For normal people the summer means the beach and other social activities you’d find on reruns of 90210, but to the comic, sci-fi and other “geeky” pop culture, there’s only one thing that matters in the summer. Okay, there’s a few…Blockbusters like The Avengers, and Comic-Con. So to celebrate this annual fusion of awesome and fandom, we wanted to get to know musicians who let their nerd shine bright in their craft. Being the head of the class is Matthew Joseph Payne. He’s self-labeled “Chamber Doom-Folk” musician, hailing from the streets of Oakland, CA appreciates the art of video games even though he’s not a frequent player, used to dabble in cosplay and is all about the honesty…Get to know him and his music a little more with our first ode to all that is Comic-Con…
Kendra: When you were younger, was music the path you wanted to take?
Matthew Joseph Payne: Music chose me pretty early on, but it was a wild ride. I started out learning classical piano, like a lot of kids, but I was lucky to have a piano teacher who eventually encouraged me to get into 70’s progressive rock, which eventually led to synthesis and other music technology via a somewhat circuitous route.
Kendra: Do you frequent the different Cons around the country?
Matthew: Not really! I may make it to PAX this year, which is Con-esque, and I used to hit up Fanime back in the day. Maker Faire is more my style; I’ve worked it for Pulsewave SF a couple of times.
Kendra: Ever do the whole cosplay thing?
Matthew: Sort of – I dressed up as a Japanese musician that nobody recognizes once (Agata from Melt-Banana, if you’re wondering). I understand the appeal of the activity, but I don’t enjoy being beholden to a corporate property.
Kendra: If someone were to wake up from a 50 year coma, how would you describe your music to them?
Matthew: Remember, they’ve been out since 1962…It would be easiest to start with the parts they would recognize – the folk and chamber classical music elements would be very familiar – even the strangest of harmonic structures that I use have been around since the turn of the century. Doom metal wouldn’t be too hard to explain; droning music was already around in certain circles. Chiptune is the challenge – 22 years of video game technology and the surrounding culture is hard to encapsulate. Digital technology was already around, but the first examples of “computer music” were pretty paltry. Perhaps “four tiny digital voices, singing in a digitally perfect chorus of square waves and noise”.
Kendra: What are some major influences to your music other than mechanical sounds?
Matthew: 60’s “New Music” works (John Cage, etc), traditional American folk music (which is mostly steals and borrows from the cultures we have both willingly and unwillingly appropriated), progressive and contrapuntal chipmusic, the systems we create and live in that are too complicated for us to predict, and the sense of impending doom that we all ignore.
Kendra: Being up in Oakland, do you ever consider tossing in some thug sound?
Matthew: No. Oakland is so much more than that, and there’s more than enough people making gangster rap, hip-hop and hyphy here, they don’t need my help. I’ve been asked if I “make beats” more times than I can remember. I used to be in a band called Tensegrity Nine that did a lot of that as a sort of self-parody. It was great fun and I’d do it again, but that’s not this project.
Kendra: Going to go out on a limb and guess you’re quite the video game fan…So if you had to recommend three games that people have to play before they die, which three would you pick and why?
Matthew: That’s a perilous limb to climb; although I’m quite a fan of video games as an art form, I’m not much of a gamer. The only recent game that’s caught my eye has been Portal and Portal 2, which I thought had a unique and fascinating premise, and studied that premise intensely. I’m also a big proponent of the Halo series and its predecessor, Marathon. I’m also a firm believer in the classics – Mega Man IV for Game Boy is one of my all-time favorites, as is Mega Man X.
Kendra: Where do you see the chiptune realm going in the coming years?
Matthew: It’s difficult to see from where I’m standing; although I’ve received some pleasant recognition from my peers, I’m working from somewhere at the edge of the genre, and I may be looking in a different direction. Artists like myself, Crashfaster, Jay Tholen, Awkward Terrible, D&D Sluggers, and my own band The Glowing Stars are really pushing more song-oriented writing, and to expand the palette of sounds not just into “rock band with game boy” realm but into more unusual instrumentations. I don’t know if this is in line with what most of chipmusic is doing – much of the scene is focused on expanding the variety of hardware available to us – which is awesome! – but much of the music has remained very much the same (four on the floor). There are some notable exceptions (fantastic records by little-scale, The J. Arthur Keenes Band, Danimal Cannon and of course Anamanaguchi come to mind).
Kendra: I’d like to get your take on the whole “geek” culture real quick. In the past years I’ve noticed it becoming somewhat trendy to be a “geek chic.” As a geeky girl I kind of find it offensive that these “cool” hot girls think putting on a Star Wars tee and fake glasses makes them nerdy. What are your thoughts on the whole thing from a male perspective?
Matthew: Expanding on my previous answer about cons, geekiness to me has little to do with what flavor of media you choose to consume, and more to do with how obsessively you study your interests. Personally I link geekiness with a DIY aesthetic, an obsession with detail and an unwillingness to compromise my ideals. Chiptune is a great example; we’ve become so obsessed with repurposing these old consoles that we’re still discovering new ways to control, sync and hack them, almost three decades later.
Avoiding the semantic answer though, I do think that re-appropriation is everywhere. In fact, almost all facets of pop culture have become less original and more regurgitative since the turn of the century. For lack of a better word, it’s lame.
Kendra: Will fans be able to see you on stage soon?
Matthew: I’m playing a webcast on July 7th. It’s called “Bloops and Bleeps,” and it’s put on by Blake Morse of Week in Geek. The focus is on videogame related music. The Minibosses was his first guest, I am his second. There’s more on the horizon about to be announced for both me and The Glowing Stars, so keep an eye on matthewjosephpayne.com and theglowingstars.com.
Kendra: Now everyone ends with making us a mixtape. For yours I want you to make a mixtape of 5 songs you’d give to someone you were interested in that you met at a Con. We’re going to call it the “Con(versation) Starter Mixtape”
Matthew: I’m a sucker for honesty. This mixtape would not get me a phone number, I can tell you that, but it reflects who I am and what I would want to share with someone. Now I’m not entirely certain of the order, but this is probably close.
1. “Antia 7 – Circles” Little-Scale and Poppi Doser from the EP Antia.
– The closest to a pop-song from an incredible collaboration – and I love starting with an ending
2. “Formicary” Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, from the album In Glorious Times
– A thought-provoking study in pop pointillism written by one of my favorite musicians, Dan Rathbun. This song also features some of his awesome instrument creations, such as the Percussion Guitar.
3. “Dispatch” The J. Arthur Keenes Band, from the EP Pamplemousse
– Somehow simultaneously disjointed and epic, this song casts a fly for a new theme every 20 seconds and keeps you on the edge of your seat for the next.
4. “Phantom Lady (Homeric)” Radiation City from their self-titled EP
– I have to put my own playing on here somewhere – I was in a band with members of this band back in the day, and they asked me to play for their then-nascent project that turned into the now happily successful Radiation City. My drumming stayed on the track all the way up through its re-release on their full-length “The Hands that Take You, but I still prefer this older, slightly longer cut from their debut tape. Again, an epic song, a format I love very much.
5. “Just Abandoned My-Self” Boris from the album Pink
– Clocks in at 18:15.