In August, Matt Pond released his 12th full album, Still Summers, on his own 131 Records label. In this case, the title fits – Matt’s got a gentle, introspective way of delivering mood-setting lyrics and there’s a late summer/early fall sound to music. When I gave Matt a call last week, we talked about the album’s tone and how there’s a few different meanings behind the album’s overall concept.
Just as he is on record, Matt’s a very pleasant and down-to-earth guy in person and though he was raised in the Northeast part of the country, his approach to life fits the midwest aesthetic.
Matt returns to Columbus – a regular tour stop over the nearly 20 years of his career – on Friday night for a show at Ace of Cups with J Fernandez and The Kyle Sowashes. Doors at 8pm, tickets are $15. As you’ll read at the end of this interview, it’s likely the last time Matt Pond PA will perform in Columbus though that doesn’t mean that Matt Pond is hanging it up. Read on to find out what it does mean.
Still Summer has a striking album cover and I saw the credit you gave to the photographer on Instagram. Had you already decided on the name Still Summer when you picked out the photo or did the photo lead you to name the album Still Summer?
The cover was photographed by an old friend. First it was the album title and we were trying to figure out artwork. I have a friend who is a National Geographic photographer – Amy Toensing – and I really wanted a photograph.Even though she’s a friend, I thought she was out of my league. All of her photography is amazing, but going through, when I saw that picture, it blew me away. I just love the shadows of the kids jumping below themselves jumping. Growing up, jumping off a bridge was what I wanted to do all the time, not in a bad way, there’s no negativity. It was just the rush and the pure joy of jumping into rivers – and I did a lot of it. It came together perfectly. And then she was so accommodating.
I definitely noticed the shadows as well when looking at the cover. That really stuck out to me.
I was honored that she would allow us to use it. To me, it fell together and it’s the perfect articulation of what I can’t say well with words or my artistic abilities.
There’s something about the cover … have you seen the show Stranger Things?
Yeah, I did see it. I like the feel of it.
The movie IT has that same nostalgic feel – hanging out with friends, sort of being careless, just doing fun outdoors stuff.
That’s the point of life in my mind. I still feel that way. Rehearsing, which is what we’re doing right now, and then playing and touring. Reckless abandon is the thread of all this stuff. It’s pretty crazy hurdling around the country and playing rock and roll music.
When writing/recording, did these songs sound like summer – or maybe the tail end of summer – to you? Did you know you’d be releasing the album in August?
I planned all this, whether the plan is good – whether people get it – it was planned. This was supposed to be what it is. I was excited. It’s a moment, a flash in time, music, especially these days. We’re just trying to grab that tiny moment.
If you had called the album Winter Still, I’d probably say, “Matt, this sounds like a really nice album to listen to when you’re stuck in the house because you don’t want to go outside.” That being said, while the cover is sunny and carefree, I picture driving on 71 at dusk, windows down and listening to this album.
I appreciate that. That’s the intention. If you can get someone’s attention, then they can sometimes hear your intention. The point is is that it’s fading summer in a kind of triumphant way. It’s really about all those things that sort of fade but are still worthwhile, like relationships. Summer, you’ve got to live it up until the end, and when it’s over you have to keep going at it.
You’ve recorded on a number of different labels, most recently putting out albums on your own label. Talk to me about the changes you’ve seen since you first started releasing music – the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good is that nobody is sticking it to you. This is a hard business to be in. Everyday it’s almost a little bit harder. So, what I thought is, yeah, we have records out with other people, let’s just try to do this ourselves. It’s amazing the connection, the ability to pull it off. I’ve never become so well acquainted with office supplies. It’s just intense. It’s a little much. I don’t know if I want to do this forever. I enjoy it right now. I’m the only person to blame. At the same, I couldn’t do this without a lot of people around me – just the generosity of time and understanding. It’s good because it’s all on me and it’s bad because it’s all on me.
You’ve got a wealth of recorded material. What is your philosophy on writing set lists? The idea of touring is to promote and sell your current product and yet there are songs that fans who have been supporting you since day 1 want to hear. How do you balance that?
We play everything. People know some of these songs and I like that people know them. Some of them are older and, I don’t know, every time you jump into it it’s not karaoke, it’s reinterpretation.I like rewriting, reinterpreting and seeing how things flow together. Every night, it’s a new group of people.
Along those same lines, you’ve seen the evolution of how people want to consume music go from CDs to digital to vinyl. Do you operate under the idea of “give the consumer what they want, however they want it” or is getting CDs and vinyl in 2017 a chore and a potentially risky one at that?
If you’re running you’re own label, you’re taking a risk with every single thing that you’re doing. I don’t know the answer and I can’t fight it. We’re doing well. Could it be easier? Of course. Until I have one breath left in my lungs, I’m not … I mean, I worry about these things obviously … I’m just moving forward. I don’t know how things will change. The vinyl boom, people will say it’s ended but to have a piece of music and a piece of – not to sound pretentious – artwork is important. I don’t think that will ever be unimportant. It’s important to have a physical connection to these things. I’m really happy you appreciated the artwork because that takes a lot of time. It’s not for nothing. I like making things, it can be crazy and stressful and sometimes seem like you’re in a community theater version of your life, but it’s still good.
You’ve done a handful of recorded covers – while they are somewhat far and few between, you’ve picked some really great songs. Do you have a personal relationship with the songs you’ve covered or have you been asked to cover them?
They are songs that I’ve loved. The whole thing about covers is I’m not trying to eclipse the original, I’m trying to say that I love this song. It’s always pure love. Something strikes me … and then – what does it go from playing the song in my bedroom to setting up a bunch of microphones and making it happen? I was playing “Cum on Feel the Noize” by Slade, not the Quiet Riot version, the other day. There’s something about just singing these words that have been in the back of your mind at some time and just kind of letting go. The catharsis of music can be unlike anything.
My dream is to hear a Bee Gees disco-era cover album by artists doing it in a style like the kind of music you are known for.
That would be amazing. I love “How Deep is Your Love”, I love so many songs. If I ever try to get myself pumped up, I listen to “Jive Talkin'”. Oh man, why are you putting these ideas in my head? It’s a great idea, Goddamn it! (laughs)
Hearing your version of “Drive” by the Cars was awesome because I grew up on their album Heartbreak City, that was my introduction to the band.
That song is summertime breakup song number 1. It was hard to do right. We tried to push it in a bunch of different directions. That’s a song where certain elements have to be part of it. That’s what’s fun about doing a cover, you try to push it a little bit and you find out what the key to the song is. It’s kind of like a puzzle.
I think we’re similar in age – did you have cable when you were a kid and have the opportunity to watch MTV or did you have to resort – like me – to watching Friday Night Videos to catch new music videos?
I consumed as much music as possible but I grew up in New Hampshire so everything was really late. Finding things was the whole … I will say that might be a negative side of the internet. Discovering something was amazing. It was such a thrill. You had to discover everything, there was no other way. It’s too bad that what’s popular is just what’s popular or we just listen to what we’re given. There’s other stuff. I’ve succumbed to it, I believe in playlists and Spotify. I can’t sit here and shake my fist at anything. Well, I still can, but with a smile on my face. I miss discovery for no other reason than just for pure, blind, selfish discovery.
Switching gears, I apologize for not knowing this, but is Columbus a regular tour stop? Have you developed any relationships/friendships here?
I like Columbus. We have some good friends there that have an amazing arcade called Level One – just very hospitable and excellent people. I’ve almost always had a great time – Chris and Dan, our old guitar player and drummer, were robbed at gunpoint buying Doritos from a vending machine, but we don’t hold it against Columbus.
What roll does social media play in your life in terms of marketing? Do you put thought into your presence from a performer vs person perspective? In other words, is it your unfiltered view that may upset people or do you tone it down?
It is not always easy, but it’s the modern way. If you think about it, you just can’t think sometimes. I just let it go. It is me but it’s also promotional. I’m putting out my own records and play music. I express myself as honestly as I can. I get deeper on a thing on our website, I enjoy just going off on various subjects but I’m not looking for the darkness. There’s enough darkness, there’s enough trouble. It’s something you have to be able to step away from as much as it’s something you have to embrace. It cannot be taken too seriously. For some people it’s there life. That’s not my life. My life is staring out the window, playing guitar, running. We all might go jump in a lake tomorrow, things like that are my life.
Rather than open with these final questions, decided to close with them since, again, I’m guessing this is what you’ve been talking about a lot. First of all, last Matt Pond PA album but can’t really be the last recordings you’ll do, correct?
Yes. I don’t know all the answers but I think that I just put my name on so many things. I never intended to put my name on so many albums. I’d like to think and talk in a different way. I’d prefer to be Lee Hazelwood or a shadowy character sitting in the background. I didn’t need it to be my name, I don’t need to have pictures of myself, and I don’t need a ton of money either but I need to make music, I know that. So, it just seems like I’m still breathing and I still love this so maybe stop putting my damn name on albums.
And, the Matt Pond Pale Ale … is it a special batch being served at the Against the Grain Brewery or will it make it’s way to store shelves?
I think Paul from Level One might be getting it. It’s going to some venues, I’d have to check to see if it’s coming to Columbus. It’s close, it’s from Louisville, you could basically just roll the keg! I’m definitely not interested in self-adulation but it’s good. Our contribution was pretty minimal. Against the Grain was generous with us, that’s how I should say it. They are such a great brewery but the beer is actually really great. I almost would rather sell that than my songs.