Our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One with Matt Pond features one of our most enthralling chats to date! Alongside the release of his new album of demos Free the Fawns!, Pond discusses his demo-to-full band songwriting process, his eclectic flair for layered instrumentation, and his approach to taking his songs to the live stage.
NoiseTrade: Your new album Free the Fawns! is a collection of unreleased demos spanning the last eight years. What made you want to pull back the curtain and share these intimate rough drafts with your fans?
Matt Pond: As much as I love finishing a song, there’s nothing like the intensity of when it first comes together. When the random shapes and sounds click into gear and make something that sounds like music. For example, on “Blue Fawn,” which later turned into “First Light,” I was up at my mom’s old farmhouse in New Hampshire, playing the floor tom upstairs so hard I cracked the plaster. (Sorry, Mom!) But I was no longer responsible for my own actions. I was an ephemeral fanatic. You can hear the size and shape of the room in the vocal. Breathless, no stops to sip beer or take notes. You can catch the clumsy energy of my flailing arms, where I jumped between tracks and instruments without an ounce of doubt. When doubt rides silently in the back seat, I am the world’s most euphoric getaway driver.
NT: Comparing the demos to their fuller realized versions, which ones stick out to you as the most transformed from their early versions?
Pond: “First Fawn” became “Brooklyn Fawn.” Chris Hansen and I gathered my ramblings from up in New Hampshire, carried them down to a cabin in Bearsville, NY, and slowly built The Dark Leaves. Collaboration creates unforeseen solutions — Chris really brought everything to the finished version of “Brooklyn Fawn.” He arranged around my droning guitar until the parts shimmered and shone. The intro, into his lead line, the shaker, it started to make sense once it left my hands.
A demo is a sketch within which is the faith that the song has more to give, that by being unfinished, it’s full of promise. That is, unless everything goes terribly wrong, the treatment is unsound and the song has to slide back to square one — when I’m wrong about a song, I will always offer a complete confession.
“The Full Stop” is genuinely exciting because we only spent one afternoon messing around with the possibilities. That song is just bare bones — it has a fate all its own.
NT: Your sound has always been pretty eclectic and marked by a fearlessness to color outside the lines with instrumentation and melodies. Describe the band's process of getting from voice-and-instrument demo to kitchen-sink sonic kaleidoscope.
Pond: We start with a handful of believable strums in the living room and build. We work with what we have. We try not to adhere to many doctrines or edicts. There is an arc. But the arc has to be flexible. We also have a huge basket of tambourines and a steadfast love for strings. Chris and I tend to gravitate toward layers. At the same time, we have no problem throwing junk away. I can be stubborn as a mule when I believe a part doesn’t work. That might be both my best and worst equine attribute.
What matters most these days are the drums. The precision of a grid and a drum machine are nothing next the spirit of an unleashed drummer. This is where I go looking for depth and energy when I sing — straight into the eye of the kick drum. Please beware: that same drummer spirit unleashed on tour can be terrifying. Think the Muppets and the all-too-famous archetype, Animal.
NT: You've got a nice handful of East Coast shows scheduled for December. What's your favorite part of letting your songs loose in the wild and what parts prove more difficult in the live setting?
Pond: There is a perfect point of being practiced, where the artifice just slips off and away. Where it’s not a performance, it’s not routine. Pardon my sunshine, but it’s nearly transcendental. Which is crazy, because I was once a cynical thoroughbred, the king of Pessimist Mountain. And so, even though it betrays my dire roots to say the words out loud: music probably saved my life. When I’m having an amazing night on stage, it’s otherworldly. I forget everything. It’s a story that someone else has to tell me. It’s a blinding sense of belonging, the ultimate stun.
A new song in the midst of older tunes can be tough. But then you have someone like Shawn Alpay in your corner. He takes a shaky song like “Starting” and starts chugging away at a low, driving pulse, a part that hasn’t been recorded, a part that prompts uncontrollable hips, and lips into a smile — I mean, playing with Shawn is like getting paid to eat ice cream.
NT: Finally, two of my favorite covers of yours are "Champagne Supernova" from Oasis and "Green Shirt" from Elvis Costello. Do you find any difficulties channeling other artists or are covers freeing for you?
Pond: Whoa. “Green Shirt” is from way back in the day! That one was all Eve Miller. She performed the keyboard runs on the cello in one take while we sat in the control room with our jaws on the floor.
Covers are a great way of gaining perspective, of loosening up and illuminating how much music means. The only difficulty is staying true while simultaneously putting a backspin on it. In a sense, they’re a subtle way of saying, “I love you.” I believe every major moment in my life has a song attached at the hip. A connection to the stereo that holds on and won’t let go. So far, it’s never been a song of my own. Still, that doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop trying.