Friday, August 24, 2012

Interview with Matthew Perryman Jones

(Here's an interview I recently did for NoiseTrade with Matthew Perryman Jones .)

Promising this kind of lasting impression, one would be crazy not to be at least intrigued enough to give even a cursory listen to Land of the Living, the most recent album in a continuing string of strong releases from Matthew Perryman Jones. Recorded in just a week’s time last August in a remote barn house in Round Top, TX, Land of the Living boasts some of the most undiluted songwriting, impassioned vocals and appropriately supportive musical atmospherics of Matthew’s already solid catalog. From the driving pulse of “Waking the Dead” and “Poisoning the Well” to the tenderness of “Cancion de la Noche” and “The Angles Were Singing,” Land of the Living is ripe with emotion, rhythm, melody and space. Getting a front row seat to watch an incredible artist continue to improve at their craft (while still remaining relatably raw in their conveyed emotions) is certainly a true gift for any music fan. Couple that scenario with an artist as honest and as talented as Matthew and you’ve got yourself an artist/fan connection to hold on tight to with both hands. If you’re not already in the MPJ tribe, Matthew would like to remedy that by offering the entirety of Land of the Living for FREE for a limited time here on NoiseTrade.

I recently interviewed Matthew to accompany this great giveaway and he was gracious enough to share his thoughts on the various inspirations behind Land of the Living, tell a few ghost stories and even tease a little info about his next EP.

NoiseTrade: You have described Land of the Living as being inspired by (among other things), the loss of your father, the transition from mourning to passionate living and “the writings of Rumi, the letters of Vincent Van Gogh… and Federico Garcia Lorca, who wrote about the idea of duende.” With the larger musical landscape being overrun with three minute pop songs built on short, repetitive phrases and simplistic, surface ideals, how best have you found an audience with a big enough attention span to join you in the journey?
Matthew Perryman Jones: I read a quote somewhere that said something like, "if you write from the heart, you'll sing from the heart and people will listen from the heart". I suppose I just stay true to what I want to write about and sing. The music seems to find its way to the people who are open to it. I also believe that people have a greater capacity and desire for depth and feeling than our pop culture gives us credit for. A side note and confession: I do love a 3 minute pop song…when it's good. For example, I could play Kelly Clarkson's "Since You've Been Gone" on repeat and sing it at the top of my lungs like a school girl.

NT: Did you consciously choose a title like Land of the Living to function as a counterbalance for some of the heavier themes contained within the songs or does the title serve a different purpose for you?
MPJ: I got the title from one of Vincent van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo. He was speaking about a time he spent with his brother after a period of time feeling isolated and perhaps a bit depressed. He mentioned that it was the first time in a while he felt like he was in the "land of the living". When I read that it jumped out to me. I felt like that title represented the journey and spirit of the record. It just felt right.

NT: Continuing on with the fascinating concept of duende; do you feel that being painfully genuine in things like our sadness, grief and struggles, as well as having an understanding of our overall mortality, is more beneficial for connection (finding kindred spirits) or just expression (getting things out)? Also, would it be a true statement to say that duende can be found in any form of melancholic music, from ancient hymns to murder ballads to Delta blues to 1980s new wave/goth and so on? 
MPJ: I think Nick Cave has the best answer to this question. While I was writing for the record, I came across this transcription from a lecture he gave in Vienna in 1999:
"In his brilliant lecture entitled "The Theory and Function of Duende" Federico Garcia Lorce attempts to shed some light on the eerie and inexplicable sadness that lives in the heart of certain works of art. "All that has dark sound has duende", he says, "that mysterious power that everyone feels but no philosopher can explain." In contemporary rock music, the area in which I operate, music seems less inclined to have its soul, restless and quivering, the sadness that Lorca talks about. Excitement, often; anger, sometimes: but true sadness, rarely… but all in all it would appear that duende is too fragile to survive the brutality of technology and the ever increasing acceleration of the music industry. Perhaps there is just no money in sadness, no dollars in duende. Sadness or duende needs space to breathe. Melancholy hates haste and floats in silence. It must be handled with care." All love songs must contain duende. For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather Hate Songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our humanness and our God-given right to be sad and the air-waves are littered with them. The love song must resonate with the susurration of sorrow, the tintinnabulation of grief. The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic and the joy of love for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil - the enduring metaphor of Christ crucified between two criminals comes to mind here - so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering." (emphasis Matthew’s)

NT: You recorded Land of the Living in an old Amish barn from the 1700s (which you reported to be haunted) and you spent your nights in a teepee out in the front yard. Did any inspiration from that experience make it onto the record and can you give us a good ghost story or two?
MPJ: Well, actually the barn is the only building that isn't haunted on the ranch. No one has ever experienced anything in there. Which is interesting because, from what I understand, traditionally the Amish would carve circular figures in their architecture for the sole purpose of warding off unwanted spirits. The barn sits on 20 acres in Round Top, Texas (the middle of nowhere). There is also the original ranch house (allegedly the most haunted), a guest house, a pool house and a large teepee. I did sleep in the teepee while we were there. Cason, the producer, had an experience of feeling someone hovering over his shoulder to turn around with no one there. Right after that he heard someone walking in the other room…he went into the room to find no one there. Tyler, the guitar player, stayed in that room and woke up one night to a woman standing in the doorway (there were no women there). I heard voices outside my teepee around 4am one morning. They were women's voices (again, no women there and no one around for miles). Our friend who works there regularly confirmed that strange things like that happened all the time there. It certainly made our stay more interesting. I imagine, if you listen closely, you might hear a ghost or two on the record. By the way, we named the ghost 'Sarah'. She was a friendly and hospitable ghost (she didn't make us cookies or anything, but she didn't seem bothered we were there)

NT: As an artist that has had a lot of success with television/movie placements, what are your feelings on the idea that someone’s first introduction to your music could be when it’s accompanied by visuals, emotions and themes that you have no control over? Will a good song always win out, no matter the context?
MPJ: The song is still the song no matter what context it's put in. But the right context certainly helps. I think music supervisors put a lot of thought into placing songs into a story. They pay a lot of attention to the thought and emotion that's in the song so that it fits a scene. Of course that might help people have a more immediate emotional connection to a song, but it's encouraging when people have found my music through a movie or TV show and go back into my other records and become fans. I think a lot of people watch shows these days expecting the side benefit of discovering new music. I think it's great.

NT: I’d like to end on a purely selfish question here… Back in 2009, I had the pleasure of hearing you play an absolutely jaw-dropping cover of Howard Jones’ “No One is to Blame” at the Love (as it turns out) is a Battlefield Blood:Water Mission Benefit. Have you ever recorded your amazingly killer take on this song and if not, how much do I need to set the Kickstarter for?
MPJ: Haha! First off, thank you for the kind words. That's a really great song. You know, I'm working on a covers EP and that would be a great song to include. Thank you for the tip! I was actually trying to think of one more song to do. Done deal. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Grace and Tony - "Holy Hand Grenade" video

"She played bluegrass. He played punk..."

With an opening line straight after my own heart, I had no choice but to hear the rest of this story. Self-described punkgrass duo Grace & Tony tastefully mix together "punk, folk, bluegrass and Texas swing" to create some powerful sonic chemistry and an incredibly rich sound. While both of them possess really strong vocals on their own, the beautiful harmonies created when they sing together will definitely end up being the signature calling card of their performances. Grace & Tony's talents also extend to their instrumental abilities, proficiently writing on acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo and more. They recorded their debut EP, Inside a Seven Track Mind, in 2011 and are currently in the studio recording their follow-up album, November, set for release later this year. While it's true that Tony's brother just so happens to be one half of another great musical duo (John Paul White of The Civil Wars), any shared similarities between the two begin and end at the aesthetic level. Grace & Tony are an act unto themselves, conjuring up a unique and individualized tonal space where their voices, there songs and their story are the only inhabitants. Well, them and an ever-growing rabid fan base of course. Keep your eyes and ears peeled this fall for the release of November and enjoy the three videos below while you wait!         

Friday, August 17, 2012

"Railroad Track" - Willy Moon (7" vinyl single)

21 year-old New Zealander artist/producer Willy Moon mixes together the swagger of early rock ‘n’ roll with the confidence of modern hip-hop to create an amazing mix of nostalgia and now that is truly unique. His newest single “Railroad Track” is being released August 20 on Third Man Records and the suave vocals, tasty production work and film noir musical vibe makes this one a no-miss. Willy’s songs showcase a songwriting talent and an ear for blending together instrumental ingredients that contradicts his young age. The swanky video for “Railroad Track” was recorded right here in Nashville and I love all the gorgeous urban decay shots and all the visual shout outs to my fair city. The b-side to “Railroad Track” is a great cover of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” (shortened here to just “Bang Bang”), the Sonny Bono-penned classic made famous by Cher, Nancy Sinatra and Stevie Wonder, among others. Even Third Man Records founder and all around musical maestro Jack White has done an amazing cover of the song with The Raconteurs. However, Willy’s version doesn’t go for the explosive frenzy of The Raconteurs, opting instead for a pretty straight forward tremolo-drenched version that stays faithful to the original. The biggest difference here is in the lyrics where Willy’s vocal takes place from the other side of the gun. Both sides of the 7” single sound tastefully throwback and incredibly fresh, so be sure to give it a shot when it releases next week! 

“Railroad Track” can be pre-ordered directly from Third Man Records HERE.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Derek Webb - Ctrl (Album Review)

To those Derek Webb fans who may find themselves resisting each of his forays into electronic music with dug in heels and clenched fingers, the creatively shape-shifting singer/songwriter/prognosticator/rabble-rouser might just be trying to meet you in the middle with his newest album, Ctrl.

(Of course, there’s always the off chance he might not be. But for the sake of this review and for the strengthening of your relationship with imaginative, soul stirring, thought provoking, comfort zone stretching art, let’s just say that he is.)

It’s no secret that Derek Webb’s artistic backstory is intricately laced with the equally beautiful and beneficial threads of creativity and controversy. After years of earning a deeply loyal fanbase with college folk troubadours Caedmon’s Call, he embarked on a solo career that allowed him the freedom to put only his own lyrical head on the block, while still maintaining some of the sonic similarities of his previous band. As he challenged his own creative limits with each new album, the (seemingly to some) drastic aural jump of 2009’s Stockholm Syndrome sent many fans seeking refuge in the (seemingly to some) safe confines of his earlier albums. Never one to create in response or retrograde, Derek continued to fashion his songwriting with the only palette available to him at the time, the present one. As FeedbackDemocracy, Volume 2 and his work on the NEXUS soundtrack attests to, anyone who would hang on for the ride was met with something new and engaging each and every time.    

Which brings us all to his latest release, Ctrl. Have you stuck around the whole time? Well, Derek’s got something unique for you. Do you only peek out from behind your burlap edition of My Calm//Your Storm or your Just Don’t Want Coffee EP whenever he releases something new to see if “the old Derek” is back? Well, Derek’s got something unique for you. Are you a new fan won over by his most recent electronic output? Well, Derek’s got something unique for you. Do you dig shape note singing, disembodied choirs, nylon string guitars and drum loops? Well, Derek’s really got something unique for you.

Melodic, atmospheric and as mellow as anything he’s ever done, Ctrl seems to simultaneously show Derek at his most comfortable and his most uncomfortable. There’s an amazing confidence in his arrangements, production and melodies, especially in the deceptively simplistic, sparser moments. However, within the lyrics, and even in some of the instrumentation, there seems to be an unsettled agitation, an itch just out of reach, that keeps Ctrl from ever getting anywhere near background, easy listening territory. You could try to put this album on while doing something else, but I guarantee you that it won’t be long before a lyric, rhythmic pattern or instrumental line will sneak in and overtake your attention with or without your permission.    

The first half of Ctrl ebbs and sways pretty easily. Even the intriguing Sacred Harp choral bursts aren’t that accosting thanks to the gentle organ strains of “A City With No Name,” the finger-plucked guitar of “And See the Flaming Skies” and the fantastic, Tom Waits-y oboe of “Blocks.” By contrast, there’s some gorgeously unsettled vibes found in the agitated acoustic of “Can’t Sleep,” the chromatic chord pattern of “Pressing on the Bruise” and the desperation-fueled lyrics of “Blocks.” Of course, there’s also the aforementioned shape note choir samples popping in here and there, but after a few listens you’ll be singing (or at least improvising) right along with them.

The second half of Ctrl kicks off with “Attonitos Gloria,” the most upbeat track on the album. With a kinetic, shuffle groove built on a bubbling fuzz bass line and live drums, it sounds pretty akin to what Derek did with the SOLA-MI project earlier this year. In fact, there are a multitude of parallel themes, shared verbiage and connected musical moments between Ctrl and the NEXUS soundtrack, (including another heartbeat monitor flatlining and coming back to life) but we’ll leave that to another post. After “Attonitos Gloria,” the album returns to its quieter, laid-back vibe with more finger picked acoustic guitars (“I Feel Everything” and “Reanimate”) and more minimalist melody lines (“A Real Ghost”), before closing things out on a bouncy, spirited note with “Around Every Corner.”       

Even on its most elemental, surface level, Ctrl could purely be the album that helps bridge the perceived gap between acoustic guitars and drum machines for bygone Derek Webb fans. But for anyone who’ll give it a listen, Ctrl contains a treasure trove of musicality, ingenuity, honesty, questions, resolutions and much more. No matter your personal level of interaction with Derek’s music, Ctrl stands on its own merit, delivering amazing musical performances, mind-thumping questions and Derek’s crystal clear, unmistakable vocals. Amazing on its own and possibly more than meets the eye when paired with the NEXUS soundtrack, Ctrl is absolutely worth your time and attention.   

While not "officially" released until September 4, Ctrl can already be ordered directly from Derek (including an immediate download) in a variety of packages here: