Asks "Should I even be on the stage?"
Interview Ryan Daniels
Photography Gillian Steiner
In many ways, the meeting I had with Matt Papich could be called the culmination of a scattered three year relationship that has predominantly consisted of slumbers on my futon, brief but powerful porings-over the musical goings-on of the day, and more than a handful of transformative meals. It was as an esteemed invitee to one of these ‘suppers’ that I first met Matt, and likely where and when my reverence for the lifestyle of said dude began. Matt is curated. Thorough tip to toe. Deep in the cut.
The meal brought to my place-setting that night belied the casual nature of the gathering. Thrown together entirely by Matt, consisting of a perfectly poached egg, cylindrically plated confit of a protein I can no longer remember, a beurre blanc and other bells and whistles.
What some would consider a pleasant accompaniment to a wonderful meal was, for me, the most memorable part of the evening. From an iPod tethered to Matt’s guitar amp flowed a lather of songs, a dinner mix of common songs washed in an opiate haze of chorus and reverb. A few beers in, I asked him why everything sounded so saccharine and eerie through the amp. He explained that he’d become obsessed with playing his iPod through this particular amp, and that he’d tweaked the chorus and other effects on it such that they really vibed with the room. I remember feeling like we could’ve played Whitehouse on that iPod and it’d have come out sounding like Harold Budd.
At the time (’07 or ’08), Matt was the ‘thought Dad’ of the now bygone Baltimore musical enterprise Ecstatic Sunshine, an angular trip through rock tropes, guided by a willful interest in explaining the role of the guitar in modern music. Matt was Baltimore’s academic. He strived to challenge the listener very probably because Ecstatic Sunshine was also an exercise of interpersonal restraint.
As Ecstatic evolved and Matt became more interested in designed music, ambient music, and experiential performance, his music slowly morphed into what is now known as Co La, which released a new record, Daydream Repeater, yesterday on NNA Tapes. It’s not coincidence that the guitar-obsessive academic I’d grown to respect years before for his acute design of one evening’s dinner music has come to create music from affected relics. Co La exists only on the laptop and a few small sample boxes. We spoke the morning after Matt played the New York Art Book Fair ’SUP party at the Westway, where Matt looked out over the club from a balcony and pressed play.
I was remembering really fondly a night where you cooked a meal for me and some other friends, and played everything through this insane chorus on your guitar amp that literally fellated the entire house with sound.
That was something I was into for awhile. Some songs I only liked through that amplifier.
That’s how I was feeling. In the kindest sense, it turned everything into ‘dinner-party music’.
Exactly, it softened everything and gave it tons of depth.
A lot of the time you listen to music in a public forum where, in a sense, it’s being auditioned for people. I feel like that was the most tasteful way of making the space into something other than a confinement, turning it into something that was encouraging of a level of comfort and conversation.
I feel like the connection we’re talking about between domestic entertaining for that type of audience and creating that type of space has probably been the biggest thing for me in the past couple of years. I’ve been getting into ambient music and really looking back and thinking about Satie’s ideas about furniture music and checking out all those pieces that he composed for really banal, domestic things, like his ‘Music for Lunches’ or ‘Music for a Civil Wedding’.
Things that are ultimately topical. But in a way, that’s so respectful of the idea of process and pageantry. Prepared music.
It also respects the idea of everyday life.
It’s realistic about its goals.
And I want the music that I make to be able to be used in many different ways. And then when you get into the live performance, I think music like this is actually music that is really fresh. It’s new territory. It’s kinda anti-practical. You can’t play with the ideas of rock theatrics in the same way.
There’s essentially nothing that you can do live aside from using your physical body to pose questions to people about what this ‘sound’ is and if it’s danceable; or, how is this sample used to make this space or this given night a more complete experience?
I definitely think about the live sets as being these installations, but temporary. And sometimes, like last night [at The Westway], I’m way more into playing the role of the DJ. A lot of times I’m bringing other actions to the performance. At the last show in Baltimore I just had a basket of these really fresh peaches, really nice, drippy ones. And I just ate those over the course of the set. I really like doing these things on stage that are the most everyday things. You never get to see anyone eat on stage! But I also think that by bringing a really basic gesture like that into my show it’s making the offering of a really democratic environment for the audience. As if I’m saying ‘You can do whatever you want, too. Like, you don’t have to be just staring up here and thinking about the music.’
[We air quote to one another] ‘I don’t need your silence, I don’t necessarily need your participation either. I just want you to exist in this room with me.’
‘We’re all here now together and we should do whatever we want, or even… anything.’
Or even exactly what we don’t want.
[We get into Papich’s car and drive to Greenpoint to drop off some paintings at a friend’s studio]
As Co La genre hops, maybe one of the most consistent threads is this shellac-ing of quotidian grotesques – a Duane Eddy sample or a slack-key guitar sample. This was music that ultimately existed to define the concept of relaxation to people who had no real interest in meditation through the arts. It became pedestrian meditation. And you’ve put this layer of shellac on these things that basically makes them sit still while we examine how bizarre they are.
Exactly! This past year I got super interested in exotica. Because of how it was made, it was totally an industry music. They knew that the U.S. population was interested in the Far East because of the wars. And there was this Colonialism to it, so the industry was like, “What if we make these jazz band guys who are leading big bands make records that are influenced by Asian musics and then we put a sexy, exotic girl on the cover?”.
Like some big-hipped girl in a leopard-print bikini. The idea of Shangri-La or some shit.
Those covers are ridiculous.
Dude, they are, like, so cool. Xavier Cugat and shit. Instead of taking the animal or the otherness out of these foreign musics we’re taking the parts of the animal and the other that we find erotic and mysterious and painting over what we perceive to be ugly.
For the past six months, I’ve been working on this series with Neal Renalda who runs Open Space Gallery in Baltimore. We’ve been working on this series called “Approximately Infinite Daydream”, which started as a deep investigation of ambient music, furniture music, and exotica. We did a catalogue. It’s pretty abstract but it makes a lot of connections between John Cage’s ideas, Satie, and Eno enters it a bit. And then we began doing a series of events, which we thought were gonna be these performances where we had ambient dudes playing in these interesting, different spaces, and we did do that once at the BMA in the old entrance, amongst the columns. Pretty epic. In the same galleries where they have the all of the furniture, the period rooms.
Rad, you have a gig working at the BMA, right?
Yeah. The other event that we did was at my house and we really augmented the space so that it was just beyond traditional usability. Like, we grouped chairs in ways that made them functional, but just barely. And that was probably the most successful thing, in that people weren’t really sure what it was gonna be, coming into it, and I don’t think they were really sure in the end. It was cool because we had planted specific objects for specific reasons but people were coming through and looking at every single thing in the house as if it were all the art, and so it worked, because that was the idea. That’s what’s changing in the art world, and I think in the music world and the old heads don’t get this. And it’s a problem. They still think of appropriation one way and the younger people are thinking of appropriation in a really different way. It’s beyond being a dialectical thing that’s related to ready-mades and transforming the object from an everyday object into an art object. The institution has moved outside of the gallery now, and everything is that way, and you can set it in the smallest cubes.
In the same vein, you tend to use genre-specific samples, like a calypso song, a dub song, a slack key song, but even after its repurposing it stays within the same genre, a good example being “Nivram (Suspicious Version)” from Rest in Paradise. And though the samples tend to stay in the same genre I feel like there are added questions that are posed and I think this is similar to the repurposing of an art object. ‘I have changed this or I have put it into life in a new world but you can still perceive it or use it in the same way.’
Exactly! It’s about it happening on that really subtle scale. Those are the kind of questions that have to be asked. The big questions are done.
Or the big questions at least seem futile, in a way. So I think it’s come down to, like, making things peculiar in a finite sense and subverting things on a micro level.
To the point where you’re almost putting the object, for you the object being a sample, into a position that’s theoretically uncomfortable for it and for the person that perceives it. And you’re forced to try to understand what it was at first.
And how it’s being used now and how you’re using it. And that’s total John Cage shit. I love him for all of his questions. I love his thing in the recording where he’s talking about the Glenn Branca piece that he really didn’t like. It’s a cool interview with this other music major who’s Dutch [Ed. note: He was interviewed by Wim Wertens. You can listen to it here.]. Cage really hated the Branca piece, he said that it created this picture of a society that he would not want to live in. Cage thought it was Fascist, basically.
I mean, Branca is incredibly violent, the tones and the logic behind it are truly mean.
“Lesson No. 1” is kind of an anthem that sounds like it could be a Kraut anthem, and those were songs that were trying to form a new identity for a post-fascist country, you know?
And Branca now, even still has this prevailing negativity about all modern music in a way that suggests to me that he was never about construction but rather destruction. Not even deconstruction. Just destruction.
I’m really into destruction too, but in a much more open way.
His pieces were aiming to describe why what had been built was wrong, without posing an alternate or new schema through which we could rebuild. And I think that’s what’s nice about Co La. There are so many artist-at-play moments, where you can perceive the joy, where you seem totally unfettered and loose, but you can tell that it’s a suggestion or a guideline.
Yeah, and I think that that’s what the music is about maybe. Not just about suggesting a new way to hear music and a new kind of listening but a whole new lifestyle of music that’s not connected to an economy. So it’s not ‘lifestyle’, like in a magazine. Ha, I mean, the music’s not really selling so it’s more about subverting the idea of selling a lifestyle.
There may be two things that you could call Co La, in an overarching sense, that are two things I generally hate, but you do them so perfectly that they become more perfect than their opposites. I would say that ultimately Co La is impressionistic. And generally that conjures this super navel-gazey world. Like, things that become an artifact of a moment. And then the other one is New Age. Do you think that fits?
I think it does, in the unadulterated way. Ha.
The book definition as opposed to the cultural definition. Haha.
The pre-yoga definition.
Yeah yeah, you know, in Melter’s Mix there’s a lot of emphasis placed on this idea of relaxation. Like, somehow you made Simon & Garfunkel moooore relaxing.
I forgot I used that “59th Street Bridge” song. (Laughs.)
No, but then at the end there’s this loud, cartoon BOING! sound. I think that that’s a super modern take on impressionism.
I actually really like impressionism in painting, especially from having worked at the BMA. Weirdly, they’re some of my favorite paintings in the museum now. And of course they are! Because these painters were making lifestyle paintings. Like, their whole trip was ‘We’re gonna move to the south of France where the air is great and the light is beautiful’, you know?
Escapism as a mode.
It’s escapist but not really, because it’s like they were going there to work but the work is being done in the right place.
My first reaction to Co La came when (a mutual friend) and I were in his car listening to Rest In Paradise on cassette. My first question was if it was your new project, and my second question was whether or not you were actively making fun of the idea of making music.
(Laughs.) I’m not doing that but I think that people think I’m doing that. It’s also just my personality and how I come off to people. People like to imagine that I’m being skeptical of them, or that I’m being cynical. But it’s not that.
I think that maybe there’s something about Co La that reinitializes the idea that process is serious and makes the point that it’s okay to view the pieces through that lens.
Yes! And that listening to music is also making music.
Yes! And that you don’t need to dumb down process to fill music with joy.
To be fair, most of the music that I find enjoyable, or fun, or youthful, is music where process is dumbed down, you know, Guided By Voices and shit. Shit that’s thrown together in a way that’s really ingenuous. With Co La you manage to make a keystone of process and make it transparent while still definitely creating something ingenuous. It’s not willfully challenging or forcefully academic.
[I run into the Deli for a pack of smokes]
We haven’t even talked about Ecstatic Sunshine yet. I always had this feeling that Ecstatic was an exercise in restraint.
Yeah, in relationship to guitar.
And a willful statement of a challenge to listen acutely. But Co La feels a lot more pornographic.
Yeah, Co La doesn’t have that same thing about restraint. Ecstatic eventually became this thing about deconstructing the guitar, but in the beginning it was about minimalism in relationship to rock, you know.
“When you take out other elements that define what ‘rock’ is, what is the guitar?” was always the question I felt I was being asked.
Exactly, and it kept going on that path.
You got far down that path, but then with Yesterday’s Work I felt like you were giving glimpses of bass drops and returns and refrains in a way that made me wonder if Ecstatic was going to become something moderately more electronic or beat driven. And what it ended up becoming was—
It’s Co La!
I always thought the transition was super smart. Co La gives you everything you want, and more. With Co La you say the same thing you did with Ecstatic, but by forcing the delivering elements on the audience instead of avoiding them. Bass drops, samples from bubblegum records. I feel like the point of Ecstatic and the point of Co La is the same. The drive to prove this ‘one thing’.
Yeah. I dunno exactly what that ‘one thing’ is, because it’s some general perspective on music that I feel like I’m slowly chipping away at. Ecstatic and Co La, in different ways, are both about asking questions about what new music should sound like, and how we can listen to new music and what our expectations can be, maybe. How we can use it. And beyond that, with Co La, some of the really interesting questions come with some of the performances that are more expanded, where there are multiple people in action, especially live. Like when I take a hostage from the audience and tie them up on stage, or have a motorcycle driven into the back of the space, or hang art on the wall during the show. Or even just when I change the surface that the laptop is resting on, you know, from a butcher block to a painting and how that changes the music. And I feel like all those gestures question the producer’s role, which is mine. My role in Co La is to design the music and then to design the installation of the music. For me that’s directly related to dub producers. People like Jah Shaka, who design the tracks, bring them to the place and then design the environment.
In terms of sound systems?
In terms of sound systems and in terms of the feeling of the room as the music’s playing and how that changes when you move from one tune to another. And, saying that, it’s like “Yeah, that’s what every musical performance does”, but they don’t always make it noticeable. It’s usually about hiding that specific thing.
I see exactly what you’re saying. If you’re the type of thinker who sees concerts this way you can’t help but notice that the greatest struggle for most performers is masking this idea that they are performing something that they’ve already made. Something that is already dead in time. You can literally see performers striving to give this accurate rendition of something that documents a fleeting feeling they had maybe years and years ago. It seems that all we demand of performance in a lot of cases is to hear the same thing we’ve heard before but louder.
Louder, and in a room with other people. The Co La shows aren’t structured that differently from other shows, except in that they try to draw attention to the show structure itself. Just, paying attention to the present. Where if I’m eating peaches on stage it may become clear that I’m on stage maybe for no reason! And that you could be on stage, too. There’s no real barrier. The same thing happens with the music, but I think it’s more pronounced when you get to actually see it.
That room last night [The Westway] had a super ‘dark side of Co La’ feel to it. The glitter dusted black walls, the disco ball in the shape of a woman’s torso, the fallow runway for strippers in the middle of the room. All of those things felt inert. I like the way that you hint at rooms as experiences, and that for me will always come back to that chorus pedal on your amplifier at your house in Baltimore.
Well, that’s been a huge thing for me. The music that I’m able to enjoy and listen to changes in every room I’m in. When I was living at Floristree in that massive space I actually ‘loved’ listening to Terry Riley and other long-form minimalism, but in my house now it’s much more domestic and I can’t dig into Riley because there’s not enough space.
That music needs room to breathe.
But you can change whatever music you want to fit any space if you fuck with it enough. That’s kind of been the whole idea of Co La. Umm…. yeah.
All of your samples for any given song have this one common indefinite emotional palette. Do you choose a palette or does the palette sort of spontaneously choose you when you’re in the right room wearing the right pants?
Well, I just listen to music. Like, liiiiiiistening to music is the main part of my production. The way the studio is set up I can change the lights pretty dramatically, with colored lights, blacklights, everything, and then from there I can see which sounds stick in that kind of environment. It’s more theatrical. What sounds stick in the daylight, you know? I’m basically looking for the most evocative moments of whatever song I’m listening to. And that’s a product of the environment. Whatever sticks in this certain environment that I’m making this song in is probably speaking to me in some way. Then I put everything that feels that certain way into a folder.
Do you feel that when you pore over that folder the samples do have that indefinable common thread?
Yeah, man. It always ends up being my favorite playlist for that room and that lighting situation, etc.
You force yourself into a situation, gauge the mood, and then make that moment in time better using these samples that will eventually become one song.
Yeah. It’s about working with the present more than coming at a song with a preconceived mood.
Very impressionistic. You take the light that you have and make it look how you want it to.
It’s very ‘documentary’ style. It’s about the every day a little bit, but it’s not about being banal. Even when nothing is wrong, making everything around you feel better and more evocative or peculiar.
True, not perfect. Maybe eerie.
Right, it makes it so that you can have an alien perspective on the everyday, so that everything you see every day seems peculiar.
Make your own unknowns. It’s funny, that’s been a ‘thing’ forever in visual art but not really music, right?
Yeah. And that’s the thing, there’s no language crossover between visual art and music and that is a thing that is really frustrating to me because that is exactly the realm I work in. A realm where I’m equally interested in Chris Burden performances or Erwin Wurm performances with their humor and the really small props needed to convey it as I am into new bass music, or something, because they’re kind of working with the same things. Action, sound, and space.
Theoretically those things should be exactly the same as music, but we have concert mentality to blame for the fact that they aren’t.
Right, and that whole world has fallen apart, and I can’t really believe people are still buying into it. Punk really did destroy the big music industry. It’s basically dead, at least in the form it existed in.
And rap is destroying it from the inside.
Totally, more subversively and less directly. Everyone knows that concerts are a big spectacle and knows what that means but still buys into the fiction of it. Co La performances aim to let everyone know that concerts are a big spectacle, but that you don’t need to buy into the fiction of it all. You can get into it for what it is.
As with everything in life, the middle ground is where all the horseshit is. You know, I really detest this mid-level notion of rock performance. At least if you go to a Nicki Minaj concert you’re dealing with a performer who knows what you expect and then can manage to give you even mooooore of it than you expected. Yeah it seems gross, but who says that gross is dishonest? Unless it’s punk as fuck on the other end, or it’s something like Co La, you’re trying to recreate a song about a feeling that you had, that you’re probably a little embarrassed about now, night after night, in front of complete strangers without any glitz or spectacle, and with no respect for the stage. How fucking sad is that?
It’s really weird, and really sad. If someone did that with a story or just told you every day about this feeling that they’d had, you would stop being friends with them!
You’d start to see this hungry look in their eyes! Yeah you were hurt, or blissed on that day, but odds are you’re not hurt or blissed right now, and if you want me to listen you better tell it a different way, from a different angle, unless it’s a story specifically purposed to adapt to and evolve with every day life.
That’s the thing with the Co La stuff that I hope is clear. It should always be about the present. Despite the fact that it uses old music, it makes an effort to bring that music into now and to ask questions about the present. I’m asking people to pay attention to what’s happening in their own personal now. Not to focus too hard, or to be critical for the sake of being critical. Just. Be. Digging. Now.
That’s why Bob Dylan playing “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” as a 60 something year old man, almost 40 years after he wrote it, in this completely sarcastic, lazy voice is so valid. Making fun of past self is so necessary, you have to have that kind of perspective on the thing that you’ve created or you’re not giving people anything.
Exactly. Then you’re the Rolling Stones or something.
You don’t have many contemporaries in the music world. The musicians you do share an ethos with tend to stay more inside of the art world. I notice a lot of them very tongue-in-cheekedly qualifying their use of genre specific samples, like when so-and-so samples a trance anthem you can feel the distance they put between themselves and that sample. It’s almost as if they’re apologizing for ‘going there’. Co La isn’t this way. When you sample a Bmore Club or Bounce beat over the Ronettes or Duane Eddy you aren’t doing it plaintively, or are you?
No, I mean, any sample that I use is used because it’s right, it is the thing that that given song is made from. To me it’s no questions asked about sampling. I do not have to decide if it’s cool to sample this or that because of some genre or because of what that song meant in the past. I can use whatever I want, and I use whatever that thing is because it’s evocative to me and to other people. This new idea of appropriation makes it unnecessary to think about that. There’s no apologizing about appropriation. I definitely don’t think there is any reason to operate an apology based music practice.
Haha. Unless you’re G.G. Allin.
Yeah, I mean, why would you work by force of apology when you could be working by force of celebration? I think that, to me, is giving way more to the audience because it’s saying, ‘Yeah, you like that Ronettes song, too, because it’s great and there’s a reason we all like it,’ and that’s the same reason we should be allowed to hear it in a new context without feeling weird about it, or like there’s some cultural colonialism involved in using it. It’s not that I don’t think questions of ownership are valid questions, I just think they’re the wrong questions, and they’re boring questions.
Would you say that in the past, influence was the material of music makers and now, for many, old material is both the material of and the influence for music makers?
Exactly! Yeah, that’s a really good way to put it, totally. It seems like we’re still dealing with a world where reappropriation isn’t considered creation, or at least where people are searching between lines with sampled material looking for something didactic, as if it has to mean something any time something is sampled. Searching for intentions. I just think that’s such an old-school way to think about it. Everything is ready to be processed and used. That’s the way that pop art began and we’re 50 years or more beyond that by now!