A Conversation With Matt Pond (Matt Pond PA)

Eight years ago, Matt Pond was singing the praises of St. Augustine, Fla., and his latest love interest. He’d also shed the “PA” affiliation for his first solo album, 2013’s sonically ambitious, vocally confident The Lives Inside The Lines In Your Hand. If he didn’t sound like he was completely through with the chilly Northeast, he was certainly enamored with the South and America’s oldest city.

But things have a habit of changing quickly in Pond’s world. After a brief stay in California, he reunited with guitarist/producer Chris Hansen and the rest of the PA contingent (such as it was). Come January 2014, he and Hansen were sequestered in New York’s Hudson Valley, making what would become The State Of Gold, a lush, synth-focused album of surprising emotional and rhythmic complexity. 

After a five-year battle with Doghouse Records, Pond recently secured the master rights to The State Of Gold. To celebrate, he reissued the album on his own 131 label. Pond reversed the song sequence (because he can), and a newly recorded version of “Spaceland” now features an inspired bridge from Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws. With another album in the works and his creative focus on the future, Pond cleared out the cobwebs in an attempt bring some clarity and context to The State Of Gold reissue.

The Lives Inside The Lines In Your Hand signaled a new sonic direction for you. It sounds like you were toying with some of those same ideas on The State Of Gold.
We reworked them even more for this new release. We pulled away all the synthesizers and saw what was there. In some ways, it now sounds even more like Lives. But those two albums definitely work together. A lot of the songs were written at the same time.

There’s also a similar feel in terms of production.
Production is just something that happens, and we make whatever works out of what we have. We’ll record in Airbnbs, cabins and all sorts of places and try to make it sound as best as we can. The funny thing is, we have a new album, and that’s been done for a while. It’s coming out next year. I’m also working on the follow-up to that. 

It must have been pretty satisfying to get those master rights back.
We had a really bad relationship with our label. They were also managing me, and it was just the wrong fit. From that, I realized that I really don’t want or need a manager. I don’t want to put the blame all on them. Could I have been a better person? Sure, I could’ve been a little nicer. But that wouldn’t have made them better. Everything was completely antagonistic.

Matt Pond and Chris Hansen

How did The State Of Gold figure into all of that?
I’d gone to Florida looking for love, then I went to Oakland looking for love—and that’s kind of what The State Of Gold is all about. I started coming back to Kingston (N.Y.), which is near all these places I’ve lived. I found this house that was worth nothing that’s now worth so much because everybody has moved here. I built a fence. I worked on the floors. I turned the basement into an area where we write, play and record. It’s amazing.

We worked our asses off on The State Of Gold. We built the songs up and tore them all down. Then we built them all up and tore them all down again. We worked in the middle of winter, and there was no heat. Chris would come and work on a song and go home, and I was just there alone. I had nothing to do except write and think. You just get lost in your own head. I get so focused that I forget about the rest of the world.

Let’s talk about the evolution of your vocals, which continues on The State Of Gold.
I don’t have any illusions about what kind of a singer I am, though I wouldn’t say I’m as sad or as shitty as some people might think. I am who I am. I’ve never been able to do a persona, I don’t really enjoy falsetto, and I’ve never wanted to be part of trend. The minute people said we were chamber rock, I wanted to not do that. Lives and Gold were the first two albums where we started to be more polyrhythmic, where I’d sing against the groove. On songs like “The Starting Line,” I was freestyle singing over what we’d been writing. With some of the melody and lyrics there, I just kept doing it until we found the song. Stuff like that is really fun—though it’s tedious as fuck.

How did you get Matthew Caws involved in “Spaceland”?
Louie Lino—who’s now a full-time Nada Surf member—produced and recorded (2004’s) Emblems and (2005’s) Several Arrows Later. While I was working on one of those albums, sometimes I’d have to wait because Matthew was doing overdubs with Louie in the next room, and I overheard bits and pieces of his singing. A had a friend who’d always tell me that Matthew sings like a bird or an angel, whereas I don’t. [Laughs] She’d point out the big discrepancies between his sweet, sweet voice and my hoarseness, which is fine. Then I borrowed a guitar from him, which got stolen. He had a ’60s Gibson ES-335, and two years ago, I got him a Guild from the same period worth half as much. I owe Matthew, but we haven’t spent a lot of time together. By one degree of separation, we’re very close.

I wrote to Matthew about “Spaceland,” and he just turned around this bridge. I was blown away. It’s like “A Day In The Life”—two totally different perspectives, but he gets what I’m saying and I get what he’s saying. And then Louie mixed it. Matthew can sing something twice as depressing as I do, and it still sounds nice. That’s not fair.

—Hobart Rowland