“I’m beaten and sweaty and I have to do something about my throat, but I’m really excited,” Matt Pond said over the phone of his upcoming Cleveland performance during a break from practicing with his band Tuesday night. “We’ve been practicing from home, but we’ve all been practicing together specifically this week. We’re here and we’re really enjoying it. So it’s good.”
Pond is performing tonight at the Grog Shop on this tour built around 2004’s Emblems, in celebration of its tenth anniversary. Joining him this evening will be locals The Lighthouse and The Whaler and Tom Evanchuck.
Pond is a rare breed–an artist who unapologetically opens himself up, exposing his underbelly as he builds beautiful orchestrations on the stage that envelope the listener. His music is flooded with humanity, an authentic nature that falls by the wayside so frequently in music as of late. If ever there was a doubt about where you needed to be tonight, erase it. The whole night will undoubtedly leave you feeling very alive. Talking to Matt Pond has the same effect. There is an underlying hopefulness that swells within when you do.
I kind of want to start with talking about the decision to add the PA back to your name. On the last album you dropped it and I think it’s back again for this tour. Is that right?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I guess we did an album with BMG and I don’t know if it was a misspelling or a choice. I just let things happen sometimes. Especially now, we’re playing Emblems, which was done under this name. I don’t have a lot of, I don’t stand by, names don’t mean a lot to me, I guess. Not even my own. They seem a little arbitrary. You know what I mean? Songs and words I intend, but I didn’t really, what you say over and over again just to signify something…I’m sounding much more pretentious than I am. I don’t know why things are the way they are, but they are the way they are.
Okay. That’s fair enough. I know you’re not pretentious. I saw you in Cleveland last time you were here. You’re very humble and kind.
Oh, cool. Thank you. That’s good to know.
Just reaffirming that in case you forgot.
I do sometimes forget. But I don’t forget because we’re sweating in a practice space and we’re blasting through everything trying to get it right. In all the places outside of a club, it’s a lot of work being in a band.
I imagine it would be. And don’t you have one of the guys from The Lighthouse and The Whaler playing with you on this tour?
Yeah, and we have a guy from Cleveland playing drums with us.
So you have to keep all those musicians up on things too which I imagine would be a lot of work.
There’s like six of us on stage and people switched instruments for this tour. It’s intense but it’s good. I mean, I love it. So. I think anything worth doing is probably a lot of hard work. You know?
I would have to agree. Why was it important to do a tour around Emblems?
I mean, it was the ten year anniversary and we threw around the idea and we started getting offers before we even completed the thought. So it was kind of like, cool, this is a good thing and there’s a response so let’s do this. I never have any kind of grand illusion about how, when people show up to see us, I’m excited. That people like the idea of this was exciting to me. It’s hard because some of the songs we never played live or in front of people rather. In doing the album, you have to beat the album. If we do it right, we’ll do it. We have to beat the album.
How do you think those songs have evolved over the last ten years?
Those songs or all of my songs?
Either. (laughs) I mean, I don’t know. It’s weird. I play these songs and I don’t know how I wrote some of them. Some of them are almost beyond me. All my songwriting processes change all the time. If I overthink it, then I’ll screw it up. So, I try not to think about it. There’s an album called the Dark Leaves that we did where I could write all the songs and most of the parts in my head. I mean, I can’t do that with other albums. I wish I could. I guess I don’t get as dark as I did when I wrote Emblems or things before. I don’t have to be as completely torn apart. But I guess things still always remain torn apart and I keep writing songs about how it’s not so terrible. Terrible things aren’t terrible.
I’d have to agree with that because they help you grow.
Yeah. I have a hard time saying that because that’s kind of positive affirmation. I believe in positivity, but about music I kind of have to stay rigid with that. I can never let myself think I am anything more than I am. Once you do that you turn into an asshole. I desperately don’t want to be an asshole.
That’s a good focus to have.
That’s all you can do. When you’re writing do you find that the instrumental parts come first or the words or does it switch?
It’s either or and sometimes it’s just the same thing as it’s coming. It’s kind of just like a guttural, visceral thing and then I attach words to what I’m singing or fake singing and I can’t really tell you. It’s probably like speaking in tongues is the only way to kind of describe it. You know, I don’t know. The words have to be right to finish a song and so does the music. It falls together or it doesn’t happen. I’ve written probably as many bad songs as songs that I like. It’s just all in trying to find how to articulate what I’m trying to say.
How important do you think failure is to success?
I mean I wish it wasn’t important to it. I wish that we didn’t have to experience that. It’s inherent in our existence. Our bodies will fail eventually. I just don’t think that we have the right definition of failure. People think they’ve failed if they don’t get the right job or if they don’t have the right house or the right things and that has nothing to do with it. Failure is from not trying, it’s not from trying. If you try and fail, you know you didn’t fail, in my mind.
I totally agree with that. I think your writing is very eloquent. All the things that you say addressing your fans are well-written. Are there any authors or singers who have inspired the way you craft your words?
My favorite writers aren’t people I can compare myself to. I love Walker Percy. Music-wise, Neil Young. I mean, there’s millions. Or Morrissey. I try to read a lot of books, but I tend to forget a lot of what I’ve read. My memory is strange and elusive. I mean, yeah, this is what seeps into me and I am trying to be better and aspiring to be, at the same time as I want to be as good as the people I admire, I’m trying to be as good as I can be. It’s a struggle, but a good one.
You also write very openly. How important do you think it is to be open about your life?
I don’t think you have to be open, I just think you have to be sincere. I don’t even mean sincere, just somehow honest about something. If it’s all artifice, it doesn’t seem like art to me, if you’re just trying to emulate something. It’s got to mean something. I guess meaning is the most important thing to me.
What motivates you to continue to follow this dream when things get difficult?
You know it’s funny because it is actually failures are hard things. I broke my leg on tour a few years ago. I actually missed the Cleveland date because of it on our tour, but it made me realize I like playing music. You take it for granted sometimes. I mean, by no means am I like a success where I don’t have to worry about anything. I worry about everything. I don’t think anyone no matter how successful they are stops worrying, but I just, I don’t think that we’re alive that long. So why would we do anything other than the things we want to do? Maybe for a few months or maybe for even six months or at most a year, but why would there every be a compromise in your life when it’s not endless? I’m lucky to do this. I’m lucky to have people that want to hear it. As long as there’s a few people, this is what I’m doing. As long as band members will put up with me. I’m mildly a tyrant. But like, in a way where you have to move things forward if you’re going to approach them.
And on this tour you’re taking The Lighthouse and The Whaler with you, who are from Cleveland. What made you want to partner up with them?
We did a tour with them last year and they were probably the best part of it. They’re thoughtful people. They’re great musicians. They made me realize I have to try harder. We were just talking about the first show we played with them, they went on and I saw them playing and I was almost defeated. Not that we don’t ever not give everything, but it raised the ante, the level on everything. They’re really sweet people. I can’t think of a compliment not to give them. At the same time, they’re not perfect, they’re human beings and they’re the first ones to admit that. So it’s kind of cool. Things are going to get heavy and heated and crazy and it’s going to be a lot of fun to do that with them.