Interview with Matthew Perryman Jones

If you can resist this record you may want to reassess your musical edification, or at the very least, check to see if you still have a pulse.” – American Songwriter Magazine

Promising this kind of lasting impression, one would be crazy not to be at least intrigued enough to give even a cursory listen to Land of the Living, the most recent album in a continuing string of strong releases from Matthew Perryman Jones. Recorded in just a week’s time last August in a remote barn house in Round Top, TX, Land of the Living boasts some of the most undiluted songwriting, impassioned vocals and appropriately supportive musical atmospherics of Matthew’s already solid catalog. From the driving pulse of “Waking the Dead” and “Poisoning the Well” to the tenderness of “Cancion de la Noche” and “The Angles Were Singing,” Land of the Living is ripe with emotion, rhythm, melody and space. Getting a front row seat to watch an incredible artist continue to improve at their craft (while still remaining relatably raw in their conveyed emotions) is certainly a true gift for any music fan. Couple that scenario with an artist as honest and as talented as Matthew and you’ve got yourself an artist/fan connection to hold on tight to with both hands. If you’re not already in the MPJ tribe, Matthew would like to remedy that by offering the entirety of Land of the Living for FREE for a limited time here on NoiseTrade.

I recently interviewed Matthew to accompany this great giveaway and he was gracious enough to share his thoughts on the various inspirations behind Land of the Living, tell a few ghost stories and even tease a little info about his next EP.

NoiseTrade: You have described Land of the Living as being inspired by (among other things), the loss of your father, the transition from mourning to passionate living and “the writings of Rumi, the letters of Vincent Van Gogh… and Federico Garcia Lorca, who wrote about the idea of duende.” With the larger musical landscape being overrun with three minute pop songs built on short, repetitive phrases and simplistic, surface ideals, how best have you found an audience with a big enough attention span to join you in the journey?
Matthew Perryman Jones: I read a quote somewhere that said something like, “if you write from the heart, you’ll sing from the heart and people will listen from the heart”. I suppose I just stay true to what I want to write about and sing. The music seems to find its way to the people who are open to it. I also believe that people have a greater capacity and desire for depth and feeling than our pop culture gives us credit for. A side note and confession: I do love a 3 minute pop song…when it’s good. For example, I could play Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” on repeat and sing it at the top of my lungs like a school girl.

NT: Did you consciously choose a title like Land of the Living to function as a counterbalance for some of the heavier themes contained within the songs or does the title serve a different purpose for you?
MPJ: I got the title from one of Vincent van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo. He was speaking about a time he spent with his brother after a period of time feeling isolated and perhaps a bit depressed. He mentioned that it was the first time in a while he felt like he was in the “land of the living”. When I read that it jumped out to me. I felt like that title represented the journey and spirit of the record. It just felt right.

NT: Continuing on with the fascinating concept of duende; do you feel that being painfully genuine in things like our sadness, grief and struggles, as well as having an understanding of our overall mortality, is more beneficial for connection (finding kindred spirits) or just expression (getting things out)? Also, would it be a true statement to say that duende can be found in any form of melancholic music, from ancient hymns to murder ballads to Delta blues to 1980s new wave/goth and so on?
MPJ: I think Nick Cave has the best answer to this question. While I was writing for the record, I came across this transcription from a lecture he gave in Vienna in 1999:

“In his brilliant lecture entitled “The Theory and Function of Duende” Federico Garcia Lorce attempts to shed some light on the eerie and inexplicable sadness that lives in the heart of certain works of art. “All that has dark sound has duende“, he says, “that mysterious power that everyone feels but no philosopher can explain.” In contemporary rock music, the area in which I operate, music seems less inclined to have its soul, restless and quivering, the sadness that Lorca talks about. Excitement, often; anger, sometimes: but true sadness, rarely… but all in all it would appear that duende is too fragile to survive the brutality of technology and the ever increasing acceleration of the music industry. Perhaps there is just no money in sadness, no dollars in duende. Sadness or duende needs space to breathe. Melancholy hates haste and floats in silence. It must be handled with care.” All love songs must contain duende. For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather Hate Songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our humanness and our God-given right to be sad and the air-waves are littered with them. The love song must resonate with the susurration of sorrow, the tintinnabulation of grief. The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic and the joy of love for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil – the enduring metaphor of Christ crucified between two criminals comes to mind here – so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering.” (emphasis Matthew’s)

NT: You recorded Land of the Living in an old Amish barn from the 1700s (which you reported to be haunted) and you spent your nights in a teepee out in the front yard. Did any inspiration from that experience make it onto the record and can you give us a good ghost story or two?
MPJ: Well, actually the barn is the only building that isn’t haunted on the ranch. No one has ever experienced anything in there. Which is interesting because, from what I understand, traditionally the Amish would carve circular figures in their architecture for the sole purpose of warding off unwanted spirits. The barn sits on 20 acres in Round Top, Texas (the middle of nowhere). There is also the original ranch house (allegedly the most haunted), a guest house, a pool house and a large teepee. I did sleep in the teepee while we were there. Cason, the producer, had an experience of feeling someone hovering over his shoulder to turn around with no one there. Right after that he heard someone walking in the other room…he went into the room to find no one there. Tyler, the guitar player, stayed in that room and woke up one night to a woman standing in the doorway (there were no women there). I heard voices outside my teepee around 4am one morning. They were women’s voices (again, no women there and no one around for miles). Our friend who works there regularly confirmed that strange things like that happened all the time there. It certainly made our stay more interesting. I imagine, if you listen closely, you might hear a ghost or two on the record. By the way, we named the ghost ‘Sarah’. She was a friendly and hospitable ghost (she didn’t make us cookies or anything, but she didn’t seem bothered we were there)

NT: As an artist that has had a lot of success with television/movie placements, what are your feelings on the idea that someone’s first introduction to your music could be when it’s accompanied by visuals, emotions and themes that you have no control over? Will a good song always win out, no matter the context?
MPJ: The song is still the song no matter what context it’s put in. But the right context certainly helps. I think music supervisors put a lot of thought into placing songs into a story. They pay a lot of attention to the thought and emotion that’s in the song so that it fits a scene. Of course that might help people have a more immediate emotional connection to a song, but it’s encouraging when people have found my music through a movie or TV show and go back into my other records and become fans. I think a lot of people watch shows these days expecting the side benefit of discovering new music. I think it’s great.

NT: I’d like to end on a purely selfish question here… Back in 2009, I had the pleasure of hearing you play an absolutely jaw-dropping cover of Howard Jones’ “No One is to Blame” at the Love (as it turns out) is a Battlefield Blood:Water Mission Benefit. Have you ever recorded your amazingly killer take on this song and if not, how much do I need to set the Kickstarter for?
MPJ: Haha! First off, thank you for the kind words. That’s a really great song. You know, I’m working on a covers EP and that would be a great song to include. Thank you for the tip! I was actually trying to think of one more song to do. Done deal. Stay tuned…

So there you have it… candid, thoughtful, informative and just an all around super nice guy and super talented artist. You can download Land of the Living here on NoiseTrade and if you feel so inclined, leave a generous tip to help an incredible artist continue to create meaningful art.

When writer Will Hodge isn’t banging the drum slowly, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack