Interview: Matt White
Wed, 04 Aug 2010 07:35:32
Matt White may very well be the smartest man in pop music.
His latest album, It's the Good Crazy, brandishes a slick wit just under the surface of undeniably unforgettable pop melodies. Wielding a piano and a sardonic sense of humor, White's album is a trip through being in your '20s in New York and facing love and life head-on. The first single "Falling In Love (With My Best Friend)" channels Elton John and Woody Allen equally, combining a soaring hook and vivid storytelling. Then there's "Taking On Water," which drowns in a gorgeous melody that's haunting and hypnotic. Given his fiery piano playing and sharp lyrics, Matt deserves to be the new face of pop, and this album makes a loud case for it.
It's the Good Crazy hits shelves on September 14, but Matt White sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about the record, why Annie Hall rules and the day he met Robert Plant…
Was there a certain moment where everything just clicked while you were recording?
Recording in Woodstock, the whole environment really contributed. I was far away from any kind of metropolis with these guys whose work I've known for a long time. I got to hear the stories about how songs that I love were made. That certainly made me work harder and approach things differently.
You also weren't relying on modern digital recording techniques as a crutch.
Exactly, a lot of that was pushing myself to the limit. When I was doing the tape thing, the producer said, "You can listen to 'Satisfaction' or 'Stairway to Heaven' through computer speakers or two-hundred thousand dollar speakers and they still sound amazing." It's true. That's the inherent quality of doing something analog. The sound is just different.
Every classic song that we come back to was recorded that way.
Right, and there was a reason why that is!
Were you recording numerous takes or did it often happen the first or second around?
If we caught a vibe, we definitely knew it. There were certain songs that we didn't. The ones that we did, we had no doubts. I go back to a song like "Taking On Water" because, for me, that's a highlight on the album. That was a song that we talked about. Then without any real analysis of it, we just did the song and it came across really great.
Where did "Taking On Water" come from lyrically? That's still my favorite.
That's my favorite too. I wrote that with this talented artist named Madi Diaz. I had been put together with her by her publisher. I had the melodic idea, and we worked on everything together. She's incredibly talented! We were talking about a sinking ship, and the idea of taking on water came about.
Even though the song is dark, it's still very catchy.
It has that Oasis "Wonderwall" feel. I think it's as catchy as any of the others are too.
What's up with "Falling In Love (With My Best Friend)"?
I did some of that at the church we were recording at and some of it in Charlestown. That was always a contender for the single. I think "Falling In Love," "And the Beat Goes On" and "Sunshine" are fun real pop piano songs.
It's crazy because, following the single's subject matter, so many friends do end up together.
Absolutely! My next theme for a song is Match.com or something [Laughs]. I'm going to write about all the internet dating stories I hear. The success people are having with online dating is crazy! I think that's the next topic of songwriting [Laughs].
You don't know who you're actually talking to on the net though! It's creepy.
I know, but I'm telling you, people are meeting people left and right that way. I see it all the time [Laughs].
If this record were a movie or a combination of movies, what would it be?
That's a good question. I would love to say The Godfather, but this has nothing connected to it in anyway [Laughs]. Maybe Annie Hall…because a lot of the topics have a quirky sensibility.
Is Annie Hall your favorite Woody Allen movie?
Yeah! I love that movie. For me growing up in New York, Annie Hall captured everything. I saw it when I was young. I used to watch that film, The Graduate and other movies like them all the time. It's interesting. If you watch The Graduate today, it's still unbelievable. It's like listening to a Beatles album in that respect.
There was a lot more creative freedom back then.
If you take film classes, they talk about telling a story without dialogue. The dialogue in Annie Hall is much less than the dialogue in movies now.
Do you tend to read a lot when you're writing lyrics?
I'm definitely a reader. More than anything, I'm a fan of the old school recording DVDs and things like that as well as reading things like the Geoff Emmerick book Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles.
Does this album capture the live element?
Much more so than the first one did. For me, I was always playing piano and jumping around. I'd be hitting the piano keys with my head, fists or elbows. I'd play with my feet or with my eyes closed. That was always what I did as a kid. That's what I was always comfortable doing. This album definitely captures that. It's great! This record needs to be heard live.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I like the more folk-y indie rock like Lykke Li and Bon Iver. I saw The Black Keys the other night which was awesome. I love The National. I gravitate towards bands like that.
As a Led Zeppelin fan, what's your favorite Zeppelin record?
It's hard to say! I definitely think II is my favorite, but there were so many different stages. I like some of the later stuff like "Fool in the Rain" when they were sort of trying to modernize themselves. I love the live recordings. How the West Was Won is one of my favorite CDs.
The recording of "That's the Way" on How the West Was Won is incredible.
Well, that's one of my favorite songs of all time. That song is just bonkers. When "That's the Way" comes in during Almost Famous, it's incredible. II hooked me in, but I love their melodic material. Robert Plant's voice always got me and the odd production.
Have you met any of the Zeppelin guys?
I met Robert Plant walking on Sunset Blvd. about five years ago. I jumped out of the car! I was driving from La Cienega to where Poquito Mas is. In that area where Joe's Pizza is now, I jumped out of the car because I saw him. He was the nicest guy in the entire world [Laughs]. I was driving with my friend, and I was like, "Pull over!" I literally jumped out of the moving car, ran up and talked to him. He talked to me for about 30 minutes. He was the nicest guy! I could not believe how cool he was. I got a picture with him. He was great!
Have you heard Matt White yet?