On Genre

People get so caught up in genre. The sounds you use to make a song are important, but I’m more interested in the rock bottom guts of what makes a good song.

That being said, I’m looking to bring my singing to a genre that sadly lacks that “good song” mentality. As a singer who grew up loving electronically produced music, I believe I have the unique opportunity to bring the amazing capabilities of modern live electronics to an audience hungry for something different.

On Marketability. I am a thinking creature who understands the needs of a market economy. That being said, this is music, people. It’s important to listen to opinions and know your audience, but you also need to listen to your heart and what you are called to do in this life.

Listen. The self-awareness of art in the Information Age is called postmodernism. Modernism set up rules that purposefully constructed basically awful sounding music. That didn’t last, but what did last was the idea of rules in art. It causes a hell of an identity crisis when a creative person looks at their output and goes, “I’m not an artist, I’m just following the rules of genre!”

Around the advent of the boy band, that was when they figured out the rules for pop music. Now the genre is just a highly profitable joke geared toward children who don’t know any better quite yet.

I’d rather be relevant than rich.

On Collaborating. “But Paul, you’re an electronic musician! Isn’t that punk rock DIY mentality your greatest asset?”

No.

We all used to be bedroom producers. Every last solitary one of us. That was because only we knew where music would be in ten years. We worked alone because we had to.

But that’s changing. Weird noises don’t fall so strangely on the public ear anymore. Everyone is out there making music on a laptop.

Until about a year ago I was obsessed with the credit, Everything by Paul Matthis. I finally started writing songs with other people in mind, the results of which you can listen to at the top of this page. My music immediately, to put it simply, got better.

Punk means do it yourself, but that used to mean do it by yourself along with your band. This is important. You make better music with others. That’s the way it is.

On Performing. I’ll tell ya, I’ve been to a lot of shows. A lot. And no one goes to a lounge club and says, “Man, that rocked.” More like, rocked them to sleep. Oh! Zing!

Electronic music doesn’t have to sound like that. You can get real energetic with this stuff, and a good vocal performance draws anyone in. AND, it doesn’t even have to be all electronic! You just need to be big. BIG. It’s almost 2010. When I go to a show, I want it to sound like it’s frigging almost 2010.

The acts are out there. Jamie Lidell, Muse, Radiohead, even Kanye West! All wonderful, loud, forward-thinking music with a strong performance up front. We’ve got all these tools. Let’s use them.

Gogol Bordello and Why There Is Still Hope For the Future

With the first chord strummed pickless on an old jangly guitar, the crowd surges toward the front of the stage and stays there for hours. Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hütz has hair almost to his shoulders and not an ounce of fat on his body. His handlebar mustache blusters about as he sings about work, drinking, loving, and giving the finger to the establishment. Also about wearing purple.

In December 1998 I cut my hair short after years of sporting an undercut. I cut it the day after I saw Rage Against the Machine on The Battle of Los Angeles tour, because I couldn’t imagine throwing it about at a concert the same ever again. Up until last night, I was right. But that’s not why there’s still hope for the future.

Immediately the diversity of Gogol Bordello’s current lineup makes you grin. A bass player from Ethiopia, a guitarist from Israel, accordian and fiddler from Russia, congas and whistle from Ecuador, a drummer from America. The ultra sexy Gogol girls are both half-Asian and half-something else (Just ask Weezer what that means!), dressed up in togas or viking hats and leaping about banging on marching percussion. The band deliberately draws from the best the world culture has to offer. And let’s not forget a gypsy punk at the forefront, inspiring a personality cult with a grin and a bottle of wine.

Eugene threw his famous red bucket over the microphone and banged it again and again in time. He leapt and stomped about. He drew a fan from the audience and danced with her, and she almost died of frenzy.

I brought earplugs. They broke. I had on a nice shirt. It’s almost unrecognizable from a bathroom towel now, and smells much worse.

During the intermission, I left the front mob to try and find a friend. I thought to myself, sagging from exhaustion, “I’ll just stay back here for the rest of the show.” I lasted about a song and a half into the encore, and then the band rushed the crowd all at once, and I ran through the crowd to meet them. “How the hell did I get back up here?” I wondered, my exhaustion completely forgotten. But that’s still not why there’s hope.

I was surrounded by people of all ages, but the crowd was definitely predominated by high schoolers. That definitely contributes to the hope factor. This age old music from the guts of the soils strewn about the planet spoke to them and they heard it and came in droves enough to sell out a show in Pomona, of all places. That’s very close to why there’s hope.

When I saw RATM in ’98, we got knocked about plenty. There was a lot of anger and confusion and lack of focus then. I’ve only really done that since at GWAR, which was flat out violent. But this time, while I was packed in like a sardine on a trampoline my shoe almost came off, and right about then the music went slow. I bent down to double knot, and the crowd made a little circle around me. I popped up in record time to a sea of smiles, and a shirtless kid behind me yelled over the music, “Good job!” And the crowd surged back in as the music swelled and were all the better for it.

That moment of cognizant positivity in the midst of such deliberate destruction is why seeing a band like Gogol Bordello in 2009 gives me hope for 2010.

NoHo Rehearsal Studio

I own a rehearsal studio in North Hollywood. I’ve been there about a month now. On average, I’ve written slightly more than two songs a week. I’d say four of them are good. One even sounds good enough to show girls and make them like you. Just kidding. But it really does sound nice.

They need some cleaning up, but I’ll be posting the new material soon. Stay tuned, kiddos.

Who says kiddos?

Jimmy Edgar and Everything Wrong With the Live Electronic Scene

It’s half past midnight in Hollywood and the smell of greasy hot dogs follows me to my car. A cool mist fogs my glasses, and I nod to the little lady behind a cart covered with aluminum foil, relish, and fried onions. She’s the same old Latina woman behind every hot dog cart in LA, and she nods back grimly. The wet weather is bad for business.

I first saw Jimmy Edgar in 2006 opening for Jamie Lidell at Troubdour. Jamie always puts on a great show and has really come out since the Multiply single got some play. I remember Jimmy Edgar as having the right idea but lacking in execution.

A few days ago a guitarist friend sends a text saying, “All live electronic music! This Thurs at Knitting Factory! I think u like…” Who could it be but Jimmy Edgar again? Great! He must have pulled a Jamie and gotten a band together, instead of the button mashing and Korg-talking of his last performance! Excitement!

But, no. Come Thursday, it was the same old schtick. A guy with floppy hair behind a lot of gear and wicked gangsta beats paying absolutely no attention to the audience. Occasionally he sang, modding his voice to sound the way he wished it did in high school. He didn’t sing complete songs, so the neat and funky vocal riffs were overshadowed by all the pre-recorded nonsense.

Did he notice when people stopped dancing because he let a naked rhythm go on too long? Did he give any thought to structure, harmonic or lyric? Did he have any stage persona at all, other than a vaguely Prince-in-supsenders outfit? No wonder he hasn’t learned anything in last three years! He never looks at his audience!

So! Here’s a list of rules for aspiring live electronic musicians:

Rule 1 – Excessive looping is boring.

It takes forever to get to the good parts, and it messes up your structure. Looping is a supplemental tool to be used tastefully. It is no basis for an entire track by itself, because nobody wants to listen to the same four bars for five minutes without a break. Also: Beat repeaters and knob-twiddling filters only count as a break the first time. By the twenty-seventh use it gets a little old.

Rule 2 – Pre-recorded music is disappointing.

A good live experience is based on establishing a dynamic between the listeners dancing and the artists creating. Music is simple like that. The mind is simple like that. Adding a step where the mind has to interact with music created somewhere else is distracting, and the mind is never fooled. It knows this pre-recorded schlock could have been created for anyone and the only point of coming to the show was to hear it louder. The mind does not feel special after this and leaves to get a beer.

Rule 3 – A computer screen is not your audience.

The day recording went to 96K was a dark day for tape, because, frankly, 96K sounds great. That happened quite a while ago. Which means everybody and their friggin’ dog listens to music at least recorded and augmented electronically. Hip hop and club pop is nothing but electronic music. In 1998, yes, Americans listening to electro and IDM got a warm, fuzzy future window to carry around in their hearts. Now Muse and Infected Mushroom and Kid A exist, and the glitch vibe is a thing of the past. Listening to electronic music no longer makes you special. Bands now possess the ability to supplement their live act with quality sounding electronic instruments, which means the old one-person-behind-hardware-mountains doesn’t work anymore. We used to watch that because we didn’t have a choice if we wanted to hear the stuff live. Not anymore.

Rule 4 – If you can’t sing, don’t.

This goes out to every new artist out there: You are not Pete Townsend. You are not Daft Punk. You aren’t even Cher, probably. Autotune is not a talkbox. It just makes you sound really stupid.

New album rule! You are only allowed one vocoder-like track per album. The rest you have to sing completely un-pitchcorrected or get a real singer to do it for you. Royksopp is getting better at this. It’s only a matter of time until this production fad backfires anyway, and you want to be the first out the box on that one, don’t you? Rimshot.

Rule 5 – Memorability is a good thing.

“Music is Rotted One Note” is a prime example. As an avid Squarepusher fan I am happy to report I love this album. That doesn’t mean I ever listen to it.

There’s a lot of debate on memorability in music, which in my mind makes it the most important. When I recorded the Sex Pistols, John Lydon told me, “Debate! Always debate. Let the Nazi talk!” He also told me, “All good music is folky, mate!” He would point out the melody in any folk song (Not surprisingly, they all have one. Take note, Jimmy.) and then during an instrumental break he would say, “Can you hear it? It’s still there! They aren’t playing it, but it’s still there, and you can’t wait for it to come back in, can you?”

That’s called a hook, which sounds like marketing, which sounds like sell-out, which is bad. So don’t call it a hook. Call it folky. That’s called integrity. All music we owe to folk, because it was memorable. Don’t ignore thousands of years of songwriting because you’re afraid of being called a sell-out. Be at peace with the way the human brain works or stop complaining about your lousy concert turnouts. It isn’t just about you.

On a final note, let me talk about my friend Lee Noble. He used to play bass and pitchbent toys in a Nashville band called A Poet Named Revolver, and they were awesome. They made one great album and broke up, ignoring the interest from labels it sparked. He has a film degree and now lives in Burbank.

He sometimes performs under the name Conger Eel. His set up, which is usually in dim dive bars that serve more Mexican beer than domestic, involves several tape players, a guitar, illegible vocals and noise, noise, noise. His show is always different and the only genre label that might possibly apply is avant garde. His performances are fearless and without expectation and are to be taken seriously and very flippantly simultaneously.

Knowing that Lee exists gives me great comfort. His Conger Eel project won’t make him any money, but he follows all the rules I’ve just laid out. His loops are created on the spot and never last long un-chopped. There’s no computer screen, because he does this all with hacked tape cassettes. Anything pre-recorded is ironic, like an old M.C. Hammer sample found at a thrift store. And he is a good singer.

My friend Alen is a visual artist from Detroit, and he remembers the experience when I took him to see Lee at the Airliner with a vague sense of awe. That counts. Memorable means genuine, and Lee is most definitely that.

It’s half past midnight and the smell of greasy hot dogs follows me to my car. A cooling mist hangs in the air and fogs my glasses. Maybe the crummy weather explains the sparse crowd at Jimmy Edgar’s show.

I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Beatles

So I never knew much of the Beatles besides what the average person learns listening to the radio.

I just listened to every album in a row on a road trip with a good friend, and here’s a few things I’ve decided.

The Beatles were really awesome. I feel sad that nowadays most discussion of them is hipsters arguing over who was the best Beatle. It’s obvious that take out any one of them, and there is no Beatles.

Where any one would fail, that’s where the others would come in. Lennon and McCartney wrote so many good songs together, filling in for each other, fleshing stuff out. Honestly, I think most of the songs George Harrison did are my favorites. Often I would be disappointed in the song if not for the guitar part.

And everyone needs to back off Ringo. Genius drum parts (like Come Together) are the kind of simple, steady soulfulness that brought the whole thing together. We tend to shut him out because he wasn’t this mad strummer type. Ringo is a genius, he just isn’t crazy. He was normal and people think that’s a bad thing.

I think the first four albums are very good and kinda cute. When Help! came out you started to see a little more depth than just lovey wovey dovey stuff, and Yesterday sticks out like a sore thumb. A really, really gorgeous sore thumb.

Rubber Soul really stands out as a marked change, and then Revolver is the first album that feels like there’s no filler songs. It’s just magic from start to finish.

I think I need to do something about Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery tour, because listening to them in the car just doesn’t quite do it. I really liked them intellectually but at parts it sounded just messy or boring. Loved anything involving the sitar, though.

White Album, Abbey Road, and Let It Be are all just fantastic beyond reckoning. I like George Harrison best on Abbey Road and consider Let It Be a pretty good way to go out. I disagree with Paul McCartney that Phil Spector did a bad job producing it, because even though the album was a return to the old form, modern production techniques make listening to it less distracting.

As much as I’ve learned listening to them, I think in the end there’s a pretty good reason Paul McCartney doesn’t top charts like he did with the Beatles. The chemistry isn’t there, and without that chemistry Paul is kind of cheesy by modern standards. Still, they were the greatest band of the last century and something you gotta grok if you feel you want to write songs someday.

Think vs. Animal vs. Daniel Levitin

Just finished This Is Your Brain On Music.

Very excellent book. For my own purposes, this is my favorite quote: The coming together of rhythm and melody bridges our cerebellum (the motor control, primitive little brain) and our cerebral cortex (the most evolved, most human part of our brain).

A criticism, though, on referring to the cerebral cortex as the most human. I understand what the author means, but at the same time hate the Western concept that to be human is to be not-animal. This concept is essentially my enemy in life as well as simply in music. To deny the animal is indeed to deny a large part of what it means to be a human-in-the-world.

Still, Levitin essentially explains scientifically the concept I came across in my compositional philosophy (wow that was kind of a douchy turn of phrase) which I referred to as ‘think vs. animal’. Musically, it means good music should use both big heavy primal funky rhythm and bass, but still have complex melodies and harmonies, both sonically and figuratively full from bottom to top.

What I’m discovering, honestly, is that this presents a problem in production. The sound gets so full the volume has to go down to compensate. I think one of the reasons club music is so boring is that you have to turn everything else down to get those booming, dancy drums.

Well, fuck that anyway. I’ll figure it out. Here’s a mashup of think vs. animal by the esteemed DJ Earworm.

The Legion of Space (space space)

Just came across a really cool old science fiction novel from the 40s called The Legion of Space (wikipedia). I like it for several reasons, the most obvious being that it’s from the freaking 40s and is yet so advanced in narrative. I find it poignant that someone who was so forward thinking in applying real themes to the then dreamy genre of scifi also saw fit to casually drop names heavily influenced by the Arabic language (Habibula, Kalam). Reminds me of JRR Tolkien using exotic European languages as the basis for his Middle Earth tongues. Fun!

Evil jellyfish aliens, beautiful blond protectors of doomsday devices, and a lockpicking Falstaff. What’s not to love?