Having picked up his first instrument at just five years old, American singer-songwriter Matt Jaffe is now working on new music with his band The Distractions. After being discovered by Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads at an Open Mic night, Matt’s gone on to release his self-produced album, California’s Burning. We recently chatted to him about uploading weekly music to his YouTube channel, releasing new music and touring.
How did you get into music?
Both my sister and I started playing classical violin at age five. When I was about ten, I found a derelict acoustic guitar in the corner of our living room that she had neglected after buying it for sleep-away camp. After several months of striking poses with the guitar, I learned an A chord and wrote a song about an imaginary planet. Now I know a few more chords and have written a few more songs, but it’s still mostly striking poses.
Who did you grow up listening to?
In my dad’s car, we listened to an Allman Brothers Greatest Hits CD (I always thought it was “Almond” Brothers), a Bob Marley Greatest Hits CD, and The Joshua Tree by U2. Those albums were the soundtrack to a good chunk of my upbringing. When I started writing music and listening intentionally, my favorite band was Talking Heads. To be clear about the cause-and-effect, I probably write music and listen intentionally because of Talking Heads.
What instruments can you play?
I should play just guitar and violin, but given a forgiving audience and a lenient ear, I can get by on piano, mandolin and drums as well.
Do you write all your own music?
As an up-and-coming band playing original music, it can be wise to reward an audience with an occasional cover. Otherwise, the show is a harrowing desert of unknown material. A familiar tune (sometimes we do Johnny Cash or Elvis Costello or The Velvet Underground) can be an oasis to prevent the audience from dying of thirst.
What’s your favourite song to perform from California’s Burning?
I like doing Wander No More. I’m really interested in writing short, sharp songs, and I feel that that song is a succinct digest of what the album is all about.
How long did the album take to record?
We tracked everything in about five days. I wish we had taken more time, but I try to think of mistakes as the blueprint for the next recording session.
Are people able to buy physical copies of your album, or do you have plans to release some?
We have physical copies available at our shows, but we’re in the process of setting up an online store where folks can order CDs and T-shirts!
When can we expect another album?
The next album will be done by the new year and we hope to release it by the Spring of 2018.
Are you constantly writing new music?
I work on new songs every day. As a songwriter, I feel sort of like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder up a hill, because the work is never done, and some days I don’t actually progress, I merely prevent the boulder from rolling backwards. And success only makes me hungrier to keep writing, so most of my free time is dedicated to writing.
What made you decide to start doing Song of the Week on your YouTube channel, and will you continue doing so?
I wanted a casual and convenient way to release new music to a widespread audience. I love doing our live performances, but they can only reach so many people in a pretty limited area. Not only can the Song Of The Week videos reach the whole world, but they also allow me to perform more mellow numbers that don’t work as well with a full band. I want to do them for at least a full year, through January 2018, but depending on how I feel, I may continue beyond that. Next year, I’m planning to shift towards releasing more of my home recordings through a new platform. I’m not sure yet if those releases will replace or complement the Song Of The Week series.
Who would you most like to support on tour?
I’d love to support Franz Ferdinand. Their self-titled album is my bible and they’re the rock band whose members are still under fifty whose music I relate to the most. 99% of their songs make me cry and dance simultaneously.
Are there any plans for a tour in 2018?
I wish there were plans, but right now the focus is on finishing the new album and preparing for its release, which will likely include a crowd-funding campaign.
Do you have any plans to visit the UK?
Not right now, but lots of my favourite writers are from the UK and I think we’d be a good match there. Another dream that I hope will come true soon!
What do you enjoy the most about living in San Francisco?
I really love mountain biking and hiking. The San Francisco Bay Area allows me to get outside often and still participate actively in a vibrant music community. As far as American cities go, it’s pretty unique in the intermingling of an urban setting with outdoors space. I’m very grateful to live here.
What has been your favourite country to visit?
Some of my fondest memories are from my visit to Copenhagen. My sister and I spent a few days there in the Summer of 2014, and we discovered a wonderful community of musicians and had a blast exploring the city. My best foreign musical experiences were definitely in Denmark.
What is the best advice that you have been given?
“Never stop”. Self-explanatory. Ever-important.
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