February 20, 2012

Interview: Matt Lajoie

It’s hard to find an article about Matt Lajoie or a review of any of his many music projects that doesn’t contain the word “acid.” The sound he’s channeled through Cursillistas, Herbcraft, Brainshadows and his Portland, Maine-based label L’Animaux Tryst are supremely psychedelic, so it seems safe to assume that he’s taken his fair share of trips. But he’s never done the drug with which his music is so often associated. “I'm completely sober on 95 percent of my recordings and live performances,” he says. “My first psychedelic experience was in church when I was six or seven years old. I tripped out to the combination of the sacred aura of the space, the heavy frankincense and myrrh smoke, the candles, and the hypnotic chants and booming organ drones. Shit was far out. Now when I totally lose my mind on a guitar solo, that’s the place I go to.”

In late January, Lajoie released the final Cursillistas album, Observe Ember Weeks, on the heels of the 7-inch debut of Brainshadows, which came out in November, and he’s putting the finishing touches on a new Herbcraft album that’ll come out later this year. He recently took some time to answer a few questions about his many projects and what’s behind his sonic psychedelia.

Catch the full interview and a stream of Observe Ember Weeks after the jump.

Observe Ember Weeks has a heavy dream-like quality to it. It’s like a collection of folks songs drifting through a semi-conscious fog. Can you talk some about how it was made?
Much of the record was made while I was laid up with mono and sleeping fifteen hours a day. I wrote and recorded in a total fever-dream state. I would wake up and sit down with the guitar and hit record and go back to sleep and forget that I'd recorded anything. Just sort of threw the disks into my desk drawer and forgot about them. A few months later I found them and they were labeled in all sorts of obscure ways that I didn't understand. I thought they'd be trash but when I listened back I thought they were probably the best tunes I'd recorded up to that point. Didn't even bother touching them up or overdubbing or anything, because there was something "there" in those recordings that I didn't want to touch. It was almost like I hadn't made them. I didn't have a right to change them.

Stream: Cursillistas - Observe Ember Weeks

So those songs became the foundation that the rest of the record was built around. They were recorded in what was, for all intents and purposes, a pre-hypnogogia moment -- before the term was coined, before a scene coalesced around the idea of half-remembered dream-state or ironic lo-fi pop. It was a completely earnest and innocent attempt at a folk-pop record. Nothing was intentionally obscured or drugged out. It was just what I thought folk-pop should sound like.

What’s it like for you listening to it now?
Listening to this record is very much like seeing home movies of myself from years ago. Most of it was recorded between 2007 and 2008. I feel completely detached from the person who made the record and yet I feel like it perfectly sums up those years of my life. Memories and dreams tend to be prismatic and disjointed like an assemblage of snapshots and sounds and smells that only make sense in a very personal way. In that album I can hear the records I was listening to and the books I was reading and the films I was watching and the people I spent my time with and the art and philosophies that cracked my head open.

And this is Cursillistas’ swan song?
It’s the last record, yes. It’s sort of a vault-clearing lost record that I'd made before starting Herbcraft. Most of it had been recorded solo, because it was before Dawn started playing with me. We did one record together as a duo, Joint Chiefs, which came out on Digitalis, then we went on a two-month tour and promptly broke up. She went to the West Coast and I came back to Maine and started Herbcraft immediately.

How did Herbcraft come about?
I had this momentum from the tour and all this new stuff that I wanted to get out. I recorded that first Herbcraft record in a day, because part of me was worried that I couldn’t do music by myself anymore. I'd gotten so used to make it with Dawn.

So why did you split up?
Whatever influences had driven project were not as relevant to meany more. And just whatever associations and expectations had built up -- the name would make it harder for me to try new things. So this was a fresh start.

But then you started a new project with her, Brainshadows.
When Dawn moved back to Portland East at the end of last summer, we had a quick discussion of, "Well are we going to revive Cursillistas as a duo and make that what we do?" But we were interested in doing a different kind of music -- harder, more rock -- something that could free us from whatever associations people might've had with our previous work. It's fun to put out a debut record and to be able to define what your new path is.

She uses a different name for this project. Why?
She's Dawn Aquarius in Brainshadows. We didn't want all of our different projects lumped together. We wanted to see if Brainshadows could exist without referring back to the stuff we had done before. Then we kind of realized that wasn't going to be possible.

And she’s in Herbcraftnow, right?
Yes, she's playing Farfisa organ with effects pedals. I'd never used keyboards or organs or anything in Herbcraft before. She adds a nice dimension. Nick and Corinna from Tempera are also in the Herbcraft full-band - Nick on drums and synth and Corinna on bass, flute, and backup vocals. We all lived together for awhile and have played together for years, so it's really comfortable and we're definitely all on the same trip.

Why’d you make Herbcraft into a full band?
I've always found it easier to write and record solo, but playing live is always better with a full band; especially with a locked-in rhythm section you can just fly so much farther out. So I’d been doing the recording all by myself while playing with a band for live shows, and it's been a little bit awkward to not have a record that represents our live set. But this next record really will. We've got a drum kit, which is a major addition. I'd only used a drum kit on one Herbcraft song before. And we recorded all of our new record live with some help from our friends in the band Mmoss; we just did vocals as overdubs. So it's got a real live band sound.

When will the record comeout?
We finished recording in December up on our friends' farm in New Hampshire, on reel to reel tape. We'll be sending the final mix to Matt Valentine to master in SpectraSound. A few weeks ago I handed a cassette of rough mixes of the album to Jeremy [Earl] and he wrote recently to say he's really into it and is excited to keep it in the Hello Sunshine/Woodsist family. We're working on cover art and stuff like that right now. So I’m guessing fall of this year it should be out.

Is Herbcraft going to hit the road this year?
Yeah, most definitely. We're going to wait and see what the release plan is for the record. But definitely when the record’s out we want to go on tour. Especially in places we haven't reached yet. We've mostly just toured in the Northeast. We'd like to do the South and West Coast and Europe if we can get it together.

Finally, what's on the horizon for L’Animaux Tryst?
We’ve got a couple records in the works for the year. One will be Concord Ballet Orchestra Players. They're out of Boston. I put out a double cassette of theirs early last year. They're the kind of band that really excites me about the current state of music. They're a free form collective of folks who have been in the Boston music seen for 30 years or so and they're back and really encouraging of the the younger generation picking up the flag. Really far-out improvisational psychedelic rock. There are so few bands around here that are open to pure head psychedelic improvisational stuff. When you have a band like that it gives you license to get more far out. I like any way that we can get permission to get as gone as we want to.

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