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

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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.
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CISNEROS, DUDES

Al Cisneros of Om (and Sleep, and Shrinebuilder) put so much work into this compilation — curating and carefully sequencing a wide-ranging selection of tracks, going over the mix and master four times to make sure it was perfect — for so few people to know about it. Chalk it up to unfortunate timing (2009 was a very rough year). We have a couple hundred copies left of the first (and only) printing. Cover artwork by longtime Cisneros collaborator and Arthur contributor/ally Arik Roper. $8 US. Track listing and order info:
http://bit.ly/GZukmf

Cataloging and Catagorizing Genetic Modification: the Center for PostNatural History

atlanticsalmon Pittsburgh artist Rich Pell has recently launch a site for his long-running research on genetically-modified cultural organism-material under the banner heading of the Center for PostNatural History. The salmon pictured is typical of an little-known story embedded in our daily lives, a sterile genetic mutant farmed and industrially raised and eaten by many of us. Pell’s site explores the many ways genetic fuckery is scattered around and within us. Eye-popping and antena-stiffening stuff.

It’s well worth mentioning in this context that Pell is also the CEO of Specific Records, a vinyl-only label which has thus far produced exactly three utterly gorgeous object-documents of brainy musical underbelly-popcraft in editions of between 99 and 500 copies only that come highly recommended.

New Arthur CD: "Transmissions From Sinai," curated by AL CISNEROS (Om, Sleep) with artwork by ARIK ROPER – NOW AVAILABLE

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“TRANSMISSIONS FROM SINAI”
(Arthur 0005)
curated by AL CISNEROS (Om, Sleep)
cover artwork by ARIK ROPER

Track listing:

1. Lichens – “Kopernik Trip Note” (previously unreleased)
2. Linval Thompson – “Wicked Babylon”
3. Grouper – “Everyone in Turn”
4. Current 93 – “Mockingbird”
5. Quixotic – “The Breeze”
6. Scott Kelly – “The Ladder In My Blood”
7. Hush Arbors – “The Valley”
8. Mia Doi Todd – “Night of a Thousand Kisses”
9. Six Organs of Admittance – “Bar-Nasha” (previously unreleased)
10. Holy Sons – “Drifter’s Sympathy”
11. Pantaleimon – “At Dawn”
12. Grails – “Acid Rain”
13. Sir Richard Bishop – “Almeria” (previously unreleased)
14. J. Mascis – “War” (previously unreleased)
15. Wino – “Silver Lining”
16. Alpha & Omega – “David and Goliath”

All proceeds go to supporting Arthur Magazine’s mission. Edition of 1,000. Now available from the Arthur Store.

“Here are sixteen reports, differing approaches that, through their own individualized methods, access the one ground. It’s a privilege and blessing to have known many of the musicians on this disc, to have shared in song with some, and stages with others. In all cases I have been the healed recipient of their craft sitting alone with my headphones… Here is their auditory journal.” —Al Cisneros February 2009

ALBUM OVERVIEW
by Daniel Chamberlin, Arthur contributing editor

For a while there was a lot of talk around Arthur HQ about the idea of “life metal”–as opposed to death metal–and how that applied to a lot of the bands we were listening to. These were artists making introspective, expansive metal that stood out as flashes of color in the unified spectrum of blackness that dominates the genre. Think about the sunshine Sabbath jams of Wino’s various incarnations, the core-cleansing live rituals of Sunn O))) and most of all, the contemplative rhythms of Om.

Om rose from the ashes of long-form drone-metal icons Sleep, and has since produced three albums of thoughtful, minimalist metal composed entirely of bass, drums and vocals. Transmissions From Sinai, the compilation curated by Om’s bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros plays like a companion piece to those albums; the band’s influences and fellow wanderers united by a deep narrative thread of rhythm, resistance and meditation.

Transmissions opens with Lichens’ “Kopernik Trip Note,” eight minutes of vocal tones flowing like liquid mercury through a haze of keyboard drones. The focus on rhythm is clarified with Linval Thompson’s “Wicked Babylon,” a rocksteady classic from the guy that, in addition to producing endlessly satisfying reggae albums of his own, was also responsible with lacing dub legend Scientist with some of his best rhythms.

Grouper’s “Everyone In Turn” is a cascade of vocal melodies underscored by a fog-shrouded piano. The cryptical envelopment continues with Current 93, David Tibet’s long-running Gnostic-apocalypse folk project, and is reinforced by acoustic work from former Neurosis guitarist Scott Kelly, the brushed marching drums of Quix*o*tic’s “The Breeze” and Hush Arbor’s mournful guitar dirge, “The Valley.”

Om tour-mate Mia Doi Todd marks the midpoint of the journey with the romantic bongo jam “Night Of A Thousand Kisses,” followed closely by Six Organs of Admittance’s shimmering “Bar Nasha,” one of several previously unreleased songs in this collection. This flows into the narcotic beats of Om drummer Emil Amos in his Holy Sons guise. A counterpoint follows with Pantaleimon’s gentle folk, all crisp guitar melodies and cool, clear whispered vocals.

From there it’s a downhill run through the blissed-out sunshine psychedelia of Grails’ “Acid Rain,” the intricate contortions of Sir Richard Bishop’s finger-picked raga “Almeria,” and a twin blast from two legendary guitar lifers: J. Mascis, performing the previously unreleased “War” and Wino with a churning anthem of hope, “Silver Lining.” Transmissions concludes with “David and Goliath,” a melodica-and-keyboard-drenched fable of resistance and survival from contemporary British reggae outfit Alpha & Omega.

Transmissions is a countercultural signpost: a diverse collection of music–from searing life metal through gauzy ambient piano ballads to the heaviest of dub –that serves as a soothing balm for whatever may ail you in these troubled times.

Now available from the Arthur Store.