The Bowery Ballroom
The Mountain Goats

The Mountain Goats

Matthew E. White

Mon, October 15, 2012

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

The Bowery Ballroom

New York, NY

$25

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This event is 18 and over

The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats
John called me about playing with the Mountain Goats in 2001. Not for the first time, mind you. I’d signed on for a couple European tours in 1996, playing bass; the first had gone swimmingly and led to a second, which didn’t. Still, a foundation had been laid: John and I, already close friends, had developed over the course of those tours a musical chemistry strong enough that, even five years later, we were still bummed that the only people who got to see it were a handful of indifferent Bavarian villagers. “ Do you want to do some recording?” John asked. Yeah, I said. We should totally do some recording. It turned out to be a fateful conversation. Not more than a week or two later, the venerable London indie 4AD got in touch, and we found ourselves suddenly charged with making an album. In a studio. With a producer. We spent an intense week at Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Road, with Glasgow’s Tony Doogan at the board. There was some give and take. I loved the Mountain Goats, but I’d heard ten years’ worth of boombox Mountain Goats albums and wanted to swing for the fences. John was game while insisting that certain defining orthodoxies be preserved. We met in the middle and were both pretty ecstatic with the result: we felt like we’d gone out on a limb, but in a way that stayed true to the spirit of the project. And then Tallahassee came out and we got to read a bunch of articles about our new lo-fi album. Indefatigable in our efforts to escape the legacy of the Mountain Goats’ home-recorded past, over the course of the eight albums that followed we would exploit the production and engineering skills of meticulous sonic architects like John Vanderslice and Scott Solter, become even more of a band with the addition of Superchunk’s Jon Wurster on drums in 2007, and flesh out our songs with string and horn arrangements bordering on the Bacharachian. With Matt Douglas fully on board as woodwinds-and-kitchen-sink guy, we’re now a four-piece, and to record this album, our fourth for Merge and the one to which you’re presumably about to listen, we went to Blackbird Studio in Nashville, as top-shelf a facility as any on the planet. They have the board Aja was recorded on. When Jon asked about snares, he was told, “ We have 200 of them.” We had sixteen people from the Nashville Symphony Chorus skip out on a Mahler rehearsal to come in and sing on a song. Sixteen! The theme this time around is goth, a subject closer to my heart perhaps than that of any Mountain Goats album previous. And while John writes the songs, as he always has, it feels more than ever like he’s speaking for all of us in the band, erstwhile goths (raises hand) or otherwise, for these are songs that approach an identity most often associated with youth from a perspective that is inescapably adult. Anyone old enough to have had the experience of finding oneself at sea in a cultural landscape that’s suddenly indecipherable will empathize with Pat Travers showing up to a Bauhaus show looking to jam, for example. But underneath the outward humor, there is evident throughout a real tenderness toward, and solidarity with, our former fellow travelers—the friends whose bands never made it out of Fender’s Ballroom, the Gene Loves Jezebels of the world—the ones whose gothic paths were overtaken by the realities of life, or of its opposite. It’s something we talk about a lot, how fortunate and
grateful we are to share this work, a career that’s become something more rewarding and fulfilling than I think any of us could have imagined. We all know how easily it could’ve gone the other way, and indeed for a long time did. Maybe that’s why John entrusted me with writing the coda to his song about a guy fed up with his major label bosses and contemplating packing it in. You know, the one I sang at the fancy recording studio, into a microphone worth more than I made in a year for most of my life. Okay, I’m wasting my time, I know. And it’s fine—as far as inevitable fates go, I can think of far worse. Please, enjoy Goths, the new album by those preeminent legends of lo-fi, the Mountain Goats! —Peter Hughes February, 2017 Charlotte
Matthew E. White
Matthew E. White
On Dec. 24, 2013, Matthew E. White could not fall asleep in his childhood bedroom. The Richmond singer, bandleader and modern soul visionary had returned to his parents' home in Virginia Beach for the holidays. During the previous 18 months, he'd toured Europe and America extensively, played Primavera and Glastonbury, performed at The Hollywood Bowl and the Sydney Opera House, and even staged a live rendition of his surprise-hit debut, Big Inner, with a band of 30 members. Big Inner earned five stars in The Guardian and a spot on its year-end list, plus those of Pitchfork, eMusic and Consequence of Sound. But White hadn't rested or seen his family very much. At last, he was excited to do both.
The insomnia, though, didn't stem from childlike anticipation of early-morning presents. Actually, White hurt too much to sleep. Not long after he arrived in Virginia Beach, he developed a sudden case of shingles, the stresses of the last year-and-a-half rendering themselves in painful physical form. So while his parents visited his grandmother and his sister celebrated with her own family just a few blocks away, White spent Christmas Eve alone in his childhood double bed.
But that was OK, as the break gave him the chance to consider the bizarre turns his life had taken—that is, how he went from making a solo record by accident to embracing a solo career so busy it had made him sick.
"For the first time, I remember thinking, 'What just happened?'" he says, laughing long after the shingles have passed. "I thought about all the places I went, the people I played to, the people who cared about my record and felt moved by it. That was the craziest year of my life by miles and miles—and the hardest and the most exciting, too."
To backtrack, briefly: In 2009, White and a cadre of friends developed the idea of Spacebomb Records, an old-fashioned label and production house meant to turn the tunes of songwriters they liked into grandiose, graceful statements. They had in-house strings and horns and a choir at their behest, too. Collectively, the musicians possessed a wide, working knowledge that could pivot from the gusto of New Orleans to the verve of Detroit, from tube-amp rock to hi-fi pop. Sure, people like to talk about White's past with jazz or his love of classic American songcraft. It's telling, however, that as a high school student, he interned at Master Sound, the hometown studio that Pharrell Williams eventually turned into the epicenter of his empire.
To demonstrate the Spacebomb ideal, White and his wide cast recorded a few songs he'd pieced together, hoping mostly to show other songwriters how the system would work. But those cuts became Big Inner, the record that Uncut termed "one of the great albums of modern Americana" and caused Paste to proclaim that White was one of music's "best new bands." Tours, interviews, photo shoots and, well, the shingles followed.
While White spent Christmas Eve considering what had happened, he already knew what was going to happen next: When the holidays ended, he would begin turning the bits and bobs of song ideas he'd collected on tour into his second album, bolstered by the validation of welcome he'd found in the wider world.
If the first album had been serendipity, every step of this one was to be deliberate, from his co-writing sessions with longtime friend and former bandmate Andy Jenkins to his steady arrangement brainstorms with the trusted Spacebomb house band—bassist Cameron Ralston, drummer Pinson Chanselle and guitarist Trey Pollard, who co-produced the subsequent recording sessions with White. There were timelines and deadlines, detailed discussions about who would mix the music (New York staple Patrick Dillett) and the many stories the songs would share. The result is the audacious, confident and masterful Fresh Blood, a record that feels like the brilliant bloom to Big Inner's striking bud.
Fresh Blood is a bracing, beguiling record and a bold advance for White. Opener "Take Care My Baby" is his step-into-the-light moment, a sophisticated but instantly winning soul number where love becomes a panacea for woe. That enthusiasm crosses over for "Fruit Trees," a smiling, seductive number where White—his voice traced and teased by horns, strings and harmonies—begs for a paramour to "let me sleep in your tent tonight."
Sometimes these situations don't go well, though, which White confesses during "Feeling Good is Good Enough." It's a breakup song in ecstatic pursuit of temporary carnal relief. And while it's got nothing to do with love, lust or leaving, the sassy "Rock & Roll is Cold" radiates the aplomb of an artist who has stumbled into success and taken charge of the circumstances. White's having fun, trading lines with backup singers and saxophones alike, teasing components of the gospel, soul and rock form that shape the very backbone of the music he makes. This is White's party, and he's a most welcoming host.
That same spirit presides during the set of more solemn and pointed songs that serve as Fresh Blood's core. For White, one lesson of Big Inner and the tours that followed was that he wanted to be able to believe in his songs every night, to know that the words he sang were more than vehicles for memorable melodies.
"I didn't like singing 'Steady Pace' every night. It was too light. It didn't age well for me," he says. "My peers and I sometimes have a lack of concern and awareness for the world around us—culturally, politically, socially. We are in danger of being lulled to sleep by our culture's excess. I'm not writing political songs yet, but I've tried to at least write songs that have to do with the variety and reality of our lives."
And so, at the record's center, White delivers a trilogy of beautiful reflections on the world as he sees it. An agitated but elegant excoriation of sexual abuse in the church, "Holy Moly" rages like a missing midpoint between Neil Young's Harvest and Tonight's the Night. "Tranquility" meditates on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, a consummate artist whose dual force and frailty has long resonated with White.
And in "Circle 'Round The Sun," a look at the suicide of a dear friend's mother, White finds one of the most exquisite moments of balance in his entire career. It is a love song written from the perspective of the recently departed, calmly exploring a tumult of conflicting loyalties—to Jesus, to family, to life, to death.
"Wading in the water, Lord, keep my son and daughter," White sings, at once gentle and resolved over steady and soft piano and drums. "Put your arms around me, Jesus, tonight."
At the risk of heresy, Fresh Blood feels as comfortable and fraught as those lines and that song. Simultaneously recognizing the trouble and delight that life can bring, these 10 numbers are guides for times of joy, agony and the middle distance where we most often linger. After only two albums, Matthew E. White feels now like an old friend who has seen what we've seen, heard our stories and done his best to make a record that gives them necessary gravity. That way, when we lay awake at night considering our own pain or worry, we've got new anthems to keep us company.
Domino will release Fresh Blood worldwide on CD, LP and digitally March 15, 2015.
Venue Information:
The Bowery Ballroom
6 Delancey St
New York, NY, 10002
http://www.boweryballroom.com/