Features Interviews

Constant World: In Conversation with Matt Christensen – Part 2

In the final part of our two-part feature, we continue to discuss the Zelienople singer’s new solo album, ‘Constant Green’.

Last Friday, with Constant Green barely 10 hours old, in what seems to be deemed as natural custom, Matt Christensen decided to drop another album on Bandcamp the same day.

Sonically at least, Christensen‘s ‘latest’ album, Pink News, feels like a kindred spirit to Constant Green, with the former adopting those slow whirring atmospherics that act as a portal, guiding us through different universes.

While still too early to make any concrete pronouncements on Pink News, however songs like Birds Forgetting How to Fly and The Plant Life have already left those indelible marks, which Christensen‘s songs have that uncanny knack of doing.

So to no one’s surprise, Pink News does seem to fit into the realm occupied by Christensen‘s various other LPs he has so far released this year (that, of course, includes Constant Green).

Again, these things are beginning to feel habitual when engaging with Christensen‘s music. There will no doubt be more to come during the second half of 2021, because, well… that’s just what Christensen does, and if any of his forthcoming releases reach the same highs of his 2021 output so far, then we’re in for a treat. Again, though, it’s almost expected that this will be the outcome.

Here is the second part of our conversation with the Zelienople singer. Those who missed the first part to read that via the link below.

Constant World: In Conversation with Matt Christensen – Part 1

S13: I Had A Vision That I Could Move Anywhere strikes me as an autobiographical kind of song. Would you ever see yourself moving away from Chicago?

MC: “Probably not. Well, no, I have a fear of… I don’t like travel except under certain circumstances. It’s hard for me to go someplace else and not be anxious. Unless it’s something totally fun, or maybe playing shows. But I don’t like flying and like, my anxiety focuses on flying. I haven’t flown for five years. Never been out of the country. So I get really freaked out on airplanes. And so that’s what that song is about, like, you can partly step out of anxious moments, psychologically. This was me imagining myself that there are other mental states to be in.

“I could live someplace else. I think about California, but my wife doesn’t want to do that. And that’s going to be part of the decision (laughs). I would like to live in Southern California, I think. One of the reasons I would like that is because it’s completely different than the city. I think I would probably meet people that are also philosophically more in line with me. And also because I’ve always had this like, love of the California style. A lot of it has something I do like. I don’t play surf [guitar], but that’s certainly an influence. I like that imagery. I like the aesthetic of L.A.

“I don’t know whether you’ve ever had this experience, but you’d have an image of a certain place in your mind based on movies, or whatever, and you get there and it’s totally fucking different. Like, I thought New York was going be this slick metropolis and when I got there, there was barely anything holding this place together, man. It seems it could crumble at any moment, and I really liked that about New York. There’s way too many people and it’s so disorganised.

“But when I went to L.A. it was exactly what I thought it would feel like. Warm breeze, low humidity, there’s palm trees, it’s superficial, vintage cars, that kind of stuff. I first went when I was a little bit older, so I didn’t have that whole thought of like, ‘If I moved here, how would I start a life?’- I already have a life with my wife. She doesn’t want to do it. I’m trying to talk her into retiring, getting an RV.” (laughs)

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S13: It sounds you’re quite a family-orientated kind of person. Would that be a fair assumption?

MC: “No.”

(Both laugh)

MC: “Like, I love my wife. You know, in the end, the way it unravelled for me was, like, I always wanted to have kids but wasn’t too hot on the idea of getting married. Just because it’s not a tradition in my family to stay married, so it’s not that, and also I’m not religious, so it’s not that, either. But, you know, like when I connected with her, I remember really thinking one of the first reasons that I wanted to be with her is because she complements my ideals and If we did have a kid, I could totally see her being a great mother. So yeah, I guess I’ve become a family person, but just with her. I take it this is how it should be, right?”

S13: Yeah, you create your own world. That’s the shiniest jewel in the crown of partnership, religious or not, you’re being with your friend…

MC: “I think that’s the secret to life. It’s heartbreaking and inspirational. My daughter is 14 and she’s anxious like I am, thinking way too much, so I have conversations with her that are kind of like talking to myself. There’s depression and anxiety and stuff and she’s talking about the meaning of life and I was like, ‘I think this is it, the scary but great thing about this is that you have to make your own meaning, and I can’t give it to you. I can’t give it to anybody else. I can give you the rough outlines of what it is for me, but the way it makes sense is just unique to my mind’. And I see and feel that with other people, or when you hear life advice from other people, it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s great. It’s just not hitting me’.

“When you finally start to feel like there’s a reason for things for you, then your purpose comes out of that, but I think that you can’t give it to anybody and you can’t receive it from someone else and that’s a fucking bitch. (laughs)

“There are times where you don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t see that what I’m saying to be comforting in those situations. I don’t know if you have depression yourself….”

S13: Yeah…

MC: “It feels like the absolute truth. You know, in fact, in your darkest moments, it sometimes feels like this feeling is the truth.”

S13: When you’re at the lowest point, you can’t get out of that. And sometimes it just comes out of nowhere.

MC: “Yeah. And you think of yourself like… you think of your non-depressed state as being a chump, or someone who’s just going along with the motions, like, ‘Oh, this feeling is the truth about you and the nature of reality.”

Matt Christensen - Constant Green

S13: Earlier when you were talking about not associating with much music these days. Tenement Square has a Slowdive Pygmalion vibe to it. Can you tell us a bit about that song?

MC: “Trying to remember it now (laughs). I mean, everyone says this, you know, ‘It’s like Slowdive‘. I think a lot of stuff that Zelienople does, and that I’ve done on my own have similarities, I think everyone says we’re really influenced by them.”

S13: That’s the first Slowdive echo I’ve heard with your music and even with Zelienople. I would say, probably, if you’re going to go down that route, maybe Labradford, or something…

MC: “I think that when you’re talking about Chicago, Labradford was here and I was already developing my own style when they came out with that first record. But I feel in Chicago, every 10 years something happens. It’s been like that for a long time.

“It’s like we have the blues, even though it’s not technically of Chicago, but a lot came from here and people associate it with Chicago. And then we have house music. We had industrial, we had the hyper signing frenzy with Smashing Pumpkins and all those bands. There’s Wax Trax! that goes back to industrial and then there was the whole post-rock thing. There’s Tortoise and Sea And Cake, a lot of that stuff was coming out of here. So like I said, every 10 years something comes out of here.

“When I first started playing, my primary influences were, you know, [Brian] Eno and King Crimson. And then I really got into Talk Talk, obviously. I had an uncle that turned me on to that and that just like… hit all the buttons. So people say like, ‘You seem influenced by these people’. Well, I’ll tell you who I steal from and it’s Talk Talk, Neil Young, probably Depeche Mode. But also later, probably Spiritualized. Not really Spaceman 3, just Spiritualized. Not Slowdive. By the time Souvlaki came out, I was already in Zelienople, or we’d already formed.

“I think that a lot of times, and I’m not saying this in reference to your observation, but I think when people hear a lot of reverb, and the only reverb-y band they’ve heard is Slowdive, that starts to happen.”

S13: For sure. Where Does My Sound Go? is the strongest song from the album, for mine. How did that one come about?

MC: “That’s Eric‘s favourite. So yeah, that’s a pretty direct song. I think that, like, music is the only thing of mine that has a chance of maybe living on. You know, the only thing that I’ve done in my life to have this kind of lasting life is this catalogue of what I’m doing, you know what I mean?”

S13: Sure.

MC: “My kid is going to have a kid, maybe. I don’t know, she could go out and do incredible things, maybe cure cancer… but, you know, in the grand scheme of things, there are probably few people who are going to know who I was. I’m not saying that there’s going to be some archive of my stuff that will be discovered where someone will say, ‘This guy’s a fucking genius’. I’m just talking about it living on in some format and people are picking up on it years from now, just by chance. So I’m talking about that. All this music that I’ve been vomiting out, this personal stuff out into the world. Where’s that going to go? How long is it going to live? That’s pretty much it.”

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S13: You finish with the title track, which is by far the longest song on Constant Green. Aesthetically, it still feels like it’s aligned to the other songs. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s probably deemed as an ‘epic’ in terms of your output.

(Pause then background music)

MC: “I’m actually listening to it right now.”

(Both laugh)

MC: “So that one was deliberately supposed to dovetail out of the preceding song. Where Does My Sound Go? is about the music living on, then that last song is largely giving up that idea and kind of taking whatever I get in the way of being remembered. So even if it’s someone saying, ‘Oh, yeah, you know, he was really kind of committed to mental health issues and helped a lot of people out’. I’d be okay with that whisper of a positive life.

“But then also the tension in my mind about that, as well. Could my ego be okay with that outcome? Or could my ego be okay if there were no outcome? I have been probably… with work ethic, I think I’ve probably been writing a bit more about ego death in recent albums. I think now that I’m listening to this, it was kind of the beginning of that period for me. Of course, it’s a difficult task. (laughs)

“It’s maybe the concept. It’s different to try and write with that perspective because you’re simultaneously pretending that you have agency. We’re getting deep again here, I guess. It’s like wrestling with the notion of freewill, but then also trying to play music that’s informed by experiences, and then trying to pretend that those experiences are unique to you and trying to stay in that frame of mind, with just constant blocks or tension between those two things. I remember thinking about that when I did that last song.”

Matt Christensen (photo credit: Tim Breen)

S13: Going back to the fact that you release so much new music. Do you have a structure in the day? You work full-time, so do you allot a specific amount of time in the day where you say, ‘Okay, I’m just writing songs’?

MC: “No, I don’t. Okay… so like, this is my only piece of advice. Whenever I talk to somebody and they talk about that, and there’s some people that say, ‘Oh, you know, not all of your records can be good’. And I’m like, ‘I don’t think about that anymore’. I really don’t. I think about this as a journal, you know.

“The way I tend to work, I try to write one record at the time, I tend to not be able to move on to the next one until I get that other one out. And so that can be anything, it could be a theme that I want to fuck with for 40 minutes and move on, so I don’t schedule any time. So if anybody does want to do what I’m trying to do, what I’m doing and how I maintain that work ethic – I don’t worry about the schedule. I have my stuff set up all the time. It’s right next to me. So at any moment, I guess it’s ready to go. Whatever effect pedal I’m using most often is right here. If you see, even when I’m working, my guitar’s right there the whole time.”

(Matt moves the camera to show his amplifier, guitar and microphone)

S13: Nice.

MC: “I’ve also got my recording software open all the time, so basically I have no excuse. Anytime you’re tempted to think, like, ‘I’ve got to wash the dishes first’, or whatever, I have the stereo amp between my legs on a little shelf. Everything’s right here, I don’t have to get out of this chair to start hammering something out really quickly. So that’s what I tell people, have everything fucking set up all the time. Whatever instrument you want to play is basically set up all the time.

“But the other thing is, like, you’re probably not going to get to decide what comes out, and I think that’s something that I wrestled with for a long time. I noticed that about other people, too. They want to do something and then when they try to do it, it doesn’t work. They give up. I think that if you just get comfortable with playing every day, certain things are going to start coming out that you don’t even want to listen to, or even work on. If that’s what your brain is doing, it’s probably not going to stop doing that until you fucking hammer it out and get it over and done with.

“In my experience, it will usually take you to other areas that are more interesting. So that’s how I keep up with it. I also think that, like… I was super self-conscious about music. Our first record as a band, I didn’t want to release that forever. I kept remixing and remixing and then the other guys were like, ‘No, this is done!’”

S13: Are we talking about Pajama Avenue here?

MC: “Yeah. We actually got that mastered professionally and I didn’t like that and redid it. We also got a two record deal from kranky for that record, but they wanted us to go in the studio and re-record it. And since I’ve always done all the recording, like set up all the songs and stuff, I was like, ‘I’m not doing it’. (laughs)

“So the other guys… I mean, I did say, ‘How do you guys feel about this?’ And they’re like, ‘Maybe we should try it out?’. And I was like, ‘Would you really want to do that, though? To go through all of this again’. They were like, ‘No’, so we did come to a consensus that we didn’t want to relive that whole process.

“Since then, it got easier and easier to record. But really, it was during that period when I started Bandcamp and I didn’t have much else to do. I really exorcised some demons. I really do like working by myself now, I like doing solo stuff. But my advice to other people is, like, no one gives a fuck. If you wanted to wear a pink bathrobe to the grocery store, you could have been doing that this whole time.”

Constant Green is out now via Miasmah Recordings. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

10 replies on “Constant World: In Conversation with Matt Christensen – Part 2”

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