matt pond PA: Hazy Shade Of Winter

matt pond PA once again trudges through the snow on new LP

The 11th matt pond PA full-length, Winter Lives, features artwork that evokes Windham Hill’s catalog and suggests Roger McGuinn if he’d been to the acoustic emo manor born. As the album swirls and drifts like the titular season, a question skitters across the expanse: Is the title noun accompanied by an adjective or a verb?

“It’s supposed to be both,” says Matt Pond diplomatically. “It depends on who you’re talking to. If you like that person, you can agree on the name. If you don’t, you can say, ‘No, it’s this.’”

There’s no clarification in the album’s title track, with its acoustic guitar intro setting a crystalline tone as perfectly as Greg Lake’s “I Believe In Father Christmas.” Pond’s lyrics reflect each possibility. “I say ‘Winter lives’ and ‘Show me winter lives’ both,” says Pond. “It’s harder to hear, but I’m trying to make that point subtly.”

Winter Lives arrives 11 years after Pond’s nearly all covers EP, Winter Songs. He admits a deliberate connection between the two works but confesses to a theme obsession.

“I think an idea will get stuck in my mind and then I’ll write into it,” he says. “A lot of the finality of things is based in looking at mortality, from the specific spot where I’m standing, into that long or not-so-long distance, winter being the most deathly of them all. I think of albums, even as I’m writing them, as albums, so in some ways, when you write that first song, it’s a curse, but it’s a good curse. I wrote ‘Winter Lives,’ and I thought, ‘There’s so much more in these moments.’”

Pond, a New Hampshire native, understands the season that inspired Winter Lives, but he needed to write winter songs in the spring, so the album would arrive in context. Given his background, Pond didn’t scratch down too far to find inspiration. “It’s just visceral,” he says of winter. “There’s this coldness and shut-down emotional temperament to people in northern places, but when you get through that, there’s so much depth and reality to northern people. Dragging yourself outside is a big deal, and everything acquires an extra layer of labor. And an extra layer. I like the austerity, but then I like the eventual ‘removing your coat and opening up’ part of it, too.”

Pond, an admitted onetime “Beatles dork,” longtime collaborator Chris Hansen and cellist Shawn Alpay wrote Winter Lives and brought in the Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn and Moving Panoramas’ Leslie Sisson to flesh out the sound. Most of the recording was done remotely but still retains a palpable immediacy.

“Shawn lives in Portland now, so we used the internet a lot; it can be a tool for good,” says Pond. “The studio is my house for the most part. Shawn recorded stuff in his house, Chris makes a lot happen with a little stuff, and nothing is off the table. Some people know the studio backward and forward, and it’s a great place to open up songs, but I’m just not that way. I think it’s actually motivating to realize your limitations and accept anything that happens.”

Ranging from the jangly heartland chamber rock of “The Glow” to the poignant folk arrow of “Dirty Looks,” Winter Lives is also punctuated by little instrumental vignettes such as “Leggings In The Living Room,” which Pond asserts were not afterthoughts but intentionally purposed connective tissue.

“I wouldn’t want them to be arbitrary or just put in to kill time,” he says. “We try to finish about six songs over the point of being done so we know what we have is what’s right, in our minds, at least. To me, it completes the larger image. I’m trying. That’s going to be on my tombstone, I think.”

—Brian Baker