Meet April's Artist Spotlight - Matt Jaffe.
Matt Jaffe & The Distractions is a rock trio of 18-year-olds based in San Francisco. The group formed after Talking Heads guitarist and keyboardist Jerry Harrison discovered Matt performing solo at an open mic and decided to produce his music. Together, and with the rhythm section force of Alex Coltharp and Sammie Fischer, they are working on the band's debut record of original material in the vein of The Clash and Elvis Costello.
Describe your sound in one ramble on sentence
We are a San Francisco-based rock band who combine the basic instinct to survive with the urge to write and perform music, filtering a modern mindset through the lens of our favorite bands of the 70s and 80s, including The Clash, Talking Heads and Tom Petty.
What inspires you to make music?
I think songs are a great way of working through my thoughts, both positive and negative. I’m thrilled by the process of turning my experiences into something enduring through a creative process. Music is such a wonderful combination of spontaneity and planning. Songwriting is a process that, for me, requires solitude and time, but the impulsiveness that accompanies a live concert allows the writing to breathe in a way that is unique to songwriting. In a way, music is fuel for my life, and frequently, the end product of it as well. That is not to say I don’t enjoy anything besides music, but it certainly makes my time feel much more meaningful and enjoyable, endowing it with some purpose.
What aspect of making music excites you the most right now?
Right now, I am very excited about the prospect of teaching my bandmates a bunch of new songs that I’ve been working on. For the past few months, I’ve been on a bit of a self-imposed exile, working on new material, so it’s great fun to get to work with the band to figure out arrangements and see how the new songs will fit into our sets. Also, we’re hoping to tour more extensively in the near future, and I always love seeing the songs take on a new life once the whole band gets comfortable enough with the material that we don’t even have to think about it.
What aspect of making music gets you the most discouraged?
Currently, I am living on the coast opposite my bandmates so we have to coordinate our touring and recording based very precisely. It’s a bit frustrating to be detached from them like that. However, this experience has made me appreciate playing with them even more and has isolated the writing process from performance, which has had an interesting effect on my songwriting. However, I am hoping to move closer to them shortly, as the divide has definitely been tough.
Is there a particular song or musical passage that never fails to move you emotionally?
There is a moment in The Flaming Lips’ song “Suddenly Everything Has Changed” that consistently moves me. The middle verse of the three (driving home the sky accelerates…) best embodies music’s capacity to transcend everything. I recall one time driving on CA 101 and the lyrics about the clouds forming geometric shapes felt so sad, yet so hopeful, as the clouds above lazily mirrored Wayne Coyne’s lyrics. That whole album is very emotionally moving, and that particular verse is emblematic of how music can simultaneously capture despair and hope.
What's one of your all-time favorite recordings?
Elvis Costello’s record My Aim Is True is particularly meaningful to me. I found a copy of it on vinyl in my family’s basement and listened on repeat for months on end. Side 1, in particular, really captured my imagination and compelled me to write songs with a new energy (on my edition, “Watching the Detectives” is tacked on to Side 1, making it all the better). It may not be my favorite Costello album, but it will always be a very special one for me, as an introduction to such an influential artist and a genre with which I identify so strongly. Also, Costello’s backing band on the album, Clover, came from the San Francisco Bay Area, which I thought was a neat connection between the distant British Elvis and my hometown.
Name three people who have influenced your music, and tell us why- Living or dead.
There are way too many, but three big ones are David Byrne, Jorge Luis Borges and Alan Moore. David Byrne and Talking Heads inspired me to start playing guitar, writing songs and pretending to be a singer. I learned my first guitar chords by watching Stop Making Sense, and despite countless influences since my discovery of Talking Heads, they have never really been supplanted as the root of my artistic drive. Byrne’s constant artistic metamorphosis has also been a huge inspiration. A lot of artists seem content to rewrite the same song forever, while Byrne has always been pushing the envelopes, and despite varied results, his curiosity has ultimately made his discography a much more rewarding listen. Finally, his combination of media (dance, film, music, interactive art, etc.) is very neat. Presently, I am most engaged in music, but I am trying to incorporate music with film and other forms, largely because of his work. Borges has had a very specific influence on my songs. Several of his stories (The Garden of Forking Paths, The Immortal, The Shape of the Sword) have yielded particular song ideas. Additionally, his style of writing is a fascinating mixture of clarity with abstraction that I hope my songs sometimes reflect. His writing is pristine, yet it always describes concepts that can’t quite be grasped in a rational way. I hope that my songs may capture a similar tone, grounded in tangible images and ideas, but slightly mystical. Finally, Moore’s graphic novels Watchmen and V For Vendetta have both inspired songs, but also motivated me to think about the messages I want my music to convey. I don’t think music (or art, in general) always needs to have a direct message or clear meaning, but Moore has certainly influenced my musical purpose. Some of the characters in Watchmen, especially Rorschach and Ozymandias, have informed the attitude of my songs.