distribution and payment?

People give some money. People are holding on to their money these days. That's why we said give whatever you can. Radiohead probably has a few more million fans than we do, so that works better for them. I don't think it's a great design to do albums as giveaways, but it's a way to supplement other albums.

What makes Emblems such an important album for you?

The big thing about Emblems was leaving Philadelphia and moving to New York and recording it there. Everything I did before was out of Philadelphia so it was a big deal to me.

All albums are creative. They are things I love. They do some of the things you want them to do and strange things pop up. It's just the world as it is. It's a special album in many ways, but I wouldn't hold it above anything else.  

What was that move to Philadelphia to New York City like, creatively?

At first it was incredibly depressing. A lot of edgy stuff came out of that. I don't ever try to be depressed, but if I am, a lot of writing will come out of that.

It eventually turned out to become my favorite city in the world. It wasn't the case at first. I didn't really know anyone. I was trying to finish an album and start a new band. It can be a little alienating, but it's good for the songs. For some reason I live a pretty typical life now, for better or for worse. The album I'm working on now is reflective of that.

You've been playing newer songs for the encores on this tour. Have audiences been receptive to them?

They're probably a little more receptive because not every person knows them. As long as they're giving us energy and we're giving energy back to them, I'm cool with anything. I can't tell people what to think.

Ten years ago, indie rock was starting to become very prominent. Do you think it's become better or worse since then?

It's about acceptance. I can get pretty cynical about corners and details about things that have happened in the world of music or in the world in general. If you approach it with acceptance, you approach it with the ability to move forward. It's just evolving.

My focus now is on being a better person. I still shout and let my emotions get the best of me. The only thing I can do is accept. That's the only way to do anything in my mind. Trends, the way things are perceived, or music journalists -- they cannot be controlled.

I only do what I love because I love doing it. Coming to terms with that, all this other stuff becomes meaningless. It took me a while to open up to social media, but I've learned to just accept it. If you go onto a blog like Brooklyn Vegan, you can find a list of anonymous comments wishing death upon anyone. That's why the Internet may not be so great. If I can ignore it, then who cares? I hope things get better and easier. I hope I can keep doing this for a while.

Matt Pond PA plays the Crescent Ballroom on Sunday, May 25.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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