Mathis Hunter's debut solo LP, Soft Opening finds the Atlanta music veteran wrestling with the missing link between the cosmic funk of Noot d' Noot and the face melting psych. rock of Good Friday Experiment. With Soft Opening, Hunter steps out from behind the drums to craft 10 songs of expansive, guitar-driven rock. The album looks to the haze of slow pop and distorted ambiance of such British shoegazer rock acts as Primal Scream and Spiritualized, but tempered by rich, American country harmonies via the Byrds. But the layered vocals have more in common with David Crosby than the ornate twang of Gram Parsons, all washed in waves of colorful nostalgia. The album is a different beast for Hunter altogether, that sidesteps the tongue-in-cheek party freak vibe of the Noots and the earnest head trips of GFE for a for a fun, but coolly artistic mode of rock and roll.
Chad Radford: Just to set the record straight, your record is called Soft Opening, and you released it under the name Mathis Hunter. Is the band also called the Soft Opening?
Mathis Hunter: There is no name for the band, but we've been referring to it as the Soft Opening. It's neither here nor there. I just got some people together to play some songs that I wrote.
Why do a solo record?
I had a lot of songs sitting in limbo. For the last few years, playing with Noot d' Noot and the Selmanaires and even with Good Friday Experiment, there's been a lot of touring that gets some attention. But there's touring that's good, and there's touring that's spinning your wheels. I can remember being with the Selmanaires one night in Greensboro in a February and it was fucking freezing. We were playing and there were like 5 people in the place. It was at some bar and there wasn't even a bathroom, and I thought 'Man... I wish I was at home working on new songs.' I felt that at the end of the day or somewhere down the road, there are a lot of ideas that I need to get down and have them be something to listen to rather than play a bunch of shows where there are 50 to 100 people in the audience. I've done that for the last 15 years.
The thread that ties all of these songs together is that when I write songs with Noot d' Noot I'm the drummer or the bass player, so my contribution is the groove. These songs are written from a guitar so there are more riffs and or vocal harmonies, and it's more of a rock record. I played most of the instruments myself, and rather than come up with a side project title I just did it under my name. Noot d' Noot started as a side project and I didn't see the need to do it again.
Are you nervous about doing something under your name?
Sometimes, if I think about it, because it is just you. With a band name at least there's a curtain in front of it. People think of a band as a collective thing. Even though there are other people playing with me, it's just me.
Do you think of the music on Soft Opening as being sparsely arranged?
In some regards. One thing that I have always put off is that I sing and play guitar, but I have never been the singer in a band. I've done background vocals, but I know that I'm actually not that adept at playing a guitar live, so in order to do it live I kept my guitar parts to a minimum. That's where Fran Capitanelli comes in.
A famous musician in a wildly popular band recently told me that Fran is the best guitar player in Atlanta. Actually he said that he's a world class player.
I wouldn't disagree. He's a master of all styles and he's tasteful. He wants to serve the songs more than anything else.
Who else is in the group?
Tommy Chung plays bass and sings. There are a lot of layered vocals on the record and I definitely wanted to have people who can sing, so it's the three of us singing. ...And Rich [Morris] and Justin [McNeight] from Noot d' Noot are playing drums.
Tell me about the song called "Gathering the Hopeful Gamblers." I've been pushing it on Crib Notes a lot , but let's hear your take on it.
Like I was saying earlier, most of the songs are written from guitar parts, but I still think the stronger songs came out of groove ideas. "Gathering the Hopeful Gamblers" and "See the Light" are both like that. Sometimes I can hear just one sample of something, or a weird loop and then automatically envision an entire song around it. So maybe it is my strength that I can hear bass and drum ideas and write to them.
I have a friend who is a writer and I asked him to help come up with an idea for a Noot d' Noot album title. We ultimately came up with Cash for Gold -- It's hard for 10 people to agree on a title -- so I asked him for an idea and he gave me a list of like 20 names. Gathering the Hopeful Gamblers was on there and I thought it was a great song title, so I wrote the song. Then I started hearing some melodies that I could tie to that theme and it grew from there.
It's a good, fast punch-in to the record...
Yeah, and even the title, Gathering the Hopeful Gamblers works there as well. We're sitting down and we're going to listen to this from start to finish.
"See the Light," the third song on the record, is another one that began as a groove idea that I put a vocal melody to. I tried to keep it simple. I like the second song too, it's called "Gone." It's a straight-up blues song.
On what are the gamblers gambling?
Well, as a lyricist I like to give the listener options on what the words could mean. But I'll give you one interpretation. The gamblers could be me and other musicians that I know. Wou start out feeling confident knowing this is what you do, but what hand will you be dealt? When you're a kid playing music, you feel sure that you are going to 'make it,' so I guess in a way I'm looking back over all the experiences of the last 12 years. But how do you measure success? I have to say that I am glad that I have reached my 30's and music is still as important to me as it was when I was in high school. All the music I've made is kind of a diary of where I was at the time. That's just the first verse. The second verse is about something else, but that is who the gamblers are.
Why go strictly the vinyl route with Soft Opening?
I grew up with records. That was the first format I listened to music on. It seems the most concrete transmitter of music and I certainly feel they sound the best. At this point in time a CD is merely a digital hard copy of music. Jewel cases have none of the charm that the artwork on a record sleeve has. LP's hold up as an artifact, CD's you just stick in your Caselogic. I'd rather have 300 copy's of a record in my closet than 2,000 CD's.
When you put on a record, you are making a commitment to sit down and engage yourself in that music. A CD is something you might skip around and listen to the hits while you clean the house.
You don't need CD's anymore, you just want the digital files for your computer or music player. How many ways can CD's lose?
There are 9 songs on the LP, but 10 on the CD that comes tucked into the album's sleeve. Why break them up?
A CD can be 80 minutes long, and the longer it is has no effect on sound quality. I wanted the record to be under 40 minutes just to preserve the fidelity. The last song on the CD is just an ambient wash, called "Frog Collage."
You've always had a strong psychedelic sensibility, but it's played up much differently here than it has with the Noots or GFE.
The place where the songs are coming from is just very different. In GFE I started out as the guitar player but became the drummer because our drummer quit. So it was my job to bring the rhythms. This is a chance for me to get back to playing guitar, and it's more melodic. The psychedelic thing - me and Justin and Rich are always trying to bring that our of each other, and they're on the record a lot.
(Photo by Stevie Brown)
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