Monday, July 19, 2010

SONG #136: Tremor Land

The Welcome Matt, Digital Single, 2010

I've avoided writing about projects that I'm in until now, but the synergy here is impossible to ignore.


The Welcome Matt is the brainchild of Matt Langlois, one of the most beloved mainstays of the SF music scene.  I've known him for almost a decade now, and I've played with him in a number of different settings.  I'm writing about him today because:

a) I wanted to break the cone of silence about local bands
b) I want to talk about the uniqueness of his new project
c) I want shamelessly to promote his show this coming weekend.

So let's start with A.  In some ways, the blog is not set up for me to write about my friends, because I'm trying to be critical here and employ some needed distance, and I don't have much of it on music I help create.  Second, since things pop up randomly, I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings by writing about one person and then not doing another local artist for six months.  But I decided that was being dumb and overthinking things.  So forget A.

Much more interesting is B: instead of releasing his new music as an "album," Matt is in the middle of a project called Members Of Sound.  

He's writing and releasing a song a month for two years, and he just reached the halfway point.  Every month, Matt puts up a new single track on iTunes with unique cover art and a fresh set of collaborators (musicians, producers, studios).  The unifying theme of the project is writing about what it's like to be a working musician-- they are songs about Matt's life, but he's also writing about his peers and the struggle to maintain an artistic life in the face of bills and smaller crowds and rampant music piracy.  (No judgements-- just a fact.  In 1993, there would be 300 people packed into the Paradise Lounge on a Wednesday night to see a local band without any publicity.  Now, it takes six months of work and some good fortune to draw out 300 on a Saturday.)

I think Matt has hit on a brilliant way to address what music means in 2010 to most people and how to help them find it.  I wrote last week about my love for the single great track and how the current download-focused world of music consumption helps in that regard.  Matt has taken that to the next level.  While he is thinking of this project as an album that is coming out a song at a time, it's also 20 distinct musical interactions.  You can buy one, or six, or all, and still get the point.  You can choose the ten you like, make a playlist in your order, and boom-- there's your version of the album.  Now people can create the next Welcome Matt record to suit them.  Hell, I've done it-- I have a "Matt's Next Record" playlist and I've chosen the songs I like and put them in my order.  I'm sure Matt has his own vision, but that's the beauty of this idea-- we can both have control over it.

Moreover, Matt has something to offer you every month, instead of once every three years.  He could have put this music out as an album for 10 bucks, and then you'd have to wait another few years while he wrote the next batch of songs and made the money to pay for them.  Instead, you have a chance to have an new, fresh moment with his music for the cost of a soda every four weeks.  I think it's the most innovative, exciting use of this new technology and culture I've seen yet, and it's the artist recognizing and interacting with the audience.  Few people really sit and listen to albums anymore.  They hit shuffle.  It's the entire concept behind this blog, after all, and I'm an album nut.  Excitingly, Matt's approach is working-- his hits on Youtube are up, and I know more people are buying and hearing his stuff.

I've chosen "Tremor Land" as the one track to talk about because it's my favorite (and I don't play on it, you cynics, so back off).  I think the song is anthemic in a mid-80s U2 sense-- it has that pulsing drive in the verse, and the huge singalong chorus.  In some ways, it's a much more dramatic, bombastic track that Matt usually writes, but I think it's a style that fits him and his vocal perfectly.  It's also another in a series of terrific songs Matt has written about San Francisco.  The city itself is inspirational to Matt, and he's captured our place in 2010 really accurately here.  It's a song celebrating SF's willingness to be a refuge for us weirdos, while acknowledging that it's not the same place that it has always been.  It's no longer the home of the Ohlone, or the summer of love, or the gay rights movement.  It's still one of the most open-minded places in the world, but there's a Starbucks on every corner of it.  It's a "tremor land" not just because of the constant threat of the "big one," but because were in a state of shifting identity change.

When your body is broken, the fault line whisper has spoken
May you get back your health in the turning winds of tremor land
The outcasted and shunned follow the mirage of the setting sun
To the chants and drums of the medicine man of tremor land
Lost and awoken, unaware that their motion
In any direction moves them one step closer to the gates of tremor land
Come visit me in my city built on wooden ships and mercury
I don't know your secret, whatever it is though, you can keep it safe and sound
Deep in the heart of tremor land
Put your money down on the Ohlone holy ground
And plant your dreams in never-ending sky of fog rolling over tremor land
In the eucalyptus shade you hold through another phase
Let the breeze blow back your years in the shining waves of tremor land
Great sea captains sailed ferocious waves
Barely alive and freezing when the clouds parted, they sailed back to the bay of tremor land

I don't know if Matt intended it, but there's a terrific musical-historical double meaning to the first line of the chorus-- in a song about SF being a traditional if shaky refuge for alternative thinking, he recalls not just SF's port history ("wooden ships") and geological makeup ("mercury"), but uses language to remind us of SF's musical history: "Wooden Ships" was the 1969 Crosby, Stills and Nash anthem of the 60s counterculture that was part of Haight Street's soundtrack in SF's first musical heyday, and "Mercury" is a Counting Crows song released at the height of SF's second (and most recent) great arc in musical popularity.  It reminds us how musical history informs actual history.  A great song consciously or unconsciously works on those kinds of multiple levels. "Local" music, my foot-- "Tremor Land" is the real deal.  (Hopefully, we're at the start of a third SF arc-- there's so much great music in town right now, people!)

That leads me finally to point C: the inclusiveness of Matt's current project, and Saturday's show.  Because Matt did not go into the studio with five musicians and bang all his new tunes out, he has gotten over a dozen people involved, and the songs are unique from one another in some interesting ways.  What connects them all is Matt's voice and his songwriting, but each song has its own little personality.  That would never be possible in a traditional album setting.

So... we're playing this Saturday the 24th at Cafe Du Nord in SF, and we're celebrating the halfway point by playing these new songs as a set, or an album, if you will.  Most of the musicians from the recordings are joining in on "their" songs.  If you're a local, come on down and watch me help Matt bring "Tremor Land" to life.  In fact-- if you want a free ticket to the show, just shoot me a Facebook email, and I'll hook up the first ten people.  Seriously.  Free. Rock. Show.

Time to lighten things up a bit for the next post-- I'll trash something snarkily, OK?

LINK:  (Just go to the music player on the top of the page and fast forward until you get to Tremor Land.  Then stay and check out the rest of the stuff.  See you Saturday?)


  1. hey jeff - this is super thoughtful - what a gift you are in this world....looking forward to Saturday!!! see you best, christine

  2. I will sadly be three time zones away on Saturday night, but will be there in spirit for sure.