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Clip: Matt Pond PA

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  • Carl Zimring
    A Life Lived More Than Twice With rural roots and an urban outlook, Matt Pond PA makes sense of the city Writer: DAN
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 2, 2004

      A Life Lived More Than Twice
      With rural roots and an urban outlook, Matt Pond PA makes sense of the city

      Writer: DAN ELDRIDGE

      The sex-obsessed poet Anäis Nin once alleged that writers are in the
      enviable position of being able to taste life twice: Once in the moment,
      and then again in retrospect, after capturing the moment in words. But if
      Nin had even spoken with Matt Pond, an oft-depressing singer-songwriter
      whose band has featured a cellist, a steel-pedal guitarist and a French
      horn player, she might have been convinced to take up an instrument instead
      of a fountain pen.

      “There’s a million times you relive an experience when you write a song,”
      Pond says, talking from his new home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where he
      moved after spending time in Philadelphia, and before that, growing up in
      rural New Hampshire. “You experience something, then you write the music,
      then you write the words, then other people contribute, then you record it,
      then you play it, and then you play it out every night for months.”

      Not that Pond is generally given to such lucid descriptions of his
      songwriting process. In fact, on Emblems, the band’s fifth full-length
      release, nothing makes itself more apparent than Pond’s maladroit use of
      subtlety and his unwieldy finesse. “I remember you / Do you remember me? /
      There’s no way to the heart better than awkwardly,” he wails, with no more
      accompaniment than a simple guitar riff and his own gorgeously emotive
      vocals, which have been compared to those of Robert Smith -- an observation
      Pond abhors, even though much of the chamber pop on Emblems could pass for
      a more radio-ready Disintegration. Other influences are baldly clear --
      tearjerkers like “Bring on the Ending” and “New Hampshire” might have been
      lifted straight from the Shins’ Oh, Inverted World.

      “The Shins,” Pond sighs, sounding defeated. “I mean, I love the Shins, but
      if I ever hear something I wrote and I think it sounds like the Shins, I’ll
      rethink it and rewrite it. I try to stay away from being influenced.
      Except, you know, you want to be influenced in terms of spirit.”

      And if the atmospheric songs on Emblems are any indication, in terms of
      geography, and time and place, too.

      Pond’s music makes much more sense when you consider that he grew up in
      rural New England, and for the most part outside the long reach of
      throwaway American pop culture. “It was pretty limited,” Pond says, of the
      creative landscape in New Hampshire. “There wasn’t any thought of ever
      playing music.”

      And eventually, he left for Philadelphia, where Pond had plans to become a
      history professor. “But the second I moved [there],” he recalls,
      “everybody’s in bands, everybody’s doing all these things, and I just
      started playing guitar.” A punk-influenced group called Mel’s Rockpile was
      the result. “If there’s a genre called ‘crappy, shitty music,’ that’s what
      it would have fallen under,” Pond says, half-joking. “I think the momentum
      at first was wrong -- it was just to play rock music, sloppily. And my
      reaction to myself was -- what am I doing? I wanted to make articulate
      music. But not pretentious music. Hopefully not.”

      But after Matt Pond PA completed its first release, Deer Apartments, not
      everyone in Philly was on the same page. Some tactlessly theorized that the
      letters P and A stood not for Pennsylvania, but for Pretentious Asshole.
      “Or Piss Ant,” Pond says, sounding less than amused. “Or Preppy Asshole.
      That was a good one.”

      A more accurate criticism might have been that Pond’s voice, as well as his
      skill as a songwriter, was a nascent work-in-progress; Emblems was the
      final Matt Pond PA album written in Philadelphia, although it was recorded
      in New York, and the impression of gloom and non-urgency gives the players
      a sense of having come full-circle. Indeed, Pond replaced nearly every band
      member after settling in Brooklyn.

      “I think when I wrote [Emblems], I wasn’t excited about music,” he admits.
      “Philadelphia just started to destroy me. I wanted the scene in Philly to
      be something, but the people there are not mutually supportive. In order to
      save myself from becoming the most cynical person in the world, I moved [to
      New York.] That kind of made things a lot simpler.”

      And how about the simple life in New Hampshire? Does it still call?

      “I think I’ll end up in the country,” Pond answers. “For vitality’s sake.
      But I think New York is a beautiful place. A lot of it is gross and
      polluted, but even that still adds something. It’s weirdly inspirational to
      live in the city.”

      Matt Pond PA, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, and Vague Angels perform 8 p.m.
      Fri., Dec. 3. Brew House, 2100 Mary St., South Side. 412-381-7767.
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