Matmos, 2008


Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt, who form the electronic band Matmos, are personifications of their own songs. They are also partners in their personal life. The ever-sparring Drew and Martin bristle with energy, freely mixing and matching ideas and sentiments. Though deeply informed and thoughtful, they never take themselves too seriously.

Best known for sampling sounds of everyday objects, their music is enhanced by the thematic associations of their unique instrumental choices - including such objects as Bibles and surgical tools. The Civil War, a 2003 meditation on the British and American Civil Wars, coaxed new sounds out of folksy penny whistles and banjos. In 2006, The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast painted sonic portraits of Matmos' gay heroes -- from Wiggenstein to Valerie Solanas. Their music is always beautiful, uncannily atmospheric, and maybe a little eerie.

Matmos' musical accomplishments also led to years of collaboration with Bjork. They have played on her albums Verspertine and Medúlla, and spent years supporting her on tour.

Supreme Balloon, Matmos' latest album, is a '70s-inspired electropop feast. This time around, they've thrown out the found-object sounds and stuck to a clean electronics-only approach. Less conceptually driven, Supreme Balloon is a playful palate-cleanser of an album. The final track, “Cloudhoppers,” is a happy spring rainstorm of fuzzy synthesizers.

Paula Crossfield went to meet the couple at their new two-story house in Baltimore, where they've recently moved from San Francisco. As they sat talking in the couple's dining room, Martin occasionally punctuated the conversation with sonic creations tapped out on the old wooden table, while Drew moved to and fro, rifling through his library of records and CDs.

PAULA: What is it like to work with your significant other? Is it a battle of wills?
DREW: We do fight a lot. I guess I'd call it a folie à deux. We have that us-against-the-world feeling at two levels - a musical level and a romantic level. There's a lot of loyalty and a lot of understanding. The problem is that - since we are very good at figuring out what the other is thinking - there's not a lot of protection when the mood gets critical.
MARTIN: It's like, “I know you hate what I'm doing right now. I can see it on your face.” Even though no one else would ever know.
DREW: We'll have public snipings with each other when we're setting up on stage. I'm sort of crabby.
MARTIN: Crabby indeed.
DREW: People will hear us talking and they must be thinking, “Hey guys, get along with each other.” They don't even realize that it's nothing like a true Matmos fight. A true Matmos fight is Fassbinder-movie harsh. I want to make our next record about creating this synthetic third term out of both our personalities … sort of like telepathy. We're starting off by trying to recreate the early experiments into ESP.
PAULA: What kind of experiments?
DREW: I've been setting up situations in which I try to guess what Martin is thinking. Except now he knows when I'm trying to do it. So he automatically thinks the phrase “creamed spinach” whenever I look at him. I tell him that he's thinking, “creamed spinach,” and I'm always right.
PAULA: Your current album Supreme Balloon is different. You've given up using objects to make sounds.
MARTIN: With each album, we take turns being in charge - to avoid fighting. This one was mine. Whenever Drew is in charge, it's some kind of heavy concept thing. [To Drew:] You must get a little sick of it too, so we end up…
PAULA: Drew is biting his nails.
MARTIN: ….doing a pendulum swing between the heavy concept, heavy object-oriented thing and the more free-form albums.
PAULA: You two first met in San Francisco in 1989 or 1990.
MARTIN: Yes… the first time I saw Drew, he was dancing in a fun gay bar wearing a fish. In fact, I'll go get the fish… [Leaves the dining room]
DREW: It was my birthday party. I was a go-go dancer. As an under-aged kid, it was a good way to get into clubs. I used to make my own g-strings. [Martin returns with the fish] Oh yeah, there it is. [He takes the fish and explains how it fits] The mouth used to spread open, but I don't even want to try it because it's probably sealed shut.
MARTIN: It's more than fifteen years old.
DREW: The jock strap went this way - and I could fit my junk into the mouth. The tail came out my butt, so I was sort of riding it.
MARTIN: I thought to myself, “That hot boy is wearing nothing but a fish. I will put a dollar in his fish.” Then my friend said, “Do you know that he does cool music too?” And I was like, “Really? What an excellent opportunity for a chat-up line.” That was the last time that a chat-up line I used worked.
PAULA: What exactly was that fateful line?
DREW: “Do you want to come to my apartment and edit audio?”
MARTIN: I had a computer, which was a big deal in 1990. I asked, “So, have you ever mixed on a computer?” And he was like, “Why no!” He just fell for it.
DREW [To Martin]: Well, I had seen you play with your band Tragic Mulatto at Gilman Street. They were kind of leather-clad, satanic dominatrix people. And then there was Martin with his synthesizers in the back, looking very suburban and normal and geeky. He was the cute one.
PAULA: Matmos was recently commissioned to do a piece about Musique Concrète. Do you feel that your work directly comes out of that movement?
MARTIN: After we started using objects to make sound, we heard some Musique Concrete records which we thought were really cool. But neither of us went to music school, so we hadn't studied it in any real sense. For years, we said, “Yeah, what we do is like Musique Concrète.” We were mostly talking to techno people -
DREW: - who don't give a shit.
MARTIN: We were in the dance music world. It was a way to make ourselves sound high-falutin'.
DREW: We don't have Musique Concrète's philosophical baggage - which is that you're supposed to disconnect the sound from its reference and its meaning - so that nothing semantic intrudes on it. It's supposed to be this pure encounter with the given-ness of sound. I don't buy that at all. Realistically, for us it was just a technique. We take objects, make sounds with them, and manipulate those sounds into music.
PAULA: The commission came from the Groupe de Recherche Musicale to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their Paris recording studios.
DREW: The GRM studios have always been the spiritual home of musique concrete. They're located in the Radio France building in Paris. It's where all the really awesome Concrète records were made in the '60s and '70s.
MARTIN: We still think that Musique Concrète is our foundation.
DREW: And in general, it is.
PAULA: Your piece is called “Sympathetic Magic for Pierre Schaeffer.” It was performed live at the GRM Présences Electroniques Festival.
DREW: Pierre Schaeffer was the inventor of Musique Concrète in the mid-twentieth century. We had access to the original sound recordings that he used in his first piece. We chopped them up and made our own Matmos-ized attempt at a Concrète piece. His widow, Madam Schaeffer, came to the show. She was this vision in a fur coat.
MARTIN: She was.
DREW: Very much a Grande Dame. Fabulous. She liked the piece a lot. I didn't know what to expect, honestly. There'd been a lot of discussion between us and the people at GRM about whether or not humor made sense in Musique Concrète. Some people take it very seriously.
MARTIN: It's no mistake that it's a French activity. As such, it is massively philosophized.
PAULA [To Drew]: You've just started teaching Renaissance Literature at Johns Hopkins.
DREW: Yes. That's what triggered our move to Baltimore. I had been in this never-ending grad program at Berkeley. It took me twelve years to get my PhD - and four years of that was spent touring with Bjork.
PAULA: Do your students know about your life as a musician?
DREW: Yeah, they've started coming to our shows. It burst wide open after one of my students wrote an article for the college newspaper, “Professor Drew Daniel Reveals Secret Other Life.” They actually had photos of me spanking Martin on stage. We do this piece where I spank his ass and all the beats are made out of spankings.
PAULA: Have any of them seen the naked pictures of you in Butt magazine?
DREW: When we did that photo shoot with Ryan McGinley, I worried that I might be crossing the academic-career-suicide Rubicon. If you think you have something to hide, that's the problem. But if you don't act like it's a big deal, then it's not. I'm not ashamed of it, so fuck it.
PAULA: What is your new life like in Baltimore? Do you still go out to bars and clubs?
MARTIN: El Mundo del Gay has become a very depressing place. It was not good in San Francisco, and it's equally not good here.
DREW: There is one good gay bar here in Baltimore, this rad African-American leather bar called the Eagle. But the standard-issue, pecs and house music gay bars are as boring as they were in San Francisco. The internet is changing how you manifest your sexuality, and that's changing the social spaces. The importance that gay bars had in the '50s is totally gone.
MARTIN: Now, I'll make sweeping generalizations about all homosexuality. The drive towards - what is the word when you fold something in?
DREW: Inclusion? I don't know.
MARTIN: No. “The drive towards inclusion”… That's not the right word.
DREW: Assimilation?
MARTIN: Yeah. The drive towards assimilation has worked. However, it means that gay bars are no fun because all the edgy and interesting gay kids just mix into the straight bars. Gay bars brought all the freaks together to make their own entertainment and culture, their own little world for themselves. Honestly, the elimination of shame has been a really bad thing for good times at the gay bar. Bring back the ghetto!
DREW [laughs]: Bring back the self-oppression!


© Indexmagazine.com

© Indexmagazine.com




© Indexmagazine.com


Official website
MySpace page
Matmos Youtube
Matmos news from Matador Records
Tour Dates
Matmos BUTT interview
Wikipedia-Musique concrete
The Soft Pink Truth