“Good Fuzz”: MATT ‘MV’ VALENTINE profiled by BYRON COLEY (from Arthur No. 34/2013)

MVsml

This piece was originally published in Arthur No. 34 (2013, sold out). I haven’t found a way to present the article online in a way that makes the article’s main text and its many (utterly essential) footnotes easy to read, side-by-side. So: following is the article’s main text, without footnotes. To read the article in full, with footnotes, download this free 31-page PDF. Hope this does it for ya. P.S. ESSENTIAL SIDEBAR: “More Smoke Than Folk: A few important MATT ‘MV’ VALENTINE listening experiences, assembled by Dan Ireton & Byron Coley and presented in chronological order”   — Jay

GOOD FUZZ

For over two decades, musician/head MATT VALENTINE has navigated strange, inspiring trips across myriad underground psychedelic terrains, joined by a revolving cast of fellow free travelers. Byron Coley crosses the bridge to get MV’s side of the story.

Matt Valentine aka Matthew Dell aka LunarMV, etc., is one of the more righteous freaks of our age. As a writer, guitarist, vocalist, label head, whiskey fan, and whatever else he might happen to be, Matt is one of those rare guys who is always ready to go “all in.” He is neither shy about his many accomplishments, nor unwilling to speak about them, but he is so flat-out committed to his own sci-fi-damaged version of personal history the way he’d like it to be known that he can be a tough person to interview. He loves the elliptical, the mysterious, the vaguely legendary secrets that underpin all true history, and he seems more than happy to offer wild and theoretical answers to most dull and specific questions that come his way. For this reason, among others, there are few places you can turn for objective facts about the musical/historical trajectory of Matt Valentine.

And the man clearly deserves a thorough overview.

This isn’t exactly it, but it’s a first step. Matt and I have been friends for a couple of decades. We’ve done various projects together over the years—tapes, shows, albums, tours, books, etc.—and he well knows in what high esteem I hold all of his work. To my mind, much of the popularity of the acid-folk revival was instigated by Matt and his cohort—hardcore record collectors and fans who were capable of hearing things no one else had noticed, and were eager to translate their discoveries into post-punk tongues. Few people have been as tireless in their work expanding and documenting the boundaries of underground culture over the past years, and Matt has created a vast web of friends, recordings and memories documenting his aesthetic peregrinations as well as those of his fellow travelers.

Matt, among other things, has been a tireless documentarian of his passage through space and time. The number of recordings he has released is not easily discerned, but let’s just say they are legion. What continues to mystify listeners is the fact that Matt’s sonic trajectory is constantly evolving. Unlike the many artists who bogusly claim “my latest release is by far my favorite,” Matt’s new records generally incorporate a new form-innovation/renovation/reconsideration. The guy is acutely aware of where he has been and seems dedicated to Heraclitus’s dictum about not stepping in the same river twice. Because of this, Matt’s albums (the major ones, anyway) often represent a true progression in terms of technique, interpretation and vision. That said, the new LP, Fuzzweed (Three Lobed) is a monster of sweetly-stoned tongue-form. It boils many elements of the essential, ineffable MVEE whatsis into a kind of floating vocal/way-post-Dead instrumental-puddle that will absolutely sear your brain. The first batch of copies also come with a CD that culls the best moments of the new 7-CD Zebulon residency set COM just issued. It’s weird. There are only a handful of people whose recordings I choose to follow with something like fervor. Matt is one of them. Hopefully this talk will help you to understand why.

I had hoped that Erika Elder, Matt’s partner in all things, would attend the interview as well. But she played possum at work, leaving us to blab untended from the light of afternoon into the dark of night. Hopefully, this interview will give you some idea of the depth and width of Matt Valentine’s work. It’s a vast weird place. Hello.

 

B: Let’s start with some basics. Where did you grow up?

M: The Hudson Valley region. I was born in Mount Kisco, NY. Lived in several towns around there, including Yonkers for a bit when I was super young.

B: Did you play music when you were a kid?

M: Yeah, but I wasn’t really in a lot of bands or anything. I started a bit when I was in high school. I was kicked out of the school band. I played alto sax. But I got booted out pretty early because I think, without really knowing anything about it yet, that I wanted to play like Ayler. I would take the melody of “When the Saints Come Marching In” and transmogrify it.

B: Was it a marching band?

M: At first, yeah. Then it became more of a concert recital band, and you had to choose whether you wanted to be in the jazz band or one of the other standard school things. The school I went to was pretty interesting because it was fairly liberal. Like, there weren’t any walls in the school. So when you didn’t have a class there was a big open space called The Commons. It was grades 9-12, and the cafeteria and the smoking section and all that stuff was in the middle. When you didn’t have a class it was a regular thing to hang out in The Common with an acoustic guitar and just play and meet people. So that’s where I first started to get hip to the idea of social communication through music. I did weird recordings at home, then the first serious band I was in was a relatively professional band.

B: Who was that?

M: That was a band I played with right out of high school called the Werefrogs. I played with two guys who were older than me, from the same school. They had graduated the year before me and had played in bands for a while. One was a drummer, the other a guitarist. They were both from the same scene at the school and they wanted a bass player. So I said, “Oh, I’ll play bass.” I think they wanted me in the band because I could hang out and I was into kinda cool music.

B: What era was this?

M: Around late ’88. We did a couple of singles.

B: What kinda stuff was it?

M: Psychedelic rock.

B: What were your models?

M: We were probably most like dudes who wanted to play like Joni Mitchell or something. It was kinda weird chords like that, but these two guys were more advanced musically and into jazz voicings and things like that. It was a trio, so of course there were obvious things like Hendrix. I was listening to WNYU a lot then. They had a program called The New Afternoon Show. I would get off this mail room job I had, and the show was on from 4:00 to 7:30 in the afternoons in the tri-state area. I would listen to that driving home, and they’d play stuff like the Road Pizza 12” and all these crazy bands who made one single and then disappeared. It was the most crazoid music I’d ever heard. It made some of the college radio stuff of that era seem incredibly straight. I really dug the stuff I heard, so I’m sure some of that stuff was in the mix as well. This was around the time when Nirvana played on that tour with the Cows at the Pyramid. I’d be going into NY to see gigs like that. And Galaxie 500 was playing at CB’s Canteen a lot, so that was in there. Of course Sonic Youth, and to some degree things like Bern Nix. I’d go see him a lot when he’d play at Roulette and the old Knitting Factory. I was starting to get into that stuff when I was in high school. Then there were some weird record stores popping up, so I’d spend time in those and pick up stuff. So the influences were classic rock, along with a few underground things.
Continue reading

MORE SMOKE THAN FOLK

A few important MATT “MV” VALENTINE listening experiences through 2012, assembled by Dan Ireton & Byron Coley and presented in chronological order. Links are to best current (2016) retail or wholesale source for the goods. This article originally published in Arthur No. 34 (2013) as a sidebar to Byron’s interview with Matt.

TOWER RECORDINGS Furniture Music for Evening Shuttles (Siltbreeze SB54 CD + LP, 1998)
Technically, the fourth Tower album, but the one where they really come together into a great stew of kosmische gushery. Someone told me if I liked German stuff I should listen to this. He was right.

TOWER RECORDINGS The Folk Scene (Shrat one-sided 12”, 2000; Communion CD, 2001)
You want the expanded CD reissue version, which is much longer. The vibe here mirrors the best work of those German and Scandinavian commune bands we all loved so much.

TOWER RECORDINGS The Futuristic Folk of Tower Recordings Vol. One & Two (COM CDR, 2002; Time-Lag 2LP, 2004)
Available as CDRs, individual LPs and a double LP (all of ’em limited and fine) this is the record where Tower seems to start really hearing the lessons of Sun Ra’s Arkestra and the AACM. Weird, pointedly obscure and deep.

MATT VALENTINE Space Chanteys (Fringes LP, 2002)
This early solo side, released by an Italian jazz label, has always felt like MV’s version of Astral Weeks (not that you’d confuse his voice with Van Morrison’s). You can hear the door closing on Matt’s New York period. The lyrics are super-personal and the musical arrangements are loose and flowing.

MATT VALENTINE Ragantula (COM 4, 2002; reissued in the COM-Relics series)
My favorite version has a small piece of printed cloth inserted, but that’s extremely rare, so let’s not mention it. This one is thematically linked to Matt’s transition to country life.The lyrics related to the move, and the music has a very rural vibe (even though some was recorded in NYC).

MATT VALENTINE Creek to Creation (QBICO LP. 2004)
The first completely overt hick move. Recorded in Vermont and sounding it. Every inch.

DREDD FOOLE Kissing the Contemporary Bliss (COM 2CDR, 2004; Family Vineyard 2CD, 2008)
Although credited just to Dredd, this is equally Matt’s album. The pair push against the envelope of how free “free folk” could ever get. This also marks the beginning of the Spectra Sound experiments, and sounds a big as the whole outdoors.

MATT VALENTINE & ERIKA ELDER Ragas & Blues — Fantastic String Music (Idea LP, 2004)
I particularly like this version because a few copies came with a screenprinted outer sleeve, which looks pretty great. And the music is an important transition, since this is where country blues starts to seep more obviously into the picture.

MV/EE WITH THE BUMMER ROAD Mother of Thousands (Time-Lag 2LP, 2006)
This marks the beginning of Matt’s heavy electric guitar period. An amazing sprawl of an album and spaced as fuck.

MV & EE WITH THE BUMMER ROAD Green Blues (Ecstatic Peace CD, 2006)
Some people love the way this connects the vocals of Skip James with the guitar of Neil Young, others think it’s just TOO MUCH. Regardless, this one is the first real rock-qua-rock record.

MV & EE WITH THE GOLDEN ROAD April FlowerTour (COM 8-CDR set, 2011)
Great document of some live dates (mostly from April, 2011) representing their annual Spring Fling with UK guitarist Mick Flower. There’s a heavy ruralist rock vibe to most of the action with bursts of lightning purity. More smoke than folk.

MV & Country Stash (Three Lobed LP, 2011)
When this one came out, I just said, “Wow.” It was the first album that really seemed to properly reconcile all of the threads Matt has chased. A favorite.

MV & EE Space Homestead (Woodsist LP, 2012)
Then this one came out, and it was even more holistic. Amazing.

Byron Coley and Thurston Moore’s “Bull Tongue” column from Arthur No. 27 (Dec 07)

BULL TONGUE
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore

from Arthur No. 27 (Dec 2007) [available from The Arthur Store]

Joe Carducci, the ingeniously screwball theorist behind Rock and the Pop Narcotic has come out of the hills to grace us with another idiosyncratic non-fiction book, Enter Naomi (Redoubt Press), which presents an insider’s version of the SST label story. The structure teeters between chapters dealing with the particulars of the Naomi Peterson saga (she was a staff photographer for the SST), and a general recounting of the label’s saga. It’s a good if somewhat fragmentary read, focusing on some of the label’s issues with gender politics more than other possible tangents. Which means it’s still not the definitive SST book—probably there’ll never be just one—but it’s a pretty exciting read nonetheless.

As expected, the new box of Siltbreeze stuff is a magnificent blot on our culture. The FactumsAlien Native LP is a reissue of a 2004 CDR crafted (one supposes) as a side project to work with the Fruit Bats, the Intelligence and other combos more formal in their organization of body shape. The Factums’ material is evenly split between loose, baggy, electron-o fwuh with a very diseased kind of surface and a guitarric syntax mangling that totally defies archeological stratification. For punk, it’s insanely buxom.

Sunshine of Your Love by Xno bbqX (one of the most elegant CLE band name tributes ever) is similarly well-proportioned. Recorded a few years back (it was originally a cassette), it is the work of two Australian vegans in a shed with an electronic guitar and a drum (or something), but we’ll be rolled in a fuggin’ rug if it doesn’t sound like these guys eat meat. What the hell? Still, vegan or no, this’s a fairly magnificent third-yard of wet-black-snapper, and has all the requisite duo moves that “knowers” look for.

If it’s fun you seek, you could do far worse than to look up the work associated with Denmark’s Smittekilde collective. Their vibe is a bit in line with Ultra Eczema’s, but no one’s as thoroughly screwed up as Dennis Tyfuss, so the material is a bit more tame overall. Still, the latest batch of swag is quite glamorous. First up is Kindergarten Exposure #2, a graphics fanzine in the same vein as some of Mark Gonzalez’s stuff or the Hello Trudi material—single page illustrations and stuff by a variety of artists, primarily in a somewhat crude vein. Yum.

Perhaps even more screwed is Kattemad. This is a graphics book by Loke Sebastian, Luca Bjornsten and Zimon Rasmussen, detailing the different ways in which cat food can be disgusting. Excellent. As is Rock World comics by Soren Mosdal and Jacob Orsted. We’d initially thought this looked a little straight, but the excellent English language text, about crappy music and beer and toilet paper, ended up being quite outstanding. The same goes for Mok Nok’s Slugstorm LP, which has a dandy silk-screened cover. The music is a cool blend of post-noise instrumentals with fragmentary glimpses of drool in the distance. The vibe reminds us a little of Dirty Three, back when they were still on Poon Village, if they were crossed with some of the scum-roots that Mick Turner was trying to repress. Nimble!

The photographer Mick Rock has been responsible for a number of iconic images. His best-known work is undoubtedly his glam stuff, but for us the most important is the cover work for the Stooges’ Raw Power and that for Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs. The bulk of Rock’s Stooges work came out a couple of years ago. But the Barrett shots were only available in a very expensive limited edition hardcover that came and went in 2002. Now, Gingko Press’s Rebel Arts imprint has released Psychedelic Renegade, a prole version of what I assume to be the same material, and it is a true pleasure to behold. Continue reading

BULL TONGUE "TOP TEN #4" by Byron Coley & Thurston Moore

TONGUE TOP TEN #4 – May 26, 2009

Hey little buddies. Been sick as rat turds for a while now, but the covers are peeling back and we are breathing again. Nice.

1. We have made no secret of the boundless enthusiasm with which we embrace Vermont’s Mr. Dredd Foole and all his works, so it should be no surprise to hear that sparks fucking burst when these two new slabs arrived at headquarters. Songs to Despond Ya (Apostasy) is a brilliant solo live LP, with Dredd on acoustic guitar and howler, which demonstrates the warmth of smoke and the magic of his sound. It seems bogus to repeat the mantra for the nth time, but Dredd really takes the impulse of Starsailor/Lorca/Blue Afternoon-era Tim Buckley and throws it into the stratosphere. As casual as it is amazing. And it is icing to report that there is finally graspable evidence of the Dredd & Ed experience, after a couple decades (almost) of scattered live tapes and buzzing memory bulbs. That Lonesome Road Between Heart & Soul (Bo’ Weavil) is a CD by Dredd Foole and Ed Yazijian, who may be known to a few folks for his work with Kustomized or his Gladtree solo LP, Six Ways to Avoid the Evil Eye. Anyway, Ed is a string maestro inside this conceptual bonding, doing violin, lap steel and other guitar stuff, while Dredd uncorks spirals of upful phlegm. It’s glorious buzzing, droneful music, and a great companion piece for the LP. Of course, it should have been an LP itself, but what the hex?

2. Recent trip to that poetry fest in Cleveland went okay. Thanks for asking. Saw a bunch of good stuff. Drove many miles. Got an excellent book. Actually, got a few good books, but we have favorites on our minds right now, and that is a camp into which we will always place the great Valerie Webber and the equally smokin’ Elaine Kahn (late of 50 Foot Women). The pair has collaborated on a solid new volume called Convinced by the End of It (Big Baby Books), split in twain, shared half by each. And it is a motherfucker of a read—one of the best things we’ve read in a long time. Their voices have been very different in the past, these two, but there are similarities here never noted before—a slowly twisting surrealism, combined with casually strident orgone boil. This is powerful, funny, mean and possessed of a magical quality we associate with the incredible early work of Erica “Rikki” Ducornet. This is writing in its highest form.

3. For whatever reason, new jazz/improv disks have not been finding us as regularly as they once did. Maybe we complained about the format too much, and since no one apart from SIWA, QBICO, Eremite and a coupla other places even understand that jazz should be available on LP, it’s usually no big deal. But recent car travel has made CDs a somewhat more useful format (at least in the short term), and we got these three new things from the Porter Records label (previously noted for reissuing a few key Philadelphia pieces), and figured they’d ride as well as anything. And they did. Opus de Life by Profound Sound Trio which documents a show from June ’08. Saxophonist for the date is Englishman Paul Dunmall, who doubles on bagpipes, and really blows like a maniac. Long mired in my brain as a second tier freebopper, Dunmall presents a much weirder surface here than expected, creating raw melodicism with an almost primitive grace. The rhythm section is Andrew Cyrille and Henry Grimes (Cecil Taylor’s legendary Blue Note-era backline). Cyrille sounds as good as always—alternately multi-dimensional and hammy—and Grimes puts in a very solid arco-heavy performance on bass and violin. Had not paid much attention to the rediscovered Grimes, but his work here is fine. Julu Twine by Alan Sondheim and Myk Freedman finds Sondheim’s various strings (he’s been playing, writing and creating in various fields since the early ’60s) paired with Freedman’s lap steel to lovely weird effect. Tones get bent so far they curl back on themselves, and eternity’s whistle is always just a psychedelic heartbeat away. Sondheim’s reactivated musical career has been very interesting to track, and this album’s a good one. Not jazz, but good. Even less jazzic is Folkanization by Francesco Giannico. This young Italian electro-acoustic composer in whose work we can hear tendrils of everything from Luigi Nono to Toru Takemitsu. Filled with odd details, the music is fascinating. Good for the car, anyway.

louispothead

4. Much recent fume time has been spent amidst the pages of Steven Brower’s Satchmo (Harry N. Abrams), a book largely dedicated to the visual art of the last century’s premier pothead—Mr. Louis Armstrong. Brower was also responsible for that cool book of Woody Guthrie’s visuals a few years back, but this one is even bonnier on the peeps. Armstrong was an insanely gifted collage artist, who created hundreds of self-referential pieces to adorn reel-to-reel tape boxes, scrapbooks and even—until his wife pulled it down anyway—one of the walls of his house in Queens. The text Brower conjures is cool, but it’s really just a context generator for the wild wild art that crawls all over the pages of this book. Been showing this to everyone who falls by and they’re all blown away. You be, too.

rockymountainlow

5. If you held a gun to our heads and yelled, “Quick! Think of a great whiskey!” We’d have no problem rolling out a list that would make you weak in the knees. If, however, instead of whiskey, you asked for a list of great Colorado punk bands, the list would peter out in an embarrassingly short time, even if we stuttered a lot. Consequently, it’s no lie to say we were shocked (SHOCKED!) by the amazing contents of Rocky Mountain Low (Hyperpycnal)>. This 2 LP set is an insanely great insider’s view of the Colorado underground scene of the late ’70s. We’d never even heard rumors about half the bands here, but Joseph Pope (of Angst “fame”) was an active participant, and along with Dalton Rasmussen, he pulled together a great set of unreleased nuggets from demos, rehearsal tapes & whatnot. Like lotsa scenes in their early days, the sounds here are heterogenous—’60s style pop, hard garage, weird experimentalism and Brit-damaged lunge are all part of the mix, just as they were in the day. The book/zine included is a great blend of history, attitude, crappy-looking fliers and the best picture of Jello Biafra you will ever see in this lifetime (or any other) (although this one is good, too). Every town deserves this kind of deep investigation. Superb shit.

groovies

6. One of us (not telling who) recently made the trek down to New Orleans for the Ponderosa Stomp, which is an annual event tracking the trajectory of oddball roots dudes of all stripes. Two stages, ten hours a night at the House of Blues added up to 30-40 hours of solid listening insanity, but the absolute highpoint was the…well, not reunion of the Flamin’ Groovies (pic’d above), exactly, but it was the first time that founding members Cyril Jordan and Roy Loney had been together onstage since ’71, when Loney split in the wake of the Teenage Head LP. They were backed by the A-Bones, with Ira Kaplan on organ and former Groovies fanclub head Miriam Linna, banging the beat, and man, it was insane. Jordan and Loney both have a crazy sorta look going (check the youtube vids), but the sound was so right on you could just cry. They played almost all stuff from the first three LPs, but at show’s end they tackled “Shake Some Action” (from the long-post-Loney days), “Teenage Head” and “Slow Death” (which was recorded after Roy had left). It was unbelievably great. People were screaming like babies and Miriam was singing along with everything and just looking like the cat who ate the canary. There are going to be a couple of reprise shows coming up this summer, and you would be well advised to be there.

sperm-shh

7. Many peeps out there may know something or another about the legendary NWW list. This was a printed insert of recommended obscurities Steven Stapleton included in copies of the first couple of Nurse With Wound albums. The list has been a touchstone for a lot of people over the years, and various attempts to reissue bits and pieces from it have been made. Right now there are actually a goodly number of them available in one digital format or another, but shamefully few have been blessed by vinyl reissue, which remains the king of all known formats. Thankfully, De Stijl has taken the time to do a lovely, lovely LP reissue of the sole album by the Finnish experimental band, Sperm. Entitled Shh!, the album features one side of kosmiche-tinged free-rock with many electronic asides. The flip replaces the kraut proclivities with some free-jazz reed-gush, and it all sounds utterly jake. The original had a silk-screened sleeve, but this one looks dandy and sounds better than any original we’ve ever laid ears on. Gut stuf!

humbug-08

8. The story of Mad in its EC days is pretty well known. The early issues, edited by the insane Harvey Kurtzman have been reprinted in whole and also in various anthologies frequently during the past 50 years. Kurtzman’s next few projects have been less well documented. He left Mad to do a glossy humor mag called Trump for Hugh Hefner. Hefner killed the mag after two issues, but he allowed Kurtzman to use free office space. As a result, Kurtzman organized a bunch of other artists to pool their funds to create an autonomous humor monthly. It ran for 11 issues in 1957-58 and was called Humbug. We’ve seen occasional loose issues of the ‘zine, but Fantagraphics has compiled the full run in a new two-volume box set, and included lots of interviews, historical context, and info about Kurtzman’s next project, Help! (among many other things). The reproduction quality is great, and the contents—by Kurtzman, Will Elder, Arnold Roth, Al Jaffe and Jack Davis—are far more sophisto than Mad, and less pop-culture-oriented than Help! In a way, Humbug almost feels like a goof-humor version of The New Yorker or something. There’s a lot of fairly serious political/social commentary, cloaked in wry rainment. It’s a blend as interesting as any cocktail, and it’s goddamn great to have this stuff easily available. Hats away!

9. One of the less-known documentaries by D.A. Pennebaker is the hour-long Sweet Toronto, which was filmed at the Toronto Rock & Roll Revival festival in 1969. It has just been issued on DVD under the title John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band Live in Toronto ’69 (Shout Factory) and is a rather good eye-felch. Pennebaker is a great framer of live concerts and this is no exception. It opens amidst a somewhat half-assed looking group of bikers who seem to be escorting the Plastic Ono Band to the outdoor concert, but soon settles down to matters at hand. There are segments with Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard to start things off (the full line-up was: Milkwood, Nucleus, Whiskey Howl, Cat Mother & the Allnight Newsboys, Chicago Transit Authority, Screaming Lord Sutch, Tony Joe White, Doug Kershaw, Alice Cooper, Junior Walker, Diddley, Gene Vincent, Lewis, Richard, Chuck Berry, Onos and the Doors. MC was Kim Fowley. Wonder where the other footage is?), the Plastic Ono Band hits stage with a boom. It’s crazy to see Yoko crawling around in a white bag while Lennon and Clapton howl through “Blue Suede Shoes”, and the vibe of the whole thing is gorgeously bizarre. By the end, when Yoko’s singing “John John,” Clapton has his guitar off and is kneeling, back to the audience, nudging feedback from his amp as though he was in the Skaters or something. Fuckin’ A!

manchild_coverwide

10. Just got a little package with three issues of Brian Walsby’s Manchild comics (Bifocal Media), the third and fourth issues of which come with CDs by the always exquisite Melvins. Walsby was extremely active in artifying the punk underground of the mid-‘80s onward, and his books are densely scripted and great reads. Some of the stories are about Brian’s early years, but most are detailed accounts of hardcore bands, what happened to them, interactions Brain had with them over the years, etc. Kinda inside baseball, but totally fantastic if yr into the noise at all. We don’t agree with all of Walsby’s assessments, but we defend to the death his right to say that the Descendents improved over time. Now that’s funny!

Alright, please be a good egg – if you want it licked, send two (2) (TWO) copies to:

BULL TONGUE
PO BOX 627
NORTHAMPTON MA 01061
USA