Matthew Perryman Jones

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Matthew Perryman Jones

The latest album from Matthew Perryman Jones is a career-defining work. For an artist already known among his Nashville peers as one of the best songwriters in town, Land of the Living is more expansive, more emotional and more affecting than anything he’s released to date. It’s interesting then that even the business side of things involved a more personal approach as well.

Jones went the Kickstarter route to fund Land of the Living, a decision that he says was a bit intimidating at first. But now that he’s on the other side, he’s appreciative of the tremendous support of his fans. Given how great the new album sounds, it was money well spent for all involved.

SSv: So you went the Kickstarter route on this album and came out with way more than you asked for. Can you discuss the thought process? Why Kickstarter at this pont in your career?

Matthew Perryman Jones: The history of it coming about was that I was writing to make a record and wondering how to go about doing that. I had a lot of people talking to me about Kickstarter. I wasn’t really sure what I thought about Kickstarter at first. I’d heard of it and knew a few friends who’d done it, but then I’d also heard some jaded talk about it — from people thinking it was musicians panhandling and stuff like that.

I started looking into it and understanding how Kickstarter worked and what it was. I had a couple of friends who did some campaigns and realized that’s far from what it was. I realized it was legitimate. These people were offering goods and music and you’re appealing to your fan base, not just Joe Schmoe on the street. It’s people who have been there for years or even some who are new, but either way they are fans.

I gave myself more permission not to worry about classical song structures. I just wanted to write and let songs become an impression or experience and not worry about making them into a tranditional song.

I gave myself more permission not to worry about classical song structures. I just wanted to write and let songs become an impression or experience and not worry about making them into a tranditional song.

The more I looked into it, the more I realized it was time to engage my fan base. Plus it’s a great way to make a record and fund it. In a lot of ways, it’s a glorified pre-order with more stuff around it.

SSv: How was the response for you to watch?

MPJ: I was really blown away by the reaction of fans who said they really wanted to be a part of it. Immediately we raised $1,000 the first hour and $3,000 the first day. We had 50 percent of our goal raised in a week. I was just blown away by the support.

I was nervous about doing a Kickstarter campaign because you don’t know if people will go for it. It was this risk to stick my neck out and you put it on the line because you have to get all of the money if you’re going to get any of it. So I had asked for $19,000 which I thought was a shitload of money, but it was actually $11,000 less than the budget of the record. I knew I would put my own resources into it, too. But we ended up raising almost $26,000.

All that to say, I went into it nervous not knowing what to expect and came out feeling this strong support. Fans didn’t know what I would make. They hadn’t heard it. But I had this sense that people really believed in this. That was really inspiring.

That method was perfect for this record. My mentality was about focusing the connection of the music with the listener or the artist with the fan. That was my focus and I wanted just to go to the people and away from the industry way of making a record.

SSv: We’ve followed you through a few albums to this point so how was your approach different for Land of the Living?

MPJ: I have a studio in my backyard that I work in and I was going out regularly and just working and digging. If I were to describe the writing process for this record, I would say I was digging for the water source in a way. It was just getting in there and doing the work. Many days I was just digging and it felt like getting nothing but dirt. Sometimes it would be random little artifacts that I didn’t know what they meant.

But in the process of trying to find where it was going to start flowing, I also realized the record would be more personal in nature. My music tends to be emotional and personal, but this was definitely going to be even more vulnerable and would speak to where I was at in that time of life.

SSv: I’ve been familiar with your work for some time, so I feel like when listening to this album that it’s still as accessible as ever, which is a great staple of all of your work. However, it also feels like the most complex material you’ve ever written musically speaking — like you really went for it in some places.

MPJ: Yeah, more so than any record. The goal on this record was to stay true to the emotion of the song, and that meant not worrying whether a song followed a traditional structure. I started the record out with a song that’s the least traditional that’s literally like a hymn in the sense that there’s three verses with this ending part, but there’s not your typical verse-chorus-bridge kind of thing.

I gave myself more permission not to worry about classical song structures. I just wanted to write and let songs become an impression or experience and not worry about making them into a tranditional song. I kept having to challenge myself to be okay with that, because there were moments where I was questioning it. But I got to a point where I broke out of that. I eventually didn’t care and wanted to make a song into how it should feel.

“Waking Up The Dead” is a standard rock song and it’s definitely structured that way. But for the most part, the rest are very loose and impressionistic. When I stand back from this particular record, I think I accomplished that.

SSv: I asked Neilson Hubbard once about working with you and he said you have more melodic ideas than anyone else he works with — that you don’t even realize how many there are. You said you had to really dig for this album but was that lyrically? How was the melodic approach?

MPJ: The melodies are the thing that I guess come a little more naturally or easy. That sounds so glib.

SSv: That’s okay. I set you up.

MPJ: [Laughs] I actually set up a small PA system in my studio and this is going to sound so narcisstic but I promise that’s not the mode behind it. But I set up those speakers playing to myself and set the microphone out with speakers facing me. Then I turn the reverb on. It comes from soundcheck.

Let me say this. When I do soundchecks at venues that sound great, I don’t know why but I’ve started more songs at soundcheck. There’s something about hearing the room instead of just having a dead room. There’s something that inspires melody for me there. So that’s the idea.

So I decided I would write the album that way and let the sound in the room help feed the melody. So I tend to just hit the record button on my phone or computer or whatever I have and I start singing. Then I go with it and see where it goes. For the most part, the melody is just sort of there.

As for the lyrical part, when I co-write with Neilson, for example, there’s a great chemistry. I will sit and sing and he’ll put in his stuff, but it’s mostly getting to that point of what the song feels like in that stream-of-consciousness moment. I think a lot of people noodle around to write, but I just record a lot of it and then go back and find something that stands out. That’s the general way that I write all of the time.

SSv: So the lyrics were the challenge? Why is that?

MPJ: Yeah the lyrics were the challenging part for me on this one. If something strikes me and I don’t know what it means, I’ll just leave it there. I don’t think it has to have a perfect meaning. Sometimes it’s just that impression. It’s the right sound and words to go over that melody and I don’t want to mess with it. There’s something informing why it came out and why it sounds good.

I think when you start imposing thoughts onto a lyric coming out in order to have it make perfect sense, I think you can lose something in that. Intead I think there’s an impressionistic aspect to it.

But for the most part, because some of these things were more personal, I was still writing lyrics and re-writing them up until I tracked the vocals. I was literally going crazy over the lyrics because I’m such a stickler for how it sounds.

SSv: Any song more problematic than another?

MPJ: There was one song in particular “Canción De La Noche”. I had this piece I’d recorded a while ago that was this guitar part and a loose melody. I didn’t have that song written at all. I just had the pieces. Then I brought that to the studio and I knew I wanted to record that song there, but I wanted it to be one where I played the idea and didn’t talk too much about it to the band.

When the band came together, I was waiting for the right time to record. I knew I wanted to record it at night. It was after midnight probably when I wrote it in my own studio, so when I saved the song, I just titled it “Midnight Song”. The guys had just left to go into town for dinner and I’d stayed behind working on that piece. I knew there was something special about that time and the night and this weird environment.

So I texted Cason [Cooley] to come back because I was onto something. Everybody just sort of migrated to their stations and we started recorded. We basically did two tracks of 10 to 12 minute long jams of this song. We just left it. I was just making up words as we were going. It was just one of those moments where I felt so lost in the song. It just felt amazing.

I had to track my vocals back at home because I couldn’t properly sing the songs while we were recording as a band. My voice just wasn’t fully working. So going back over that, I wanted to protect the sounds that came out and I wrote words that basically obeyed those sounds.

SSv: Was that your first time you’d ever done that?

MPJ: Totally. The song wasn’t even written, but we just jammed. Then Cason and I clipped it up and put it together. We took out the unecessary long jams in the middle and then I wrote the lyrics based on the sounds. I look back on that song and it’s weird because it says a lot to me, but yet it came together in the moment.


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