Matte Martin is a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter obsessed with the dark and complex edges of rock and pop music. Matte channels the disparate influences of classical music, punk rock, the avant-garde, horror films, and the great English poets into deep, dark, dramatic rock-infused pop songs. The dark woods of his rural northern California upbringing cast their long shadows on every song.
“I’m back in my hometown of Sonora, California at the moment – it’s a small rural town pretty close to Yosemite. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for a long time, mostly in Oakland and other parts of the East Bay. Sonora is a tiny but strangely musical town. I grew up hearing a lot of classical music and jazz, and there were lots of punk and metal bands when I was growing up. I dabbled in and absorbed all of it.”
What was your dream job as a child?
“I always dreamed of being a musician, though I did want to be a guitar shredder early on. But once I started writing songs, that became my lifelong passion. I felt like I always had a unique way of putting chords together.”
What inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?
“90s punk bands made me think I could write my own stuff. I never wanted to be a singer, but I was always the one in bands who was willing to take on that duty. I’m a very reluctant singer, but I’ve finally grown comfortable with my voice.”
So 90s punk bands inspired you to pursue a career in music, but who are your main musical influences?
“Lots of punk bands, especially The Ramones, The Clash, and Rancid; prog rock; tons of 60s bands, especially The Beach Boys and The Beatles. Scott Walker is also one of my biggest heroes and helped me find my voice, as did Elvis Presley.”
I’m always interested in hearing about artist’s creative process. What can you tell me about yours?
“I can’t explain it well, but sometimes I just feel creative, and I’ll pick up my guitar or sit at the piano and once I find a few chords, some other chords and melodies will just sort of appear and the song will tell me how to construct it. It’s kind of mysterious, and I’m afraid of figuring out too clearly how it works.”
Your lyrics are rather dark. What inspires your lyrics?
“Classic books, identity, consciousness, death, Ingmar Bergman, poetry: I really want to be a writer as good as John Keats and Wallace Stevens, and sometimes I spend weeks on a song. A lot of my songs are political, usually about authoritarian governments or hypocrisy: but I’m sneaky about it. I’m hoping people will find some of my lyrics poetic and beautiful, and only then maybe think of what they mean.”
Do you continually write?
“I rarely take more than two months off from writing. It is my favorite thing and I get rusty if I take off much more than that. I’m also the recording/mixing/mastering engineer of my solo project and bands, so sometimes it’s hard to keep up.”
You recently released your album ‘Violent Order’ which features your song Serpents of the Sea. Are you happy with the response to your album?
“I am so grateful to the people who have listened, shared, and praised the album. I know that I have a pretty niche audience, so I’m hoping all the weirdos will check it out – I made it for them. Non-weirdos are also welcome, but it’s good for artsy, weird kids who live in small towns to have something to listen to. I’d like for them to find my music.”
“Violent Order is really quite poppy – for me, but the solo project is about not compromising on anything. So since I spent the last couple years being obsessed with The Beach Boys, Rockabilly, and Huey Lewis and the News, I’m going to let those influences come through. I mean, the album’s much darker than those things, but I wanted it to be big, direct, short, and sweet, with big vocal harmonies and big twangy guitars.”
“In the bands, I write most of the music but I want everyone’s creativity to shine, and for the bands not to sound like something I could make on my own. I construct the skeleton and everyone else adds the flesh.”
What do you enjoy most as a musician? Is there anything you don’t like?
“I love writing and I love performing a lot. I’m a typical musician in that I don’t love promotion. I’m starting to enjoy making videos, though, and I made a Cal Worthington-inspired commercial for the new album, with the worst Southern accent you’ve ever heard. (See video below, ed.)
What’s next? What are your plans for 2022?
“I almost don’t want to say, but I’m writing and recording something like a dark, Frank Sinatra album – I’m writing some big traditional orchestral arrangements inspired mostly by Nelson Riddle. It will also have some modern elements and I’m excited to see how it turns out.”
“I’m also recording a full length Zap Guns album and there is a Bikini Complex album that may be out sooner than that – it’s really good.”
“I’m hoping to play out a lot more next year, too.”
If you were headlining a big show, what music would you walk out on stage to?
“The opening of Shostakovich’s Symphony 12.”
What’s on your bucket list to do before you die?
“I want to write a great score for a great film. I want to produce an album that connects with a lot of people, without sacrificing my integrity. I’d like to visit parts of Britain that I’ve read about in many of my favorite books.”
What’s your favourite song from the Cool 20?
“I love ‘Much Sweeter’ by Shoun Shoun! I feel like they combine almost every type of rock music that I love into one great sound. I would love for The Bikini Complex to play a show with them.”
What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?
“I know some great musicians on Spotify, so it hurts me to choose only one, but Chip Whitson has a band called The Rage with just the most perfect power pop song called ‘Something, Anything‘.”