How’s your time over here been so far, and how were the initial London
been great. The London gigs were incredible. Every single gig was sort
of a different atmosphere. I was a little bit worried about doing four
shows in a row in the same town, and it’s been like four different towns
– different people came out, a different feeling to each evening. I
started out at the Borderline with a bigger sort of vibe – it was in a
pub with just standing room elbow to elbow. And in the Golden Lion,
Camden, there were kids running around [laughs], an intoxicated forty
year old lady jumping around on the barstool, we had a nice little
conversation during the set, it was crazy. So it’s been nice to see all
ages. I mean, I’m 31 – I don’t know if I’m old or not. I don’t feel
old mentally, but I do feel it physically sometimes, you know [laughs],
and like, sometimes I feel like I’m more orientated to a younger crowd
and it psyches me out. I love it when I see an older group of people and
then kids too. I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but it’s nice – it’s still
cool. There’s still some alt-y looking people there too.
how did the tour come about in the first place?
basically I was originally going to try and come over in September and
do an opening show for Jonathan Richmond but it didn’t work out, so I
ended up talking to Francis [Shoeshine Records’ manager] and just said I
wanted to do something, and he set it up and Hoverground too. And it’s
just been fucking perfect – first night this rock club, second night a
more artsy crowd, then a raw bar… such a variation and pretty nice small
rooms. I’m psyched that I can pull it off in all these different places!
Guardian recommended you as one of its choices of the week in the
Saturday Guide, but it seemed to be confused a bit by the term
“anti-folk.” Did you coin that? Or do you know what it means?
didn’t coin it. Um, I think it means different things to probably
everybody who’s supposedly or admittedly involved. I think it was
originally coined by this guy who runs a club over in New York called
the Sidewalk Café – he set up a kind of alternative to the Village.
Greenwich Village kind of got popular in the sixties as being a kind of
folk counter-culture area – Bob Dylan started playing down there. By
the time I got there, 1993, they’d pretty much exploited the area for
all it was worth, and I think most of the bands that played there, if it
wasn’t a set of covers – and by the way I love folk music – it wasn’t
happening. And there were kids who were really serious about their folk
at the end of the eighties, great songwriters who were concerned more
with the song and not the presentation, who didn’t fit into this very
slick adult-contemporary kind of scene it had turned into. Nobody could
basically get a gig – if you were trying to write original songs that
maybe had a dirty word in them or were maybe criticising something
blatantly – so people started playing in the East-side villages, and
saying “If the other stuff’s folk, then we’re anti-folk.” That’s the
story. To me personally, it’s sort of bigger than that right now. Oh,
and the other thing is that it sort of combines this punk aesthetic.
More often it’s obnoxious or loud, the strumming’s more aggressive. It’s
a DIY kind of thing, and it’s not just acoustic. The fear is that once
you make too many rigid rules, you end up turning into what you were
rebelling against before. It’s very inclusive, anyone can come and play
if they want to - even people from the West Village. But nobody does!
Because there’s no money in it!
what is your musical background? Were you in a band originally?
to play in punk bands in college with an electric guitar. I didn’t start
playing acoustic until I moved to New York, because I was basically too
lazy to haul my amp around to places – it was too expensive to practice
and I couldn’t get a group of people together. I mean, it sounds over-romanticised,
but with my girlfriend dumping me about a week after I moved into New
York from Kansas, and the frustration of not being able to put anything
together, I just started playing acoustic more. She also introduced me
to Daniel Johnston who was incredibly inspirational due to the fact it’s
pretty raw stuff, not such a focus on production. So from all that I
started to write songs, record them in my apartment, draw little covers
and sell them to my friends [laughs] Plus, like, I was pretty poor, and
you get desperate!
made you move in the first place from Kansas?
Basically to be with this girl. I owe quite a bit to her – her name’s
Wendy and she’s a fairly successful fashion designer now, but she
started her work out of her apartment. That was inspirational to me –
when I was growing up, it was like you really weren’t anything until you
had a record deal – that was always the thing. And if you recorded, you
had to go into the studio and you needed to have a band. So that
created this whole feeling that once you got a record deal, your dreams
would come true – and I knew a couple of guys who did that but then got
dropped and it was so messy. Daniel Johnson made me realise I didn’t
have to do that. He does the same thing – he sells tapes he just
recorded with hand drawn covers.
after all that, how did the deal with Shoeshine over here come about?
recorded my record and put it out with Olivejuice music which is a
little collective I started with some other bands, some other anti-folk
people, just to do our own thing. So Latch helped through some
distribution contacts, through Fortified Records in America, and he just
sent one to Shoeshine – I hadn’t heard of them – and for some reason
Francis liked it! [laughs] I still ask him sometimes “Where do I fit
you actually met any of the other artists on the label then?
got to meet Laura Cantrell and Michael Shelley at a Teenage Fanclub show
– we got to go in the Green Room and chill with the band! It was very
there artists you consider yourself to have been influenced by then?
pretty influenced by all the people that play in the anti-folk scene and
have for the past eight years since I’ve been there. That’s the biggest
influence – you just hang out with people who play every night.
Sometimes I might go there five nights in a row and just see bands
play. Some of them aren’t so good and some of them are incredible. I
definitely think being influenced by your contemporaries is a good
thing, an important thing. On the other hand, I think no one can argue
against Bob Dylan – he’s just God – I love Hank Williams and I love
Sonic Youth. I’m a big fan of the Velvet Underground too which is
probably where those two meet.
you feel any kind of affinity with the americana movement then?
to be honest – I’m not totally clear what it is. I think maybe we call
it alt-country more back at home. I do like a lot of the Palace
Brothers, Will Oldham and that kind of thing, but I was never a big
country fan growing up. I’m learning things backwards at the moment. I
like Leonard Cohen – I guess I’m a pretty kind of mopey guy too. And I’m
just getting into Gram Parsons. It’s strange – I’m learning a lot about
americana by coming to Europe!
of your previous interviews says that your lyrics are like a
“particularly amusing diary being read out loud.” Where do you get your
Me Me” album – about three quarters of it, the inspiration’s mainly from
the relationships. It’s nothing any more grandiose. In my case it was a
female, but I think those things crossover regardless. I’m just trying
to be honest, and therapeutic.
saw you mentioned Raymond Carver too.
I’m a creative writing major from my English, and he was my absolute
favourite writer – I got so much from his stuff, and I imitated him all
through college .
you have any favourite stories by him?
the “Where I’m Calling From” collection, but I actually like “Minnuendo”
which is a later one. It’s funny, because I had an argument with
someone over what punk means. In my opinion, he like a really “punk”
guy, because you read it the first time – nobody has a name, it doesn’t
seem to have a beginning, a middle or end, etc. but then you go back
and re-read it and discover there are all these things that are
connected – maybe a bit more like foreign movies. Like with the
alcoholism – I’ve never had a problem myself luckily – but the way he
wrote about it, it was so real but it didn’t glamorise people. And the
economy of writing – I remember the mastery of the seven word sentence,
which is perfect for songwriting. When I first moved to New York I was
a runner at this video post-production place and had to ride trains
uptown and downtown delivering packages, and like, you’d just sit on the
train and try to think of a good sentence with seven words. It was
enough – I think I just got lazy [laughs] so it was a lot easier to
write good songs! Anyway, Carver was supposedly working on a novel just
before he died, and it’s a real Sex Pistols kind of thing – he died
right at the peak. Who knows what it would have been like if he’d
written a novel.
are you up to when you get back home then?
got two shows upstate next weekend and then I’m looking forward to
spending some time with my girlfriend which would be nice! I actually
have a whole other record finished – I call it a demo, recorded it in my
apartment again, and I gave it to Francis, and he’s like, “It’s great!”
I’d love it if we did put it out, and he’s alluded to me coming back
later in the year which I’d really love.
Thank you Matt!