“I would prefer to just be a better person” — Matt Pond PA talks about quitting music and his future plans

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photo: Sean Hansen

To say the music industry is a rough place is an understatement. Labels and management will focus on their profit rather than the happiness of their artist. Dreams are crushed and hopes are destroyed when someone becomes too greedy. Sadly, Matt Pond has become one of the victims of such treatment. The label he’s currently signed to, Doghouse Records, has been fighting with Pond and has pushed him to the point where he doesn’t want to make music anymore.

We sat down with musician when he came through Akron, Ohio, for the last time, or at least the “foreseeable future.” The interview may appear scattered at some points, but this shows how much is on Pond’s mind and how this whole situation has affected him.

How important is it to you to make your songs sound exactly like you want by collaborating with other people?
MATT POND: I don’t think that they ever sound exactly the way that you want them to. I don’t know everything. I’ve worked with people that know everything and know exactly what they want on their albums. Do you know a band called the American Analog Set?

I do not.
[Andrew] Kenny was amazing and precise, and I’m kind of the opposite. Whatever we can try within our means, I’ll try, so there’s a lot of throwing away. I guess by collaborating there’s just as much throwing away as there is adding. It’s an exact in an initial pursuit but once it starts to gel, once a few songs start to sound the way that you want then it kind of dictates the whole thing. For me it’s a visual thing. Nothing is left out, so it’s kind of like you don’t know until you see it, until you’ve already run over it or something like that.

You’ve collaborated with a lot of different musicians over the years. Do you like sticking with the same people who give you the sound you’re looking for or do you look for new people?
It’s all just a matter of where you are and how you get along. It’s normally one other person who’s the secondary dictator. It’s me dictating and then another dictator. It’s been Chris [Hansen] for a long time. We’re probably not going to do this for a while or ever [again]. It’s not due to anything except circumstance. Our first cellist moved to Korea to focus more on Buddhism. People have jobs, people have lives, music doesn’t give you a firm community of living. You have to really love not ever being in the same place and I don’t totally love that anymore. I want to be in one place.

What was the inspiration for the music video for “Don’t Look Down”?
It’s just kids killing time in the summer time. That’s all I ever did when I was young. I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire. We were always looking for something to do and kind of bored, but that was probably the most fun I’d ever have, scrounging for change, begging your parents for money, swimming in rivers and setting things on fire. So these two kids, we actually had release forms and chaperons and it was just a lot of fun to do. They did everything, basically. They basically directed themselves and made the video theirs.

Do you feel they showed off the song with their antics?
Yeah. It’s funny, they were cooler than us. We were hanging out and the boy started playing the drums in the basement, so that’s why we shot in the basement because he was into playing drums. They kind of took over. It started to be their thing, their project, which was cool. It’s really great when you have a small idea that goes way beyond what you imagined. They’re sincere too and sweet, all these things I don’t know how to do very well.

You’ve been touring a lot over the last few months. Are you going to continue to tour on The State Of Gold or start writing?
No. I’m always writing, I just don’t know if I ever want to tour again. It’s a dream and it’s really cool and amazing. Probably the best experiences of my life have been on tour. I live in the moment, and it’s really cool when you can just appreciate it and live this way with it. I haven’t slept much in a while, my back hurts. I don’t want to complain, but I’d rather just be part of a community, cultivate friendships and these things you cannot do. It’s hard to have relationships, and I would prefer to just be a better person.

So you feel that you’ve outgrown the touring and would rather be in one place writing and recording music?
Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know how I’d want to do any of that. I want to find a way of working and being treated well. Considering trying to open a distillery bar and restaurant in Kingston [New York] that’s equity based, treats everybody fairly that works there. I did a podcast recently, the stuff I’m saying, someone was tweeting at me that I’m negative and I should be more positive. For one thing, I find it funny that somebody would tell me what I’m supposed to say in a podcast. Then the next thing is I don’t know how to do it, like the internet and music and everything. People in the music business, as records sell less and less the managers and labels are more parasitic because they know they need musicians, but what people used to get paid to make a record, it would $10,000-$20,000 and now it’s nothing. If my head is clogged with writing things, then I’m not writing stuff for myself. I like writing to people, I like reaching out to people. That’s why you play shows and that’s why you do write things on the internet, but at the same time it’s become everything.

I don’t know how to get people to listen to music anymore. There’s so many bands that I loved that kind of disappeared. We don’t get along with our management or label at all. I think they threatened to sue me two days ago. That’s going to be fun. It doesn’t have to be this way. I probably shouldn’t have been so combative but I don’t like it when people screw with our stuff. Even on social media, as positive as I try to be, I am actually positive, I really love the music that we make and that we get to perform, we’re lucky that people show up and I’m lucky to talk to you, but I don’t know how to work it all. I don’t want to think about it all the time. Like, “What am I supposed to do next?” I just want to read a book, go for a run and work and write or not write or whatever.

Do you think you’ll take a break then maybe come back?
What I want to do is act like I never want to do it again so I’m not stuck in the cycle. Laura [Stevenson] and a lot of people I know are same [where] it’s album, tour, album, tour, album, tour. At this point it is a little bit of a hustle. We’ve put out a ton of records and it’s going to take a while for someone who knows us…I do the same thing. You know of a band and they put out a new record, well you heard their record five years ago and that was good. It’s like you know without knowing. It’s everything now. There’s not a lot of time. A lot of people are swiping left or right. I’m not swiping left or right. That’s fine, but I don’t know how to be creative in that way. I think I want to control everything in that way, and until our label and management are completely gone, until they’re not trying to sue me or I’m not trying to screw them over in some kind of funny, subversive way, then I can’t even think about it.

I wonder what getting sued is like. I’ve been audited and that sucks. It sucks because I believe people. In anything else, I’d probably look out for the details, but I just signed contracts because I was told, “No, they’re really on our side,” and that’s not the case.

What was the final straw for you? Was it getting your stuff stolen in Chicago or having to keep up with the pressure of social media?
The pressure of social media isn’t really pressure. The stuff getting stolen in Chicago was actually inspiring. I once broke my leg on tour and it brought everyone together. In a strange way, terrible things can bring people together. I think most of the reason why I want to stop is because of untrustworthy people. I want to do something where I can be good to people and they can be good to me. Touring is hard to control, and the whole process is you fighting for it. We recorded this last album everywhere, and we were doing everything we can to make something work and then you put it in someone else’s hands and they either crush it or shit on it. It’s not all that negative. I probably would have done everything the same, even knowing what I know now just so I could do it, but I just don’t want to do it. I’ve done it a lot. It’s great. I also want to make sure I’m not contractually bound to anything when I think about releasing anything again.

I’ve noticed a lot of indie artists like staying independent because they can do whatever they want and there are ones out there who have had the experience with a label and it crushed them.
Yeah. If we had put out our album on our own, I would have actually made a decent amount of money. Putting it out with them, somehow, everyone loses money and nothing gets done, which is crazy. It’s weird because I may sound negative in a lot of this, but I honestly trust people. I really [trust people] a lot, probably way too much. That’s the problem. If someone is like, “I love what you’re doing. I really want to make this happen. Sign this. No, it’ll be fine.” I’ll never not be naïve about it. ’Cause it’s like, “Yeah, I like it too. I wrote it and it’s fun. I’m excited.”

While you’re off starting your new life, do you think you’ll still be playing small gigs?
I don’t want to think about it. I only think about playing and not playing. It’s either on or off. I took six or eight months off to travel in Europe around five years ago, which was cool because there was so much to write about from those experiences. I think I just want to focus on the experience that I someday write. I don’t want to push myself to write. That’s when I write the most. I’m kind of tricking myself. When you’re finishing an album and you’re looking for that 11th song and you push too hard, I really liked the way that we worked toward this album, I worked for it for a long time. We released another album under a different band name under Chris’ writing right after that. I think writing and releasing albums that much, but maybe not for a while.

Do you have any advice for younger bands?
No one listens to no one and that’s the problem, which is fine because everyone has to make their own mistakes. The way it should work is this, a label or management or anyone should do something first for you. If they’re not going to do something first for you, find someone else or do it yourself, anyone can do it themselves these days. Unless you know that their heart is into it, it’s just pointless. When there are people with their heart into it, it is really exciting to see a label and a band work in a way that does something. I’ve seen it happen.

I feel it’d be better to be signed to a smaller record label when you’re starting out versus a large one.
Sure. There are a million things. Large record labels, if you have a song on the radio, are great and they can plug in a large system of people and promotion that really works. It all depends. I think that people should be much more suspicious than I have been.