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Matt Krefting interview

Before I ever met Matt Krefting, I found him to be an intriguing dude, especially his choice in haircuts. One trip down to Brooklyn, he’d be sportin’ some sorta butcher baby bowl cut that would make Moe Howard cringe and the next week I’d take a trip up to Northern Massachusetts to see him at some such gathering or another donning a quaff that would make Paul Mitchell shriek in purple envy. ‘Hmm…what makes this dudes’ sheers tick?’ I pondered from across the room while others weaved to and fro from the man. After that, I got to know him as a member of the barely there drone trio Son of Earth as well as the bass player for the shambling and defunct Glam Rock unit, The Believers. When I finally got to talk to the guy, I found him to be more than a haircut. He’s a genuinely swell cat with a sharp musical knowledge and a ferocious appetite for whiskey and wine.

Somewhere down the pike I heard that Matt was recording a solo LP for Ecstatic Peace and figured it was going to be some super abstract dealy. Something where he just read off the Dewey Decimal system while Scott Foust or someone like that sits on a Casio in the other room. But hey! The thing turned out to be a disc fulla cover tunes by artists both me and him had wagged chins about many a late night. Bill Fay, Danko and the much missed John Martyn all get a loving tribute from Matt himself and it comes off brilliantly. Accompanied by the Sunburned dudes, J Mascis, Josh Burkett and many others from the Northern Mass mafia, Krefting has done up the record every starry eyed fan boy wished they could while they starred blankly at their ceiling wondering how they could pay these artists back for the therapy they’ve provided from their sounds. The bastard has done it for all of us. The least you can do is go out and buy a copy, ya cheapskate.

Interview conducted at the gorgeous Candlelight Lounge on the corner of Passaic Street and North Willow in scenic Trenton, New Jersey, while Lou ‘The Bra’ Fontaine and Blake ‘Blaze’ Pascal played soothing saxes in the background.

Give me a rundown of how the Ecstatic Peace record came to fruition. Was it something planned for a while? Was it gonna be a more abstract deal originally? How did the idea of doing a straightforward studio LP of covers come about?

Well, Thurston asked me to do a record. He was thinking it would have electronics, some songs, basically a mish-mash of all the different “styles” of music I’ve done. We recorded a bunch of stuff in his basement. Drones, noise, me singing, etc. I’m not much of a mish-mash type of person myself, and while I like a lot of what we got done down there, it kind of sat dormant for a while. I still hope that stuff comes out some day. I think during this time I did a show with a band that I put together, which was John Moloney, John Shaw, J Mascis, Josh Burkett, and Rob Thomas. Thurston was in the original line-up but couldn’t make the show and that’s when J got involved. We did all covers and it felt really good and fun. A couple of months after that I had drinks with Andrew Kesin, who brought the all-covers concept up, asking me “So, is the record all covers?” and I just answered “Yes”, without ever having really thought about it that much before. He hooked me up with John Townsend, and we started working on stuff in his attic studio. After a couple of months of working on this thing, and a bunch of conversations with Andrew, Towns, and Thurston, it was decided that some “live” band stuff in a studio might be the way to inject the record with some more spice. It was at this point that the Sunburned guys got involved with the record. I asked Mascis and Josh to play as well. I tried to get Aaron Rosenblum, Willie Lane, and John Shaw to play, but there were scheduling problems. Shaw eventually added some great backing vocals. So the short version is: We did a bunch in Towns’ attic, we did a couple of days in the studio, and we did some more in the attic, and we cobbled a record together out of that stuff.

I would imagine in the mind of Krefting, there were songs upon songs swimming around that you wanted to cover. What kinda ‘system’ did you use to widdle it down to these tracks?

System? (laughs heartily). There was no “system” at all, rather a constantly changing, roundabout bout with intuition. Once a song felt right, and seemed like it would make the cut, it influenced what came next. The outtakes are pretty bizarre and expansive. “Calvary Cross” was the 3rd Thompson tune we worked on, and one that I only considered after the first day in the studio. And there were Martyn songs GALORE getting thrown around. Everyone who got anywhere near this thing had a suggestion of a song I should do, and sometimes I listened to them and more often than not, these suggestions gave way to other avenues. Kesin suggested “Box of Rain” and that got me thinking about the Dead, and I went through a bunch of songs in my head and ended up with “To Lay Me Down,” which then got filtered through the lens of John Townsend, who knows nothing about the Dead other than he doesn’t like them very much, and he created that beautiful bed upon which the song rests. So it was more organic than you might think.

I gotta plead total ignorance to that Jeff Simmons track on the record. How did you come to find out about it?

The Simmons track has been one of my “If only I could cover THAT song” things ever since I first heard it, which is a mildly interesting story. It was some time in early 2005, and a cold, dark time in my life it was. It was “Belgian Beer Fest” time over at the Moan and Dove in South Amherst, so Free Jazz tycoon Michael Ehlers and I went over to have a few. We had tried to cajole Thurston Moore into coming with us, but he had been at home all day “playing microphone feedback for the dog” and also had been drinking wine all day, and didn’t feel like he should drive. Knowing Thurston as I do, it’s not exactly his style to drink all day, so we were interested in checking out his scene after we had our fill of Belgian Beer. When we showed up he was listening to some weird 7″ of a little-kid hardcore/noise band from some European country. Sweden? Norway? I just don’t remember.

I know the exact seven inch you’re talking about. The Demars on LalLalLal. Great record!

That’s the one! Good work, squire! Then we put on some Wizz Jones, some abstract electronic record, and things were starting to get into a more mellow, grown-up zone, when Thurston decided he’d had enough of that. He bounded out of the room and came back with ‘Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up’ by Jeff Simmons. I had no idea what it was, but both he and Ehlers were very excited about it. He played the thing in its entirety, but the title track stuck in my head like glue. Zappa plays these absolutely searing leads on it, and when I woke up the next day it was all I could think about. A welcome distraction from the miserable morass of my life at the time. I went over to the Ecstatic Yod space, where I knew it would be, and burned myself a CDR of it for the car, which I still have at the ready today whenever I need it. In fact, I think I made 4 or 5 copies just in case. The idea of having J play lead on it was too exciting to pass up, and the rest, as they say….

Since it’s never been brought into the open, why did the Believers break up? Any regrets at the end of that band?

The Believers broke up because some of the inter-personal tension started to outweigh the joys of making music together. That’s the tactful way of saying it. I will say here and now that I would love to make music with John and Anna again, and this is an idea we talk about frequently. My guess is that it will happen in the not-so-distant future, which in our version of time could mean any time before 2012, which grows closer every day. Anna insists that she’ll play again once she and John buy an RV. I’d like her to get behind the skins a little earlier than that. Regret is something I try not to dabble in too much if I can help it, although at times my interior world seems absolutely dominated by regret, doubt, and fear, so it’s a little hard to answer that part of the question. But I like to think that the project is just asleep, dormant, and will wake up and get back to work, just looking a little different than it did when it closed its eyes.

Wasn’t there a Believers LP recorded for Ben Chasny’s phantom label? What ever happened to that?

Well the answer is nothing. We finished it, sort of. It sits. It’s kind of great. Just you wait until it comes out!

OK…it’s chill time. Krefting’s got his feet up…he’s got his arm around his lady and he wants to watch something funny…real funny. What’s he gonna watch?

This is a stellar question, and there are many answers I could give. You could be talking about movies or TV. Luckily, we don’t have TV, but we do have some TV on DVD, so we watch Chapelle’s Show all the time, as well as the Gus Chiggins sketch from the Will Ferrell DVD. If we’re talking cinema proper, I think ‘Female Trouble’ is just about the funniest movie ever made. ‘The Jerk’ is good for a chuckle. That ‘Dr. Strangelove’ ain’t bad. One of us will go to the other video store and the other one will say “Pick up some sweet comedies,” and that could mean anything from the Anchorman/Dodgeball axis to ‘The Bank Dick’. But more often than not, me and the missus watch ‘The Last Waltz’ over and over. And ‘Dazed and Confused’ — we watch that one a lot too. And we’ve recently put ‘Easy Rider’ on that list. But none of those are really that “funny,” you know?

What’s the Krefting verdict on ‘Step Brothers’?

I actually thought it was fantastic. Easily the most grotesque of those films. Not that I’ve seen them all, but I’ve seen a lot of them. There’s something so totally unnerving about the sleep-walking scenes, and so uncomfortable about watching two grown men act like that. I loved it.

As you may or may not know, I’m a jaded piece of shit. If you and I were in a record store and you wanted to prove to me that music in the present day was not kaput, what would you lead me to?

Yes, I know you’re a jaded piece of shit. But, then again I reserve the phrase “piece of shit” for Tom Hanks, so I’ll leave it at “I know you’re fucking Jaded, Tony.” Music in the present day is a tricky question. I could easily lead you to The Shadow Ring, but if any band has ever spelled “the end of music” as clearly or as brilliantly, I have yet to encounter it. I think Dredd Foole makes music that’ll boil the “jade” out of most anyone willing to listen. Idea Fire Company hasn’t made a record I dislike, but I’m too emotionally close to that stuff (I’m even on the new record) to really be objective. I mean, I definitely think there’s a lot more “bad” music than “good” these days, or at least music that leaves me cold, but I’m trying not to be jaded about it, as I haven’t found that to be a very productive way to work. It’s damned hard to be someone in this world who thinks that life is worth a damn and not get jaded, because there is just SO MUCH to make one angry, and I’m trying my damndest these last years to walk the fine line between recognizing the dismal state of all things (culture, politics, war, environment, on and on and on) and still living a life that has meaning and value. Actually, I think that’s a big part of what this record is about, it was a way for me to make “new” music by looking back. Huh.

As far the Band goes, ‘King Harvest’ or ‘Look out Cleveland’?

This is a multi-layered question, and I can tell it’s the first of many pitfalls you’re setting up for me. If you mean “which one of these songs did I use as the warm-up for every time I went to record with Towns”, then the answer is “King Harvest”. There’s also something about that second record that works so damned well for me as a SONG-CYCLE that I think they both fit their places in such a scheme like a glove. There’s something about The Band’s ability to marry the very “important” with the very “casual” (on that record especially) and I would place “King Harvest” on the “important” side and “Look Out Cleveland” on the more casual end of things, but this is not to say that either song is “better.”

As far as Bowie goes, ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’ or ‘Fantastic Voyage’?

As for these two, you’re really asking me to compare conceptual apples and oranges. I’ve heard “Fantastic Voyage” many more times, and in the end it’s a better song in my opinion. I love “Rock and Roll Suicide” but in more of a hokey way. “Fantastic Voyage,” and all of Lodger, really, fits into such an interesting little crevice of Bowie’s career that it’s hard to even figure out completely. The record is in between so many different ideas while synthesizing so many others that’s it’s endlessly fascinating. I go back to it over and over again.

The fucking Rock n Roll time machine is up and running. No shit, Chet. Where are you going first?

Oh sweet Jesus. I imagine I’d make a few stops. I’d want to see a young Jerry Lee Lewis tearing up a tiny honky tonk, I’d want to see Howlin’ Wolf in the late 50’s, Sam Cooke live at the Harlem Square Club, The Faces, The Minutemen, Whitehouse in 1982, a young Aretha Franklin, PiL circa Metal Box, but the first thing that popped into my head here was the Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

I’d get the Jazz Time Machine to take me to see that Coltrane fellow everyone’s always talking about right after we see Johnny Dodds.
The Fly on the Wall Time Machine and I are going to peek into the basement of Big Pink, too, if that’s ok with you.

What are these live shows gonna be like?

A fantastic question. The line-up is changing every day at this point. No matter what happens I will sing the songs. What songs we do and who will ACTUALLY be in the band will be determined every night it seems.

Otis Spunkenmyer keeps stealing my alpo…what should I do?

I’m a pretty domestic person, but I don’t have the slightest bit of advice for you here.

What’s the last piece of music or written piece of word that’s broken you down?

Broken me down? I would say that a couple weeks ago when we were getting ready to move apartments and ending every night playing Richard Thompson’s “End of the Rainbow” over and over that was pretty breakdown-inducing. Thompson’s “Beeswing” moved me to tears the other day and I’ve heard it plenty of times.
Written word? Richard Meltzer’s Autumn Rhythm, which I found remaindered for $3, was just flabergastingly great and moving.

What was the first live music that blew you away?

Allman Brothers. No doubt. Those guys have ruled every time I’ve seen them, which I’m pretty sure is 7 times. But the first time I ever saw music and thought that is was something I could do myself was right around when I first saw Mike Watt and Sonic Youth within a couple months of each other.

What’s the one fucking piece of music and/or musical experience that you think has made your life what it is?

I don’t really like these questions. I can’t pinpoint one. It changes all the time. Formative pieces have been: A Love Supreme, SY “Expressway to Yr Skull,” The Band first two LPs, Dylan “Visions of Johanna,” Nico “It Was a Pleasure Then,” Mirror’s Visiting Star LP, Roxy Music Stranded, David Bowie Low, Gil J. Wolman, and Lou Reed’s The Bells, which is my favorite record ever. And the bullshit thing about a question like this is that there’s so much that’s had an impact that’s NOT on this list.

Do you have anything in store after this record drops and you play some shows? Do you think this band has ‘legs’? Are you playing it by ear?

Well, I imagine I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. This thing just happens to be getting a lot more publicity because it’s Ecstatic Peace and it’s a “regular” record that people can play for their parents and not feel bad. I think now that I’ve done this, I know I can do it, and I have an interest in doing more song-oriented work. I have a full LP of “songs” that I’ve done with Scott Foust under the name Dead Girl’s Party that we’re hoping someone puts out. I’m really proud of that one. There’s a new Son of Earth LP out any minute on Amish, we’ll do some shows for that. I plan on getting a bunch more writing done soon, and maybe working on some films as well. I have HOURS of strange solo recordings I’ve done that I’ve mentally edited into an LP at least 20 times. Swill Radio was going to do it, but other things came up that Scott wanted to do more. And he knows I’m not going anywhere as far as he’s concerned. He’ll always know where to find me. I’m really constantly coming up with stuff to do. I really want to do another “rock” record, so I hope they let me.
Matt Krefting’s CD, ‘I Couldn’t Love You More’ is out now on Ecstatic Peace.

by TONY RETTMAN on 6/16/2009 in Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,