Whenever I see the words ‘singer/songwriter’ land in my inbox I feel a sense of foreboding. I’m expecting acoustic guitar, a solitary and sombre vocal and not much else. Maybe it’s the influx of these troubadour type musicians over the past decade or maybe it’s just my own noisy prejudice as a heavy metal and prog rock-loving guitarist. The thing is despite any expectations that I may have had when I clicked the link to get a sneak preview of the track ‘Two Paper Moons’ by Matt Holubowski, all my preconceptions were instantly blown out of the water.
Matt Holubowski is a singer/songwriter from Montreal, Canada but don’t let that hackneyed genre tag fool you. These aren’t sparse, simple songs. Matt plays with a full band, crafting and weaving sonic textures that wander freely from style to genre to flout characterisation. Roaming basslines, twinkling atmospheric guitars and driving drums all held together with a charismatic vocal, ‘Two Paper Moons’ jumps around different time signatures and moods with aplomb, never feeling unnatural and yet never letting you rest.
We at Dawsons chatted with Matt ahead of the release of his single to discuss songwriting, song structure and of course, all things gear…
Two Paper Moons
Dawsons: Hiya Matt, thanks for taking the time out to answer some questions for us, how’s your day going?
Matt – Hi there! Thanks for being interested in talking to me! My day’s been hectic, but beautifully inspiring, thank you for asking. Hope yours was as well.
Dawsons: Your single ‘Two Paper Moons’ comes out on 28.01.20, can you describe the track for our readers and what it means to you in your own words?
Matt – It’s a long story, but in a nutshell, TPM is about the realization that an alternative reality exists in parallel to everything we experience, and that our perspective shapes how we see the world. It was born out of a Murakami novel, 1Q84, which is written in this “‘magical realist’ style, and talks about entering a new world that is almost imperceptibly different to the original world we knew, only differing in certain elements, such as the appearance of a second moon. I wrote it at a time where I felt I needed somewhere to escape to, and so I guess I wove some sort of alternate reality for myself.
Each verse paints a different picture of my last years – surreal, blissfully happy, and woefully melancholic – and the chorus signs off my acceptance of what is to come with an optimism that is somewhat uncharacteristic of me. It was my first attempt at writing something ambiguous and cryptic, filled with double entendres and secret meanings. In some sense, it was like hiding my deepest darkest secrets in plain view.
Mostly though I just thought it was a fun song to lose yourself in. Musically, I wanted it to be linear and groovy, but with new elements constantly coming in.
Dawsons: The song structure on ‘Two Paper Moons’ is impeccable, I really love the little subtle time changes you’ve put in there. They jump out at you but the song still feels natural rhythmically. Is that something you added writing by yourself or was it collaborative with the other musicians who play on the record?
Matt – Glad to hear they don’t perturb you! The random structure has somehow become a bit of a signature of mine, but it’s totally accidental. I’m self-taught and theoretically completely inept musically. The extra times usually come from just writing too many words to fit within a formal structure, so sometimes I have an extra syllable that forces an extra beat or a beat less on a bar here or there. It’s utterly frustrating for the band who struggle to make sense of completely random song structures, but in the end, I like to think it makes for something unique.
In short, I write the music to the words and the meter of the text, rather than the other way around. Most times I don’t even realise it’s a weird form until we jam together as a band and everyone has a ‘what the f**k is going on?’ moment.
Dawsons: Is ‘Two Paper Moons’ symbolic of the rest of the forthcoming ‘Weird Ones’ album? Can we expect some similarly less than usual time structures and a more experimental sound?
Matt – Thank you. All the credit for this goes to my collaborators. Christian Adam Gilbert engineered the record, but this particular song was engineered by Connor Seidel, who produced the record.
Initially, I wanted this song to be kick drum and acoustic guitar only. So we recorded my drummer (Stephane Bergeron) tapping his finger on a mic and we sampled that to make a kick drum. Eventually, I decided I wanted more of an indie rock thing, so we set up in my jam space in this terrible sounding industrial building and the drum tone comes from the reverberation of that room and the great taste of Stephane’s kit and drumming. Zach Hanson, who mixed the record, also contributed greatly to it sounding so awesome. The other drums were recorded at Wild Studio in St-Zenon and La Frette just outside of Paris.
Dawsons: It’s very natural sounding, I feel like I’m in the room with you as the song moves along. Was it your intention to have that kind of ‘live’ feel for the finished product?
Matt – Connor and I have worked together on all three of my records and have always been into that ‘natural timeless’ feel. The band works mostly in a live setting, and are at their best when performing the song live. But Connor and I wanted to modernize a bit, so the whole record is a juxtaposition of amazing performances by the band, and obsessive fine-tuning on a production level. The exception is ‘Love the Impossible Ghost’, which was a live, off the floor kind of tune. Again, much of the intimacy is the work of Zach Hanson, who’s a bit of a master of ethereal intimacy.
Dawsons: It’s been a few years since your last album ‘Solitudes’, how do you feel your approach to songwriting has evolved since then?
Matt – Oh man it’s so much better (I think/hope). I’m simultaneously more and less attached to songs. I dig deeper and am more intimate than ever, but also am more aware of how they’re just songs. When I wrote ‘Solitudes’ I had just gotten this big wave of attention and it felt like I was writing with all eyes on me but from a perspective of a dude who two months ago was just waiting tables and making cocktails in a bar. With ‘Weird Ones’, I felt like I’d piled on the miles, the experiences, and I guess the maturity that comes with hitting the third decade. I knew where I was going and what I wanted more. I think it’s the best work I’ve done by very far, but I also feel like what’s to come is going to be even better, which is exciting.
Dawsons: Some of the songs from your previous album are in Canadian French, can we expect more of this on ‘Weird Ones’? Do you find it easier to sing in a particular language?
Matt – There’s no French on Weird Ones. It wasn’t a deliberate decision or anything, they just didn’t come to me. Writing in French is so much harder. Not just because I’m not as literarily fluent in French, but because it’s really difficult to write French music that doesn’t come out sounding real cheesy. I think it has to do with how much of sticklers French speakers are about pronunciation, which Anglos tend to be more lenient on. That said, I am working on some French material though and will eventually release some!
Dawsons: Let’s talk gear! What guitars are you using at the moment and what qualities do you look for in your instruments?
Matt – Oh man…we had way too much gear on hand for this record. Simon Angell who played most of the electric guitar stuff has a pretty amazing arsenal, but I can’t remember what he used on what. I had four main guitars I used.
The acoustic stuff was a 1989 Martin D-28 that I got in Nashville a few years ago. The strumming stuff is all on this baby. Though we tested a few acoustics, I can’t remember but I think ‘Love the Impossible Ghost’ I may have tracked on a beat-up Gibson J-45 Christian Adam brought up. I also had a recent Martin D-15M which is a gem and sounds (and smells) like butter. ‘Moon Rising’s rhythm is like 5 acoustic guitars layered with like 6-7 takes each. Super choppy natural chorus effect there. I used a 1950 Gibson ES-125 for many of the weightier picking stuff. A beautiful guitar I got in Brooklyn last year.
Annnnd I used the hell out of a Danelectro Dead On ’67 that I bought for like $250. It’s sooo cool. I got it because I’m a fan of the Knobs YouTube page and that dude has an incredible tone, so I just got what he was using. So hard to find though, it’s a real piece of shit, but if you replace the bridge and tuning pegs, the lipstick pickups sound amazing. So much so that Simon bought the same guitar for himself!
I think I may have used a new American Standard Telecaster somewhere there. I used a bunch of fun synths this time around too. Organelle, [Teenage Engineering] OP-1, Prophet V, cheap Yamaha synths, old as hell Farfisa, my real nice 1960’s Wurlitzer, Mellotron, B3 Organ, Juno, etc etc etc.
Dawsons: What’s your favourite guitar to play live?
Matt – I’m really into that Dead On 67 Danelectro and the old Gibson ES-125. I feel both hip and timeless playing those.
Dawsons: I saw some images from the studio of you rocking a very tasty looking pedalboard, can you delve into what pedals you’ve used on the ‘Weird Ones’ album?
Matt – Pedal wise, most of my stuff went through an Analogman King of Tone, a Chase Bliss Dark World reverb, Strymon el Capistan Delay, Walrus Julia Vibrato, TC Delay, Fairfield Shallow Water, Gravitas Tremolo….and so on and so forth, lots of different stuff. There were some nice contributions from a Diamond Tremolo and Caroline Reverb. And vocally we used a s**t ton of the Valhalla reverb, so beautifully dark. Used a lot of Soundtoys in production like the Alter Boy and Little Boy.
Dawsons: You’ve got an extensive tour coming up, what amps are you going to be using for the live shows?
Matt – I used to tour with an old Silvertone, but it’s so unpredictable… So I bought a new silver face Fender Princeton reissue. It sounds amazing honestly and feels like it compares to any vintage amp I could get. And I don’t have to worry about damaging old beautiful gear.
Dawsons: Appreciate you answering these questions Matt, just one final thing – when can we expect you to grace the shores of the UK? Any plans for hitting Europe this year?
Matt – Man, these were awesome questions. Rarely get such good ones, so thanks to you. We just started partnering up with people at Paradigm in the UK, so we’re sure to come over more often. It’s tough coming over as a band as it’s so expensive, so I may be coming to do solo gigs a few times around first. But yeah ‘Solitudes’ was kind of a practice record for me, I feel this time around I may be over more often. Such ferocious competition in the UK; you guys make so much amazing music. I will try slowly but surely to carve our place there! March/April and July/August we have the UK in our crosshairs. Hope to see you then!
Matt Holubowski releases his latest single ‘Two Paper Moons’ on 28/01/20 and it is available on all major streaming sites. The ‘Weird Ones’ album will release on February 21st and you can pre-save/pre-order the album here.