Matt Jaffe 

EXCLUSIVE

Interview

  • When did you decide that a career in music was for you?

  • I started teaching myself guitar when I was 9. That was the first domino. The next was playing open mics at a bookstore. After that, I met Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads who produced my first album. That was a BIG domino. But even so, there wasn't a single moment at which music turned from hobby to career. In fact, the distinction between hobby and career feels insignificant because only the passion that connects the two is important.

  • Who are your musical inspirations and why?

  • Some big ones: Lou Reed and Townes Van Zandt. I'm not a superstitious person, but I behave like one, so Lou and Townes are my prophets. I don't believe in omens the way most people think about them. It's not as if I see a causality between a bad omen and a bad event, but if there is a bad omen followed by a bad event without any causality, it's still an effective omen. Anyway, these two singers are the most likely to have omens laced through their lyrics.

  • Can you tell me 3 things about yourself that people might not already know?

  • 1) I was in a Toyota commercial. Part of their 'Let's Go Places' campaign. It played between the end of the Super Bowl and the presentation of the Vince Lombardi Trophy. It was 2013, the same year there was a mid-game power outage. 2) I'm a vegetarian. People ask me why, and it's just because I love animals. Walk up to a cow...those big doleful eyes. How could you eat it? I first went veg after watching the documentary "The Cove," which depicted the merciless killing of dolphins in Japan. Dolphins are exotic and graceful, so their slaughter is a glitzier atrocity, but I see no difference between that and the murder of our everyday livestock. 3) I really love movies. My music is only a front to become a director. If you meet me, I'd rather talk to you about movies than about music, but maybe we'll just talk about ourselves.

  • What song of yours best describes you and why?

  • Truth is, I don't write songs about myself. In fact, I do everything possible to hide the pearl of myself in the cavernous recesses of the mollusk of the song. But I have a new song called "Time Traveler" that is about me. Because I'm finding a way to rewind and fast forward. And you don't need a DeLorean or a clocktower or even plutonium, but you do need to be able to play "Johnny B. Goode" with feeling at the high school prom.

  • What has been the best gig you have done to date and why?

  • I played for 250 high schoolers at a UC Santa Cruz science camp in 2019. 250 pathetic high schoolers who didn't warm up to me of their own volition. I started by playing my own songs on a stage with a PA system. About an hour in, I realized the gorge wasn't gonna be bridged by staying the course. So I walked away from the mic, got off the stage and started taking requests. We all sang together. We did "Hey There Delilah" by Plain White T's, and we did "Blister In the Sun" by Violent Femmes, and we even did that great song from "Mulan" which has so much antiquated sexism, but is still a bonafide banger. We spelunked down into the very caves of Scotts Valley and found the ore of human connection.

  • If you could perform a gig at any venue where would it be and why?

  • I'd like to perform at the Hatch Shell on the Boston Esplanade. The venue first came to my attention in the Seth McFarlane movie "Ted," when the titular character meets Norah Jones backstage there. I happened to live in Boston that Summer of 2012, so I watched the movie just blocks from the venue. Not much of a flick, but it did introduce me to the beautiful amphitheatre. I often visit my sister in the Boston area, and jog past the Hatch Shell thinking, 'maybe 10,000 people will gather in the same place again someday. Even outside of Florida.'

  • What has been your best achievement to date and what would you like to achieve in the future?

  • I'm proud of the song/video combo for my song "Wicked World." The song originated from Carrie Fisher's claim during the 2016 election that she was certain Donald Trump was on coke. I mean, have you seen her nail in "Return of The Jedi"? She'd be the one to know. Then she died, followed in a matter of days by her equally-talented mother Debbie Reynolds, and I knew they were two of the stars in Orion's Belt. I searched for the third, and landed on Patty Hearst. The song's conceit is having each verse be a conversation, a device lifted from the music of my friend Chuck Prophet. Once we had tracked the song, we connected with the animator Bill Plympton, who graced (and I mean *graced*) my song with a short film. It marries the graphic novel noir of Moore & Gibbons with the farcical violence of Tarantino, all with the child's heart of a Spielberg climax. In the future, I'd like to record and release music quicker than I do right now. I've spent so much time being patient that I'm impatient to be impatient again.

  • Tell me a story from backstage or after a gig?

  • Some of the most fun we had was in Scottsdale, Arizona, opening for Blues Traveler. First, we projected a huge image of Jimmy Stewart's face from "Vertigo" behind us on the stage. Then I broke a string on my Telecaster, so I switched to my Jazzmaster with the Elvis Costello Walnut Stain. Then John Popper, the fearless leader and harmonica player of Blues Traveler sat in with us on "Folsom Prison Blues." After the gig, we had a palindromic activity spree. First, we got two chilled Reese's Cups each from the motel convenience store. Then we went to a bowling alley for a game and a pitcher of beer. Then we wandered into an adult film store. Then we went back to the bowling alley for another game and another pitcher of beer. Then we finished the evening with two more chilled Reese's Cups each from the motel convenience store. As classic as radar, kayak or a-man-a-pl-an-a-canal-panama.

  • What do you like best about being a musician and why?

  • I like that playing my songs onstage melts the world. Each chord is a spark that burns the plastic Earth into a hideous green flame, untold chemicals released into the atmosphere. And then my enemies are like crows landing on birch trees in a wintry New England. While I'm busy soaring above the sweep of cornfields with symbols scourged into them by amiable aliens. And I am two parts: me living my life, sitting there cross-legged in the cornfield, and me watching myself sitting there cross-legged in the cornfield. The moon is blue and the ground is blue, and the past and the future are the same. Then I go back into my body, and nobody can touch me. I picked the right guitar chords for that song.

  • If you were not in the job you are now what would you be doing?

  • I'd like to be a Park Ranger. The only problem is that you don't necessarily get to choose the park to which you're assigned. I want to be a Park Ranger at the Grand Canyon, but everyone wants to work at the Grand Canyon, so they'd probably start me out at some park nobody's even heard of, not even West of the Mississippi. But here's the thing: the range of jobs that bear the title "Park Ranger" is very broad, very broad indeed. Whether you're working the parking lot kiosk or leading an initiative to combat climate change in National Parks, you're a Park Ranger. But chances are, if you skew towards the latter, you're more likely to command a post at a desirable park, a Grand Canyon, a Yellowstone, a Yosemite, what have you. So I just need to become a highly sought-after job candidate. But more likely, I'll just work the kiosk at one of those parks you've never even heard of, that's not even West of the Mississippi. But between you and me, I'm only getting into it because the uniforms are fire.

  • What has been the best gig you have been too as a fan and can you tell us about it?

  • My friend Chuck Prophet played a show the weekend after Tom Petty died in 2017. The Make Out Room. The Mission. San Francisco. California. They opened with the Petty song "The Waiting." It's already the best song. But *then*, they played the "Pack Up the Plantation" version of it. So Tom starts by himself with just the Rickenbacker 12-string to back him up, "oh baby don't it feel like heaven right now, don't it feel like something from a dream..." And then in the second chorus, Stan Lynch comes in with the high, high harmony vocal, "the waiting is the hardest part." And then the band creeps in slowly during the bridge, "I'll be your bleedin' heart, I'll be your cryin' fool..." And then the full band comes crashing thundering rioting in on the first soaring notes of Mike Campbell's flying eagle guitar solo. And Chuck and company did it like that. Cooler still, Chuck's singing partner and life partner Stephanie Finch did the vocals. They closed the show with Karaoke "American Girl," the whole crowd singing the only proper elegy for a fallen star. In between the two tributes, a two hour rock and roll catharsis.

  • What would your ideal festival line up be and why?

  • I'm going to give my imagination a rest and just recount a festival day I saw. The Lands End Stage at Outside Lands in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. I'm pretty sure this festival is mainly about designer drugs and $25 cocktails these days (unless they book me, in which case I only have positive things to say about them), but I can't deny a miraculous day of music. I was in the front row, right at the security barricades. I brought in a few bottles of water and a cilantro-limealicious wrap from a first wave health food cafe I love. Praise be God I didn't have to piss throughout the day, since my primo spot would have been lost in a flash. The day opened with Charles Bradley, an introduction to the 'Screaming Eagle of Soul.' He came off the stage and shook our hands. The tears were real. He was followed by Josh Ritter. In the middle of one of his songs, he broke into Talking Heads' "Once In A Lifetime." I was transfixed. Then came John Fogerty. Don't let anyone tell you that he isn't the Ray Davies of the West. CCR's run of singles isn't even rivaled by God. Then Mavis Staples. I'd seen her before, but with her it's always pitch perfect. They say you don't know the 'good old days' until they're behind you. Not so with Mavis. She makes it clear that you're living them. Win Butler from Arcade Fire sat in for "The Weight" (*admittedly a song I never need to hear again in my life, but cool all the same). Then The Decemberists, for whom added praise would be obsequious genuflecting. And they're not even the headliner? Arcade Fire closed us out. I like "Wake Up" as much as the next angsty bloke who raves about Spike Jonze, but I'm glad they replaced it with "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" as their closer.

  • What would you say is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

  • "Never stop." Narada Michael Walden in San Francisco, 2009. Better to be a hideous weed than a beautiful annual.

  • What things make you happy and what things annoy you?

  • Things that make me happy: heaping bowls of cereal, the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, Julia Alvarez novels, running along bodies of water, denim that fits just right, graphic tees, raw tofu, Hitchcock horror, people as shy as me, when the B-string stays in tune. Things that annoy me: people who can't go through TSA efficiently, people who mistake my vegetarianism for evangelism, people who say they know what a song is about because they know the songwriter personally, people who arrive late to a commitment with a Starbucks drink in their hand, people who don't read through the whole test before starting it.

  • What things do you like to do when you are away from music?

  • I like to mountain bike in the Marin Headlands. I like to cook faux Korean food. I like to argue about the merit (or lack thereof) of Disney-era Star Wars. I like to write down my favorite quotes from books so I can look back at them in 50 years.

  • Do you think social media and the internet are a good thing in the music industry?

  • Truthfully, it's such a necessary evil that I don't even think about it with regard to music. It's definitely a bad thing overall, on account of abetting the global rise of authoritarianism, but its impact on music is hazier.

  • How important do you think you look and image is when it comes to being in the music industry?

  • Very. More important than the music. People see you before they hear you. And it's fun to dress well. Let's get the basics out of the way: no shorts onstage and no sandals onstage and no logos onstage. I'm not an aesthetic mind by nature, but I've learned to cut a figure.

  • If you run the country for a day what would you change about it and why?

  • I hope in this hypothetical I can bypass Congress? Free healthcare. Free college. Proactive prosecution of police officers who kill minorities. Asylum for refugees. And why? If I have to tell you, you don't know.

  • What would your ideal day consist of?

  • I already described most of it in the "things that make me happy" section. But add that I'd be in Mexico, with the kind of guacamole they make at your table, a parade because it's Easter Sunday, and I can drink alcohol again so I have a michelada.

  • What has been your experience during the Covid 19 situations.Can you tell us how this has affected you personally,how it has affected you professionally and maybe a story from this time or a message for people out there?

  • Honestly, I'm beyond the stage of melancholy. All the things that would have happened if not for covid would have happened by now anyway. So the world is mine to invent. Scary and exciting stuff. There's no greater terror for a human than to be able to do anything they want to do. The restrictions we face daily are an easier form of happiness than utter freedom. But that's a truer form of happiness. So I'm working to discover it. Without the constant pattern of gigs, I've gotten to step back and write with fertility unseen since early college and focus on the germ of creativity. Why do apples grown in the US get shipped to China for processing and then back to the US for consumption? How does my desire to write music make me exchange emails with people who make me unhappy? It's a complicated world, but in covid, I've learned to eat apples from my backyard, and communicate with only people I love. Many people have died, and grief is real, but I encourage people to draw the curtain of lament. The convenient timeline of a cheerier 2021 is promised to no one, so glean what you can from our new reality.

  • If you could say one thing to your fans what would it be and why?

  • Thank you for caring. There is a lot of good television, so I appreciate that you dedicate some of your time to me.

  • How would you answer the question Who Matt Jaffe and what are the differences between you as a music artist and you away from music ?

  • I'm a very meek person. I'm the 'inherit the earth' kind of meek. I don't make eye contact if I can avoid it and I apologize for things I didn't do. Did you ever see "The Mask"? That's the difference right there. When Jim Carrey puts on the mask, his eyes go gaga, his heart beats through his chest, his jaw drops to the floor like an anvil, and his tongue lolls out like a Fruit Roll-Up. Onstage, I'm Cuban Pete.

  • What was the first record or song you purchased and why?

  • I bought U2's "How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb." I got it because I always listened to "Joshua Tree" with my dad in his Volvo. I thought "Joshua Tree" was the greatest thing. I wasn't wrong. "Dismantle" is a very underrated record, for the record. "City of Blinding Lights" is a top 10 U2 song, and their greatest achievement since "Achtung Baby." I bought the record with apprehension since I had a nagging fear of nuclear warfare, the same feeling I got watching my first Kubrick film. It seemed like bad luck. Just like listening to "American Pie" right before a flight.

  • What would say to someone thinking about becoming a musician and getting into the music industry?

  • Make sure you like music a lot. Nothing else awaits you.

  • If you could collaborate with any other band/singer or musician who would you choose and why?

  • I'd like to make a record with Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields. His melodic sensibility and droll lyricism and cinematic production are genius. Discovering his music was a before-and-after event for me. Like being born, or getting bar mitzvahed, or getting married.

  • If you could have written one song from history which would it have been and why?

  • I wish I had written "God Only Knows." I don't think there is something holier in this world or another.

  • What things make you uncomfortable?

  • When I'm in a green room and I tell someone I'm a musician and they look me up on Spotify right on the spot and skip through the first 10 seconds of the top 5 songs. Is this a specific incident that happened, you ask? Of course not, I say. Of course not.

  • If you wrote a book about yourself what would it have in it?

  • Justin Bieber wrote his autobiography when he was 18. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. There are many banners yet to fall.

  • What has the rest of the year got in store for you?

  • I'm releasing two new albums and writing the one after that! I'm learning the power of 'no' and the potential of 'yes.' Remember what I said about the greatest human terror being the ability to do anything? I'm confronting that.