Matt Mehlan, the brain-trust behind NYC’s Skeletons, has been reinventing his band on each successive release for a few years now making each album stand assuredly apart from the one before it. So it is no surprise that his latest concoction, Money (which came out a few moons back), has an all new array of comforting chaos with the occasional pop gem snuck in to regulate. Matt came by the Porch to talk about such things as rats in the city, Ghostbusters, and moneymoneymoney.
Q: How is your day or night going?
A: Fairly well thank you, just working working. Last year I had my bicycle stolen and with all this nice weather I was getting bummed I no longer had one…But a few weeks ago I bit the bullet as they say and bought one…This city’s way better with a bike. Really I’d imagine any city is…
Q: First, thank you for making an album that is appropriate to the times we are living in. Would you like to discuss the general concept you were concentrating on for Money?
A: Well MONEY is something none of us can ignore or be free of…At the time I had no idea that “Great Depression Part Deux” was about to drop. We started working on it when gas was almost $5 a gallon. I’m no expert on anything but it’s hard for me to be depressed about this depression. There’s some kind of culture that we all were born into and feed off of in one way or another (the easiest example probably being that no matter how much I learn about how their food is made or how unhealthy it is or news stories about rising obesity in America or “BIGGEST LOSER” I still will go to McDonald’s and eat a tasty BIG MAC when we’re on the road)…And so much needs to change that it’s unbelievably easy to say “whatever” and buy what I buy and go to bed…Our mayor in NYC wants to raise the sales tax so that the city doesn’t have to fire TEACHERS while he’s on a billionaire spending bender trying to get elected to a third term…I know there’s apples and oranges and I don’t like preaching really or especially the kind of preaching that amounts to complaining…We’re so surrounded by a sort of info-fluff while constantly searching for MORE that ugly things are often brushed under a rug if they’re not the kind that can entice and sort of entertain you for a moment in time. Anyway, at the time we were writing the record my credit card company pumped my interest rate to the highest legally allowed, I had just dropped thousands of dollars to live in a building in Ridgewood where we could record and have shows but we couldn’t afford to heat it, so I moved out and around the same time got my first non-huge-corporation-owned job in NYC and an apartment where the sun shines in the windows. I was overwhelmed by the bullshit of complaining, when much of it is the result of CHOICES. So it’s sort of about confronting MONEY trying to be a better person. It’s about other things too.
Q: What albums were you listening to during the recording of Money?
A: I was listening to a lot of Sly Stone – Riot… and FRESH, I had found this Coltrane record “Infinity” and it was high on the list… Van Morrison – “Veedon Fleece” and “Common One” (those are still on rotation)… Zs!…and playing a ton of amazing shows with them…TRAPPED IN THE CLOSET! It’s hard to remember – it was a while back now! Skies of America Ornette Coleman…
Q: My favorite album of yours is Git. Can you tell me about what the process of recording that album was like?—And the influences and concepts that constructed it?
A: GIT was the last record where there was relatively unlimited studio time in a proper quiet studio as I was still in that somewhat idyllic somewhat gross thing called COLLEGE. So I was able to sort of construct it unfettered and have all my friends and an entire school of musicians that I could ask to play on it…It was also before I spent all days at work in front of a computer, so I was enamored and interested in using the computer in any new way I could…In this interview with David Behrman (which I edited and did the sound for actually: 11`http://roulette.org/rtv.php – he does a really beautiful and chill new piece called “Long Throw”) He talks about how these days, acoustic instruments are sort of precious and “a good antidote to sitting at the computer” since computers are so intertwined with our lives and a cause of anxiety in certain ways…and I had sort of been feeling that pretty hard for a while…but I’m coming back to things.
At the very base it’s not very different than MONEY – just l’il inspirational rave ups. I found recently the notebooks I kept during that time with the lyrics and drawings and I think I was really watching myself think things, and knowing why I was thinking them, and knowing I was in control of them, so then feeling embarrassed with myself for thinking them in the first place: the Ouroboros style eating your own tail…While SPEWING advice to others…It’s easy to do.
Q: What influence does living in NYC have on your music?
A: Mostly these days it has to do with the PEOPLE living in the city than the city itself. When I first came here I worked as an intern and didn’t really know anyone so I’d walk around the city either to explore some new places or just to spend time relatively aimlessly. Even then most of it was people watching. I don’t get bored here or really have any time to get bored. I like not having to drive. I like being surrounded by different cultures. I like very much the bands we’ve become friends with and play shows with and though it took a little while I feel honored to be a part of a (though the word’s a bit bogus…) “scene” of some kind. The pace used to feel fast to me here, but it’s unrelenting so it eventually feels normal or even too slow some times. What’s the vibe, “you can see the most beautiful woman and catch a whiff of the most hideous odor at the same time every single day”? I do wish I had more time to think, more time to write, more time and much much more space to make music in. I’m pretty constantly surrounded by music here though, at work, with friends, at shows…
Q: What is the strangest thing you’ve witnessed while in the city?
A: This isn’t the strangest, but the most recent: just the other week I was in Union Square with my girlfriend and people were going about there business when this rat showed up and was just chillin’ next to people. It caused a bit of a stir on the corner and actually was almost like a weirdly touching NY moment because all these strangers starting talking to each other…You know like…when they finally get rid of the goo that feeds on negativity at the end of Ghostbusters 2? But this guy in a sleeveless shirt rolls up with his lady (who has those super long fingernails and sporting some high high heels) and checks it out, takes control of the situation. He finds a Steve Madden shoe box in the garbage. He traps the rat and scoops it up in one miraculous motion! And drops it in the garbage…and this circle of people watching all go “AWWW” like it was cruelty (or maybe that he stopped the show?)…and he turns and says, “Ey, it was a rat!” And everyone bolts back to their street speed walks…
While we were working on MONEY we had some pretty surreal hangs in front of the hotel where the studio was…There was a beatboxer named Jasper who’d come by all the time and this guy who’d come by and tell you jokes for 1 minute exactly in exchange for some change…One night in January we were keeping warm under the heat lamps when both the concierge and security guy fly out the rotating door TACKLING this woman! She was shrieking in Spanish and FLIPPING out and it took TWO fifty year old men to keep hold of her. Within 2 minutes there were 6 cop cars and one of those little mini cop golf carts! I think 3 cops dealt with it, the other like…8? Hung out and laughed and shot the shit as they say.
Q: Speaking of NYC, I’ve always associated fellow NYC dwellers and music-makers, Excepter, with you. They may not have the pop-edge that you do, but they more than make up for it with frequency freak-outs, and tone twists. Would you consider forming a super group with them, or releasing a split album, or do you even like them?
A: I think Excepter is one of the most interesting bands in the city and I would work with them in any way shape or form…That’s a really interesting association…I actually organized a couple nights at Roulette back in January where we got 3 really different groups for each night and improvised and played pieces people wrote for the group. One night was with me and Jason from Skeletons, Sam from Zs, Charlie from Extra Life, and Clare, Nathan and JFR from Excepter! It was super exciting for me to play with all those people…We’d played so many shows together but had never made music together…I’m also working on this project that Sam from Zs runs called Representing NYC, which is a series of hip-hop records made with teenagers from Brownsville and East New York…Nathan produced the first one which just came out called “Da Brats from Da Ville” by the Fly GIrlz…I’m making some beats now for the 2nd one with this group 9/11 Thesaurus!
I actually wish there were way more SUPERGROUPS. But we’re all hustling even to make our own things happen, I think it makes it tough to really get into something on a deep level…Someday!
Q: Do the Skeletons have anything exciting on the horizon, or are you laying low and zoning out?
A: In a few weeks we’re doing a short tour supporting Dirty Projectors which will be awesome because they are awesome and are also awesome people. Then we get back recording our new record which’ll be out someday on some “label” somewheres…
Q: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Also, the Skeletons have a new video, and a few shows coming up they’d love to see you at.
JUNE 16: DEATH BY AUDIO w/ The Dead Science, From Bacteria to Boys, Charlie Looker – Brooklyn, NY
JUNE 17: FIRST UNITARIAN CHURCH w/ Dirty Projectors, Vieux Farka Toure – Philadelphia, PA
JUNE 21: WEXNER CENTER w/ Dirty Projectors – Columbus, OH
JUNE 24: LEE’S PALACE w/ Dirty Projectors – Toronto, ON
JUNE 25: THEATRE PLAZA w/ Dirty Projectors – Montreal, QC
JULY 3: DEATH BY AUDIO w/ Zs, Dome Theatre, Charlie Looker
JULY 26: MIDI FESTIVAL w/ Mahjongg, Telepathe, Jeremy Jay, Jeffrey Lewis, Arto Lindsay – France (Not a good chance you can go)