Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fables of the Reconstruction: Matt Valentine Interview

MV+EE’s Space Homestead is the best release so far this year. It’s got everything a psych freak like me needs and loves: cozy downhome melodies spun from acoustic guitar; transcendent vocal harmonies; asymmetrical rhythms; wah-wah; slide/pedal steel; long fuzzed-out solos; some scary feedback; 4D stereo; and a plethora of ghost and starship sounds swirling all around. This week, I caught up with Matt Valentine, the MV of MV+EE, for an email chat, and he confessed that they’re a jam band. We talked quite a bit about Jerry Garcia because, for reasons that are probably better left unexplained, I recently got in touch with him and offered to send him a huge box of bootleg cassettes -- Jerry Garcia Band or Grateful Dead, his choice. He went with the JGB, and during the winter and spring months, while he and Erika Elder (the EE) were putting the finishing touches on the new record, he had those cassettes in constant rotation on the car stereo. Naturally, I wanted to know where ol’ Jer fits in with the whole MV+EE scheme. (Note: Matt’s style of writing in mostly lower caps is preserved here to maintain the MV+EE aesthetic even in the realm of the verbal.)

Why'd you go with the JGB over the Dead?
well i've heard a lotta live dead, there is something for me to love in ALL of it -> the jerry stuff is more elusive and in some ways more solid. what i really dig is hearing him stretch out and his phrasing. i can relate to the more ergonomic rig in the JGB, more real-people vibe, and somewhat tangible to my set up.

Which ones were your favorites, and why?
there are many faves, i particularly dig where he is at in the early solo stages, when he really started to get busy "solo" ('72-'73), but the late '70s -> early '80s have so many amazing shows, and there was one from '92 that blew me away. one of my desert-island ones was 7/8/76. i also dig when they launch unexpectedly on "lonesome and a long way from home," for example, in the late show at the warner theatre in D.C. - 3/18/78.

Photo: Cat Stevens
I've read interviews where you claim Garcia as a guitarist you admire but that he doesn't really influence your own playing. Why?
imagine if i named our dog jorma instead of zuma! sure, garcia is a big influence, but i try to transmute it. if i went around saying jerry was my main insp, that's all folks would rap about. garcia's and lou reed's extended solos are two major signposts for me. and then there's robbie basho. i try not to be too myopic with my playing; i've always eschewed copying because i wanted to develop my own voice; it's a choice and there are sacrifices one makes by doing it that way. i try and recycle all the sweet spots to my ears from all the players i dig, so what went into the hopper as a cardboard cowboy might come out as a lonesome cowgirl, moonlight on vermont. nothing is really "new" in music. it's like speech. there are breakthroughs with little vowels, arcane words. i try my best to secede from the banal within a very rigid structure of western tonality.

we've been a "jam band" all along. we just never came out and said it that brazenly, you dig?  all of our records have exploratory sections and we've always embraced mixed modes and improvisations, even on the studio recordings. that's a massive garcia influence right there. he is also really measured and articulate even when to lesser ears it might seem random. same is true with our music. for example "cold rain" from our "mother of thousands" double LP has a line that sounds like a long rambling solo to undisciplined ears. it's actually a lengthy phrase that i've been playing the exact same way for 10+ years! and it's still a staple in the live show, i guess it isn't finished! it's become a springboard for all sorts of inspired jams. that same record had our "cover" of "death don't have no mercy" as well – a whole side long. erika has always really been into garcia’s choice of material. the dude has a great touch. chill...but really i'm just thankful that he gave so much music, that's probably the biggest jerry influence on me right there.

You’ve called the jams on Space Homestead "covert." What do you mean? 
let's just say all the tunes can have "vegas" arrangements live. so that's the deal with what inspired "space homestead"…it's a pleasure to play the material in concert as much as it was to craft and record.

i guess i mean a lotta things by saying "vegas"...but really i mean how we can vamp for a long time over the changes and explore before coming back in with the next vocal verse...

If you were planning a multi-course musical meal, with Space Homestead as the main course, what other records would you have on the menu?
we'd be servin' up that woods/amps for christ split, hissteria from purling hiss, robbie basho's twilight peaks, gunn-truscinski duo’s ocean parkway, J mascis's several shades of why, and the village of spaces’ alchemy and trust … man, then we'd let it rip. 

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