Matt Alber interview with ChicagoPride.com
Thu. April 5, 2012 by Gregg Shapiro
“Constant” craving: an interview with Matt Alber
GS: (Gregg Shapiro) I'd like to go back in time a bit before we talk about your new disc "Constant Crows." Now that a few years have passed, would you say that you were prepared for the reception that your "End of the World" video, from your "Hide Nothing" disc received?
MS: (Matt Alber) Not at all. We dove headfirst into that project – my friends Robin and Rob spearheaded it. They're two lovely straight guys in L.A. who are dear friends of mine. They took it to a place that I never imagined. When I showed up on the set and I saw the crew that they had assembled and the giant camera and the 15 people who were creating the props. It suddenly clicked, "Oh, we're going to make something really special."
GS: It was a production.
MA: Yes, it felt like I was on a movie set. We just went t into a dreamland and tried to tell this really simple, beautiful story about this moment between two guys that may have happened or may have just been in one of the characters' mind. But no, I had no idea that people were going to love it some much. We just wanted to make it really special. What I love is that people are still discovering it. I keep getting these beautiful emails from guys. I got one the other day saying, "I haven't been in love in years, but I saw this video and it reminded me that I should get out there [laughs]. I was like, wow! It's amazing.
GS: Would you say that you found a supportive community of like-minded LGBT musicians following your success?
MA: I didn't know any before I released that record and that video. It's a pretty small community and I'm now more connected than I was. There's only a couple that I speak with regularly and there are some that I know, we've maybe traded email or something like that. Other than that, it's always been supportive. I feel like, even though we may not be the best of friends, we all support each other's music.
GS: Three years have passed between the release of your "Hide Nothing" and your latest "Constant Crows." Were all of the songs on the new album written during that time or are there any from the "Hide Nothing" period?
MA: It's kind of a mixed bag. There are several songs that I wrote specifically for this record, like "Wallingford" and "Old Ghosts" and "Butter Moon." There are a couple that I had been touring but hadn't recorded, such as "The River" and "Tightrope" and "Tall Tales." The oldest one would be "Velvet Goldmine." I wrote that years and years ago, but never finished it. I wasn't going to put it on the record, but my boyfriend Phil said, "I really like that song. Why aren't you going to put that on the record." I said, "Because the middle isn't finished yet and I haven't been able to find the right lyrics." So he said, "We're going to finish it tonight" [laughs]. He sat down with me at the kitchen table and we hammered out the middle section together and he helped me finish it. We co-wrote that one.
GS: I'm glad mentioned "Velvet Goldmine," the opening track of "Constant Crows." It begins with you singing the line, "I think I'd prefer if you didn't know anything special about me," which can be daunting for a journalist preparing interview questions.
MA: [Laughs] That's funny!
GS: Can you please share one special thing about you for the readers?
MA: Sure, I'd be happy to. They may not know that I am sort of a video game freak. Just the old ones that you had to put quarters in, not the new ones.
GS: Do you mean video games that you'd find in an arcade?
GS: Any ones in particular?
MA: Oh, I have my favorites. The one I'm best at is Ms. Pacman. That's because my dad actually bought one for our family [laughs]. We used to just hang and play Ms. Pacman all night. Kind of competitively, actually.
GS: Who or what was the inspiration for the song "Velvet Goldmine"?
MA: I'd seen the movie called "Velvet Goldmine," which is really dark, but a beautiful story about two glam rockers which looks glamorous on the outside but behind the scenes you realize that they are falling down what I call a "velvet goldmine." Where it looks pretty, but there's not a lot of substance to the relationships in their lives and they keep going deeper and deeper down this hole. I borrowed the metaphor and wrote my own song around it. It's hard to be in relationships that are real. It's easy to be in relationships that are fake or where you don't really reveal yourself. My personal challenge is to be more real in all of my relationships. I use the velvet goldmine as that would be what you would retreat into if you were deciding to only have fake, surfacey relationships.
GS: Compared to the previous disc, "Constant Crows" has a more acoustic feel to it. Which one would you say is a truer reflection of you as a musician?
MA: I would say that there wouldn't be one that's truer. I'm always trying to make music that I'm genuine and sincere about. With this particular record, there's only one non-acoustic instrument on the whole record. I think it's because I was touring for two years. I spent the last three years making the transition from having a job on the ground to making this my job, which also included making a move from Los Angeles to Seattle. Carrying this guitar around and playing all my songs on guitar and piano for the last two years got me used to that simple sound and I wanted to make a record that felt very close and resonant and real. I love synthesizers and beats and I'm still playing around with those, but I wanted to leave those out for this record.
GS: In the press, there have been comparisons made between you and Rufus Wainwright and a song such as "Wallingford," which you mentioned, is a good example of why that occurred. Do you see the similarities and do you mind the comparisons…
MA: …oh, no, I'm honored [laughs]. I love Rufus. I think he's one of the best songwriters around. I love his melodies. If people think that I remind them of him, I think that's a huge compliment.
GS: I admire your choices in cover material, which are very revealing. You do a lovely cover of Madonna's "Take A Bow" and a reading of "The Kiss" that would surely do Judee Sill proud. What do you think they say about you?
MA: It probably just says that I'm a sucker for a beautiful melody. My boyfriend Phil introduced me to Judee Sill. I'd never heard of her before. He played me this song on YouTube. It was a performance that she gave on the BBC years ago. She looked so plain, she looked like a librarian, sitting at the piano. She looked right into the camera and said, "Please buy my record so I don't have to open for these snotty rock stars anymore." I thought, "Wow, that's honest!" [laughs]. I immediately trusted her. I look for that in singers. I could love the song and the melody, but if I don't trust the singer right off the bat, it doesn't stick with me. When I listened to her, I immediately trusted her. She wrote this song that is so beautiful. It's not about a romantic kiss at all. When she introduced the song, she said it was about the union of opposites. That is something that resonates with me. I'm 37 and I'm trying to bring together all of the opposites inside of me into one person. When I sing that song, I really feel connected to it.
Since the time that "End of the World" dominated The Click List on Logo, the gay network has been increasingly moving away from original gay content, including the elimination of music videos by gay artists. As someone who both benefited from Logo's previous line-up and who has a new album out and could potentially benefit more from that kind of programming, how do you feel about that change in programming?
MA: It's really sad that it's gone, because I thought it was a beautiful way to meet people that you hadn't heard of. But it must be really difficult to try and run a TV network. I hope they bring it back. In the meantime, it doesn't make me too sad because I feel like I've been so welcomed by people that have found me. I feel like this music and the video is in their hands. I'm working on two more videos which I hope to have done by the summer.
GS: For which songs?
MA: It's kind of a secret. Now that I've gotten to meet everyone with this one ("The End of the World"), I feel like they will help me spread the word.
GS: Coming to Chicago to play the Flesh Hungry Dog Show. What can people expect to see and hear?
MA: I'll be performing almost all of the songs from the new record, a couple of favorites from the last one and I'm working on some special covers just for this tour. I'm going to perform a Florence + The Machine song and one of my old, favorite Indigo Girls songs. Who knows, maybe between now and then, I may come up with another one.
Related: View photos of Matt Alber from his 2009 and 2010 appearances at the Flesh Hungry Dog Show in Chicago. Matt Alder returns for an April 14, 2012 appearance at the Flesh Hungry Dog Show at Jackhammer.
Interviewed by Gregg Shapiro. Gregg Shapiro is both a literary figure and a music and literary critic. As an entertainment journalist, his work appears on ChicagoPride.com and is syndicated nationally.
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