"It is a fact readily acknowledged that within the five boroughs of New York City, there is a Mecca of highly talented musicians scraping by on whatever ragtag funds they can get while fiendishly awaiting their due recognition.
Matt Jones, a Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter is a card-holding member of this would-be elite group of creative souls. The independent folk-rock musician, slightly disdainful of genre labels, is currently in production on his as-yet-untitled sophomore album--an undertaking that he has helmed completely, playing both the role of the powerhouse executive and the talent. In addition to finding the right man to produce his album and a solid PR team, Jones established a fundraising push in order to finalize all aspects of production.
In an era where the standard that has made up the music industry is being shattered and re-molded, Jones seems to have forged a sturdy path within the independent spectrum. An earnest supporter of the local music scene, he lights up when asked whom he admires listing off a mountain of names including: James Maddock, Laura Meyer, Jo Williamson, Lorraine Leckie, Will Knox, Alyson Greenfield and so much more.
Jones exudes a controlled confidence and charm, he gives off an affability that makes you feel like you have known him for years. Raised in Texas by his adoptive parents, Jones is open about his connection to his Brazilian heritage--and his obsession with Bob Dylan. I sat down with Jones at Think Coffee just off Washington Square, the site of his upcoming show this Friday.
When did you first want to become a musician?
I first wanted to learn to play the guitar around when I was 16 years old. I had been playing the violin since I was seven. I had just subscribed to one of those CD clubs. I got a Jimi Hendrix CD, I think a greatest hits collection, and was completely blown away by his version of “All Along the Watchtower.” I had never heard sounds like that. It was like my brain had been removed, juggled around a bit, and re-deposited into my head. I mean, those first six notes, with guitar, bass and drum…sounds like the Second Coming or something.
You classify yourself as a bit of Folk and Americana, do you plan to maintain a similar sound for your next album?
I’m actually trying to move away from 'folk' and trying to get into something more rock,' 'folk rock.' Though I have issues with the term, and what people generally associate it with, I think I have for the most part written more along the lines of 'folk' because, although I’ve branched out in the past two years, I’m somewhat obsessed with Bob Dylan. Plus, I tend to write songs that I can also play solo, so I’m not reliant on a band to gig.
Also, I’m not good with gadgets and have always been mystified by the amount of sounds you can get from an electric guitar. And then you add pedals and amps, and it’s too many options for me. An acoustic guitar locks me in to a sound, and I need this constraint to have some semblance of focus songwriting-wise.
What’s going to be the main difference with this album from the first, Butter and Rum?
The first album was a lot softer, more acoustic, than this album will be. It was recorded live in one day, and I love it, but this upcoming EP is going to be a lot more 'rock.' Not 'electric rock' a la the Kings of Leon, but 'folk rock' like Tom Petty or Josh Ritter’s rockier material. The song 'Save Our Souls,' which will be on the new EP, dives into a new genre, and is a possible future direction I’d like to move in. It goes back to the impact Hendrix’s 'All along the watchtower' had on me. I like it when my band and I can make big, overwhelming sounds. The fusion of singer-songwriter material and rock band material might be hard to make happen, but I’m going to keep pushing for this.
Also, I’m working with Alex Houton, who also works with Charlotte Sometimes (Geffen), and Alfa Garcia, as well as a bunch of other great artists. He has the amazing ability to help me focus my songs, to narrow them down to their essence, to
crystallize the hook.
You’ve been putting forth most of your effort towards recording. Can you discuss your current state in the fundraising process for your forthcoming album, and even why you have to fundraise?
I’m really excited about this upcoming five track EP I’m working on, so that is definitely my current focus. I also plan on doing a two week regional tour in conjunction with the release, possibly in January or February of 2010. In terms of fundraising, I’ve raised a lot of money so far, but still need a good amount to cover remaining recording costs, artwork, CD duplication, and PR. As I’m not signed, I need to cover all the costs myself, with the help of friends and fans. I’ve raised a decent amount so far, since starting my fundraising efforts a week or so ago, so I’m optimistic. I’m lucky to have a lot of people who support and believe in what I’m doing.
What is next on your plate for performing live around town?
I have a few gigs coming up at Think Coffee (248 Mercer St., 8:30pm) with the 'Folk Noise' series I host: One Friday, September 18th, and one October 2nd. I’m really excited to be co-hosting the October 2nd series with the New York Songwriters Circle. They are a great music organization that put on shows, host talks about the industry, and coordinate a songwriting contest. They are affiliated with Norah Jones, so that’s really cool. I’m also playing a gig at the American Folk Art Museum October 23rd, around 5:30pm, on the bill with two other great artists, John Schmitt and Brandon Warren.
Who are your musical influences?
I listen to a lot of stuff, and sometimes I think that everything that has come through my ears has influenced me, but I’ll try to list music that I think has actually influenced my songwriting. For instance, I really dig Blonde Redhead, but it would be a huge stretch to say they’ve influenced my music. Bob Dylan has been an undeniable influence. I don’t think I’ll ever stop listening to him. I’ll probably even buy that Christmas standards nonsense he is talking about recording. Another huge influence for me is Townes Van Zandt, mainly lyrically. Townes Van Zandt shaves his lyrics down to the bare minimum, and his descriptions of people and places are simple and understated, but also incredibly specific. Also along the lines of other older influences, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Otis Redding, The Allman Brothers, Leonard Cohen, The Traveling Wilburys, The Doors, Hank Williams, J.J. Cale, Taj Majal, Paul Simon, Bill Withers, Dr. John. Some contemporary musicians/bands that I think have influenced me are Josh Ritter, Ray LaMontagne, Neko Case, Tom Waits, Wilco, Calexico, Lucinda Williams.
You are almost finished with the recording of the album. What else do you need to accomplish, and how much additional funds are you searching for in order to complete production (and post-production) on the album?
The recording is mostly done. There is a drum track that needs to be recorded, and some instrumental tracks on some of the songs, as well as the final vocals. Ideally, I’d like to raise $4,000 total, by November/December. This would allow me to finish the recording, as well as help me pay for the artwork, CD duplication, and a small PR campaign. I’ve raised about $900 of this so far, in only a couple weeks or so, so that’s heartening.
What struggles do you face as an unsigned artist? What perks do you find you have?
Well, I’m lucky to have a job so I can eat and pay rent, and go out a bit, and all that, but I’m always trying to turn a dime into a dollar, so I can record more, gig more, tour. If I were signed, a lot or most of this would be covered by a label. However, I think it’s commonly misunderstood that being signed equals easy streets. I know a lot of indie bands that are signed, that still need jobs to live. But it would definitely make things easier for me to be backed by a label.
In terms of perks, I have complete artistic freedom, though I do strive to make my songs as catchy as possible, while keeping a tone that I think is suitable for the song, and for what I’m trying to evoke emotionally."
-Kristin Abele, examiner.com, September 2009