Renowned Vermont-based musical duo, Matt Valentine and Erika Elder, who go under the moniker MV & EE, graced Philadelphia’s The M Room with a late-night set of reverb driven psychedelia. Matt and Erika took the time to step outside to Girard Street and speak with me above the noise of the trolley and typical Fishtown resident buffoonery. They share their experiences touring overseas, their relationship with Jeremy Earl from Woods and his label Woodsist, and their perspective on the music industry today.
The New Philadelphia: I saw the tour schedule for this “Coast to Roast” tour. It’s pretty rigorous! Do you think that you’re going to make it through alive?
Matt Valentine: I think we’ll be okay. We just did 30 days overseas and just got back less than two weeks ago.
TNP: Where was your favorite location on your overseas tour?
Erika Elder: I was just telling someone that my favorite spot was the left hand seat because the right hand seat had a hole in the floor, as far as the van goes (laughs).
Matt Valentine: We played some weird off-the-beaten-track places. There’s this town up in the north of Sweden that was really cool. It was like an artist commune and that was pretty hip. The guy there built this weird cafe bar and that’s where the gig was. Every night of the tour was pretty hip because we had our own sound system. The tour was called “MV & EE with the Home Comfort Sound System.” A friend of ours built our own PA and we had our own monitor so we brought it with us every night. It was like going into a really nice mod pad in the by-gone era with a good hi-fi system. We could play anywhere. That’s the other advantage of it (the Home Comfort System). We didn’t have to play a rock club or a bar. We could play in weird spaces where they didn’t have equipment to do shows, but the space was cool.
TNP: Considering that you two have been playing so many shows for so many years, I am sure utilizing commonly un-played space is refreshing.
EE: Most definitely. It’s nice to play a village hall where most people walk to the show or take a train or something. They just travel there because something is happening, but they have no idea what it is.
TNP: On your latest album, Space Homestead; you recorded in nine different locations. Could you explain the reasoning of this?
MV: Are there really nine? Wow.
TNP: Yeah, I read that somewhere.
MV: Yeah, it probably was us. I think the vibe for the album (Space Homestead), we took our time and went for a relaxed and down-by-the-fire thing. A lot of our friends have home studios. We were getting a good mood and a good performance out of everyone in these places. I would go around and collect these recordings. We would then look at what we had for sketches, overdubs, or something. I suppose a lot came from people’s home studios or really laid back sessions where we didn’t necessarily look at the clock. It wasn’t like we were going to go in for three days and make a record. The way that Woodsist works is he (Jeremy Earl of Woods) is pretty loose and he has a home studio as well, called Buttermilk Falls. It was a concept of the assemblage being just as important as the process of making the album. By nature, people play better when they are in a comfortable environment, that’s why we recorded in so many studios. We worked on the record for three or four years. I told Jeremy that “I wanted to meet a quotient of good vibes,” to which Jeremy replied, “take as long as you need.” Everyone has their own vibe in their own space. A home studio is often the best room in their house. We wanted to represent that with the concept of Space Homestead, which is the title of the album.
TNP: The title significance, it makes more sense now! It sounds like the pacing of the album had a positive effect.
MV: We try to get good vibes on all of our albums. There are only one or two records in our catalogue in which we did the whole sit in the studio thing. It’s not the way we like to work.
EE: We tried it; we thought it would be fun. It was, but it seems way more natural the way we go about it. We visit some friends and play a song. It starts to take shape and then we say, “let’s go to Rear House Studios and Jarvis (multi-instrumentalist of Woods) will really engineer something because we have a solid idea that needs to fit in this puzzle piece with all of this other stuff we’ve collected on the way.
MV: I think that’s another thing that sets the pacing as well, working with a lot of engineers. I’m pretty specific on what I want. Erika and I can both engineer our own records as well, we have a certain sound and it’s hard to break out of our traditions. When there are people that we dig, they inspire us in different ways. So there’s a few different heads running the board on the record.
TNP: How do you feel about associated with the modern psychedelic underground?
MV: I think we got grandfathered claused into it. I think it’s cool. More than ever, people are making adventurous music, I think that’s a very positive thing.
EE: Your standard psychedelic music is getting more widely accepted today. Last night in Brooklyn, there was a band where none of them were over 21 and they were playing like a 60’s garage band, with harmonies and everything. And I thought, “Man, this is truly psychedelic.” Where are these kids coming from, I have no clue.
MV: Psychedelic is not only music that we really like, it is also tangential and like a fringe art underground. Psychedelics were doing way more left-field stuff with their art and really pushing the boundaries. When that stuff gets accepted on multiple levels, I think it is a very positive thing. The idea of us being part of it is cool. I think it’s a good reinvention of being creative.
TNP: As far as this album being more electric compared to your others, is this tour going to very different?
EE: Yes and No. This month and last month were our first times doing it as a duo. The whole rest of the year will be with at least a drummer and maybe a bassist.
MV: Our approach and style keeps us rolling. As a group, we can go into different corners with different lineups. The Golden Road and the Extended Family and all the subdivisions within The Golden Road, I think we’re grateful because these are not just people that we find, these are people that actually know the songs. Like Matt from Herbcraft, his voice melds really well with ours. And Jeremy can always just pop right in. It’s definitely not like a Chuck Berry thing where we have a pick-up band in every city. Now when we go out as a duo, it allows us to kind of explore some material that we don’t always look at because of our circumstance. It allows us to open up an even wider image of what we’re doing. Even though it’s just the two of us, sometimes it makes us sound bigger because of the energy between us.
TNP: How did you get tied up with Jeremy and Woodsist?
MV: We’ve done about 4 works with him now. We started off with a cassette of raga music and a really rare Neil Young cover, “Love in Mind.” Then we did a live LP with them called Home Comfort. I then did a solo record, and now here we are at Space Homestead. He was a fan of our music and we would see each other at shows and we ended up going camping a lot. We did a lot of shows with Woods early on in their career. We knew Jarvis at Wooden Wands before that. We like his label and think he is putting out good music. That’s how we met him and he started playing music with us. His voice works really well with Erika and mine, when we do harmonies. He’s been on a few of our albums that aren’t even on Woodsist.
TNP: You have been credited for creating the term “free folk,” could you explain that for our readers?
MV: It stems from “free jazz,” it’s our rift on that. It is a comment on not just folk as music, but folk as an oral and working tradition. It is a comment on American, or even global folk tradition as an art form. It was meant to be an extension of psychedelic music.
“Workingman’s Smile” off of Space Homestead
TNP: You two have been going at it since late 90s, and early millennium. I would like to get your insight on transitions in the music industry today. Do you think that there is a saturation of artists?
MV: I think the more; the merrier as far as artists go. Because there are a lot more than ever, I think it is a sign of the times, a post singularity to the personal computer scene, people are a lot more comfortable with the oneness of not having to go out and having the ability to have the technology always right in front of you. The veil has been lifted so to speak. It is available to a lot more people, which is very positive.
However, it does hurt some needs of how the “business” of these things works. That is something that everyone tries to figure out. It has changed for us. We just adapt. We invented the Heroin Celestial Agriculture Label when the transition happened, which is a subsidiary of our label that we started in 1999 called Child of Microtones. So Heroin is a harvesting and more of the highest and lowest forms of art. We like to harvest the genre pride of CD-R. We were one of the first ones to be, if not the first ones to be a strictly CD-R Label.
EE: And maybe the last…
TNP: So you handle all of the merchandising and packaging of your label as well? How in the world do you find the time to release albums at the rate you do, tour the world, and run this label (s)?
MV: Yeah…not enough elves. We gotta get some elves. Back to our Heroin label though, we do like a 50s beat-poetry chapbook style for the cover. There are black and white covers, xeroxed, kind of a rip on the letterpress. It’s usually an image from the show or the day, something that is a reminder of us from the night, something that truly captured the energy. Then we put the recording on and sell them inexpensively. We actually just started doing digital as well. If you come to our gigs, the CDs are $5. They are really hi-fi, remastered well combed-over and cleaned up. Not cleaned up in terms of editing or overdubs, but cleaned-up in the sonics.
TNP: Yeah, because you like to mix the live-feel with a studio sound, right?
MV: Exactly, we’ll do a matrix of a soundboard and the room mics, and we’ll put that together for these Heroin releases. That’s how we fought the saturation, and trying to stay in tune with the way things are.
EE: We became part of the saturation. If you can’t beat them, join them.
MV: We’ll have an expensive record. Sure, it’s 25 bucks, but not everyone has that bread to blow. I think the idea of someone going to buy a record for $5 and somehow nurture the process that we’re involved in, that’s hopefully how we can incorporate more of a worldly aesthetic and not just pigeonhole one marketplace.
TNP: My last question is pretty loaded, but what is your message as an artist? When I listen to your music, what do you hope that I get out of it?
MV: We want you to picture a room that’s in a different shape than the one you are in. A glimpse of us being thankful that you listen to the music, as much as you are thankful, that hopefully you are having a different perspective on your life hearing it. We are trying to spread some type of an emotional response.
EE: It is sort of like inviting someone into our home. We always keep that in mind. You listening to our music is like we are hosting you at our home.