MMM USA - Bad People Rule The World - LP Review, Interview & Shoeshine
Major Matt Mason USA is back with his third full length outing for Scotland's finest, Shoeshine Records. "Bad People Rule The World" picks up directly where "Honey, Are You Ready For The Ballet?" left off - without missing a beat!
"I wish that I could hire you a room full of people,
to simply show up everywhere you are.
A microphone to speak through & a spotlight to put on you,
& a sign that says don't look now I'm a star."
("Your Biggest Fan")
"Your Biggest Fan" opens proceedings with a flourish & a knowing shrug. A hymn to Frank Black? Why not? The signs are all there: discordant guitars, pumping bass, surf suss - & exactly the same kind of pitch black humour that informed Pixies at their best.
"I will be your fan, until the end,
but I don't think I'll ever be your fried"
("Your Biggest Fan")
"Simone" weaves a tale of a picture perfect heroine trapped in a private hell. She can't escape the glances of her fellow drinkers - but at least she can see her car from her stool.
"Starbelly (Slow)" condemns current US foreign policy with wit & insight via this funeral waltz (please note: also available in speeded up format as; "Starbelly (Fast)".
"Sidewalker" quotes the Beatles "Dear Prudence" before walking off in completely the opposite direction. The guitars are dirty, the stomp is Glam - but the melody is pure Matt Mason:
"I often end up loving things I hated at the start,
I often play the hero with a coward in my heart"
"Good (Bye)" is all about effecting closure - complete with a haunting riff, signature falling cutlery (?) - & a beguiling Nan Turner vocal.
"The World Is Not Against You" features the laziest guitar solo this side of Buzzcocks "What Do I Get?" - but is simply marvellous nonetheless. The world is emphatically not against you - that much is sure. There is no conspiracy. All the smart boys know this. If no one wants to put on your show - put it on yourself, already! DIY.
"Each one of these flyers represents a dream"
("The World Is Not Against You")
Sing after me: the world is not against you - & neither am I.
"I Love Stevie Nicks" is an instrumental that wouldn't be out of place on a Schwervon! LP (Matt & partner Nan's side project). The dismembered voice of Stevie Nicks is fed through an industrial blender, placed on the tracks of the subway - & run over by 50 subway trains in the space of 2 minutes.
"Munich" follows "Starbelly (Fast)" (see above) - & it's another instrumental, this time punctuated by sampled voices, insistent toms & sinewy bass. These abstract noise ensembles are fast becoming another powerful weapon in MMM USA's arsenal - & the way they add to the overall mood cannot be understated.
"Tower Song" is another startling revelation. Set to the kind of sparse arrangement that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Billy Bragg's "Talking To The Taxman About Poetry", the subject matter deals with minimum wage issues as succinctly as The Big Nosed Bard Of Barking used to deal with Margaret Thatcher: i.e. - contempt.
"5 dollars an hour,
4 to 1 at Tower,
I can't afford you flowers,
Not for 5 dollars an hour"
"Animal Shelter" ushers proceedings to a close in typical MMM USA style - observational humour & social concern fight it out over the ghost of another haunting melody. Everyday there's so much more at steak. Some days I don't know how much more of this I can take.
MMM USA is a talent genuinely worthy of your attention. He is a romantic idealist with an everyman vision, an engaging & eloquent storyteller with unassuming melodies that will get under your skin & live there for weeks before telling you. He is by far the greatest contemporary songwriter working in the USA today & I urge you to buy his entire catalogue immediately.
MMM Interview - JUNE 2004.
trakMARX - Welcome back to the pages of tMx - where are you, how are you & what's it all about, Alfie?
MMM - It's good to be back. I feel pretty good. I'm working out. Nothing crazy. My cat had to go on a diet as well so we're kind of doing it together. I'm not really losing any weight but I feel better. It's good stress relief. Much better than beer. And I get light headed just the same.
trakMARX - You've just returned from another Euro jaunt. How did that turn out?
MMM - It was pretty good. My sister came along. In the back of my mind I thought it might be a little crazy to take her with me. She's 6 years older than me, lives in Florida and works for Disney. I love her but we sort of disagree about a lot of stuff. She was a real trooper and actually a real asset. By the second day she was working the merch table, getting me paid, threatening promoters with physical violence if they didn't cough up my guarantees. I want her on every tour now!
trakMARX - A new LP so soon after the Schwervon! LP - are you becoming prolific?
MMM - Check out Toby Goodshank's catalog. That guy is prolific. Actually I think I'm kind of lazy. I've got a recording studio in my bedroom for God's sake. I should be putting out an album a month. Between OJ, my music, recording other people and a little freelance engineering work I'm getting by so I don't have to hold down a regular job. I've got a good recording set up in my apartment and I've got several hours here and there throughout the week so it's a pretty good situation right now. Of course I'm really fucking poor, but happy. I'm actually just about to record a whole other band that I've been writing with called Kansas State Flower this weekend. It's a trio with my friends Julie and Christy.
trakMARX - "Bad People Rule The World" sounds like your most fully realized work to date - how do you feel about it now it's in the can?
MMM - Finishing a record is always kind of a combined feeling of relief and anxiety. I feel like there's a million things I could have done different but I'm also really excited about how some things turned out. I'm getting a lot more into arrangements. A little more conscious of all the sounds as opposed to mainly just the words. I'm a little more conscious of the world around me as well. I feel like this record is about right for me as far as what I'm comfortable with in the way of a natural kind of progression.
trakMARX - How are things working out in general down at Olive Juice?
MMM - From an artistic viewpoint things are incredible. Sometimes I wish I had 3 heads and 10 hands to deal with it all. Prewar Yardsale just put out another amazing album. In the past year we've put out CDR releases for Knot Pinebox, Brer Brian , Secret Salamander and Toby Goodshank. All are fucking amazing. I'm sort of at that point were I need some help like an intern or something but I'm kind of finding it hard to relinquish the power. I'm not really good at just telling people what to do. But it's pretty good. We're selling a few CD's.
trakMARX - How are things on the anti-folk 'scene' these days?
MMM - It does feel like there is a bit of a backlash. But honestly I don't feel like it ever got big enough in the states for there to really be much of a backlash in the press anyway. It's weird on the same day one time someone asked me "It seems like this Antifolk think is starting to finally get some attention. What is is all about?" And then later that day someone else said, "Don't you think this Antifolk thing has sort of run it's course?" To me it's been a very interesting sociological experiment in how a community or a genre label on the one hand can provide support for the individual while at other times it's a handicap. I've got to admit that I don't make it to the Sidewalk Cafe (ground zero of NYC antifolk) as much as I used to. I don't really think Antifolk sells enough beer down there these days so now they have Antifolk nights as opposed to 10 years ago when every night there was called Antifolk. But every few months there's always some cool new act that just shows up and blows everyone away. It's still pretty cool.
trakMARX - What lessons did the key protagonists learn during their respective brief dances in the media spotlight?
MMM - I think you'd probably have to ask them. My only mantra is DIY. This is not to say that I don't have a lot of help. But I think it's important to try and understand how the whole thing operates. It's pretty fucked up really especially when you start learning about PR and all that. But when you become aware of all the sides from the recording process to booking a tour to taking a press photo then you at least have the choice of how much you want to be involved. And then you have the choice of maybe doing things a little differently than other people.
trakMARX - Is the finger of fame as fickle as it always was?
MMM - I guess. I've gotten some nasty press. But good or bad I think I could count on about 3 fingers the amount of times I've read anything written about my music that was truly insightful. And I think two out of the three was on this website. (how's that for ass kissing) I really think it's true though. Unfortunately with most music writers it seems as though they've got some kind of agenda. And if they don't get in on the first listen or if someone doesn't spell it out for them they don't really care.
trakMARX - How has your perspective of 'the industry' altered during the last few years?
MMM - I think it's kind of like my relationship with New York. When you first get a little taste it's very exciting and you feel like it's going to take you somewhere. Then you get you heart stomped on a few hundred times. And after a couple of years you have a nice strong healthy heart to take on the world with.
trakMARX - Has this affected your outlook?
MMM - I think my ideas about what a musical community and a career as a musician have changed a bit. I'm much more cynical. But I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. I still think that positivity and support are an important part of it. But I value honesty quite a bit. This is more important to me now. I think when you're really young your very idealistic and uncompromising. Of course it's a lot easier to be this way when mom and dad are paying the rent. Then you get into the world a little, work a couple shitty jobs, then you get a little validation for your music and you're ready to sell out your grandma for the almighty record deal that's gonna save you from this horrible world of selfish materialism. But if you stick around long enough you realize that the music business is very much a part of the world and that it often functions on a lot of the same rules of capitalism. It prays upon the youth and a lot of the same insecurities and vulnerabilities that other businesses like the fashion industry or the tobacco or even the diet pill industry does. So before you know it even though you call yourself an artists, you're really no different than that junior executive clawing their way up that corporate ladder in the hopes that some day you can order some room service and take a vacation the Disneyland. I don't think I'm gonna restructure the whole system and I'm not above making a buck. But I try to look at Olive Juice, from a business standpoint, as a way of capitalizing off of enlightening, entertaining and hopefully empowering people as opposed to exploiting them. Honesty is key and success is when both sides of the producer and consumer relationship are happy (artist and fan if you will). I know it doesn't sound very sexy but...whadda ya gonna do?
trakMARX - Are you as committed to your original goal as when you began your journey?
MMM - I think I'm more committed than ever. I have an obligation to people now that I feel like I couldn't let down. At the end of the day you just have to love the music you make and love the music you are trying to promote as a label. And love the people that love it. All you need is love... And cash. I get personally attached to everything that I do. It's all connected for me. I really enjoy producing people. I like helping them sort of uncover what's special about what they do. Actually Francis at Shoeshine is a big inspiration.
trakMARX - What have you been reading lately?
MMM - This Band Could Be Your Life by Micheal Azzerad, a Brian Eno biography and this great book of comic strips by Ben Katchor called The Beauty Supply District. I try to read a newspaper at least a couple of times a week.
trakMARX - Any choice movies you'd recommend?
MMM - I just rented Confessions of a Dangerous Mind which I liked a lot. I liked Dogville. I know this is a hard one but I actually kind of liked the Passion but I'm not really religious so to me it was just like a good gore film. Unfortunately movies are a little hard to squeeze into the budget these days. Especially when so many of them suck.
trakMARX - What are you listening to at home at the moment?
MMM - The Unicorns, The Leader (soon to be on OJ), Pantsuit, Prewar Yardsale, Double Deuce lots of Brian Eno,The Sonics, I know it's been out for a while but I really like that Wilco album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", Flying Burrito Brothers, the Kitchen Cynics, Xiu Xiu. I reorganized my old tapes recently so I've been listening to a lot of early Black Flag, Nick Cave, and Joy Division... I really like a great new local band called Your Biggest Fan!
trakMARX - What does the rest of 2004 hold for MMM USA?
MMM - UK/Europe Schwervon! tour in September mostly with this nice band called Vermont. Maybe a couple Major Matt shows around there as well. Finish this Kansas State Flower Record and just keep paying the rent.
Jean Encoule - tMx 15 - 06/04