There are so many aspects and facets to Matt Baldwin’s music that some people might find it a bit hard to describe what he sounds like, and that would be a difficult thing to achieve in theory. His albums span several genres and at times even seem to bend and defy them. From delightfully crafted folk-ish dirges in the key of John Fahey or Robbie Krieger had he been left to his own devices with an acoustic guitar, to the electronic soundscapes of organ and hazy electric guitar that make up some of his other solo work, Baldwin seems to be extremely busy pushing the boundaries of what he does as a musician and challenging himself at every opportunity to fascinating results. Not content to be confined in the sense of being a solo artist, Baldwin has been involved in a long standing collaboration with Nico Georis and they released their first album, Year Of The Dog in 2012 which presents yet another angle of Baldwin. This time, a look at the more improvisational aspects of Baldwin, and more so than much of his other work, bears the mark of a man who has listened to a lot of The Doors and dissected the sound with a keen mind and a sharp scalpel. While he might not get as loud and raucous as they did, there’s an edge to his music, a madness that seems to be lurking just outside of the door; a wave threatening to crash above you, crushing you underneath the sheer power of it all. It’s this insanely channeled energy that manifests itself in the basis of a song, sinks it’s hooks into you and refuses to let go until the albums finished. Matt Baldwin’s music has been providing listeners with transcendent listening experiences since 2004 and after ten years it’s high time a lot more people heard of the guy! And in that spirit, I give to you - my local Psychedelic Baby readers, an infinitely looped moment of transcendent glory that threatens to engulf you; I give you, Matt Baldwin.
Listen while you read: http://psychicarts.bandcamp.com/
It seems like you have kind of a rotating collaborative process with a lot of people and I know you’ve been involved with a lot of stuff over the years. Can you tell us who some of your most frequent collaborators are as far as working on your solo stuff and who performs that material with you on the album and live? Or do you have any kind of live troupe already figured out?
Around the time I was recording Night In The Triangle I had a very short-lived live stage show with Kephera Moon, who I heard is now playing with members of Hawkwind and maybe Brainticket. With me, she was playing a huge, chopped hammond organ and Sam Flax played drums for a couple of shows. That was around 2008, and at that time we were mostly performing material off of Paths Of Ignition. My solo stuff is mostly just that, solo. Kephera plays organ on side-A of Night In The Triangle and Sam Flax plays a little guitar on a cover I did of Ornette Coleman's “Sadness”. Mostly, I prefer to be alone with the guitar and the machines, which is how I came up as a musician. A lot of my childhood was spent alone in a room with a guitar.
I know that you’re extremely involved in music and you usually have several things going on at one time. What are you currently involved with right now? Who all have you released music with in the past?
I just reissued Imaginary Psychology on The Spiritual Pajamas label a few months ago and I have two new records coming out as well. The first is called Wild Boy, which Sam Flax recorded a few years ago, and that's coming out on vinyl only. The second project is two half-hour long pieces for guitar and synthesizer called Golden Twins; that’s coming out on a Belgian cassette label called Sloow Tapes. Both of these are due in the next few months. I'm also mixing a new project with Nico Georis that’s more of a minimalist funk thing and I have a bunch of sketches for my next solo record.
Where are you originally from?
I’m from a tiny town in Northern California called Pacific Grove. I grew up near the beach.
What was the local music scene like where you grew up? Did you see many shows? Did the local scene play a large role in shaping your musical tastes or the way that you play and or perform today?
The local music scene was amazing. We had our own crazy little nest of bands like Dura Delinquent and Low Sperm Count who were very exciting and transgressive. I was around twelve years old and those were some of the most intense musical experiences of my life.
What about your household? Were your parents or any of your relatives musicians or extremely involved or interested in music when you were growing up?
My maternal grandmother gave me piano lessons with the Suzuki method, which is a way of learning by ear. I also sang in the church choir. My dad's side of the family loved ballads by Ben Webster and Sinatra.
What was your first real exposure to music?
My mom playing a cassette of Scott Joplin rags. Then the local pop station KDON that my sister listened to, “Love Come Down” and stuff like that.
If you had to pick one defining moment of music, a moment that changed everything for you, opened your eyes to the infinite possibilities of music and altered your perception, what would it be?
Discovering John Fahey was a totally re-orienting experience. I was maybe fourteen years old, up in Pinecrest and a friend of mine's mother was listening to The Return Of The Repressed comp and there was this moment of recognition, being out in the yard and hearing it come through an open door. It was one of those art experiences where after it’s over, everything about life is different.
When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing music and what brought that decision about?
From very early on I had an amazing group of friends who were musicians and we used to play together. They were much more precocious than I was and writing all kinds of stuff right out of the gate. I started playing guitar at eleven and wrote a bunch of stuff that was mediocre until I was around twenty one, and then I started writing stuff that I thought was worthwhile.
What was your first instrument? How and when did you get it?
Piano, we had two of them.
Is there any creed, code, ideal or mantra that you live or make music by?
That changes over the years. It was more of an ego thing in the past. When I made Paths Of Ignition, I wanted to prove that I was the best guitarist alive. Now I’m more interested in exploring the unknown, which doesn't always have much to do with virtuosity.
Where are you located at these days?
What’s the local music scene like there?
Sam Flax lives nearby in Berkeley and he’s great; I played guitar in his band for five years. Matt Fishbeck of Holy Shit lived around the corner for a couple years and we became good friends and collaborated some, see the art for Imaginary Psychology, but he recently moved back to Los Angeles.
Are you very involved in the local scene? Do you book or attend a lot of shows?
Yes, I play out pretty often in the Bay Area and a few times a year in Los Angeles.
Do you help to record and or release any local music? If so can you tell us briefly about that?
No, not really; only my own.
Do you feel like the local scene where you’re at now has played a large role in your musical history and evolution? I don’t know how much of your extensive musical activity is based solely on your location and the contacts that you’ve forged while you’ve been there, or if that kind of circumvents your surroundings and stuff?
I feel like it circumvents my surroundings. I write really well in isolation, like living in Pacific Grove was good for that because it’s so provincial and disconnected. I also lived in Humboldt for a while and that was a good time for guitar. I was unhappy, but I went deep with the guitar.
I know we’ve talked a lot about your other music and stuff up to this point, but I’d really like to concentrate mostly on your solo stuff and the ongoing side-project that you have with Nico Georis.
One of my favorite people. He grew up nearby me, but we didn't meet until a few years ago. He's conservatory trained and I'm a musically illiterate punk; Apollo and Dionysus, that's a big part of the attraction. He did this amazing festival for a few years in the absolute middle of nowhere in Big Sur, way up on a mountain overlooking the sea. They would sell four hundred tickets and have really interesting lineups each year, The Entrance Band, members of Fela Kuti's original band, lasos. It's the kind of musical experience that everyone is looking for at Coachella.
Can you talk about who some of your major musical influences are? Do you have any particular influences that you think you bring to your projects apart from those that you’ve already mentioned?
My favorite band is The Doors. I also like Harold Budd, John Fahey, John Martyn, Leigh Stephens, Eddie Hazel, Roedelius, Sonny Sharrock, Jon Hassell, Terry Riley, Paul Dresher, Neu, Michael Karoli, Charlie Mingus, Ashra, Chrome, Conrad Schnitzler, Vini Reilly, La Monte Young, Iggy, Steve Roach, Takehisa Kosugi and Suicide.
What is your songwriting process like for your solo stuff? Do you usually start with a certain part or just have a general idea of a song in your head and figure out how to get there from start to finish on a song by song basis?
I just spend time with the instrument and things start to happen. Sometimes just one part comes through and I have to stitch it together with others to make a song. Other times a whole song just leaps into being and that's really the best way for it to happen. That's what happened with “Lindsay And Her Duplicates” for example. It just came in a big rush.
Do you enjoy recording? You’ve released a good amount of stuff on your own as well as your continuing collaboration with Nico Georis and countless others, so I assume it doesn’t bother you too awfully much. As a musician myself, I think that most of us can really appreciate the end result. There’s not a whole lot that beats holding an album in your hands knowing that it’s yours and no one can ever take that fact away from you. Getting to that point though, actually getting stuff sounding the way that you want it can prove to be a little challenging to say the least. What's it like recording for you?
If I'm in a studio with gear, then I prefer to work with an engineer because I'm not much of a technician and I like to focus on performing. When I record on my own I do it entirely on cassette. It isn't hard to get a good electric guitar sound on a cassette; that's a secret of mine.
Do you do handle your own recording on your own time and turf with your own equipment or do you prefer to turn the reigns over to someone and head into a studio to record?
I'm happy to toggle back and forth between a pro-studio and a home recording setup. It keeps things fresh.
Is there a lot of preparation that goes into your recording sessions where you spend a lot of time and effort getting arrangements nailed down and sounding just the way you want them? Or do you go into things with a rough framework that has some room to evolve and change during the recording process?
Going into a proper studio I prefer to have done a bunch of planning and rehearsing. Recording at home I'm less deliberate and into playing with chaos.
In 2004 you released the Sailor On The Riverbed split 7” on Sailor On The Riverbed Records, can you share some of your memories of recording those tracks? Where and when was that material recorded? Who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used? Was that a fun, pleasurable experience for you all?
We recorded those tracks in Sam Flax's bedroom on an open reel quarter-inch machine, the same studio that Sam still uses. He recorded most of Age Waves there. It was quick and fun, the first time I ever put anything to tape for release and the first time I ever had a song on vinyl.
Then in 2006 there was the split with Sean Smith and Adam Snider, Berkley Guitar on Tompkins Square Records. There were five new solo tracks that appeared on Berkley Guitar, when were those tracks recorded? Who recorded them and where was that? What kind of equipment was used? Do you enjoy split releases? You’ve done several of them over the years.
Ha. Stephen Hart recorded those at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley; really nice high end gear. I have unpleasant memories of that session though. It was toward the end of my association with Sean and things were getting bad between us. That's all over now. I’m still very close with Adam though. I call him my greatest discovery. I discovered him while were studying at Berkeley.
Like clockwork you were back at work two years later in 2008 when you released Paths of Ignition on American Dust who later went on to release another of your albums in 2011. Was the recording of the material for Paths Of Ignition very similar to the recording for your earlier works? If I understand correctly that was your first solo full-length. Did you approach the songwriting or recording of the album very differently knowing it was going to be your first album? Or did you even know that going into recording? Can you talk a little bit about the recording of that material? Who recorded that material? When was it recorded? Where was that at? What kind of equipment was used?
Half of Paths Of Ignition, “Weissensee” and “Rainbow”, was recorded in two all-night sessions at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco in 2007. The rest was done at Sam's studio in Berkeley. I had a clear idea about the orchestrations and overdubs, but I did improvise somewhat and leave certain elements open to chance, like how the arpeggiating guitars fall out of phase in “Eulogy And Dark”. That was an accident. Also adding the Tamboura was a last minute idea.
2010 came and you rewarded the universe with Imaginary Psychology, a CDr that came out on your own Psychic Arts label. Three years later Spiritual Pajamas reissued it on vinyl with a single-sided 7” flexi disc. Can you share some of your memories of recording that album with us here? Where was it recorded at? What kind of equipment was used? Who recorded it and when was that? Is that a limited release at all?
The original CDr was super limited and it sold out a long time ago. I recorded most of it on a Tascam 424 in my parents' living room when they were gone for the day. The backing tracks for “State Trooper” were recorded at Nico's studio in San Francisco and the song on the flexi was recorded, almost accidentally, one evening at Matt Fishbeck's house in Oakland. I was taking a walk around the lake and I stopped by his house, the way I often did in those days. While I was there I started showing him that I had figured out this Martin Newell song in an open D major tuning and he just started setting up a mic and said, “Can you do that again?” We recorded it all right then in single takes. It's an extremely ambitious vocal part and I feel good about how I handled it. This is a perfect example of what I love about Fishbeck. A lot of people pay lip service to spontaneity in performance, but Fishbeck is truly spontaneous. Like no one else I have ever met. He also played the beautiful Omnichord you can hear in the background.
A year ahead of schedule you dropped the double 12” album Night In The Triangle in 2011 on American Dust Records. This happens to be one of my favorite works I’ve heard from you and I’m particularly curious about the writing and recording of Night In The Triangle, can you tell us a little bit about that? Where and when was it recorded? Who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used?
Night In The Triangle was recorded in the cheapest way possible. Type-one cassettes on a Porta 02 machine, although some stuff on disc two was done on a 424. You can hear the difference. I had just gotten Ariel Pink's Worn Copy and I took it as a permission slip to not worry about tape hiss. It was recorded in a couple different apartments in Berkeley and finished in Pacific Grove. A lot of that record was recorded direct to tape, with a corny tone modeler and no mics. I think of that record as dark, grainy snapshots of the infinite. Or as Celine said, “the infinite put within the reach of poodles”. That record has some of my favorite things that I've ever done on it, like “Juvenal Europa”.
It’s been a while since you released Night In The Triangle and I know you usually stay pretty busy. Do you have anything planned as far as solo releases go in the works or on the horizon at this point?
Like I said earlier, Wild Boy on vinyl, Golden Twins on Cassette, a new yet-to-be-titled record with Nico that is still being mixed, and more solo stuff that's still in utero.
In 2011 you released Year Of The Dog your first collaboration with Nico Georis. Can you talk a little about how your collaboration with Nico originally came about and when that was? What led to the recording and release of the material that would comprise the Year Of The Dog album? I know that album was limited to only 50 physical CD-Rs, although that material’s available digitally on your Bandcamp page. Are there any plans to re-release the material from Year Of The Dog in a physical format anytime in the future?
Nico asked me to play at his festival and we started hanging out after that. We got together in his studio and started to improvise and we clicked immediately. Sexual metaphors are the most apt way to describe our process. I'll just say that it's really good. We have lots more stuff planned and we’re looking for labels to reissue our first two projects with, would love to see them on vinyl or cassette.
What was the recording of the Year Of The Dog material like? Where and when was that? Who recorded it? What kind of equipment is used?
It was a theme that I brought to Nico and we started to work with it. He happened to have mics up the whole time that were recording to a quarter inch tape. Incidentally we were recording over an old rehearsal tape of The Sandals, the band who did the Endless Summer soundtrack; Nico's dad was in that band. Later on Nico edited it and that was that. The track called “Juan Carlos” was just us jamming with a bunch of musicians who were in the mix at that time, a total free improvisation with no edits. All I used for it was a wah pedal thru a Jazz Chorus amp.
In 2012 you released your second piece with Nico, Dream Stills. Did you handle the recording of the material for Dream Stills very differently than Year of The Dog? Can you tell us about the recording of the material for Dream Stills? I know that’s a digital only release, are there any plans to release that physically at all in the future?
We recorded that at Nico's second studio which was in the ground floor of his house in Nicasio, a valley in Marin County. That was a real magical session; totally improvised. There was a big barn door in the studio, and we would open it up and play looking out into the cow pastures and hills beyond.
What does the future have in store as far as your collaborations with Nico go? It’s been a few years since you dropped Dream Stills, do you all have anything planned as far as future collaborations go?
Where’s the best place for interested fans to keep up with the latest stuff that you’re involved with like upcoming shows and album releases at?
Are there any goals or plans that you’re looking to accomplish in 2014?
Finish my next solo record and the new one with Nico, book another tour in Europe and hopefully make it back to Israel, maybe some shows in the US outside of California. I'm also talking to some scientists who work with sound imaging technology about doing a very far out collaborative multimedia show for a big festival this summer.
Do you remember what the first song that you ever played live was or when and where that would have been?
I played a cover of Beck's “Pink Noise” at the Pacific Grove youth center when I was fourteen.
Do you spend a lot of time on the road playing or touring? Do you enjoy life on the road? What’s it like being on tour for you?
No, not much time. I play lots of shows in California, but that's not touring because it's mostly out and back. I went to Europe and the Middle East for the first time two years ago and that was great. It’s true about being treated better over there. I also liked traveling by myself, just me and a guitar catching trains.
What, if anything, do you have planned as far as touring and playing out goes for 2014 so far?
Mm, I'm negotiating a few shows right now but nothing solid.
Who are some of your personal favorite acts that you’ve had a chance to play with?
Roedelius, Iasos, Blues Control, Beach House, The Silver Jews, Entrance Band and Lucky Dragons. I also played at a party for the premier of Werner Herzog's The Cave of Forgotten Dreams at the LA Natural History Museum and the Aquarium Room at the California Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In your dreams, who are you on tour with?
Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows or performances that you’d like to share here with our readers?
Staying at Jack Rose's house in Philadelphia and getting blotto. At some point we realized that we were both huge Doors fans and I remember him emphatically saying that, “only two good things came out of the 1960s were John Fahey and The Doors!!” Maybe the humor doesn't carry over, but I remember laughing like crazy with him about that.
Do you give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent the band like artwork for photos, flyers and covers? If so do you have anyone that you usually turn to in your times of need for those kinds of things, who is that and how did you originally get hooked up with them?
Most recently Matt Fishbeck has done art for me. Before that, it was Nat Russell who worked for American Dust. Both are great artists.
With all of the various mediums of release that are available to artists today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the methods that they do. Looking at your discography this seems to be a bit of a rhetorical questions but then that’s assume you have total control of the mediums on which you release stuff but, do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music? What about when you’re listening to and or purchasing music? If you do can you talk a little bit about your preference?
Vinyl of course, but I'm not really that picky about formats. Apple lossless is a much better than MP3. I miss being a teen and tearing around in a car full of friends listening to Raw Power at full volume on a cassette. Cassettes sound really good at high volume, something about the compression. It feels good on your ears.
Do you have a music collection at all? If so can you tell us a little bit about it?
Yes, I have lots of records, a few CDs, a bunch of music files and a car full of tapes.
I grew up around a large collection of music and my father encouraged me to enjoy the music and listen to anything that I wanted from a pretty young age. I remember walking up to these huge shelves of music, pulling something out, sticking it in the player, kicking back in my beanie bag, reading the liner notes, staring at the artwork and letting the music carry me off somewhere else. Having something physical to hold in my hands always offered this rare brief glimpse into the minds of the artist that created it and offered a more complete listening experience. I love the feeling so much I’m a little addicted to it at this point and I don’t know if I’ll ever outgrow it! Do you have any such connection with physically released music?
Yeah, I grew up doing the same thing. I think it's a highpoint in culture.
As much as I love my music collection there’s always been a huge issue with it for me, portability. I could never take enough of it on the go to keep myself happy, but now I can put more music on my phone than I could have jammed into a backpack. Teamed with the internet digital music has really proven to be a game changer as well. Together they’ve exposed people to a world of music that they otherwise would never have known existed and levelled the playing field somewhat for independent artists willing to promote a healthy online presence. On the other hand nothing is ever black and white. Illegal downloading is running rampant right now and it’s harder and harder to get noticed in the chocked digital jungle out there. As a musician during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?
It's the water that we swim in and I'm prepared to accept that. I get exactly what I want out of music, which is a variety of experiences of mind and mood. Things are changing and I think that's good. Maybe it's harder to make money in traditional ways, but I think the old system was pathological and took advantage of both the consumer and the artist. Almost none of the musicians that I really admire got rich at it, so in that respect I feel like I'm part of a tradition. I prefer to take an optimistic, or at least an aesthetic, view on this kind of change. I like Jon Hassell's theory of The Fourth World, the radical collision of cultures filtered thru digital technologies; techno poverty. Living in California is just as strange as Blade Runner said it would be, it just doesn't look as cool and stylized and the skies are still blue.
I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can but there’s just not enough hours in the day to keep up one-percent of the amazing stuff out there right now. Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to that I might not have heard of?
Holy Shit, Sam Flax, Ariel Pink, Aaron Sheppard, Adam Snider, Cryptic Cross and Bronze.
What about nationally and internationally?
I like my Israeli friends who have a band called Farthest South. And Cian Nugent.
Thanks so much for doing this interview, I really enjoyed learning so much about your music and looking back over the last few years with you. I hope you’ve enjoyed looking back over your accomplishments and while I don’t assume there’s anything that I’ve missed I always like to give people one final chance; is there anything that I may have missed or that you’d just like to take this opportunity to talk to me or my readers about?
No, that's it. Thank you.
(2004) Matthew Baldwin / Sean Smith – Sailor On The Riverbed – 7” – Sailor On The Riverbed Records (Limited to 300 copies)
(2006) Matt Baldwin / Sean Smith / Adam Snider – Berkley Guitar – CD, 12” – Tompkins Square Records (12” limited to 1,000 copies)
(2008) Matt Baldwin – Paths Of Ignition – CD, 12” – American Dust Records
(2010) Matt Baldwin – Imaginary Psychology – CDr – Psychic Arts
(2011) Matt Baldwin – Night In The Triangle – 2x12” – American Dust Records
(2011) Matt Baldwin / Nico Georis – Year of The Dog – Cdr – Psychic Arts
(2012) Matt Baldwin / Nico Georis – Dream Stills – CDr – Psychic Arts
(2013) Matt Baldwin – Imaginary Psychology – reissued as a 12” + Single-Sided 7” Flexi Disc – Spiritual Pajamas Records
(2014) Matt Baldwin – Wild Boy – 12”