Whaddya Mean Y' Never Hearda Me Me Me - Major Matt Mason USA
Straight outa Lawrence, Kansas, via NYC comes urban/anti/folk one man army, Major Matt Mason USA. After treading the boards in his native Lawrence with various post-punk/math-rock outfits (Draco Magnet & Magic Nose) for a number of years, Major Matt felt a change was in the wind & blew east to NYC for the love of a girl (she finished with him after a week). He soon skored an apartment on The Lower East Side & sold his gtr amp for rent money. With the aid of a $30 acoustic gtr that refused to stay in tune, he began to compose urban folk songs & rekord them in his apartment's cupboard on a beatbox. The results suited his style (pocket!?) & he began to venture out onto the streets in search of a stage & a mic. 4 years, 2 x 7" singles & an appearance on "Live @ The Fort: Sidewalk Cafe" compilation cd later, Major Matt Mason USA recorded his debut Lp, "Me Me Me", for Olive Juice Music/Fortified Rekkids. With national distribtution & a rising UK profile, MMM USA was picked up by Glasgow's very own Shoeshine Rekkids for distribution in the UK. He visits the UK for his debut tour in Jan/Feb 2002 - dates available from;
Jean Encoule recently cyber-trakked Major Matt down @ his Lower East Side base to hassle him with some fairly simplistic questions. He was only too happy to answer, which just goes to show what a supremely nice bloke he is.
trakMARX - How did it all kick off for Major Matt Mason?
I grew up in a suburb of Kansas City called Shawnee. I started playing guitar in high school, trying to be a punk and escape the stigmatism of, well growing up in the very uncool state of Kansas. Which is not true at all. There's tons of cool stuff in Kansas. I moved to NYC in '93 to be witha girlfriend. And that sort of didn't work out. So, there I am in the lower east side, which wasn't quite as friendly back then as it is now, I'm freaking out, with very little money. I sold my amp for rent. So, I start making little ditties on my shitty acoustic and recording them on a boombox. My then ex girlfriend, Wendy, had turned me onto Daniel Johnston/Yip Jump and the first Sebadoh album right when I moved here. The homemade quality of these albums really inspired me. It made me feel like. I can do this. It doesn't have to be perfect and in fact it's more interesting if it isn't.I don't need a studio or even a record label. I can make my own tapes, draw my own covers, dub them on with a dual cassette and sell them to friends. Wendy is also a fashion designer who started her own business out of her apartment. Though we don't really talk anymore, I have to admit that she greatly inspired me with that DIY spirit as well as the (good old fashioned heartbreak) subject matter for a number of the early songs.
trakMARX - What's behind the name?
Unfortunately, sort of an unremarkable story. My real name is Matt Roth. There is another local artist named Adam Roth, who I've never heard but when I first signed up for the Antihoot open Mic at the Sidewalk Cafe that Lach runs. I gave him my name. He said, "You can't be Matt Roth. There's already Adam Roth. You're Major Matt Mason." And I was like, "Okay, whatever gets me on the stage."
trakMARX - How did you get involved in the anitfolk scene & how would you actually define it?
For me it all started when I stepped into the Sidewalk cafe for the Monday night Antihoots. I know there was quite a history before I got there but I didn't know anything about it. When I walked into that back room I felt like Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer discovering the Island of Misfit Toys. It was a true oasis of freaks. Not just music but, poetry and performance art too. It was so wonderful. Just people expressing themselves, and hanging out. Everyone was really supportive. I think the fact that it was small and you only got 8 minutes to do your thing lent itself more towards singer songwriter types. I don't know why I'm talking in past tense because it's still going on. It's just a little more mainstreamy now and it's mainly musicians. But I still discover someone new and awsome there every time I go. I first discovered everyone there Jeff Lewis, Prewar Yardsale, Moldy Peaches, American Anymen, Toby Goodshank, Palface, John Kessel, Randi Russo, Lach, Cockroach, Seth of Dufus, Joie DBG, Bionic Finger!
trakMARX - Your putting together an antifolk comp @ pressent - could you tell us a little about that?
I do engineering and within the past couple of years I put together a little studio in my apartment. I also helped set up Olive Juice Music, which is a little collective to help some of these amazing artists take their art to the next level if they wish to do so. I was talking to Joie DBG about 2 years ago about putting together a comp. of people that I would record in my bedroom. It's been a great learning experience. We don't really have the money like a big label like Rough Trade so we're doing everything ourselves, everything down to figuring out the release forms for people to sign. We had a little benefit for it about a month ago which helped a lot. I know it must sound sort of disgusting after a while but the good vibes and community kind of spirit going on in this scene right now is really fucking amazing! Anyway the comp sounds great! Adam and Kimya of the Moldy Peaches both did solo songs, we've got Prewar Yardsale, Paleface, Lach, American Anymen, Me, Randi Russo, Derek Richmond, Seth of Dufus, Joie DBG, John Kessel, Jude Kastle, Schwervon!, Jack Medicine, Laura Hoch, and I even got Daniel Johnston's manager to dedicate a track that I helped produce, which sort of helps complete this spiritual musical circle for me! Wow!
trakMARX - We understand that there is another compilation being put together as well. Are there two camps or do you all support each other?
I think everyone realizes that it is to everyone's benefit to support each other. It's a truly karmic sort of environment. There do seem to be a few little camps within the community, but I just think that has to do with personal tastes or friendships. People sort of cross over all the time. I think these Comps are helping bring more artists together. I'm on both comps. A lot of people are. I think the only difference between these 2 comps is that one, I believe, I'm not positive, will be on Rough Trade and ours will be on little old Olive Juice Music. But the more the merrier!
trakMARX - NYC has a lot to offer presently - Hamill, MPeaches, Jeff Lewis, The Strokes, J Dead Blonde Girlfriend & yer goodself etc - is there something in the water right about now?
I really think it has a lot to do with Rough Trade stepping up to the plate and giving The Moldy Peaches and I guess the Strokes (who I like but were honestly never really a part of this Antifolk kind of community) the support they deserve. It was always here as far as I'm concerned. Some of these people have been playing around here for over 10 years. Someone just decided to invest some serious money in telling the rest of the world about it! I also think having someone like Lach who runs the Sidewalk and puts on a lot of antifolk festivals and stuff. The fact that a lot of it evolved out of this Anithoot idea, which is just a group of people getting together and sharing their music with each other, helps. The time is right for this kind of music as well.
trakMARX - Every now & again rock & roll has to go back to basics. Patrick Fitzgerald & Billy Bragg are two excellent UK examples - do you feel any affinity with these kind of artists?
Sorry, I don't know Patrick Fitzgerald. I love Billy Bragg. But I'm not a socialist. Though I do believe in "Socialism of the Heart"! I totally agree with a back to basics trend. I don't want to assume what people want but there are a lot of factors that seem to point towards a growing interest in a more organic approach to music and the arts. I think that in the past 5 years leading up to the 21st century we've had these sort of space aged, digital, highly stylized high tech images and ideas and sounds shoved down our throats that by the time we are finally here, we're sick of them. I think people might be ready to just listen to another human being express themselves with nothing but their voice and an acoustic guitar??? Another factor might be the bottoming out technology stocks in the market. I think a lot of people in America anyway feel a little different about the word "technology" than they did a year ago. And I do think that Sept 11 is bringing people "back to basics" emotionally and perhaps music will follow. I know it's a horrible circumstance and I don't think 3 days go by that I don't look down the street and see the big space where those towers were and feel seriously ill in my stomach but I'm a really big fan of pulling the good things our of bad situations.
trakMARX - What periods of musical history excite you the most?
I guess the 60's of course. But, I really, really like discovering new music and sort of going backwards in time and getting into all their influences. Sometimes it goes the other way but like I got into Daniel Johnston and then I got into Bob Dylan, and Hank Williams, Leonard Cohen. I got into Velvet Underground via REM and Sonic Youth when I was in High School. I got into MC5 and Iggy Pop via Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys and Sonic Youth. It's cool to think about kids getting into VU or The Stooges via The Strokes.
trakMARX - You have 5 mins to grab a handful of lp's/cd's as yer appartment is on fire. Who do you love?
Well, my five minutes would be filled with stuffing my suitcase with all my cd's and records and perhaps grabbing my cat at the last minute, if I had time. But right now I'm really into. Prewar Yardsale-Lowdown, White Stripes-White Blood Cells, American Anymen-Hello, Another Side of Bob Dylan, Turner Cody-Who Went West, Teenage Fanclub-13, Low-Long Division, I like the new Clinic the new (old) Lambchop, Kings of Convenience. Been listening to Cockroach a lot (great local boy!), Toby Goodshank-This is for John Word. I just got a new CD by this band Simian that I like a lot. Okay I'll stop. I love my cat by the way, even though he's fat bastard.
trakMARX - Your lp has been out for a few months now, how's it selling?
I have no idea.
trakMARX - You've hooked up with Glasgow's Shoeshine Records in the UK. How did that come about?
Lach put out my CD here in the States on Fortified & sent it to him. He liked it. I love Francis, but sometimes when he talks really fast I can't understand what he's saying. He's really been quite helpful. He's a truly good guy.
trakMARX - You're playing a few dates (itinerary @ www.shoeshine.co.uk/news.htm) in the UK in late Jan/Feb. Is this yer UK debut? Are you looking foward to it? Who's gonna support?
I'm totally psyched. I've never been to the UK. For the most part the only support I know of will be my Gibson J-30 and my loose fitting boxers. I think Peter Dizzoza (a great local performer who will be in the UK at the same time) might play keyboard with me for a couple of shows.
trakMARX - How did the NYC commnuity react to the massive success of The Strokes in 2001?
I think this immediate antifolk community (outside of The Peaches) doesn't really think much more than you do about them. I just heard them for the first time about a month ago. I have to admit that I didn't want to like them because I just have this natural aversion to anything that's getting shoved down my throat. But I think they're really cool! And I think if that brings attention to NYC and some of the other great artists here, then cool.
trakMARX - Have the wounds of Sept 11th began to heal over yet?
I suppose. It's really hard. Sometimes I just think about it and I get sick. They (The Towers) were the first impression I had of New York when I moved here. I remember driving the moving truck from Kansas coming over the hill on the Jearsy Turnpike and seeing that skyline and the towers and it was like was like. Wow! I did not lose anyone so I think whatever needs to be for the people that did lose someone, then that's how it should be for a while. Quite frankly I'm getting a little sick of flags at this point and I'm really getting sick of how the advertising world has really dug into this newly found patriotism as a marketing tool to just sell stuff. But money makes the world go around I guess.
trakMARX - How do you see the long term affect of Sept 11 on US cultural development & artistic expression panning out?
I'm a little scared about the economy. I'm just gonna say that I think it has brought people together and I think (maybe I'm just hoping) that people are ready to really start thinking about things in a big picture kind of way a little more!
trakMARX - How do you feel about US foreign policy?
It's a little scarry. I've obviously learned a lot about our policy especially in the middle east in the 5 months. And I'm not too proud of what I've heard. It's too early to call. It seems like things are going okay but I do see a real potential for what happened before happening again. This will all depend on how Afghanistan is governed in the future. I do believe in involving as much as the world as possible and I admit the support of Great Britain has been sort of reassuring to me personally. I believe in an international campaign against terrorism but I think that even alluding to the idea that it can be eliminated within our lifetimes or by killing one man could be setting ourselves up for a let down.
trakMARX - Is there a place for political observation in popular music in 2002.
Yes, I feel like if it is not in some way simultaneously corollated to something very personal that it has the danger of becoming nationalistic or sort of mobish. Bob Dylan is the master of this. His music is so intimate and political at the same time. I think the line between expressive and political art is too thick. I would like to see some blurring of the lines a little. It's like you're totally militant or you're like "let's just party!" People are so scared of making political statements but I think you just go with your heart and try to read the paper and watch the news - you can help create a vibe. I also think that my generation is a little disillusioned by the hypocrisy behind the Hippie/Yuppie phenomenon.
trakMARX - Can music be an effective vehicle for change?
Of course. On a personal level I'm sure it happens a million times a day. It does for me. In a larger scale I think it must be seen as a part of something bigger. I don't think this happens as often because it requires the artist to let go of his or her ego and truly be a part of something bigger and more important and I think ironically when you are really famous, and you have to most power to create change, that is when it is the hardest to let that ego go.
trakMARX - Does music care anymore? (Does anyone?)
I care. Do you want a hug?
trakMARX - What else has Major Matt Mason USA got planned for 2002?
Well I'm coming to see you! I can't wait? I formed a group with my girlfriend Nan Turner called Schwervon! We put out a CD on Olive Juice last year and perhaps you will be seeing it in the UK soon??? It's rockin'! We'd love to bring Schwervon to the UK as well. Hopefully the Olive Juice Compilation will be out by spring the working title right now is "Call it What You Want" (songs for sidewalk campfires). And I have another Major Matt album already finished that perhaps will see the light of day sometime next year. And I'm gonna be the best man at my oldest best friend's wedding. I'm very psyched about this!