IN a week where I am interviewing some of the most…
fascinating and eye-catching artists in the music world, there are few as illustrious and striking as Matt Boroff. Not only has he shared a stage with Nirvana but worked with the likes of Mark Lanegan and Alain Johannes. He discusses his new album, Grand Delusion and the single, What a Shame. I ask Boroff about his past and whether he prefers the big stage or small venues; whether his new material is reflective of the political divisions in the U.S. and asked him what his fondest memory – from all his years in music – was. It is one of the most illuminating interviews I have conducted in a while. The American-born, Austria-based musician still has a lot to say: this is evident in the glistening and stunning Grand Delusion.
Hi Matt. How are you? How has your week been?
I’m pretty good thanks. I’ve done a lot of travelling this week so it’s been kind of a blur.
For those new to your music can you introduce yourself, please?
Well, I’m a U.S. singer/songwriter/guitarist from northern N.J. who’s descended from Russian immigrants. In 2000, I relocated to Austria and formed a band. I get around
Grand Delusion is your third studio album. Can you tell us about the themes and ideas you explore? The title seems very pointed and cynical. Is the album going to be deal with a lot of hard emotions?
The album explores themes like alienation, the shadow and longing for human connection in a world where the lunatics have taken over the asylum.
I see the title as less cynical and more matter-of-fact. It’s probably just my way of saying that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Emotionally speaking, I’d say it’s cathartic. I’ve always used music as a way of dealing with emotions that I feel unable to process any other way. I’m attracted to intensity in art; the rest is for greeting cards. I think Henry Rollins once called writing music poor man’s therapy. That sounds about right to me.
I know the album explores love and can we save ourselves in the new world. Have any of the songs been enforced by ‘Trumpism’? How has the U.S. President influenced the music or are (the album’s) songs more widespread and universal in terms of inspiration?
The songs were actually written before Trump was a big player on the political scene (at least on my radar) but I see how you could draw a connection between the chaos and confusion surrounding his ascent to power and what’s being said in the songs. So, the songs are more universal for me but that also applies to the very real danger of the same phenomenon happening elsewhere. In terms of inspiration, I think there’s just been this feeling in the air for quite some time that something ominous was looming on the horizon.
The stage was gradually being set for someone as absurd as Trump to come along and assume a position of power. Everything’s gotten too trivial. An entire culture was more distracted and self-absorbed than ever before. We’ve literally been living in a reality T.V. show but this one has consequences and they’re serious. Trump is one of those consequences.
Greed, nationalism and bloodshed are, I suspect, motivators for material and Grand Delusion. Do you think too few modern musicians address such key concerns these days?
Probably, but I’m sure there’s exceptions all over the place that I’m not aware of.
As far as most popular music goes, the prospect of artists who’ve dedicated their careers to singing about self-indulgent fluff turning around and addressing some of these concerns and getting it right is pretty damn slim.
In other words, I’m sure they’re out there but it’s a lot sexier for the industry to trot out more music that’s designed to keep us shopping.
What a Shame is the first single from the album. What can you say about the song and its creation?
I recorded the album in L.A. with Alain Johannes and it was spread across two sessions with a few months in between them. I came into the first session with about half of the songs and wrote the rest in the months in between. What a Shame was the first one of those: it was inspired by strolling around West Hollywood and taking it all in like a tourist. Every surface had a kind of cosmetic beauty to it that seemed to be vibrating from within with something menacing and grotesque.
Like this shiny object that wanted to lure you closer so it could do you harm. So, the song is about a place or state of mind where everything is as it shouldn’t be. Where something is always a little off; where the most wonderful things are about to happen but never quite come to pass. It’s the great (almost) unfolding beneath a screaming blue sky. Sort of like waking up inside of a Robert Williams painting.
Let’s talk about your music past. I believe you shared a stage with Nirvana? What was that like? That must have been a crazy experience looking back?
It’s interesting looking back now but it was pretty uneventful for me at the time. I was a kid; I owned Bleach and liked it a lot. Nevermind had just been released but hadn’t hit yet. My high school band opened up for them at City Gardens in Trenton, N.J. and we played, what I guess was an okay set. They played a great set and history was written a month or two later when Smells Like Teen Spirit exploded.
In addition to the Seattle band, you have shared the bill with Queens of the Stone Age and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Does playing at smaller venues seem rather strange (considering the kind of places you’ve played) or is it good playing at more ‘modest’ gigs?
To be honest, I’d rather play a smaller venue where there’s a strong connection with an audience – than play a larger one where there’s less of it.
You have been in music since the 1990s; starting your solo career in 2010. What has been your fondest memory from all that time in music?
I think there’s some truth to the statement – everything is relative.
So, despite some of the more outward things I’ve accomplished in music, one of my favourite moments remains passing the audition and getting the gig in my high school band.
The guys in the band were all a few years older than me which can seem like lifetimes at that age and they were already playing regular gigs in N.Y.C.’s Hardcore scene. When I heard they were looking for a guitarist, I was in a place where everything in my world felt like a hopeless disaster that kept getting worse. So, I learned and practised those songs to death as if there was no tomorrow, and when I got the gig, it was the first time I felt like I had an actual purpose and anything was possible.
Some say Rock is dying or on its last legs – not as relevant and innovative as it once was. Surely it is more important now than it has ever been. What are your views?
I think Rock, Punk (or whatever you want to call it) is about a spirit and an attitude. The way it sounds and looks is an extension of that spirit but it isn’t necessarily the point. I’ve heard that there’s this old Chinese painting of a finger pointing at the moon and what they say about this painting is, “don’t mistake the finger for the moon”. So, this death of Rock thing is really all finger and no moon. The spirit of it is alive and well but it’s morphed into other areas in the past few decades. Those areas include music but aren’t limited to it.
Taking a stance against herd-like behaviour and being told what to think is thriving right now and thank God for that.
Music and the rest of the arts have always been at the forefront of that kind of resistance; it’s their job but these days I think it’s coming from all directions. People from all walks of life are recognising more than ever that their power hasn’t been taken away from them but that they’ve been duped into giving it away willingly and now it’s time to take it back. I mean, what’s more Rock ‘n’ Roll than that?
Aside from the album release on 5th May, what other plans do you have for this year?
I plan on touring in support of the new album throughout the coming year with my band Matt Boroff & the Mirrors.
Are there any other U.K. gigs on the horizon and what are the crowds like here compared with the U.S. (where Matt was born) and Austria (where he is based)?
As far as U.K. gigs go, I’m pretty sure I’ll be at the Great Escape Festival in Brighton in May and hopefully they’ll be a few more dates added for other areas as well by then. I’ve always gotten the feeling that the U.K. crowds are a little more enthusiastic about music in general. Music just seems to be a main ingredient in their daily cultural diet.
If you had to list the artists who have been most influential to you which would they be?
A very short list in no particular order would be Leonard Cohen, Ennio Morricone; Tom Waits, John Barry; David Bowie, Stanley Kubrick; Joe Frank, David Lynch and Mark Lanegan.
Are there any new artists, either locally or mainstream, you suggest we check out?
I like Timber Timbre (from Canada) a lot. They’re not really that new but whenever I bring them up it seems like nobody knows who the hell I’m talking about.
What advice would you provide any young songwriter coming through right now?
Learn how to listen to your own voice and try the best you can to distinguish it from the rest of the noise around you. Being part of the crowd can have its advantages, but in the end, it’s your own unique contribution as a songwriter that’s going to separate you from the pack and be of value to anyone.
The sooner you can focus on that and give it the day-by-day attention it needs to develop, the better. Whether they know it or not, people need a depth experience but experiencing depth or creating a work of any depth takes time. So, don’t be afraid to take the time.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name any song (not yours as I’ll do that) and I’ll play it here.
Thank God for the Rain (from the Taxi Driver soundtrack) by Bernard Herrmann.
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