Talking to musicians and artists about how they’re dealing (or not dealing) with quarantine. Our first interviewee is Matt DeMello who lives in New York and describes himself as “An inner-ear drum secret filmmaker since 2002. A band that barely puts up with him”.
Here’s what WithGuitars had to say about Matt and his work:
A lifelong veteran of Providence, Rhode Island’s burgeoning art-pop scene, Matt DeMello escaped his New England home turf earlier this decade, landing at the physical and spiritual midway point between Woodstock and Brooklyn.
His debut solo album, 2014’s There’s No Place Like Nowhere shortly followed. Embracing synth pop orchestras a la Soft Bulletin era Flaming Lips and the broken-hearted piano odes of Antony & The Johnsons, DeMello’s debut documented one man’s reaction to the contemporary landscape or as he puts it, “theme music for someone at a party who feels so utterly alone.”
How are you dealing with quarantine?
I’ve had a rough start. I was doing freelance before my current salary job — the latter of which thankfully stands to survive whatever economic downturn we’re facing for the time being. Freelance was an extremely difficult part of my life. I’m just not built not to know what my life is going to look like in 3 weeks, and that is – in essence – routine life as a freelancer.
A lot of this is bringing back a lot of that anxiety within me, while knowing full well that everyone I know who was in freelance is probably (or should be) filing for unemployment insurance right now. I’ve been throwing money at orgs and bands pretty blindly, not really knowing if this is sustainable or what long term, reliable good can come from it. I suppose that is the point of charity, right?
Musically speaking and this sounds dumb but the thing I got the most out of ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ principally was survivor’s guilt. I’m feeling a lot of that set in right now and a lot of Kendrick in that vein is very therapeutic — if painfully white cool dad BS.
I’m determined, however, to get over the self-pity and soon start mobilizing to the next and necessary work for music – as I know and care about it – to survive the final stages of 20th century capitalism we’re seeing collapse before us. I think we need to start very seriously talking about it and considering the ramifications in as many conscious conversations as we can, especially as musicians and especially while politicians like Tom Cotton are saying every American needs a $2000 monthly check right now.
We’re on the precipice, I feel, of what economic thinkers like Yanis Varoufakis have described as the 21st century fork in the road where we as humanity either decide to become Star Trek or The Matrix in terms of whether people or oligarchs control the technology meant for modern life and make the future of the species to be possible.
Corona virus gives us a taste of the coming economic catastrophes surrounding climate change and the emergence artificial intelligence. Before all else, Corona virus will be the first event in human history that causes people to ask themselves: what should I do if I don’t have to work for a living? And we as musicians – artists, creatives, etc. – at this moment, have the best possible answer. And it’s up to us to make it something universal and universally attainable as to prevent a life driven by passionless, AI-assisted work for oligarchs.
Whether or not I or we are the best shepherds of that message is a different issue entirely and one I tangle with a lot in my own confidence.
And I know the offset of what I’m putting out here all sounds utopian. In fact, it sounds like the worst Peace-And-Love Ringo 60s cliche dretch. But I’m here to tell you we’re staring the alternative in the face everyday. I choose life and I choose hippie dippie bullshit, or rather, I choose to work with that pallet and try to breathe new life into that answer. Maybe I need to do a better job as an artist making that sell, and admittedly it’s an underdeveloped pitch, but that’s the basic board game table as I see it in terms of what we’re all working with.
Throughout life I’ve found myself often “rejecting the return” to use Joseph Campbell’s phrase: saying no to life/the possibility such a message can be received and acted on by the masses, or whether I’m good enough at this stuff to be the messenger. I’m coming around to the idea it’s not whether or not it works, it’s not that I need to be good enough, it’s that this may be the last real opportunity to make that pitch meaningfully to any audience. If not now, there might not be a later.
What advice would you give to other musicians/artists dealing with quarantine?
Work with that. Reach out to me. Get up everyday, early, and make the bed. Try to spend at least an hour everyday sitting in some silence and try to answer that question: what do I want in life if my life doesn’t depend on what I want in life? What do we want in our lives if our lives don’t depend on it?
Say “yes!” to life/the situation at hand, while empathizing totally with the very natural impulse to say “no”. You, know – slings and arrows stuff.
And get ready to get in the streets if this ever ends. We’re going to need everyone, or everyone left. Until then, ponder the abyss, vote smart, and make some vaporwave?
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