The best singer-songwriter you (likely) haven't heard
Published: February 15, 2012
MT: The old system depended on a band's marketability.
Jones: Maybe that's why [Bergeron] and I aren't more famous! She's a dark-sider too. But we're self-conscious about it, it isn't something you exploit, that'll always look fake and I want to punch those people in the face. I couldn't sing my shit in this weird, gravelly voice, that's too obvious.
MT: But big labels, now, don't know [or they only have fleeting inklings] of what to sell, how to sell it or who to sell it to, because Danny Browns or Odd Futures change the game every two weeks, now ...
Jones: And it only takes five minutes to rid yourself of the 'old system' in uploading your album.
MT: On the title song from the new album you sing, "Confessions confirmed, now confined" and about "fucking with your life ..."
Jones: It's about being half-here, half-there and too scared to move. Being in a place presently that you have to move from, but you can't let yourself go backward and you're terrified of going forward. It's about being absolutely arrogantly bullheaded and sentimental. The line "the color was scraped out long ago" sums up this record to me. The narrator knows he's gotten off the black path alive and he can see the colors ahead.
MT: Beyond labels vacillating over commitments, you seem unsure of that more electric aesthetic, that these new songs had a different quality, more rock 'n' roll than folk or baroque. They still sound dark, but maybe less spooky.
Jones: I know! I don't know if I'm happy about that.
MT: I love spooky.
Jones: I think it's going to be love-hate for a while. I have my one love, that's gone now, that was Black Path.
MT: There were a lot of ominous elements in Black Path — which was a Metro Times year-end favorite — those low, booming basses and sawing strings, but you've talked before about offsetting it by playful melodies, your Scott-Joplin-loving prance through the murk.
Jones: And, judged by [Path's] darkest moments, Half Poison is definitely brighter. So much of me has depended on me being ominous for a long time though. It just comes with me. I'm huge. I'm a tall dude!
I'm always gonna be the most ominous-looking dude in the room just because I tower over people. I sorta depend on it a bit. If I don't have ominous, I don't know what I have.
MT: Those cellos on Black Path songs such as "Jugulars, Bones and Blisters" growl at you; you've made my favorite instrument, the most beautiful sound to me, sound menacing.
Jones: Maybe that's a reason why this new record is still a bit weird for me; you don't feel like somebody's standing over you with a club, waiting to randomly smack you in the head with it.
I kinda like being that guy.
MT: A new standout song is "Special Forces." It's a rousing anthem! It's kind of Americana-ish, but those locomotive drums and mandolins are much less spooky than Path's bass-heavy elements or low-humming accordions. And then the lyrics, that closing ensemble chorus: "What's it say? What's it mean? I don't know, you tell me!"
Jones: I was watching this old '60s movie about an English explorer stumbling onto a Zulu tribe in sub-Saharan Africa and they're all chanting and the melody was so cool. I didn't steal that, but I said, "I want a chant too!" The whole thing was supposed to be for a crowd of people, preferably Zulu warriors, chanting and singing; so I tried to write a chant, but, it wasn't working because it was just me. I needed a thousand other people, preferably.
But those lyrics are about how some songwriters — sometimes we know we just write total nonsense, total shit, that sounds poetic, you know it's gonna hook you, but you don't know what you're talking about. ["Forces"] has some meaning, "You'll win back all their fluttering eyes" that, if you sing this nonsense, you'll probably win somebody. But, at the end, what does it say? So, that song is me becoming sick of nonsense.
MT: Sounds like a resolution ... is it a catharsis of sorts?
Jones: I've gone from writing songs about me, to writing songs that make fun of me. "The Darkness" ain't a sad one. Any slow song of mine is, yes, slow ... but it's ripping someone with the same force as the faster songs.
MT: You rip yourself on these songs, like in "Hammer Falls," singing about being "prepared to lose." Is this your, um, "growing record?"
Jones: I think I've just been waiting this whole year for it to feel grown. With Path, I knew what it was, who it was for, knew all about it.
MT: This record's raw, in that sense; sometimes people prefer nibbling on raw cookie dough; they don't need a perfectly decorated dessert.
Jones: You can make whatever kind of fuckin' cookies with it that you'd want — heh — I hadn't thought about it that way. I've been looking for a way to do that with an album, for it to be able to grow into something else after I put it out. Even if it grows into something that sucks, it'll be moving something, someone.
MT: And, after going electric, it wound up not fitting you.
Jones: Electric literally doesn't fit me; a guitar is like a ukulele on me. I play a Telecaster, which is so unfortunate, it's like a fucking toy. It feels weird, it's too small, it's not heavy! Not ominous enough.
MT: Do you feel the urge to get back to those earthier tones, those rich, wooden acoustics?
Jones: It's nothing to do with being earthy. It's the feeling those big instruments give me; cello and upright bass. My guitar is a tank. Super deep, super heavy. Something about that weight, the tone, the way that tone ... I just need it. [I'm] all about the low end. If I don't have that pressing down on me, thumping down on me, it just feels weak. The tone of electric bass is not enough.
MT: You talked about feeling that you've worked yourself, on the road, and now this talk about thumping and clubbing listeners. I work in a library, I can't resist the metaphor of smashing down an ink-soaked stamp — you must have this urge to really leave your mark.
Jones: Josh Malerman [of the High Strung] told Misty this, "At the end of the day, you want to be on the books, leaving your mark somehow, that you made an effect." [It's] not for money or attention, but being in company with a list of people, Monger, Malerman, Misty, Bathgate, Colette, Doug Coombe ... selfless people with beliefs running beyond what jeans to wear with what scarf.
But, yes, instrumentally too I have to feel it. If I don't have that anchor, the anchor's got to be there, the instruments that carry the low load, it just kills me. I can't relate to electric guitar or synthesizers very well; cellos, the way you hold them, it's like part of you — you can't find that with other instruments.
Matt Jones & the Reconstruction perform Wednesday, Feb. 29 at this year's Metro Times Blowout pre-party, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave.; Detroit; blowout.metrotimes.com.
> Email Jeff Milo