A conversation with Matt Doty
Interview by Adam McKibbin
The post-rock genre in music, like the postmodern movement in literature before it, is the product of a jaded and paranoid age. The thesis statement: we need to escape from our static lives, but everything has already been done yesterday. Some post-rock aficionados act as though the apocalypse has already befallen us - and only they, with their Mogwai and Godspeed records, can hope to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Invariably, though, those waters became cluttered (and diluted), too, same as that old-time rock and roll.
Are Saxon Shore post-post-rock? Whatever they are, they are a blast of crisp, creative fresh air. Helped along by producer/engineer wiz Dave Fridmann, Saxon Shore - even minus vocals - show themselves to be a band with plenty to say. Resisting the pratfalls and overindulgences that plague so many of its instrumental cousins, The Exquisite Death of Saxon Shore is both a powerful and graceful album. And, as founding member Matt Doty explains, it is also an album that almost never made it out of the studio alive.
Your bio says there was a point when you almost put Saxon Shore on the shelf. What made you come back to it?
I was just feeling really unsettled about putting things to rest. I mean, I likely still would have been creative on some level, but at this point in my life where I’m still young and full of ideals it seemed best to continue giving everything I have to this. It meant more to me then just letting it become a hobby.
Is music something you always imagined yourself pursuing, or was it a love that came later in life?
Yea, there’s always been something there. When I was younger my parents would let bands coming through the area stay at our house and often they would volunteer as help for regional music expo’s and festivals so I was around musicians quite a bit. I think it really came full circle since a lot of the time we rely on other people putting us up when we come to town.
Was it daunting to start working with other musicians again? Were Oliver and Matthew already friends at that point?
Well, Oliver and Matt Stone hadn’t even met in person until after that EP was already done. There are currently five people in Saxon Shore, all five of which played on the new full length, The Exquisite Death of Saxon Shore, but it wasn’t until last weekend (January 13th) that all five of us actually played music together in the same room. Six months after the album was mixed and mastered. I think gradual is the way to go as far as working with people and relationships. Kind of slow and steady wins the race. I guess that maybe even comes out in the songwriting at times.
Were these songs gig-tested before you went into the studio? For people who are familiar only with the recorded output, how much do the songs stretch and shape-shift in a live setting? I read a review from a few years ago where the writer said the live show was so heavy that it was “brutal.”
A lot of the songs we didn’t play live until after the record was done. There are actually still a couple that we don’t play live, or at least haven’t yet. The songs vary on the tour I guess. Some tours we have a very heavy set like you mentioned above, some are a little more spacious. Our current set-list incorporates both new and old Saxon Shore material, light and heavy, tied together with sounds and space. I think we’ve reached a good balance.
Once you were in the studio, the bio mentions that you guys in the band would stick around and work on the tracks after Dave Fridmann went home. I assume you were obviously on the same page most of the time, but did he ever come in the next morning and say, “Oh, no! What have you done?!?”
Well, most of that work we did when he was gone was work we were supposed to have ready before we came into the studio. So it was basically touching up the programming or adding the more ambient guitar parts and such.
I’ve talked to some instrumental bands in the past, even fairly loud instrumental bands, who have said that they’ve felt like they’ve had to work harder at the outset to keep audiences. Have you felt the same or have you had a different experience?
We’ve tried not to have the loud thing be a part of what we do, though sometimes that’s what it takes. People aren’t always willing to give time to things that aren’t obvious and I guess once that’s realized it makes things a little easier.
Another uphill battle for instrumental bands can be getting radio airplay. Sometimes it seems like television or film or commercial licensing is kind of the closest equivalent—the best way of getting songs out to a public that might not hear them otherwise. Have you been getting lots of offers of that nature? How do you decide what to accept and what to turn down?
We’ve had a few offers as of late and we’re still working out the formula. Just depends on what song they’re asking for, budget, and how they want to use it. Our willingness to license the track depends on the balance of those three factors.
There’s a definite shortage of meandering on the record, which makes it a little unusual in comparison to some other material within the same/similar genre Is “trimming the fat” something that gets attention in the studio—wanting to keep the songs from ballooning to 10 minutes or 12 minutes?
I’ve always thought it would be nice to be able to write songs that are 15 minutes long and still interesting, but I realize that’s not one of my strong points, so I guess the songs are more pop structured in a sense.
What are some things you’ve listened to or watched or read in 2005 that you wish everyone out there would have a chance to experience?
Everyone should experience Foamhenge in Glasgow, VA. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a replica of Stonehenge made entirely of Styrofoam.