Matt Pond is used to instability. He’s also used to change.
So now he’s dropped his previous moniker, Matt Pond PA, and forged ahead, simply, as himself—Matt Pond. But not much has changed besides that. His latest album, The Lives Inside the Lines of Your Hands, is another testament to his ability to write a perfect pop song and deepen his musicianship that is heavily rooted in a pastoral aesthetic.
After an unfortunate injury, Pond sounds revitalized. He was affable, energetic, and honest when he spoke with SSv on a recent January night and he covered an assortment of topics, including, his lengthy back catalog, his love for The Thermals, and what authors inspire him.
SSv: You’re just Matt Pond now. No more PA.
Matt Pond: No. And it’s weird–if you try to think about something too much it just ends up becoming pointless. I don’t even know why we named it that in the first place. But as it was, it was a fine thing to do. It seemed there just wasn’t any reason to keep that vestigial tail connected to me anymore.
Sometimes you can’t explain what makes sense. To me, it just seems like a clearer vision of what I want to do, what I want to do with my life, and how I feel about being alive.
SSv: Well, you have always been the central figure in the band.
MP: As far as I know there hasn’t been anyone else. (Laughs) The point was, unfortunately, I had been in a couple bands and I had kind of seized power. And I thought, ‘Look we can all do this as long as you want, but…’ I mean, I could have been in lots of bands but I just think there should be a president.
SSv: And Matt Pond for President?
MP: Yeah, in my little world—the backseat of my car or wherever, I am president. (Laughs)
SSv: With this album, once you dropped the pretense of being a band, did you drop some restraints and feel more free?
MP: Yeah, I became re-motivated. And there are a lot of categorizations and ways of talking about it that just won’t fit. Last year I broke my leg on tour and I wasn’t even that excited about touring or playing music up until that point. Then there was this point when I broke my leg when I realized I didn’t want to do anything else more than that. In the midst of that we finished the tour. And I couldn’t have done it without Chris Hansen; we made the last record and he still plays with me. So we are some kind of mutated band but it had to do more with how I saw things. Some people–I won’t say some people–but I used to play music with this kind of labored, ‘I don’t want to be here’ mentality. And then I realized I really wanted to be here. This is what I like doing. I have a complaint list in the back of my mind about some of the problems that go on in the music world, but I try to let them go for the most part these days. And that, more than anything, made me feel like, ‘Look, let’s just keep things simple.’ As far as being onstage and collaborating, I still want to do it, I just don’t want some strange series of letters following my name that don’t say anything to me or to anyone else.
Is that a terrible answer? (Laughs)
SSv: No, but with the last few albums I felt like the “PA” was kind of insignificant. You’ve always been the main presence in the band. And the last record, The Dark Leaves, was kind of a minimal affair, so this seemed like a natural progression.
MP: Yeah, it makes sense to me, but sometimes you can’t explain what makes sense. To me, it just seems like a clearer vision of what I want to do, what I want to do with my life, and how I feel about being alive. Not that everything is about Matt Pond. (Laughs) I really believe in making music and doing it with other people, I just don’t want to be stopped by another person.
SSv: You’re not uncomfortable being the solo-man out in front.
MP: No, and I think someone has to be. I don’t know many bands where there is absolute evenness across the board. Someone is pulling strings and pressing the gas and making the thing go. I would love to go ¼ in on something or 50/50 on something but it’s really hard. If you can see all the moves or the way to the end, how do you compromise that by saying, “Well, why don’t we…?” Maybe I’m just not good at sharing. (Laughs)
SSv: Well, that role that you’re talking about, more often than not, falls to the singer or the singer-songwriter
MP: And the problem was, even when I tried to make it a band, and thought to change the name, then struggled through years of living in Philadelphia and New York, the fact was, it wasn’t the name of the band that people might be annoyed with, it was me as a singer or something else. I can only apologize for myself so many times. (Laughs)
SSv: There’s no need to apologize. (Laughs)
MP: Well, I should probably use a little more restraint sometimes. That should be tattooed on my hand so I can read it.
SSv: Well, you said you have a list of complaints about the music industry in the back of your head. Is the fact that artists sometimes exercise too much restraint one of those complaints?
MP: We are in a weird position [as musicians]. I think some parts of [the music world] are really cool and some aren’t. For example, I don’t want every part of my day to be exposed. But it’s a give and take and if I were to complain about it, it would be like complaining about progress. And you can’t stop progress unless you disassociate from society. And there’s enough about society where I’ll take the painful parts, too.
I don’t even know what the music industry is, though. I know what happens and I like music, but I can’t let myself get wrapped up in why things work or don’t work. As long as I can walk and aren’t dead, I should be doing this because I enjoy it.
SSv: That’s about all you can ask for out of any type of career.
MP: Yeah, and it’s not the career because career means stability and, here’s the thing, over the last few years people have not had stability. There’s not a lot of it going around. Or there’s a lot of instability, I should say. And in a way it’s reassuring because you might as well do something you like.
SSv: So, you’ve been used to the instability.
MP: That’s everyday. Even if you find some money comes your way, then that’s when you break your leg. Things just go that way.
SSv: Looking back, you’ve had a long run of LPs. Are there certain records you are prouder of than others?
MP: Well, it’s always give and take. Because, I like one record, but it wasn’t recorded as well as it could have been. I like the time when I was making Several Arrows Later. That was a good time in my life. I think it was the first time I let myself think that I wasn’t a loser. You can beat yourself up a lot—and it works as a songwriting process, too—but that time was when I felt like a normal person, or just as normal as anyone else. And that’s the greatest revelation of my entire life. I don’t necessarily want to be normal like other people, but I also don’t want to be punching myself in the head all night long.
I liked the last one (The Dark Leaves) for what it was and I like most of them for what they are. I definitely like this album the best. And I would have to say that even if I didn’t mean it, but I do mean it. (Laughs)
SSv: This record sounds vibrant and feels positive in a way the last record didn’t.
MP: Well, I was trying to sound positive on the last one but sometimes things go the opposite way. We pushed ourselves on this record. Even in terms of sequencing and throwing tracks away. There are songs not on there that are, in my mind, some of the best songs I’ve written. But you’re telling a story so you can’t just jam whatever you want into it. We’ll you could, because people listen for one song on an album. But I don’t want to do that. I still want to make albums.
SSv: A few tracks got reworked from the Spring Fools EP.
MP: They were from that but as we went forward I wanted to give them a proper treatment. An EP treatment is proper, but there’s not a lot of thinking involved. Which is cool because they are what they are and if people liked them, that’s great.
SSv: And you released The Natural Lines EP where you do a Thermals cover. Why that song?
MP: Years ago on tour, we, as a duo, opened for The Thermals in Indianapolis. And I got their first record and just loved it. I think their music just talks to me. I get it. Or I think I get it. I hope I do. And then that song, “Pillar of Salt,” came out and it’s just one of the best songs of all time. I love when, in an anthem, you have longing. When I mean anthem, I mean a song you can’t help but move to—the way they play it especially.
SSv: It is anthemic, but you added a sense of longing and made the lyrics more prominent, which is nice because I don’t think The Thermals get enough credit for their lyrics.
MP: Oh yeah, their lyrics are great. Unfortunately, I can go to the dark side easily. So if I just wanted to add some longing I could waste my whole life longing for things that were not the way they were. And I love doing covers. I think covers have a place in music more than they already do. I think sometimes they are kind of thrown off or are kind of tongue-in-cheek. And we will do something that is kind of funny—we did a My Chemical Romance song, but I like that song. And I don’t care if people like it because I like it. Covers are homage and no matter what, I really like paying my respects to someone in a song that I love.
SSv: I think covers get a bad reputation because of their connotation. Like maybe you’re not “hip” enough if you have to cover this other person’s song. Or you’re not original enough or as creative as they are.
MP: See, for me, it’s a way to be the most creative. Because you don’t have to think about it too much. You don’t think about that whole process, it’s just freeing. I think that it’s probably one of my favorite ways to freely enjoy myself. You already know it’s great, so just don’t screw it up. (Laughs) I’ve killed myself with lyrics before, sitting with words, pulling out hair. And, don’t misunderstand, I like the process; life isn’t supposed to be easy. But it’s the reward of playing an awesome song and not having to deal with that part of [songwriting] that makes it so much fun.
SSv: Thematically, your records deal in a lot of pastoral and natural imagery. I know place influences you a lot, but are there specific writers that influence you also?
MP: Definitely. My favorite writer is Walker Percy. He’s not so natural but he’s thoughtful as hell. And the way that people interact and the way that he understands people is something I wish I knew. His nature is natural. And I guess that’s what I’m looking for in the end.
Also, Andre Dubus, Salinger—I loved Salinger, I still love Salinger. I’ve read Rick Bass and Annie Dillard. I like to see my experiences growing up and the way I saw things—with natural light, by myself, in the forest. That’s how it happens. So there’s a filter in my mind and everything comes through that and I can’t get past it. And I don’t necessarily want to, either. Probably springtime in New York, New Hampshire, or Vermont is the only place where I’ll forget about everything and be completely lost. These writers, you take their thoughts, and they come back to you interpreted through your perception. That’s really long-winded and weird, but it’s also true.