Matt Pond on Recording, Severed Tendons, and Texas
Matt Pond recorded his most recent album, The Dark Leaves in a secluded New York cabin last year. Looking to get away from the cold solitude of the cabin, he went to Austin a couple weeks ago to begin recording his ninth full-length album.
Up on the Sun: Is now a good time to talk?
Matt Pond: Yeah, we're just recording our next record. I'm excited. It's going well so far and that's usually not the case.
UOTS: Are you in the cabin again?
MP: No, we went down to Texas [for] incredible weather and a nice little studio. No more cabins for me.
UOTS: How did that process go?
MP: It was tough, it was hard. It was like making something and unmaking it, then making it again, and just being alone. I don't wanna do that again.
UOTS: What's the set up like this time around?
MP: It's the studio of a guy who did a few of our older records. He moved to Texas, so we come down here to do stuff with him every once in awhile. Now we're gonna do another full on record, and he made my favorite record.
UOTS: Which is?
MP: It's hard to talk about them and not sound like certain children are bad and certain children are good, but that's true actually, certain children are bad and certain children are good. I like Emblems and Several Arrows Later. I love the last record, the last couple because they were really hard to make. I love them, I really think about the gut-wrenching-ness of them.
UOTS: But as far as everyone else is concerned, you love all of your children equally, right?
MP: Yeah. I still love them, I just I can't look at them in the face.
UOTS: You're going to play stripped down versions of your songs on this tour. What does that entail?
MP: I like to make songs as big as I can even when they're small, I like orchestrating and arranging. We're unarranging. You have to pay attention to details instead of rocking though something, and not everything works. Not all songs can withstand that kind of deconstruction.
UOTS: Are you going to be playing with a smaller band?
MP: It's just two guitars and a cello.
UOTS: In previous interviews you said you'd rather talk about food than promote yourself. On that note, what are some of your favorite places to eat when you're on the road?
MP: Food on the road is awful, generally. But, what I love most are contrasts. You suffer through an expanse of making some kind of gas station food work and then you get to Texas and you get to have the best Tex-Mexican food there is. You get to Chicago and you get to have pizza, and these things taste that much better. The van becomes a jail and you get out every few days.
UOTS: How did you go from thinking about becoming a history professor to recording music?
MP: I don't know, that just happened. I didn't have a lot of direction in my life, I was just going to be fake academic and mostly a fuck up.
UOTS: Well, the music route seems to be working for you.
MP: Yeah, it's alright. It's hard. You need to be tough to do this. People will say bad things about you, and people will enjoy your failures just as much as they enjoy your successes, but it's the human condition. But I'm doing what I like.
UOTS: You taught yourself how to play guitar. How would you describe your technique?
MP: It's kind of like a clawing or a clubbing. I don't have tendons in half my left hand, so I'm never gonna be the finger picker that I wanted to be, but I enjoy it. It's a really private thing, it's hard for me to play songs when I first write them to other people. I like the way I play guitar, I like my faults. I'm more defined by my faults than any other part of myself. I am eternally faithful to that idea.
UOTS: The tendons thing is very interesting, especially since you are a guitarist.
MP: You shouldn't play with knives, that's my rule. Play with knives and drink Old Milwaukee, that [was] a terrible, terrible thing when I was 18 years old.
UOTS: Good to know. You worked with Mike Stroud of Ratatat and Neko Case for Last Light. What was that like?
MP: The cool thing about it is you realize that people who are amazingly talented are just people. But it's also a little nerve racking, it's more self-conscious than sticking to your circle. These people are incredibly talented and to even play music with them makes me feel like less of an idiot, and I like that feeling.
UOTS: Is there anyone else you'd like to work with?
MP: Tons of people. But I know that I work best with people that have taken the time to understand me. I think I should listen to other people's music and stick to myself, not to say I wouldn't have that experience again if it were to come up. There's a girl who used to sing in one of my favorite bands of all time, and I asked if she'd sing on this record, I hope she does. I'm hoping that she's into what we're doing. It's a little terrifying, but at the same time I'll do it again and again until it kills me.
UOTS: Who is this person?
MP: Laura Krause, she was in a band called Knife in the Water, which is one of the best bands of all time. They just stopped making music as that incarnation. There's a few of those bands out there that no one really knows about, in some ways it's cool, and in some ways it's tragic.
UOTS: Your site encourages someone with "a strange or magical skill" to get in contact with you. What has the response been like and what are some of the strangest skills you've heard about?
MP: Not too many people. A few people write, but I don't think they take me seriously. A few people have written about real skills. But as much as we communicate these days, people are becoming a bit more self-conscious with their communication in terms of how...who am I to psychoanalyze society, but I definitely think people are more reserved due to their internet presentation of themselves. Some people wrote about kazoos and things, but mostly I just got a few responses, I didn't really feel an upsurge.
UOTS: You've recorded a few covers. How did you select those songs?
MP: Covers are just songs I love. It's all homage. I've never tried to steal anything, I try to say I love this, and if you love this, cool, but it's a strange thing to do a cover because you don't want to screw it up.
UOTS: Even with your Neutral Milk Hotel cover, you could tell it was that song but it was definitely your version of it.
MP: And then people yell at us for even having the audacity to cover it, and I was like it's not audacity, well, there is audacity because I would rather people listen to the original song.
UOTS: I think it's a good way to get some exposure to those bands too.
MP: Sure. I love Neutral Milk Hotel, I love Neil Young.
UOTS: What have some of your biggest challenges been as a musician?
MP: I think it's 100% just believing in what you do regardless of what anyone else says, that goes for anything. I put myself into this so much, it's almost like there's nothing else I do. That said, there's nothing to help write songs better than having adventures and living them as acceptably wild as possible.
UOTS: I saw your tweet about packing and you said something about how you packed the new Tennis record and that's all you needed. What else have you been listening to lately?
MP: The Radio Dept. has a singles album which is just awesome. Tennis is great, Best Coast and Wavves, There's a reissue of an Orange Juice album that I really like. And then of course going over all these mixes and building an album, you end up listening to a lot of your own music, you can't help it when you're making an album.
UOTS: I find it interesting that you're listening to this sunny lo-fi music and you're in a sunnier locale for this album.
MP: What's great about that music with my winter up until two days ago was... I live in Hudson, New York now. I've been digging my car out for months, and it's freezing and [I've been] falling on ice and not being able to feel my fingers. With music, I was looking for something to get my mind out of where I was. It's bad enough if you have bad tendons, but if everything around you is frozen, you're kinda useless no matter how much heat you turn on in the wintertime, you're just cold in your bones. I guess it's not like that in Phoenix.
UOTS: I've lived here all my life, I can't even mentally imagine it. I've visited places with snow, but to deal with that every day definitely takes some strength.
MP: I grew up with it, which you think would make me more tolerant, but I'm less tolerant of it, I think. I understand what it takes to deal with it, but driving in it is just a mess. Plans get destroyed and shows get canceled, it's really not awesome. The weather here just heated up, so now it's in the 70's and not a cloud in the sky. We're in the studio all day, and in three steps we can step outside.
UOTS: You'll be sticking around a bit before tour, I take it?
MP: We're here until we go on tour and we'll be recording hopefully, finishing half this album and finishing the second half on the other side of the tour. I already wrote a song since we started, so yeah. I'm like this song is better than all the other songs, we [should] throw them away.
UOTS: Aside from working on a new album and the tour you're about to go on, what are your plans for this year?
MP: At some point I want to not play music for a month. I know that sounds kinda not like a plan, but I'd rather just write than do this musical writing. There's a lot of chaos in writing music. I'd rather just have an adventure, I don' t know what it is or where it is, but I want it to be long and I want it to involve maybe being in jail in another country, [or] maybe a near drowning, something like that. It's not bad to be in some degree of trouble. I thrive on it.
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