Matt Pond PA – Several Arrows Later – Interview

mattpondpa200Matt Pond PA

Several Arrows Later (Altitude)
An interview with guitarist/vocalist Matt Pond
By Tim Den

It’s hard not to repeat myself when it comes to Matt Pond PA. Having reviewed every one of their releases for the past four years, become a fan in every sense of the word, and even shared the stage with ’em on several occasions, I wonder what else I can say to make people pay attention to this criminally-underrated group. Perhaps pristine, sensibly-written songs are just not “cool”? Or is it cuz the world has grown deaf to melody, thanks to the popularity of garbage like mainstream hip-hop and garage rock? Whatever the case, Several Arrows Later is more of the trademark Matt Pond PA goodness: Delicate but not fragile hooks, airy but not ethereal production, ornate but not orchestral string accompaniment, all coming together around bullet-proof tunes. There’s no fat or excess, just tight arrangements surrounding great verses and choruses that result in a batch of good ol’ fashioned songs. Whatever happened to those? Does anyone else remember how wonderful it is to hear something that ebbs and flows at exactly the right moments?

Many claim that Matt Pond PA have simply produced one chamber pop album after another, with “sensitive” acoustic musings as the never-changing center. Proof yet again that people only pay attention to appearances. Though Several Arrows Later does contain strings, acoustic guitars, and gently sung vocals, it has a new momentum previously absent, courtesy of drummer Dan Crowell. He propels the proceedings with a strong (but never overbearing) backbone, adding just the right variation – like during the chorus of “It Is Safe” – to accentuate the emotions. The band apparently feeds off of his energy, because the “lazy Sunday morning,” laid back vibe of the band’s previous efforts has been replaced here with a sublime alertness. When guitarist/vocalist (duh) Matt Pond sings “I heard it’s modern to be stupid/you don’t need to talk to look good” in opener “Halloween,” it still sounds as pretty as ever, but it’s obvious that this isn’t the same easy-going, happy-go-lucky, nature-loving frontman as heard on The Green Fury. Just cuz it sounds nice and soothing, doesn’t mean that there’s no turbulence beneath. The band have undergone subtle changes on Several Arrows Later, enough to give the album a sense of freshness, but still hidden enough to evade deaf morons who only recognize progress in hairstyles.

I, for one, continue to anticipate the band’s every release, because there’s always such subtle progression. And in the process, I get another dozen beautifully-written songs that’re head and shoulders above most band’s creativity level. Thank goodness, too, because I’ve just about barfed up all my insides from existing within this shithole we call the “modern music scene.”

mattpondpa1photoYou moved the band up to New York a while ago. Why did you leave Philadelphia?
For a lot of reasons. I wasn’t reacting well with it chemically anymore. There are a lot of great bands in Philly, but no support network. The city didn’t seem like a place where anyone cared about the music community. I’m guilty of it, sure: I should’ve gone out more than I did.

Denison Witmer said similar things about how he’s the most inactive when he’s home in Philadelphia.
I like Denison and his music. We’ve always wanted to do something with him, but it was always one of those “oh, he lives down the street, it’ll happen one day” ideas that never did. Overall, it was becoming frustrating. Things that we thought were supposed to happen, didn’t, and then when we’d get a whirlwind of activity, things like press didn’t happen in conjunction. By the end, we had to reassess our situation and figure out what we wanted to do.

A lot of people like the city because it’s cheap to live, and they’re trying to get citywide wi-fi soon, but those were not enough reasons for me to stay.

My band, Kimone, actually played a few West Coast dates with you back in ’02…
I remember… One of the places was Graceland, in Seattle, right? Robyn Taylor (of Inland Empire, the band’s booking agent at the time) really liked you guys. Wasn’t someone’s mother there?

Great memory! My mom, sister, aunt, and uncle were all present, having flown/driven in from Miami, L.A., and Vancouver.
I have to apologize: That night was bad for us. The club basically kicked us out after we were done, and we were like “why are we doing this (music) again?” I was in a bad mood and didn’t want to be there.

I didn’t get to speak to you much on that trek, but your band members were super nice, so no apologies needed.
See, it was nights like those that made it very frustrating for us. We’d played Graceland two or three times before, and every time, it was a bad show. I was sick of playing Seattle on a rainy Monday night. Granted, you can’t control the weather, but when it’s that and something like Boise, ID on a snowy Tuesday night, you have to start thinking “what the hell am I doing with my life?”

“Hey mom, remember how you put me through college? Look at what I’m doing now!”
(laughs) I felt bad about that Seattle show, cuz I’ve had my whole family come out to see us at a college, playing to no one and with no sound system. It’s harsh!

You lost pretty much your entire band when you moved to New York, no?
Yeah, that was another reason for the move. It’s hard when you name a band after yourself. It’s a bad idea. I’ve said it for years. Some of the people were not happy with it, but under the circumstances, it also makes it okay to march forward with new people under the same name.

mattpondpa2photoLiving in New York has certainly effected your songwriting, as evident in the lyrics of “Halloween,” “Brooklyn Stars,” etc.
Oh, totally. It’s impossible to not be effected by NYC. There’s no other city with this kind of vibe. There’s just so much energy that you can’t help but be driven by it. So I’d write a lot, and then go up to my mom’s in NH to make sense of it all.

But you also seem to make fun of the city a little…
Yeah, well, just because I’m inspired by it doesn’t mean I don’t also feel alienated! (laughs) It’s strange, because every minute is precious here, even when it comes to dating. If you’ve seen someone a few times and they don’t like you, they’ll just stop calling you! I guess it’s a good way to economize things, but it’s like having a relationship, wanting to have kids, career, etc., New Yorkers don’t fuck around! They waste no time!

I’ll also say this: I’ve never lived in another city where the bands truly support each other. The people I’ve met and hung out with – Andrew from The American Analog Set, for example – are super cool and respectful of what you do. Same thing with the drummer of Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Everyone has their own thing that keeps them busy, but no one pretends like they’re more than what they are.

What!? No NYC hipster stories?
Well, okay, one time we played The Mercury Lounge and headlined. There were three or four other bands on the bill. We were shocked – stunned to the point of comedy – at how rude they were being. We were saying hi to all the other bands, but they barely acknowledged us. They moved our merch, didn’t get their stuff off stage after their set, we were laughing because of how ridiculous it was. I mean, when we get on a show, we always make it a point to thank the headliners for having us…

How are you guys surviving? Do you have other jobs?
We do okay. I pay good rent ($650) and live with some cool female roommates. My room is really small and all my stuff is stacked to the ceiling, but it actually looks pretty good. There’s a path that leads to my bed. If you fall off and into the surrounding stuff, I think my entire room would come tumbling down. (laughs) At this point, we’re past living in frustration because of the band. Some money’s coming in from licensing, so that’s helping out a lot. And we’re doing some good tours, so things are going pretty well.

Where do you practice?
We go to each other’s houses a lot to play guitars and keyboards quietly. Sometimes we get a $20-an-hour rehearsal room for a week straight, which is still cheaper than spending $500 on a space. We don’t want to pay space rent when we’re on tour! Also, sometimes we drive up to my mother’s in NH to play.

Eve (Miller, ex-cellist/backup vocalist) recently left the band. Why?
I think she just got worn out. She also plays in Rachel’s, and it just got to a point where she needed to concentrate on that. Plus, we as a band push a little harder, meaning we hang out as a group, we see each other a lot, etc. That might’ve contributed a little since – although we’re not idiots – we act like idiots a lot. (laughs) Rachel’s, on the other hand, are very sophisticated.

You know, someone recently left a comment on our MySpace page that said “the new cellist is no Eve.” I wailed on the kid: “Not only is that incredibly rude, but you’re also trying to hurt the feelings of a good friend of ours.”

Why wouldn’t the dickhead just email the band with such opinion instead of posting it for everyone to see?
I don’t know, man. Someone else left a comment criticizing Several Arrows Later for being “too even.” And that’s what’s wrong with it? “Too even?” Okay, what do you want from me? (laughs)

Kinda like what I said in the review: “sorry, Matt Pond PA write sensible songs.” Do you run the band’s MySpace page?
No, I just browse it. (laughs) I have to admit, though, that when MySpace first came out, I was like (jokingly) “Wow, look at how many cute girls are on here! It’s like an Internet store for cute girls!” (laughs) I think I requested five or 10 girls to be our friend, but that was the end of that.

That’s totally going to be the headline of this story: “Matt Pond on Myspace: ‘It’s Like an Internet Store For Cute Girls!'”