Clip: Matt Pond PA
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.
Theres 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 bands fifth full-length
release, nothing makes itself more apparent than Ponds maladroit use of
subtlety and his unwieldy finesse. I remember you / Do you remember me? /
Theres 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, Ill
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.
Ponds 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 wasnt any thought of ever
And eventually, he left for Philadelphia, where Pond had plans to become a
history professor. But the second I moved [there], he recalls,
everybodys in bands, everybodys doing all these things, and I just
started playing guitar. A punk-influenced group called Mels Rockpile was
the result. If theres a genre called crappy, shitty music, thats 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 Ponds 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 wasnt 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 Ill end up in the country, Pond answers. For vitalitys sake.
But I think New York is a beautiful place. A lot of it is gross and
polluted, but even that still adds something. Its 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.